Help a busy, middle-aged fella get in shape
March 7, 2014 9:12 AM   Subscribe

You’re a guy pushing 45. You have a lovely middle-aged gut and 20 to 30 pounds you’d like to lose. You have a lack of strength and energy you’d like to remedy.

You’re an off-and-on runner who hasn’t done anything substantial in at least a year. You haven’t done strength training in at least two years.

You have an hour at home each weekday morning. What do you do?
posted by shallowcenter to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Bodyweight exercises alternating with Couch-to-5K.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

And previously.

You don't need any equipment, but I'd suggest a pullup bar: Relatively cheap and small, and it's difficult to do back exercises on the floor. (If you can't do a pullup yet, start by standing on a chair and do supported pullups - that is, help yourself with your legs.

And of course the truism: The best exercise is the one you actually do, so don't worry too much about doing the "wrong" workout, as long as your heart rate goes up and you work your large muscles (legs, back, chest).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

A vigorous yoga workout will help you get your endurance and balance up and will lower stress (which lowers cortisol, which contributes to keeping fat on you...especially that visceral fat around your belly). Jumping rope is amazing for cardio and burning fat, as are kettle bell workouts. I think you can do yoga some days, then jump rope and kettle bells other days. This will help you get back in shape for running if you want, and with these workouts, you can ramp up easily if needed. I would also suggest going vegan (but healthy vegan, with vegetables and fruits and legumes and whole grains...not plates of fries and oreos). A vegan diet burns more visceral fat, so your belly may be gone more quickly. The nice thing about a vegan diet filled with whole plant foods is that you can eat as much as you want. What we eat contributes far more to weight than exercise does, and you'll keep the weight off as you age.
posted by semaphore at 9:33 AM on March 7, 2014

For me, getting a trainer at the local gym twice a week has made all the difference. I then do two workouts on my own. I don't know if you have the resources for that, but it has really made the difference for me between intention and reality.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:37 AM on March 7, 2014

I am 24 but weak... so very weak... and I do Couch-to-5k where I repeat each week of running for two weeks. It's the only way I can stay motivated and not be like "my whole body gives up."
posted by stoneandstar at 9:40 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Perhaps cheaper than getting a personal trainer, joining some sort of fitness class can also work. Personally I find the class format works great for me, I can just focus entirely on doing the exercises, I don't really struggle with boredom as much in a class setting, and it's nice to be working out together with other people.
posted by rustcrumb at 9:40 AM on March 7, 2014

I think a gym would be better, but you might find this useful.
posted by Silvertree at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2014

Switching from regular soda to diet soda (and then flavored seltzer) and keeping a food journal on my smartphone helped me drop 20 pounds almost without effort. I've used both Lose It! and FatSecret, but there are many to choose from.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

What's your diet like? A flat gut is seriously made in the kitchen.

Also, burpees. Just keep doing it. You'll last about 25 seconds the first time just keep doing them till you increase your tolerance for it.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:51 AM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

If there's a gym near you, I'd totally reccomend Crossfit. The class-based approach might help you stay engaged...
posted by prentiz at 10:02 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Mark Lauren. We use his You Are Your Own Gym video, the novice level is plenty tough enough for us so far. There's 3 different novice level workouts and two levels above that, should keep us going for a while.

If you can, try to figure out a way to get a workout buddy, that helps a lot for motivation.
posted by mattu at 10:12 AM on March 7, 2014

If you're experiencing lack of energy, sleep might be the explanation. Exercise and diet are extremely important, but a lot of people overlook the importance of a good night's rest. I would even go so far as to say that a good and regular eight hours of sleep is the cornerstone of health, and yes, even fitness.

Hopefully you already are and this advice is needless. If you are getting less sleep or not sleeping on a regular schedule, maybe try it out for a few weeks. Eight hours (not six, not seven), same time to bed every night, same time waking up.
posted by Willie0248 at 10:21 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

You’re an off-and-on runner who hasn’t done anything substantial in at least a year.

Just become an "on" runner who trains like you mean it. Running is all you need. Quit avoiding it and get your ass back out there.
posted by three blind mice at 10:30 AM on March 7, 2014

Kettlebells work for me.
posted by dfriedman at 10:31 AM on March 7, 2014

And watch the favorites roll in! (Has anyone done a demographic analysis of MeFites lately? The site's been around since 2003. I'm guessing it skewed somewhat older than, say, Reddit to begin with. Yep. We're all there with you.)

