I joined a gym recently, and lifted for the first time in a few years on Friday morning. I turned 40 in the Fall, and I’ve had a couple of serious injuries in the last three years, including a knee injury that had me limping for months. The last couple of years have been a bit hectic for me for other reasons I won’t bore you with, but I’ve kind of been taking stock of things lately, and realizing that I’m not really who I’d hoped to be at 40, and that I had to do something about that.
Part of that is that I’m really out of shape. I’ve lifted a bit in the past, but never seriously over a long period of time. I was naturally kind of lean and strong for someone who didn’t train when I was younger, and I kind of regret not having put in some hard work back when I was young enough for it to benefit me the most.
So I decided to join a gym and start on Rippetoe’s basic Starting Strength routine, and not mess around with it. I found the place that I’m pretty sure is the best commercial gym for weights around here. It’s still mostly machines and aerobics, but it is where the local powerlifters train. There’s a bucket of chalk in the weight room, and they have a power rack.
I’ve never lifted seriously for a long time, but I have lifted a bit in the past, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of where I ought to start out in terms of weight. So I went in on Friday morning, and started with the squat. I did a set of 5 with the bar, a set of 5 at 95, and added another 50 pounds, figuring that my last warm-up set would be at 145 and then I would do my work-sets at 155 or 165, in order to take it a bit easy in the first workout. But when I got done with the first set I realized that not only was I going to be doing my work-sets at 145, I wasn’t taking it easy. I finished 3x5 at 145, but by the last rep I knew I was going to be pretty sore the next day.
So I moved on to the bench, and made exactly the same mistake. I did a set with the bar, one at 65, and one at 85. 85 felt a lot heavier than I thought it should have, so I figured I would be conservative and do my work-sets at 95. And I couldn’t even get the last rep of the first set at 95. I had to roll the bar off myself. So I figured, OK, back off to 85 and do one more set. And I missed the last rep there too, though I did manage to get the bar onto a lower set of pins at least.
Well, I’m dumb, but at least I wasn’t dumb enough to do the same thing with the deads. I swallowed my pride and did one work-set at 115, as I was pretty tired by this point. That, at least, wasn’t so bad, though I didn’t like how low the bar was with 35s on it (I did my warm-up sets off the squat rack, as no one there at 8 in the morning looked like they were going to go near it, and I was quick about it.)
So I wobbled into the locker room to take a shower, and got on a scale for the first time in a couple of years. I knew I’d gained a bit of weight over the last year, but I didn’t realize how much. I thought I might be 190, maybe even 195, but I’m 200 pounds, which is way too much for me right now.
To add injury to insult I realized later in the day that I had pulled something toward the bottom of my ribcage on the right side. I was actually pretty worried about it then and yesterday. My quads have been sore as hell since Friday afternoon, but I expected that. This isn’t soreness- it is a sharp pain when I make certain movements. But it feels a lot better today, so I figure it isn’t very serious.
The thing that worries me about it is that I had absolutely no idea it was happening when it happened. There was no pain there at all until 5 or 6 hours after I left the gym. I’m feeling a bit humiliated by how fat and weak I’ve gotten (I knew I was fatter and weaker than I wanted to be, but I had no idea how weak I was, and was maybe lying to myself a bit about the fat part.) I guess I really am 40…
When I was younger and did some lifting I was able to up the pounds pretty fast, from a significantly higher baseline than I’m starting from now. So my instinct is to increase the weight I’m lifting pretty aggressively- I think even at 40 I’m likely to get stronger pretty fast at first, just because I am starting from such a low point. But if I hurt myself it’s just going to slow things down, as well as being unpleasant. I guess I’m trying to figure out how to tell when I am pushing harder than I should be.
The other thing I’m trying to figure out is what I should be eating. Right now I care more about getting stronger than I care about getting leaner- I’m fatter than I want to be, but I’m not obese- I still wear size 34 jeans, though I’m afraid my belly overtops them a bit. I don’t want to gain much more fat though, and ideally I’d like to lose some pretty soon. I’ve been taking pretty bad care of myself for a while, and that has included getting way too many of my calories from beer. I stopped drinking so much a little while ago, and I’m hoping that just that will help with the waistline.
But I’m not sure how I should eat. I’m not a skinny kid who wants to gain 50 pounds of muscle in two years. And I’m not a really fat guy who wants to drop 50 pounds of fat. I’m not happy with how much fat I’m carrying at the moment, but I am even more unhappy with how weak I am. Ideally I’d like to be a lot stronger than I am now, and weigh about the same, with about 25 pounds less fat and about 25 lbs more muscle. It’s a lot easier to lose fat than it is to gain muscle, so I’d be happy enough if a year from now I’d gained ten pounds of muscle and weighed 185, particularly if I had gotten strong enough to squat and deadlift something in the neghborhood of 300. Are these realistic and compatible goals at my age?
So I’m thinking that right now I ought to be eating a slight excess of calories in order to get stronger and push the weights I’m using as fast as I can without hurting myself, but maybe start eating less in 3-4 months in order to lose some fat. Of course I am going to think pretty hard about the composition of those calories. Does this make any sense?
Thanks, and sorry if this post is a bit long.