“I’m too overweight to exercise. I should lose some weight first.”
“I’m too weak to lift weights.”
“I’m too old, that stuff is for someone half my age.”
I’ve heard it all in my years as a fitness professional. This type of backwards negative self talk keeps many people from being strong, healthy, and reaching their goals.
I’m here to fix that.
The following is a question I received via Facebook message a few days ago from a follower of my named Nancy (Hi Nancy!)
I’ve been following your posts. Most of them seem to be aimed at younger people who want to get very fit. How about some tips for us older people who just want to get fit enough to make life easier?”
Here was my response:
“Great question nancy!
Just about everything I write can be applied to any age group. Someone like you, I’d advise the same way I would someone younger. You still want to be lifting weights, you still want to be doing big movements like squats, and deadlifts, etc.
The difference would obviously be the weight, the intensity, the length of your workouts in the begining. You start easy, just bodyweight or light weights. It’s about your current level, you do what you can do. It seems like that stuff is for younger people, or people who care about looking a certain way, but in reality they are for everyone.
The best exercises are the best exercises. Be it for weight loss, muscle gain, or just general health. Same goes for diet. Healthy is healthy, it doesnt matter your age or goal. You have to just find what you can do, and then work to progress from there. I’m simplifying it a bit yes, but in reality it is that simple.”
That was my simple, succinct answer. I stand by it, but I would like to elaborate a little more for Nancy, and the many other older readers I have who may be feeling the same way.
First off, I see where Nancy is coming from. People see the videos on Instagram and Facebook of people doing awesome tricks, and crazy feats of strength, and it can be off putting.
If you are older, or even young and just a bit out of shape, you probably think to yourself “there’s no way I could do that.” Honestly, you might be right. Some things just aren’t for everyone. The good news is, you definitely don’t need to do that stuff. I’d also wager that, you don’t really want to.
You also might think “Whatever they had to do to get to that level, is totally beyond me. I just want to get in a little better shape.”
That, is where you would be wrong though.
The thing is, tricks and feats of strength are skills. They are practiced and rehearsed, and trained for and perfected.
A powerlifter throwing 500lb over his head, a gymnast doing a triple backflip, or some guy doing a human flag.
These are all amazing skills no doubt, but you don’t get to do those things, by doing those things.
Those people, like everyone, started at the beginning. They built their strength using foundational movements, put in tons of time, and practiced those particular skills. Those videos and pictures you see on social media are the culmination of months and years of hard work and training, all for a specific goal.
The point isn’t where they are now, it is where they started. if you are wondering where you should start, it’s at the beginning as well.
Strength is built on a foundation. Without that foundation, we have nothing.
As I said in my original message to Nancy, the best exercises are the best exercises. This is because the human body is the human body.
Young, old, black, white, Asian, hispanic, male, female, it doesn’t matter. We are all the same, and there are fundamental rules that our body abides by.
Our body wants to move. It was designed to move. Modern day humans have existed for about two hundred thousand years, and our evolutionary ancestors for millions before that. That entire time we have been evolving to be the most efficient movers possible.
Modern day life has taken us away from movement, and made us sedentary. To be healthy, we must get back to movement. It is what our body craves.
Let’s look at the facts:
When we move more, we get healthy & strong. We become resilient and resistant to injury and illness.
When we move less, we get weak & sick. Heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, weak joints, pain, and a litany of other things are all associated with lack of movement.
So it makes sense that we would want to move, and get better at it, right?
As humans, we move in certain ways. In this movement, there are several fundamental patterns that can be identified. These patterns can be trained, strengthened, and in doing so, make us better at moving, and thus better at being humans.
There are many patterns, but the main ones that we are concerned with in strength training are the squat, hinge (bend), gait, push, and pull. Some would go a bit deeper and add the lunge, twist, and carry.
The patterns I have just listed lay the foundation for all of exercise. Every movement you do in the gym (and in life) can be classified as working one of these fundamental patterns.
Bench press, push-up, shoulder press, all push. Pull-up, row, bicep curl, are all pulls. Squat variations, lunges, hinges, deadlifts, etc, all fall into one of the above movement patterns.
While you may think, “I don’t care to get strong in the gym and lift weights,” I would challenge you to think of anything you want to do outside of the gym that doesn’t involve these movements.
“I don’t want to squat.” Well, good luck getting up out of a chair or in and out of your car.
“No deadlifting for me.” Hope you never have to lift a suitcase or grocery bag off the floor.
Anything done with your upper body will inherently fall into either a push, pull, or carry motion.