In addition to the excellent suggestions above, I'd suggest a Fitbit or equivalent. Not the flex, which goes around your wrist. That one looks goofy and apparently irritates a lot of people's skin. But the One is nice. It goes in your pocket. If you don't use a smartphone, or don't trust big data or something you can get pretty much the same result for less money from a good pedometer. I recommend the Omron HJ-112. (Don't skimp on a pedometer - really cheap ones are worse than useless.)

Then just wear it for a couple weeks and track your daily totals in an Excel spreadsheet or something. That will give you an average daily step count for your ordinary life. Now start pushing it up. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Take the stairs. Basically aim for pushing that average up by about 500 steps a week.

The nice thing about this is that it is just sort of a game that you weave into your life rather than something specific you make time to do. Since it sounds like you have an hour to do something more ambitious with, follow someone's advice above. This will multiply the impact of whatever you do in that hour.

(Also, let me finish by emphasizing that you can't outtrain a bad diet. None of this will really work if you don't also work on your nutrition.)
posted by Naberius at 10:34 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lost my excess fat and post-baby belly after seriously dialling down the carbs.
posted by Dragonness at 10:45 AM on March 7, 2014

Response by poster: Such great answers! You guys really are great.

I need to bump up sleep -- I'm more of a 6-1/2- to 7-hour sleeper than a solid 8.

The diet is so-so. No fast food, no sugared soda, not many sweets, but salty snacks and pale ales have taken their toll.

Keep 'em coming, friends. As Naberius notes, this is right in the wheelhouse of AskMe's, um, venerable readership.
posted by shallowcenter at 10:46 AM on March 7, 2014

An inexpensive way to get started, without having to do much of your own planning, might be a fitness DVD. I've enjoyed Jillian Michaels videos (30 day shred, Ripped in 30) for starting to get back on track with fitness.
posted by pril at 10:47 AM on March 7, 2014

How has no one linked to the NYT seven minute workout yet?

There's an increasing body of evidence out there that seems to say that fitness is more easily obtained through shorter workouts of hard interval training vs. long stretches of steady state aerobic activity.

Personally, I like tabata intervals (20 seconds all out, 10 seconds off for 4 minutes) - they suck, but they're over in 4 minutes. Start with something mostly aerobic like running or cycling. Eventually you'll be able to do a significant number of body weight exercises like push-ups or burpees in that time, as well (like 7 or 8 per 20 second interval, not 2 or 3). I cannot tell you how sore I was the next day I decided that tabata burpees were a good idea, but I do them regularly, now.

I also like the "you are your own gym" app, but when life gets busy I find it much easier to go through 4 minutes of agony before showering vs. trying to carve out a large chunk of time. Carving out enough time to drive to a gym and also workout is right out.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:48 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

For exercise, you might try making a commitment with a workout buddy at least one day a week. The social aspect adds fun and can help add a level of accountability. (Like, I told Nick I was gonna run twice this week and he's gonna ask how my week went so...) I think hiring a personal trainer probably has a similar accountability effect. Start with small, measurable goals and keep track of your accomplishments somewhere that you see daily. I think it's a great idea to alternate running with bodyweight exercises. A strong core will help with your running too. Remember to stretch and luxuriate in how good your muscles feel afterwards.

The suggestion for a workout DVD especially one that's designed to slowly increase your strength etc is also a good idea!

Love that phrase above about a flat belly being made in the kitchen. Sustainable weight loss requires sustainable life changes, not a diet. That's something to keep in mind as you make changes to what and how you eat. I'd start with one change, like adding a serving of fruit to every lunch for a month or dialing back on your portion sizes at one meal a day. Next month, add in a change of only drinking those pale ales on the weekend, while you keep eating fruit with those lunches, and so on.
posted by purple_bird at 11:51 AM on March 7, 2014

Well, I don't know how safe, sane, or cost effective it is, but anecdotally, I do know of one male in your demographic that used medical-grade HGH (ostensibly for Hep C "muscle wasting") and boasted it really was a turning point for this (he also worked out regularly).

Do you know how else to access increased HGH though? Better sleep (quality and quantity).

