Starting at Age 52

I want to start with a long back log, broken into a few separate posts, in case someone wants to comment on those earlier workouts. On June 30, 2021 I set a goal to do a full body workout 3 days per week for one year. I wanted to see how much lean muscle I could gain. I’m 7 months in and I already expect to keep up after this first year ends. My long term goal is maintain strength and fitness as I get older. So while I’m trying to do progressive overload now, I’m thinking about how I will eventually find a maintenance program. I’d like a maintenance program that included more athletic movements like box jumps and fairly fast running. At some point I want to do a Vince Gironda style 8x8 “honest workout.” I like that high intensity stuff, well intensity is weight, so I suppose it’s high volume/high density. All of my workouts are at home. I have free weights, a rack rated for 300 lbs, but no bench. I use a board for incline press. I prefer to work at home, no music, don’t want to go to a gym. I prefer to do whole body workouts.

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When I was 16 years old I lifted weights for a bit less than one year. Maybe some here will appreciate this, my grandfather gave me his weight set of old York dumbbells and the really old York dumbbell course cards. That’s how it started. A family friend who was a gymnast gave me Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. I learned strip sets and supersets from that. I really liked doing strip sets and working til total failure. For some reason I ended up thinking the weight lifting didn’t do anything, and it was just natural adolescent growth, and so I stopped. The little bit that I gained I think was lost by the time I was 18.

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I did not really do any fitness training again until in my 40s. Here are some examples of workouts from that time. Just before I hit 50 I did a 1RM test with a coworker who is an experienced weight lifter. I had some lower back trouble a few years prior. I think that accounts for the relatively lower squat/deadlift numbers. Frankly I was afraid to keep pushing the test on those two lifts.

2016-2020
Height: 5’9"
Waist: 29-30"
Body weight: 135 lbs, sometimes down to 129 lbs. if I ran a lot.

Body weight workout, 3 days a week,
Push ups: 17
Pull ups: 3
Air squat: 45
Plank, elbows: 1 minute
3-5 circuits, 20 sec rest between circuits

Mixed body weight and free weights workout, 3 days a week, approx 30-40 minutes:
Sit ups 20x
Pull ups 7x
Stair climb w/pair 15 lbs. dumbbells up/down 4x
OHP 60 lbs. barbell 8x
Dumbbell swing 20 lbs. for 1 minute
Step over 12" bar for 1 minute
RDL 60 lbs. barbell 10x
Do all 7 movements without rest, 1 minute rest after circuit, repeat circuit 3x

Barbell workout
Deadlift 88 lbs. 10 reps x 3 set
Calf raise 88 lbs. 15 x 3
Squat 88 lbs. 12 x 3
OHP 65 lbs. 8 x 3
Pull ups 4 x 3

During warm season, 2-3 times a week, run 2 miles at moderate pace

Feb 22, 2019, 1RM test
               1RM      %b.w. 75%
DEADLIFT       165 lbs. 122%  125 lbs.
SQUAT          145 lbs. 107%  105 lbs.
BENCH PRESS    145 lbs. 107%  105 lbs.
OVERHEAD PRESS 100 lbs.  75%   75 lbs.

I listed the 75% amount in the last column to get an idea of working weight for 10 rep x 3 set basic workout.

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June 2021 is when I started thinking about trying a proper weight lifting program.

BARBELL WORKOUT, JUNE 2021
TWICE PER WEEK
BODY WEIGHT (b.w.) = 135-140 lbs.

LEGS
SQUAT
101 lbs. (75% b.w.)
5 sets of 8, 60 sec rest. (5 * 8 * 101 = 4,040 lbs. work)
ROMANIAN/STIFF-LEG DEADLIFT
101 lbs. (75% b.w.)
5 sets of 8, 60 sec rest (5 * 8 * 101 = 4,040 lbs. work)

DONKEY CALF RAISES
Wife on my back
5 sets of 12
Rest period is 60 secs. of laying reverse calf raises, legs lifted and curled to chest