In reality, what you are training in the gym, you are training for your life.
The term “functional” gets thrown around a lot in fitness. It means different things to different people.
To me, functional training is training that mimics life. It gets you strong and ready to do the things you need to do in your daily life.
A strong body is a resilient body. It is less likely to fall, and if it does fall, it is less likely to get hurt.
Once you understand that movement is movement, and exercise is exercise, there are a few logical next questions that may follow.
“Where do I start?”
“You’re saying I should do X, but I have an injury that stops me from doing just that. Then what?”
“How do I know I’m doing things correctly/safely?”
All of these are very valid questions.
The easiest to answer is the first. You start at the beginning. Wherever that is for you.
If you are older, or if you are just de-conditioned from not exercising for a prolonged period of time, your muscles will be weak.
That’s ok. We all need to start somewhere.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, get to work. Strength builds quickly in the beginning, and you will see that weights that seem impossible today will be easily moved in just a few short weeks.
During this beginning phase is where many lifters make their biggest mistake, especially older ones. The mistake is forgoing the principal of “progressive overload.”
Progressive overload is the main principle behind strength training. It is what causes our bodies to grow. The first part of this principal states that we must put a stress on our body to cause it to adapt.
In our case, this is lifting a weight that is heavier than our muscles can easily lift. Our body adapts by making our muscles stronger to lift that weight.
Then, we must progress that overload, making it heavier again, so that it again forces an adaptation.
This is where people start to mess up.
What this means is, if you start lifting a 5lb weight, and it is challenging, eventually you will get stronger and that 5lb will no longer be challenging. What you need to do then is increase the weight, or in some other way increase the difficulty of the exercise, so that you are again challenged.
If you do not increase the weight, as many people do not, sticking with the same weights/workouts/routines forever, you do not give your body a new reason to adapt. You are not applying progressive overload, and you will not continue to get stronger or see improvement.
Ok so back to the question at hand, where do I start?
Well, you start wherever is challenging for you. Maybe it’s a 5lb dumbbell, maybe it’s just your bodyweight sitting and standing from a chair. No matter what it is, if it challenges you, and you continue to work at it, you will get better.
Once you get better, you make it harder, and then continue to do so, ad infinitum. Congratulations, you’re now a gym rat!
The next question, what to do if you have injuries stopping you from doing a certain movement?
Well, that one is pretty simple as well. You don’t do that movement.
Shoulder problems keep you from raising your hand high overhead? No overhead movements.
Squatting hurts? You don’t have to squat.
There is no ONE movement that you MUST do. All you need to do is move, and do SOMETHING.
More often than not, through strength training, you will see improvements in many of these aches and pains. Some will go away completely.
This can be due to many factors. Sometimes weight loss leads to less stress on the body and joints. Sometimes strength adaptations, 0r better movement patterns just make us feel better. No matter what, strength training is something that you should look for as a tool to help your pain, not be afraid of and avoid.
Ok but, how do I know I’m doing things correctly and safely?
This is a bit tougher. Honestly, if you’re reading this, and you are of an age higher than thirty and you have that question, hire a trainer.
Not that I am saying anyone over thirty is old.
More so that, under thirty, our bodies are more resilient. We can push its boundaries, test its limits, and it will bounce back with little to no repercussions.
After thirty, and not so much. Injuries take more of a toll, and recovery takes longer. Every decade after thirty, it just gets worse.
It pays then, to hire a qualified professional to make sure you are performing the movements correctly. If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind, and that is worth enough on its own.
If for whatever reason you can’t get a trainer, as the kids say today “DYR,” or “do your research!” (disclaimer: I have no clue if kids actually say this. Probably not though I’d guess.)
Use the internet as a tool to the best of your ability. Start slow, and know your limits. Look for progress, but don’t rush it. This is about being fit and healthy for the rest of your life!
So Nancy, (and everyone else reading this) I hope this helps!
I hope now you understand, that while it may seem like my workouts and content are aimed towards young, in shape people, that is certainly not the case.
Fitness is for everyone. It belongs to no age group. It should be something we strive for from childhood into our eighties, nineties, and beyond.
Fitness is for everyone. It belongs to no age group. It should be something we strive for from childhood, well into our eighties, nineties, and beyond.
Higher levels of physical fitness are directly correlated to a higher quality of life as we age. I would argue then, that strength training is more important for those in the fifty and up age group, than it is for us young bucks in our twenties.
Start slow, take your time, but don’t be afraid. If you start now, you can be in an entire different place in just a matter of months. It is what your body wants, and your body will thank you.