Advice wanted for next stage in home fitness program
September 11, 2011 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Please help me take the next step in my fitness program, and continue the good progress I've made so far. Of course, there are lifestyle, age, money and space limitations so my AskMF and Web searches have not been as successful as you might think. Many details within.

I'm a male in my late 50's. Back in April 2011 I began a new diet using a cell phone app and began walking near my home after quitting the gym (time is my enemy, it was a waste of money). I bought a good elliptical in June and have used it for about 35 minutes at least 5 days a week since. Have lost 16 pounds so far, out of my goal of 45 (which would leave me at 5 foot 11, 200 pounds). I call my progress toward that so far "stage 1 success".

For stage 2, I am thinking some kind of strength improvements, while still continuing diet and aerobics. Please understand we are talking about someone who hasn't been fit since college (and even then only average). So my strength goal would be to be able to do some push ups, some sit-ups and (someday) some pull-ups, but I am starting out at virtually none of those. I realize there are ways to modify the exercises and work up to the proper form. I am *not* trying to become ripped, just somewhat fit.

However I also hear good things about dumbbell use at home. I already have many dumbbells and d/b plates saved from years ago, but no bench. I have about a 5 foot by 5 foot by 7 foot space remaining in the basement next to the elliptical. I can afford to spend 350 dollars, maybe somewhat more. I have also seen various door attachments and floor exercise accessories being used on YouTube.

Questions: based on my current situation and next stage goals, and considering time, money and space limitations, would you recommend a modest investment in equipment (and what kind) or would you stick with pure calisthenics, or some combination?

Thanks for your patience with this "special snowflake" question.
posted by forthright to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I would really consider investing in a barbell. If you can find one compatable with your current set of plates that opens up a world of exercises for you. Squats, deadlifts, pendlay rows, military press and the bench press are the best strength exercises you can do. Starting Strength is a favorite on AskMe and a great program for beginners. Of course, this would mean buying a bench and a cage in addition to a bar. It will definitely cost you more than $350 but less than a bowflex. You can find used ones on craigslist frequently.

This article from (an excellent, but cumbersome resource) gives a nice overview of exercises you can do from home with just barbells.

A third suggestion, and it is another AskMe favorite, is P90X. All you need is a pullup bar, those dumbbells, and a means to play the DVD in your workout room. While I don't think you can achieve tremendous strength gains from the program, it will help you loose weight, improve cardiovascular performance, work on your balance, and improve endurance. It is an awesome program for anyone not afraid to work.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:58 AM on September 11, 2011

Thanks munchingzombie for the quick reply! The article you linked to looks great (I think you meant "just dumbbells" since I don't see them mentioning barbells). Sounds like a good stage 2A for me, especially considering zero cost.

I'll have to think about the Starting Strength need for more equipment (space and money). I saw the P90X during my research but thought it was a bit more advanced than I was ready for (maybe I'm wrong), also the Amazon link has a customer photo showing packaging of the disks leaving scratches/adhesive on them (?).
posted by forthright at 12:18 PM on September 11, 2011

I would say, since you already have the plates, get a barbell. If you have space, a squat rack would also be great. You will be able to work most of your major muscle groups doing various squats, deadlifts, and overhead lifts (In my opinion, you don't really need to be bench pressing, you can focus on overhead lifts and weighted pushups... plus, you shouldn't be bench pressing with a barbell without a spotter anyway).

Additionally, an 'in the door' pull up bar would be great. A good way to get into doing pull-ups, if you aren't able yet, is to do "negative pull-ups". Squat on the edge of a chair, using your arms as much as you can and your legs for the rest, do a pull up. Once you get your chin over the bar, lower yourself slowly and with control, all the way down to a hang position. This will help build your muscles and eventually you will be able to lift yourself without the chair. Also for pulls, you could also get a pair of olympic rings (to attach to the pull-up bar), which you could do ring-rows with - I think ring-rows are also a great prelude to pull-ups. Additionally you can do ring push-ups on these once you advance past doing regular push-ups.

Other things might be, a jump rope, a large box to do box jumps onto.

I do CrossFit and most everything within the program can be done at home with the equipment I explained above. If you look at their WODs you will find some really amazing workouts. However, I would recommend taking some starter classes with them, don't want to start lifting heavy things in your basement with no idea what good form looks like.

*yes, I drink the crossfit coolaid... and I totally love it*
posted by LZel at 12:20 PM on September 11, 2011

A bench and a barbell is a good idea, those can be had for under $350, and can augment what you've already got. A doorframe pullup bar is also a good idea, and you can use a chair or stool to place some of your weight on and work up to doing an actual honest-to-goodness pull up one day. A bench that adjusts to allow you to do things on an incline is a plus.

You don't need to buy a squat rack or squat cage to do squats. Just use your bodyweight to start and then use dumbbells. If you do get to the point where you feel you want to add more weight, I'm guessing that will coincide with you all deciding you have the time and motivation to get back in the gym.

Stick to the exercises that work the largest and most significant muscle groups; this will give you the most value for your time (and money). So you'll want to do things like squats, deadlifts, bench press, incline bench, shoulder press, barbell rows, pullups, pushups.

The best fitness resource I've ever found on the web is located here. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have participated on the forums in the past, although I'm not going to tell you who I am :). But the forums there are chock full of intelligent, insightful, practical fitness information that IMO is of much higher quality than elsewhere on the web.

In addition to Starting Strength, check out Stronglifts, which is another program for building strength for people new to lifting weights.

Building strength is one of the best things you can do for your health! Consistency with your nutrition and strength training will yield results.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:23 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

...and just to clarify, I am a scrawny girly chick, not some military meat head recommending CrossFit. It's not more than you can handle.
posted by LZel at 12:26 PM on September 11, 2011

Thanks LZel & MoonOrb, you are exposing me to things I hadn't considered. I'm going to have to take some time to review the resources and products you linked to (and I'll be away from the PC for a while for my elliptical time and then church services) but I wanted to thank you first.