PUSH/PULL SUPERSET #1 (30 secs. rest after paired set, sets 1-5)
PULL/CHIN-UPS (alternate sets of pull & chin, 30 secs. rest sets 6-10)
10 sets of 5, legs curled back
At failure do “negatives” (June 2021 that was the last 3 sets)
After 5 supersets with overhead press, 30 sec rest (10 * 5 * 135 = 6,750 lbs. work)
OVERHEAD PRESS
70 lbs. (50% b.w.)
5 sets of 8 (40 reps * 70 = 2,800 lbs. work)

PUSH/PULL SUPERSET #2 (30 secs. rest after pairs)
WEIGHTED PUSH-UPS (15 lbs. in backpack strapped to chest, up on chairs for floor clearance, 3" foot blocks)
Push up: 65% b.w. = 90 lbs. + 15 lbs. dumbbell = 105 lbs. (75% b.w.)
5 sets of 8 reps (5 * 8 * 105 = 4,200 lbs. work)
BENT-OVER ROWING (start with scapular pull)
85 lbs. (60% b.w.)
5 sets of 8 reps (5 * 8 * 85 = 3,400 lbs. work)

ABS
Daily (5 days per week)
Alternating days of sit ups or leg lifts
5 set of 25

5 sets was very fatiguing, I felt agitated and it disrupted my sleep

MEASUREMENTS Jun 30, 2021
5’ 9", 140 lbs.
Before workout, no pump, un-flexed unless stated otherwise.
Chest: 38
Waist (narrowest): 29
Hips, around buttocks: 34
Biceps relaxed L/R: 11.5/11.5
Forearm relaxed L/R: 10.5/10.5
Thigh, at crotch L/R: 20.25/20.25
Calves L/R: 14/14

Jun 30, 2021

This is where my basic goal gets set: how much lean muscle can I gain in one year?

Secondary goal is strength: could I build up to body weight on barbell squat as 10 x 3 working weight?

During the fall of 2021 I settle into a fairly regular routine, but I experiment with weight/reps.

August 2021, dropping back to 3 sets helped a lot with recovery
M W F, 10 reps x 3 sets
SQUAT/RDL 120 lbs, 2 min rest (120x10=160 1RM)
OHP 60 lbs, 1 min rest
ROW 80 lbs, 1 min rest
WEIGHTED PUSH UP 15 lbs, 1 min rest
WEIGHTED PULL UP 10 lbs, 7 reps x 3 sets, 1 min rest

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August 30, 2021, OHP barbell test, each test set performed to actual failure, I took about 5 minutes rest between each test set:

1st test set 80 lbs x 8 reps = 99.3 1RM
2nd test set 85 lbs x 5 reps = 95.6 1RM
3rd test set 95 lbs x 3 reps = 100.6 1RM
4th test set 90 lbs x 4 reps = 98.2 1RM

My conclusion to switch to a 5 rep set to try increasing my power was:

SQUAT 160 x 5 reps
ROW 105 x 5 reps
OHP 80 x 5 reps

The rest of the plans were based on that.

September 2021, 2 min rest each set, switch to a higher weight/lower rep focus
M W F
SQUAT/RDL 150 lbs, 5 reps x 3 sets (150x5=168 1RM)
OHP 75 lbs. 5 reps x 3 sets
ROW 100 lbs. 5 reps x 3 sets
WEIGHTED PUSH UP 30 lbs. 5 reps x 3 sets
PULL UP b.w. 7 reps x 3 sets

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October 2021, November +1 to reps, 2 min rest each set, pyramid sets to avoid long warm up, this felt easier on my joins, mainly squat/knees and OHP/shoulders.
M W F, 3 sets, weight & reps
CALF RAISE 95 lbs x 20, 105x15, 120x10
SQUAT/RDL 135x10, 150x7, 160x5 (160x5=180 1RM)
OHP 65x10, 70x7, 80x5
ROW 90x10, 95x7, 105x5
WEIGHTED PUSH UP 30 lbs. 5 reps x 3 sets
PULL UP b.w. 7 reps x 3 sets

  • after 160 squat set heart rate 136 bpm

November I try adding on 1 set of quarter squats using 180 lbs.

