So you’re thinking of lifting weights at the gym. Well first off read this list of things to do if you want to injure yourself, embarrass yourself, or insure that your program to increase muscle strength will last less than one week:
- Be sure not to check with your doctor, orthopedist, or physical therapist first.
- Don’t get any instruction from the skilled staff and physical trainers that work in the gym or fitness centers.
- Start lifting weights close to what you were able to lift in high school.
- Make sure you compete with the set of young body builders that also use your gym.
- Go for it—No pain, no gain right.
All right, so that was pretty sarcastic, but I know what I’m talking about because this is exactly (exaggerating a bit) how I first approached weight lifting 5 years ago. So now let’s talk about the right way to get going.
First, do talk to a physician about your new plan to remold your body after 20 years or more of neglect (sorry we just need to face facts). If you health condition such as joint, back, or cardiac problems, a doctor will tell you if you need to restrict or avoid this activity altogether. Invariably, they will also tell you to start slowly and don’t overdo (more on that in a minute).
Second, although a million (well maybe not a million) different approaches, methods, and programs promoted by physical trainers out there, most adhere to the same basics. Especially, when it comes to safety precautions. They can show you the proper way to lift weights whether using free-weights (barbells, etc.) or exercise machines. They can also guide you into matching your workout to your current physical shape and help you adjust as you get more fit. Check with them to see if they recommend stretching before or after exercising (there seems to be at least two schools of thought ) to help prevent injuries and increase flexibility.
Third, do not start with the same weight you could lift when you were a teenager (I won’t get into everything you can’t do that you used to do in your teens). As you get older your body automatically starts to lose muscle mass. This happens to everyone. In trying to build your muscle strength up again, you start slowly with lighter weights and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger. Rush this process and you could be one of those who ends up in the doctor’s office (or worse emergency room) or gets so sore and miserable you quit within a week.
Fourth, it’s natural to be a little embarrassed by lifting weights that are a few pounds (Ok, a lot of pounds) less than what all the young studs (or for that matter geezers who have done this for a while) are lifting (I’ve watched a lot of people reset the amount of weight higher on the exercise machines when they finished so it’s more impressive to the person who follows them). After going to the gym for a while, I came to realize that absolutely nobody else cares what you are doing, no one expects a 66-year old guy to exercise like a 20-year old, and most people just appreciate anyone who is at least trying to improve their physical condition.
Fifth, if it hurts stop—you’re either trying to lift too much weight, you’re using the wrong technique, or some part of your worn out (maybe “wearing out” would be kinder) body can’t handle that type of exercise. And guess what, lifting heavy weights are for people who want to bulk up their muscles. Lifting lower weights and doing more repetitions tones and strengthens muscles as well as building endurance. Guess which one is better for geezers?
This was just about getting started, but getting started is the most important step. More later on establishing a regular routine of lifting weights.