I need help with what to do at the gym!
June 18, 2010 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me find a simple weightlifting program to help me get in shape?

I'm nearly 60. I just did a "master cleanse" fast and lost about 11 pounds. I feel good, probably because I am not eating sugary food and drinking tons of caffeine (like I was). My plan is to quit caffeine and increase nutrition, avoiding foods that are non-nutritious. I have been miserable at this my whole life--eating out a lot and eating fast food. I know I need to plan meals better.
I now weigh 153 and I'm 5'7". I do want to lose more weight...but I am aware that I can't do that with the fast. It is time to try to learn to eat properly and lose weight properly.
So! I want to go to the gym (traditionally, I have been terrible at that too)-- I am not in horrible horrible shape (I can walk, for instance). I have been walking on my home treadmill, so I can do that. My gym has good machines (all the standard ones) Can you smart fitness people point me in the direction of a weightlifting "program" that I can start off with? I am not a total wreck, I feel I can do some weightlifting, but I have been very shy about going to the gym (not knowing what to do). I don't have enough money to hire a trainer.
Any and all advice gladly accepted!
posted by naplesyellow to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
posted by telegraph at 9:24 PM on June 18, 2010

My wife and I had excellent luck with Body for Life. We don't follow the program as diligently as we did during the first 3 months but 8 months later we're still riding strong. The workout program is quick and simple and the diet is easy to follow.

Body for Life.

Buy the used original version for a few bucks. We also still regularly use recipes from the Eating for Life supplement.
posted by Octoparrot at 9:41 PM on June 18, 2010

Starting Strength is great, but I prefer P90X.
posted by 2legit2quit at 9:49 PM on June 18, 2010

I have a friend in her 70s who says good things about Strong Women Stay Young.
posted by embrangled at 9:55 PM on June 18, 2010

I love Starting Strength as much as the next person but I think it is really too intimidating for someone who is beginning and doesn't have any instruction. When starting a fitness routine I believe the most important thing is just to do something, anything, and stick with it. I mean you have to do something everyday just for half an hour. Do cardio one day (say walking, then later walking fast)...then the next day do strength exercises: the basics are good (situps, pushups, etc). Use the machines at the gym or use the weight of your own body. It doesn't really matter for quite awhile. Alternate your cardio day and your strength day. Take one day off a week. If that is too intense take two days off a week or lower the time to 20 minutes. When it is too easy start increasing the number of whatever exercise or the load. Do a longer walk or faster. Switch things up and try the elliptical or bicycle.

There is a lot of good information here in the health & fitness tag. Do some reading and you'll find all kinds of links. Here is some real general information from Mayo Clinic
posted by fieldtrip at 10:06 PM on June 18, 2010

Seconding Body for Life. It has changed my body and my life.
posted by jclovebrew at 10:19 PM on June 18, 2010

I like some of the tips and tricks, workout ideas, and technique instruction at Stumptuos.com. The site contains a lot of introductory material, particularly if you've never hit the weights before, and has a few links for how to create your program. And if you still feel shy about going to the gym, it's very easy to get a full body workout with the basics of a home gym. Coupled with some of the exercises documented on ExRx.net, one pair of dumbbell handles and a few weight plates is almost all you'd need.

No matter your age, compound exercises that work more than one area are the best; squats and deadlifts, for example. You don't need to start on the machines, in fact. Don't fear the free weights!
posted by CancerMan at 10:20 PM on June 18, 2010

Stronglifts 5x5 Beginner Strength Training Program

Great for adding muscle, reducing fat, etc. It consists of two workouts which you alternate. Each workout consists of 5 compound exercises.

The program has you start light - with an empty barbell - and work your way up gradually but consistently.

(Don't feel bad about starting with an empty barbell, the proper Olympic size bar weighs 45lb)
posted by Diplodocus at 10:28 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most Gyms require you to have one session with a trainer, when you first join. It's a great opportunity to learn the proper form, and avoid injury. Even if you can't continue to hire a trainer, that first session is a good starting point.
posted by annsunny at 12:15 AM on June 19, 2010

Seconding the notion that there really is no need for you to go to the gym - you can attain a very high level of fitness at home with just dumbbells and bodyweight exercises (not to mention save yourself a fortune). Personally, I hate gyms - working out in public, needing to look somewhat presentable, all that time spent travelling to and from the place, having to queue for equipment... Just skip it, it's absolutely not necessary. I can roll out of bed, work out in my underpants then jump straight in my own shower - much more civilized!

I found that I do need a proper program when working out at home, though, as otherwise I tend to drift and overwork some areas at the expense of others. I really like Tony Horton's stuff; I'm doing his P90X at the moment, but that's not a program you would want to start off with. If you're starting totally from scratch, you could check out his 'Tony and the Folks' as a jumping off point. Once you've mastered that, you could start moving on to some of his other programs like P90. The most important thing to remember is to take things very gradually - the temptation is always to push yourself too far too soon, which can lead to injury.