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I made a small progression in weight, but that fall was mostly getting used to weight much heavier than what I was used to.

MEASUREMENTS Oct 12, 2021
5’ 9", 144 lbs.
Before workout, no pump, un-flexed unless stated otherwise (morning.)
Chest: 39.75+
Waist (narrowest): 30
Hips, around buttocks: 35.25
Biceps relaxed L/R: 11.75/11.75
Forearm relaxed L/R: 10.5/10.5+
Thigh, at crotch L/R: 21.25/21.25
Calves L/R: 14/14

I continued to try progressing weight, had knee trouble, reset program to use lower weight with higher reps, but keeping the calculated 1RM the same. From time to time I try out something new.

Nov 26, 2021, 2 min rest each set
Century sets, one time try out: 100 reps @33% of 10 rep weight
SQUAT/RDL 45 lbs 100x
CALF RAISE 40 lbs 100x
ROW 35 lbs 100x
OHP 25 lbs 100x
Extrmemely sore in thighs for 5 days, couldn’t walk down stairs right! Other body parts moderately sore.

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December 2021, 2 min rest each set
CALF RAISE 100 lbs x 15 reps, 2 sets
SEATED CALF RAISE 100 lbs x 15 reps, 1 set
SQUAT/RDL 145 lbs, 8 x 3 sets (145x8=180 1RM)
OHP 80 lbs x 8, DUMBBELL OHP 25 lbs pair 8 x 2 sets
PULL UP 7 x 3 set, or ROW 100 lbs 10 x 3 sets

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My knee gave out squatting mid December so I lowered weights

December 2021, 2 min rest each set
CALF RAISE 100 lbs 15 reps x 2 sets, 180 lbs 10-12 partial reps x 1 set
SQUAT/RDL 120 lbs, 15 reps x 3 sets (120x15=180 1RM)
OHP 25 lbs dumbbells 10 reps x 1 set, 85 lbs barbell 8 reps x 1 set, 25 lbs dumbbells 10 reps x 2 sets
ROW 100 lbs, 10 reps x 2 sets, PULL UP til failure

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Dec 27, 2021
One time re-do of JUNE 2021, 8x5 workout
CALF RAISE, difficult, grip failing
SQUAT/RDL easy
OHP good challenge, fairly easy
PULL UP difficult, had stopped training them
WEIGHTED PUSH UP good challenge, fairly easy
ROW easy
SIT UPS difficult, had stopped training them
68 minutes to complete, not counting warm up

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In the winter I get discouraged. I can definitely tell my waist is growing from my extra eating, but not sure I’m really gaining any muscle. But to my surprise measurements taken in March show I seem to be growing. Even my arm size increased a bit with no direct arm work.

From beginning of 2022

Standard warmup:
Sit ups 15 reps x 5 set, 15 seconds rest between sets
1 min jumping jax
1 min high knees run in place
1 min jumping jax
no rest between the 1 min intervals

No more idle rest periods:
Neck flex/extensions during SQUAT/RDL rest
Wrist curl/rev. wrist curls during PRESS and PULL exercise rest

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January 2022, 2 min rest each set, added neglected chest press
CALF RAISE 100 lbs 12 x 3 sets
SQUAT/RDL 120 lbs 12 x 3 (120x12=168 1RM)
OHP DUMBBELLS 25 lbs 12 x 3, 1 set 70 lbs barbell
INCLINE PRESS DUMBBELLS (35 degrees) 25 lbs 12 x 3 sets
ROW DUMBBELLS 35 lbs 12 x 3
SHRUG DUMBBELLS 35 lbs 12 x 3

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February 2022, 2 min rest each set, raised weight especially calf raises
CALF RAISE 180 lbs 12 x 3 sets
SQUAT/RDL 130 lbs 12 x 3 sets (130x12= 182 1RM)
OHP DUMBBELLS 25 lbs 12 x 3
ROW BARBELL 85 lbs 12 x 3 (superset OHP/ROW w/90 sec rest)
INCLINE PRESS DUMBBELLS 35 lbs 12 x 3
SHRUG DUMBBELLS 35 lbs 12 x 3 (superset PRESS/SHRUG w/90 sec rest)
PULL OVER DUMBBELL, straight arm, one 35 lbs dumbbell 10 x 2 sets

