By David F. Gentle, PC Historian & Author

If you are interested in bombing your biceps and blasting your triceps, then you are on the wrong page friend. If you are in your late 40s, 50s, or more, and either wish to start training or are just about giving up, then read on. The truth is that there are definite advantages in being older and it is these advantages we must highlight.

The disadvantages of age and the characteristics of youth we admire, we must do our best to make up for. The first thing you must realize is that no one reaches the age of forty or over without developing a reasonable amount of self-confidence and plain old-fashioned guile.


There are more top champions of world-beating quality over 40 than ever before. This says a great deal for the power of modern bodybuilding techniques. Two of the greatest are Ed Corney (Pumping iron inset) and mighty Ken Keuhn in action. Denie photos.

No longer do we have the self-consciousness of the teenager. We have also learned by our own mistakes to recognize the true values of life. One of these is that physical training’s purpose for you is more important for its effect on how you feel, than within reason, how you look. With the exception of a band of dedicated long-term bodybuilders, most mature trainers now concentrate more on the health angle and less on whether they can obtain a 20-inch arm or not.

Many moons ago the fallacy was that weightlifters and strongmen died young. Well through the passing of time this has been overwhelmingly disproved, and the list of famous men who lifted weights all their lives above and beyond the biblically allotted three score years and ten, is as long as your sartorius muscle.

To name just a few INCH, ATLAS, LIEDERMAN, JOWETT, etc. . . . The point I am trying to prove is that for the unbeliever weight training is now legitimate and recognized as the most convenient, progressive way to improve health and strength. The differences for the older man are mainly that his targets are lower, being more for a reasonably shapely and slimmer physique, without the excess of training required for the younger specialist, and the fact that as he is older his energy levels are now lower than in his youth, which in turn necessitates that he train for shorter periods of time, or with lighter weights.

An advantage of being older is that by the time most people are middle-aged they should be in a more settled position domestically, without the younger man’s courting and sexual problems, and often an older man has more time to indulge in a hobby. What better hobby could there be than improving your health and physique? To sum up, so far, the training schedule should be a fairly short one without too many sets and with the accent on cardiovascular improving exercises, i.e. those that make you breathe heavy and affect your lungs, circulation and heart. Try to include in your daily life a reasonable amount of walking and perhaps some swimming as a help for all-round fitness. As for the weight training, the most important principle of all is to make progress slowly. Stick to basic schedules and always warm up first with free-standing exercises, i.e. twisting and bending movements for about five minutes before actual weight training.

Once you get onto the weights use the first set of all exercises as a warmup, and then increase the poundage set by set until a maximum of about four sets. A sensible routine after the warm-up would be:

  • Press behind the neck 3×10, this will work your shoulders.
  • Squats are next, take the weights from the racks and go down until the top of the thighs become parallel with the floor, use fairly light weights to start with and moderate reps, say 3×12, remember to keep your back straight and breathe deeply.
  • Follow on with straight arm pullovers with a swingbell, again 3×12 reps, I said straight arms but in fact slightly unlock the elbows to prevent strain on the joints a fairly common complaint when you get older. The pullover can be done alternately with the squats as an aid to chest expansion.
  • On now to lateral raises lying or flying with dumbbells. Two sets of twelve is enough, the idea being to harden up the pecs, a saggy chest looks unsightly on an older person.
  • Keeping on the move, the next exercise is one arm dumbbell rowing, the non-lifting arm supporting the body on a bench or stool, thus preventing low back strain, another bogey for the older lifter. This is quite a safe exercise to use plenty of weight in, and a good arm, shoulder and upper back builder, try 3×10 for rowing.
  • Two more to go, next is bent-leg sit-ups to keep the stomach trim, with two sets of maximum reps.
  • The final one is the ordinary barbell curl, try 3 sets of 10 reps enough to leave the old biceps nicely pumped up.
  • Taper off after the workout with some more arm swings and keep warm.

A very sensible habit is to always use an embrocation before and after training, concentrating on problem areas like lumbar region, elbows and knees.

Diet is an extremely important aspect in the older man’s training, the needs being more for energy and recuperation than that of bulk building. Don’t scoff at health food and herbs, or vitamin and mineral supplements, instead use every aid you can afford. At least take extra vitamins of the B family like brewers yeast and also vitamin C. Remember it’s your own engine you are tuning up. If you can afford it, then take the lot, wheat-germ, ginseng, kelp vitamin E, etc. All definite anti-age factors.

Many men develop an energy (or lack of it!) problem, in middle-age. More often than not, this is of a psychological nature, caused by a lack of incentive. Many depressive mental states can be helped by setting yourself a self-improvement program of exercises. Improved circulation through exercise often cures many ills. I strongly advise those with such problems to read some of the inspirational self-help books available. ‘HOW TO LIVE 365 DAYS A YEAR’ by John A. Schindler, M.D., is a classic with a wealth of sensible, practical advice for your problems.

Yoga is another philosophy available in books, such as ‘BE YOUNG WITH YOGA’ by Richard L. Hittleman. A physical cause of lack of energy, may be a common problem with middle-age men known as hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar. This often shows itself up in shakiness, tiredness and excessive sweating. You must of course get a medical check up if in any doubt about your health, and I should have emphasized this to start with, but returning to the hypoglycaemia, you can control this yourself by cutting out sickly, sweet, white sugar products and instead eat protein rich foods. The normal treatment is to eat frequent small meals to keep the energy level constant. A meal high in sugar would you a massive rush of energy, followed by a disastrous low. I repeat, if in doubt see your own doctor.

Remember if you train in a gym or a group, don’t compete with the younger lads, that way lies injuries, and overtraining. Instead, compete with YOURSELF. Simply try to gradually add poundage to the exercises, or complete the workout in less time.

Aim if possible, to train regularly three times a week, which is ample for older people. If you train alone then after the initial enthusiasm, boredom often sets in. To combat this keep reassessing your targets. Buy and read as many muscle mags as possible to keep you in touch with the scene. Read health books, become an expert on your subject; still cheaper than other inferior hobbies.

When training, dress for the part in a decent tracksuit to put you in the right frame of mind. Finally change your routine about every six weeks or so, swopping them for similar basic movements. You will find many sample schedules in OSCAR HEIDENSTAM’S fine book ‘FIT AT 40 AND AFTER’. Always include some form of squats, and a back exercise in the schedule, and some work for the abdominals. Good luck in training.

©Training the Older Man by David Gentle

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