I'm a female and a bit younger than you (so not the "middle aged male" of the linked study), but when medical interventions for a diagnosed sleep disorder (not sleeping pills or benzos, which can disrupt normal sleep architecture) started to improve my quality of sleep, I suddenly (well, after about 5 months) noticed I looked like I had been working out, doing sit-ups, etc., even though my diet and lazy ass habits had not changed during that time (caveat: I am fairly physically active in terms of walking, stair climbing, and carrying things, though my gym membership has been largely a donation over this same time period). Another anecdote.
posted by blue suede stockings at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2014

I do a couple interval cardio classes a week and a weekly shared session with at trainer. I try to get to the gym at least one more day for an hour+ mix of cardio and strength training and to walk/hike/snowshoe most of the other days although this bitter icy winter has taken its toll there. For me to actually lose weight took doing all that and using a pedometer and tracking what I ate and did with There is a (not terribly active) mefi group there as well. I needed the accountability of classes/trainer - prepaid - to get me there. Played soccer for years and the same thing applied - having spent the money and having other people expecting me to show up were key. Oh - and I'm 52 and in the best shape of my life so there's that.
posted by leslies at 12:49 PM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Monday: 5 minute jog, 5 minute dynamic stretch, strength work for 40 minutes, static/isometric stretches for 10 minutes. Buy a kettlebell or a dumbbell set or a barbell and squat rack for the strength work. Use whole-body movements: pull-ups, squats, kettlebell swings, deadlifts, overhead presses, dumbbell cleans. Rests between sets are OK up to 2 to 4 minutes. Go nice and easy the first week because you have plenty of time to ramp up to heavy weights over the next several months of increasing awesomeness.

Tuesday: 10 minute jog, 10 minute dynamic stretch, bodyweight workout for 30 minutes, static/isometric stretches for 10 minutes. The bodyweight workout can include push-ups, dips, air squats, lunges, Hindu push-ups, whatever. Pick a handful and do them repeatedly until you get good at them. The stretching can be replaced with yoga poses if you like. If this sounds like hell on earth then just go for a 40 minute run then come home and stretch for twenty minutes.

Wednesday: as Monday

Thursday: as Tuesday

Friday: as Monday

Next week, increase the weight on the barbell slightly or use a the next heaviest dumbbell/kettlebell or do more reps. Repeat until awesome. For more reading check out Primal Fitness, or Starting Strength, or StrongLifts. Read Ross Enamait for age-related encouragement if necessary.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:18 PM on March 7, 2014

I am about 5 pounds ahead of you (meaning I have started losing the weight and have gotten off the first 5 pounds).

First thing I did was get a walking desk. This is kinda spendy, but cheaper than a gym membership. It forces me to walk or at least stand when screwing around on the web (like metafilter) or playing computer games. It also helps limits those sedentary activities. This didn't help me lose any, but it stopped the gain.

Next I started keeping a food diary on my phone/computer. I use Lose it, but as said above, there isn't a shortage out there to choose from. After a month or so I noticed I was drinking a LOT of Kool-aid and soda (more than I thought) and eating out a lot. I was coming in right at my calorie expendature also so that was why I wasn't losing.

Around christmas time, I cut out the sugar (I try and usually get under 25g a day of sugar) and less than 1800 calories a day. Last month I started making an effort to up my protein intake and cut carb intake further (than from just sugar, that alone was 500-calories a day).

I got some cheap dumbbells from a local used sporting goods store. When I watch TV away from my walking desk, I am doing exercises with the dumbbells during commercials or when I get fidgety.

I am also trying to get more exercise just actively engaging stuff round the house like landscaping and repairs in a more energetic fashion. I don't avoid trips up and down the stairs or put off chores at all.

I have lost somewhere between 5-8 pounds since christmas, and dropped at least 1" from my waist (I am going to have to buy a new belt soon). I have at least 20 to go before I will be happy.
posted by bartonlong at 2:39 PM on March 7, 2014

Sign up for myfitnesspal, track all your food. Run for 45 minutes, six times per week. Use a heart rate monitor to make sure you are actually getting exercise. Try to work your way up to 100 pushups. Do that for 12 weeks and you will have lost 30 pounds.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 3:30 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you've got the space, check craigslist for some equipment. I picked up a pretty good weight bench with squat rack and 300Lbs olympic weight set for $200 that I used for starting strength. 5 rep sets with big compound lifts feels like a much more efficient use of my time than a bunch of body weight exercises and having everything I need down in my basement is the only thing that allows me to keep up the habit.
posted by VTX at 5:04 PM on March 7, 2014

If you're looking to improve cardio, try couch to 5k.

If you're looking to improve strength, try either Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5x5.