Good luck!
posted by boosh at 5:37 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention that it's well worth adding a session or two of basic yoga every week, and not getting solely focused on weights. Yoga will help your body in so many ways (flexibility, balance, strength...) and is a perfect companion to a weights program. Most of Tony Horton's stuff (and I swear I'm not an employee of his!) incorporates yoga, and I've heard him say in an interview that if he was only allowed to do one type of exercise for the rest of his life it would be yoga (not weights or cardio, which is what you would expect if you look at the guy).
posted by boosh at 5:45 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Stronglifts 5x5.
posted by matty at 9:10 AM on June 19, 2010

Stronglifts and some of the others that people have cited are great. Their biggest weakness is how they push you to progress. Anyone over 40 needs to take things a bit more slowly. I would go with starting strength as it focuses on technique and technique provides results and prevents injury.
posted by caddis at 3:23 PM on June 19, 2010

Seconding Caddis - I got great results from Stronglifts, but found the progression way, way too fast for me at the high end. I think you'd have to be putting away a tremendous amount of protein to be able to keep that progression up.
posted by smoke at 5:42 PM on June 19, 2010

I've been doing Stronglifts for 6 months now... but I'm 19 years old. I'm not sure it's reeeally made for people not looking to pack on muscle.

I would recommend starting it and seeing how far you get before it gets discouragingly difficult. I think you'd feel good with a bit more strength. Bench press does feel good, after all.

Regular cardio would probably benefit you more. When I ran distances (not now, trying to pack on weight =s), I always felt very relaxed during/after my runs. Once you get to where you can run 6, 7, 8 miles, you can just run and run and run. Feels great, too.
posted by Precision at 9:32 PM on June 19, 2010

Good for you for wanting to start strength training. Plenty of people will tell you that as a woman or an older beginner that you shouldn't lift weights, that you'll hurt yourself, etc. Those people are incorrect. It is important, however, that you educate yourself on proper mechanics, follow an appropriate program, and make the necessary adjustments to suit your situation. Working with a knowledgeable trainer can be very helpful, although it's not strictly necessary. Even if you plan to work with a trainer at some point, you should educate yourself first so you can better distinguish a knowledgeable trainer from a clueless one -- and unfortunately there are a lot of the latter.

All effective beginner strength programs will share a couple of basic features:

1) A focus on compound free-weight movements, performed at a relatively high intensity. A compound movement is one that uses more than one joint. Compound movements work many muscles together, and provide the most bang for your buck and the most carryover to everyday or athletic activities. Examples of compound movements are the squat, the deadlift, the press, etc. High intensity means you need to use a weight heavy enough that you can only perform for a few repetitions. Using a weight that you could perform many repetitions with can increase your endurance but will have little effect on your strength.

2) Linear progression. This means that you can incrementally increase the weight every time you perform the same exercise. Here's a good article that explains this concept in more detail.

I'd recommend reading the book Starting Strength. It's written for beginners like you, and it explains all of the necessary exercises in exacting detail, telling you how to perform them safely and efficiently and explaining what parts of your anatomy are involved in performing them, as well as solutions to common errors.

Then I think you should follow the beginner program laid out in the book, with a few modifications. As an older beginner, the main hurdle you have to deal with is reduced recovery ability. When you lift weights, you stress your body. When you recover from that stress, you become stronger than you were before, and then you can stress your body a little bit more, and you get a little bit stronger, etc. The important bit to understand is that it's not just the lifting that makes you stronger -- it's the lifting followed by the recovery. Otherwise you could just lift constantly and constantly get stronger, which is what people on steroids are able to do.

Reduced recovery ability means a few things in practice. Most significantly, you're going to have to make smaller jumps in weight than those recommended in the book. I would probably recommend 5 pound increments on the squat and deadlift at first, changing to 2.5 pound jumps after a few workouts when 5 pounds become too difficult. I'd recommend beginning with 2.5 pound jumps on the bench press and press, and going to 1.25 pound jumps when those are too much.

Your gym probably doesn't have any weight plates smaller than 2.5 pounds, so you'll need your own. Fortunately, they're cheap. Buy four of these and you can make 2.5 or 1.25 pound increases on any barbell exercise. These will be absolutely essential for progress -- you will quickly stall or injure yourself without the ability to make small jumps.

Reduced recovery ability also means that even more than other folks you'll have to be careful about altering the program by adding extra work. Just a few lifts (the most basic flavor of the Starting Strength program uses only four exercises) will be sufficient to strengthen your whole body.

And finally, it means that linear progression, where you add weight every workout, will not be sustainable for you as long as it would be for someone younger. No one can add weight every workout forever -- eventually you have to switch to a program where you add weight less frequently, e.g. every week. You will reach this point a little sooner than a younger trainee would.

As far as the Stronglifts program goes -- it was actually the program that got me started with lifting, and I used to recommend it a lot before I knew better. It's certainly not a bad program -- the thing is, it's exactly the same as Starting Strength (compound movements, high intensity, linear progression, mostly the same exercises) with a few small but important differences, none of which, in my opinion, are improvements. The major differences are as follows:

1) The exercise instruction is simply not of a comparable quality. The instruction in Starting Strength is much, much clearer and more thorough.

2) Stronglifts prescribes 5 sets for most of the exercises, while Starting Strength prescribes 3 sets. In reality, 3 sets is sufficient for any beginner to make progress. Needing to perform 5 sets makes progress more difficult -- this will be especially true in your case, per the bit above about reduced recovery ability.

3) Stronglifts includes several assistance exercises aside from the main lifts. These exercises are not strictly necessary, and take valuable time and energy that could be used for progress on the primary movements. Again this is going to apply even more for someone like you.

In any case, even if you decide to follow a different program, if you're going to be performing any barbell exercises, I recommend reading Starting Strength and purchasing the metal washers to facilitate small increases. Good luck.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 12:02 PM on June 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

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