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MEASUREMENTS Mar 04, 2022
5’ 9", 150 lbs.
Before workout, no pump, un-flexed unless stated otherwise.
Chest: 40.5
Waist (narrowest): 32
Hips, around buttocks: 35.75
Biceps relaxed L/R: 12/12
Forearm relaxed L/R: 10.5/10.5
Thigh, at crotch L/R: 22/22
Calves L/R: 14/14

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Early March I read about John Grimek and Vince Gironda. I revised my plans to balance vertical/horizontal push/pull, make sure each is covered. Shorten rest to 1 minutes (Grimek’s recommendation.)

Calf raise @ 20 rep sets (Vince Gironda’s recommendation.) Alternate full body plans to add variety.

Plan A is my basic barbell/dumbbell mix, main focus, it seems to work. Plans B and C are for spliting legs, alternating barbell/dumbbell, laterals. I though plans B and C looked easy on paper, but they are a challenge.

Still full body W M F but alternating workouts as A, B, A, C, A, B, A, C… Still do tibialis dorsiflexion, neck flex/extension, and wrist curl/rev curl during rest periods, no idle rest. Each workout takes about 60 minutes excluding warm up of 10-12 minutes

WORKOUT A, 60 sec rest each set or superset

CALF RAISE 65 lbs 20 x 3 sets
SQUAT 3 sets 100 lbs x 15, 120x12, 135x8 (135x8=165 1RM)
RDL 135 lbs 10 x 3
OHP DUMBBELLS 25 lbs 10 x 3
PULL UP, wide grip b.w. 5 x 3 sets (superset OHP/PULLUP)
INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS 37.5 lbs 10 x 3
ROW, BARBELL 90 lbs 10 x 3 (superset PRESS/ROW)

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WORKOUT B, 60 sec rest each set or superset, except leg ext/RDL

CALF RAISE 65 lbs 20 x 3 sets
LEG EXTENSION w/DUMBBELL, alternate L/R 37.5 lbs 10 x 3 sets
SPLIT LEG RDL w/BARBELL, alternate L/R 50 lbs 10 x 3 (superset LEG EXT/RDL, no rest only set up time for rest)
OHP BARBELL 65 lbs 10 x 3
PULL UP, wide grip b.w. 5 x 3 sets (superset OHP/PULLUP)
PULLOVER DUMBBELL, w/one dumbbell, straight arm 32.5 lbs 10 x 3
ROW, DUMBBELLS, 32.5 lbs 10 x 3 (superset PULLOVER/ROW)

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WORKOUT C, 60 sec rest each set or superset

CALF RAISE 65 lbs 20 x 3 sets
DUMBBELL LUNGES 25 lbs 10 x 3, first L then R
RDL SINGLE LEG SPLIT, DUMBBELLS 25 lbs 10 x 3, L then R
LATERALS, DUMBBELLS 10 lbs

  • front
  • side
  • bent over reverse
    tri-set all three 10 reps, no rest, 3 tri-sets
    PULL UP, wide grip b.w. 5 x 3 sets (superset LATERALS/PULLUP)
    CHEST FLIES, FLOOR, DUMBBELLS 25 lbs 10 x 3
    ROW, DUMBBELLS, 32.5 lbs 10 x 3

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Here are photos from today…

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When I compare these pictures to the one from when I was 16/18 years old, I don’t seem much difference, other than my back looks stronger now. My legs are thicker now, but it isn’t very obvious. I can tell mostly from how my pants fit. I’m definitely stronger now than I was then based on the weights I use.

An aspect of muscle growth that the tape measure does not capture is all the muscle filling in between bones. All around my elbows, along the long edges of tibia and clavicles, between pelvis and lower vertebrae, muscle is filling in and the bones are disappearing. The scale should measure some of that growth, but my waist is gaining some fat too, hard to account for muscle gain only.

TL;DR

Summary of progression from everything above, using squat for reference. All of my squat sets are matched with RDL for equal weight, reps, sets, and rest time.