Both use linear progression on 5 compound lifts. You start with a low weight (typically just the bar) and add weight on every workout. It's basically the "couch to 5k" of strength training.

Stronglifts has a great free app for iOS and Android that makes tracking your progress really easy.

I'm the same as you, and I've been running Stronglifts for about 6 months now. I'm ripped by any means but my lifts are up across the board and I feel stronger. As an extra bonus I haven't had any back or shoulder pain (touches wood).
posted by kaefer at 5:12 PM on March 7, 2014

Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants. You don't say much about what your diet is like but if you want to lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit. Use MyFitnessPal or similar to keep track of every calorie you consume. Create the deficit and, barring any extenuating medical situation, you will lose weight. Eat real foods, see Michael Pollan's book linked above. Stick with this and it will work. Unless you have diligently tracked calories before it will probably be very eye opening.

While you are improving your diet, you should exercise more. Do a mix of cardio or strength training, there is some good advice above. As others have mentioned, the best exercise is one that you will do. Do you like the social aspect of playing on a team sport? Will a higher cost/commitment (ie. personal trainer, CrossFit, Soulcycle) keep you accountable? Could you post on a running list serve for a running buddy to schedule times to make you show up?

Most importantly if you want to lose weight, improve your diet. Use part of that hour each morning to prepare some healthy food to take to work or wherever you have a tendency to eat crappy. Use the rest of the time or alternate days to do some high intensity work, go for a run, do body weight strength training or lift weights.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:08 PM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and do try sleeping more. That might help.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:34 PM on March 7, 2014

Female, younger than your target cohort, but even so, all kinds of things have caught up with me, quick. You don't have the body of a 20-something athlete, so don't follow programs that are geared to a young body (or not right away, at least).

It's easy to be seduced by the "most effective" workouts for "fat burning". Most of them are not friendly to people in their middle years. Contra advice suggesting crossfit, regular high intensity intervals, etc, I would caution you to do approach all things in moderation, at least until you have a solid base built up (but preferably forever). Not just a base of muscular strength - old tendons and ligaments especially take forever to heal, and to acclimate to new challenges. Once you've messed up your cartilage, that's it (knees). Even Schwarzenegger (granted, he's older than you) and the fanatics on this site have conceded to age and wear. Regular fitness is protective against age-related cognition problems, along with all the other good things. You want to be able to do this for the long haul, not flame out a year or two after one summer of cut abs. (PSA over.)

To me, all things in moderation means a mix of moderate cardio, and safer strength movements within a safe repetition range (more like 8-15 than 3-8). Too much repetitive movement (eg using the same machine, like a treadmill, every day) is no good - easy to accumulate micro injuries. So, do different things all the time. Too much intensity (in the form of impact or weight) could blow something out. So, maybe watch how you're recovering and feeling as you add weight.

A balance is ideal. The best way to get access to gear that supports a balance is to get a gym membership - most people can't buy themselves a bike, treadmill, stepper, and rower, plus weights, off the bat. (Unless you live somewhere with year-round access to cycling and hiking trails, etc - it's so much nicer to do those things outside, and if you can, you should.)

Recovery from workouts should be part of your focus, too. That means, don't undereat - I would go for a conservative calorie deficit; work on sleep; and give some thought to planning your workouts throughout the week to support recovery. Maybe start with two days "off" (could still walk in between, that helps recovery) and see how you go.

Paying attention to diet is going to do more for your aesthetic goals than working out like a beast on a daily basis, so that's a good focus.

This is all assuming you're a regular jo and not a former Div 1 athlete who's played some sport or other all his life (even so, would still say, check yourself before you wreck yourself).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:37 PM on March 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

For me, it was finding an activity that I really enjoyed and making changes to my diet for reasons I believed in: not just because I wanted to be healthy or loose weight. I do hot yoga and rock climb because they are fun. I eat almost no meat or dairy because I want to do less harm in the world (haven't gone full vegan yet, the siren song of bacon and cheese....)

Sure, it's good for me, but it's good for me on multiple dimensions beyond just my health, which makes it much easier to stay on the wagon.
posted by Freen at 9:00 AM on March 8, 2014

If the bodyweight fitness stuff appeals to you, here's a free resource for it, based on the reddit bodyweight FAQ:

That has links to YouTube videoes demonstrating all the exercises. What I like about it is that there are clear progressions for each of the exercises, so you always have a goal to work towards, yet it's a fairly simple routine.
posted by Diablevert at 1:59 PM on March 10, 2014

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