Three things that come to my mind re: barbells: width for the bar, spotter (don't have one) and knees (no current problem but I'm getting to that age). I realize the logistics/decision are on my end, but figured I should own up to having those concerns. I know all of you have given me alternatives to barbells already.
posted by forthright at 12:40 PM on September 11, 2011

Without buying anything you could try the hundred pushups program.

I'm a woman around your age. Programs aimed at much younger people may be unrealistic. I gained about thirty pounds ten years ago, lost it all a few years later by walking for an hour a day and doing yoga a few times a week. Both burn the calories and the yoga increases flexibility and strength. Pushups are generally easier for men to do. I've never made it to a hundred.
posted by mareli at 1:02 PM on September 11, 2011

Re: your barbell concerns:

Length: A standard barbell is roughly 7 feet long, so if you can judge your elliptical over a bit you should be good to go.

Spotter: If you're going to get a rack, ideally you should get one that has adjustable safety bars, like this (can be used in lieu of a spotter for bench press as well). Otherwise you can do some common substitutions for lifts that don't require a spotter, for example:

- Instead of back squat, you can front squat or learn to safely bail out of a back squat
- Instead of a barbell bench press, you can bench press with dumbbells

... and that's basically it for lifts that require a spot.

Knees: Learning to squat to full depth with good form is one of the best things you can do for your knees. Partial squatting with bad form would be pretty unwise.

In general: I am a huge proponent of barbell-based weight training -- I don't think there's any better way to get strong and fit and feel amazing. But I am also a competitive strength athlete -- I train with weights because it is my sport and I want to get as strong as possible. Because of that, I spend many hours every week in the gym, reading about training, thinking about training, eating a precise diet, sleeping instead of going out, etc etc.

It sounds like you don't have any interest in doing that, and that's totally fine; everyone has different priorities and goals. If you want to get into "phase 2" and up your strength a bit, I'd do variations on the following bodyweight exercises:

- Push ups (full range of motion -- elbows locked out at the top, and chest touching the ground at the bottom)
- Pull ups
- Air squats
- Burpees (aka squat thrusts)

Using a "grease the groove" type approach. The basic idea there is to do frequent sets of these exercises in a volume that is medium-tough but not anywhere close to failure. A common example is with pull ups: you can set up a bar in a doorway in your house, and make a rule for yourself that every time you pass through that doorway, jump up and do one easy pull up. Do this for a few days or a week until you reach the point where it would be easy to do two pull ups, then change your rule to "do two every time". And so on.

For exercises where you aren't able to do even one rep yet, start with a scaled down version. Instead of doing a pull up, grab the bar and jump so your chin is over the bar, then lower your body as slowly as possible (that's called a "negative"). "Grease the groove" with that movement until you're able to do one real pull up. Should be sooner than you'd think.
posted by telegraph at 1:05 PM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

*nudge your elliptical, sorry
posted by telegraph at 1:05 PM on September 11, 2011

If you sign up for Marks Sisson's (author of The Primal Blueprint) newsletter at Mark's Daily Apple, you will be able to download a pdf fitness guide which includes a plan to work up to basic fitness moves like pushup, pullups, and other stuff. I too am starting out at basically zero, and this seems like a really good, simple no-gym option (other than pullup bar, but I will eventually get one of those over-the-door thingys).
posted by sugarbiscuit at 1:29 PM on September 11, 2011

I've spent about a month doing nothing but kettle bell swings, twice a week at 75 reps and 53lbs. I have to say it's remarkable — an everything exercise. I have no interest in body sculpting or fine-tuning which muscles look what way. But I do feel much stronger and more upright and ready — excellent. More here.
posted by argybarg at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2011

Buy these. Don't take up much room, and very quickly change between different weights:
posted by gte910h at 4:07 PM on September 11, 2011

OK, I'm back now, and very impressed with even more good advice. I like the idea of the "grease the groove" scheme, and I appreciate the advice on good form. I have signed-up for the Mark's Daily Apple newsletter and downloaded the PDF guides. I will investigate the hundred push ups program (and the associated Android app). And I'll check into that kettle ball program.

For that matter I will need to digest all this great advice and decide on what I will start with. I really do appreciate the time each of you took to reply, and I can tell you weren't just giving canned answers but specifically thinking what would be best for me. Thank you so much!

I am going to mark as best answers the ones that game me the most options, I hope others aren't slighted. My only other choice would have been to mark every answer best, which seemed a bit over the top.

Anyone who finds this thread in the future and wants to hear what worked best for me can feel free to MeFiMail me.
posted by forthright at 4:29 PM on September 11, 2011

* gave me the best answers
posted by forthright at 4:34 PM on September 11, 2011

As pointed out by telegraph and others, there is a lot of mileage in body weight exercises. I would add to telegraph's list lunges and planks.

I don't know what it is called, but one of my current favorites is to start in a plank (on your elbows) and then one arm at a time go up to the top of a pushup.

For lunges, you can step backwards, or forwards or as you get stronger do jumping lunges.

I think you could get quite strong without having to buy anything.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:21 PM on September 11, 2011

I'm all for body weight exercises but the 100 push ups programme looks like fantasy to me. It's essentially a lot of small sets of push ups over 6 weeks, leading to a maximum set of around 50 to 60 then, somehow, magically, you're able to complete a full set of 100 push ups the next time you try. If you followed that programme you'd have much stronger shoulders but don't feel like a failure if you couldn't manage the whole 100 at the end.
posted by joannemullen at 12:10 AM on September 12, 2011

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