SQUAT 1RM

2019-02-22 -          145 1RM test
2021-06    - 100x8  = 124 1RM working set @ 2 min rest
2021-10    - 160x5  = 180 1RM working set @ 2 min rest
2021-12    - 145x8  = 180 1RM working set @ 2 min rest
2022-01    - 120x12 = 168 1RM working set @ 2 min rest
2022-02    - 130x12 = 182 1RM working set @ 2 min rest
2022-03    - 135x8  = 165 1RM working set @ 1 min rest
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I really appreciate your measurements and scientific approach to this. This process is about finding out what works for you, and all these data points will help you figure that out.

Thanks @dagill2. I don’t mean to geek out on the numbers. At the end of the day the numbers are to keep me honest. I keep a log book of any significant workout changes. If I didn’t write it down, I would forget. One bit of advice I picked up is the importance of keeping consistent. I mark all my completed workouts on a calendar. I’ve only missed my 3 days per week a few times, I think 4 times, over the past 7 months for sickness and a few cases of overtraining.

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Apparently this calculator, and others like it online, are based on a formula Eugen Sandow created.

According to the results I need to work on upper body. That isn’t surprising. I neglected a proper chest press until about one month ago, and I haven’t done any direct arm work. It says I should shrink by waist back down to what it was before I started eating more. For the time being I’m not worried about that. I’m surprised that it says my legs are “ideal” because they are not really strong or big.

Jules Bacon. I supposed I should have heard of him, he won Mr. America, but I only learned of him a few weeks ago. He seems a perfect model for me to aspire to. I can find very little information about him. I know he worked for York Barbell and was friends with John Grimek. I would really like to know about his training and lifting record. If anyone knows about him, please share.

Mar 28, 2022. I did workout A, but I did something to my right ankle during my previous workout. Only minor discomfort to do a toe raise, but nevertheless, I reluctantly skipped my calf raises.

I did 6 reps on my pull ups rather than 5. I really want to build that number up.

I think I should change order and do my INCLINE PRESS/BB ROW group before OHP/PULLUPS. I fail toward the end of my incline press 2nd/3rd sets and that feels like I’m bashing my shoulder join. If I incline press first, when I’m fresh, it may spare my shoulder joints a bit. OHP is a lighter amount so I worry about that strain less.

Squat differed a bit, a bit more:
120 lbs 12 x 3 sets
135, 10 x 3
135, 10 x 3

…just trying to get that closer to body weight (150lbs. for 10 x 3 sets).

Those squat amounts are low, but I use a narrower stance, feet only a bit wider than hips, I don’t lock out at the top, and I try to lean just a bit forward. Basically, I try to tweak the stance to feel a bit more in my mid/lower quads. If I lower the weight, I can get that mind/muscle connection going to direct the effort into my quads.

Video’s from yesterday’s workout. March 30, 2022.

CALF RAISES

SQUAT

RDL

INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS

BARBELL ROW

OHP

PULL UPS

Please comment/make suggestions for improvement on my form.

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IMO you need to ditch the shoes. Your feet are rocking on the squats and rdls. Maybe try it barefoot or a flat sole shoe.

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@ChickenLittle when it’s warm I do my whole workout barefoot, but right now it’s winter some days have been below 20 F so I put on shoes. I have some minimal shoes, I think they’re supposed to be for yoga. I will use those for the squat/rdl sets. Shouldn’t be too cold for that amount of time. Some of the rocking is me unstable from the weight. I used my heavy amounts for the sake of these form checks.

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I definitely understand the cold part. I am by no means a form nazi but you need a solid foundation to start from.

Yeah, should be OK. I’ll try it out this Friday. I’m glad I found the work barefoot advice early on. BTW, is my particular movement for RDL in any way odd? Beyond that leg shake part. I’ve been a bit mixed up about RDL versus stiff leg dead lift. I’m just doing what feels like all posterior chain. Sometime I vary it to flex knees a bit, but mostly wonder why do that instead of squat for front quads/hips and RDL for back hamstrings/hips.