I’ve come to accept that I’m going to be forty-nine years old this year. It won’t come as much of a surprise to folks, mostly because I’ve been telling everyone that I’m fifty for the last couple of years—more or less to keep the actual number of a half-century from being so ominous and jarring. I look in the mirror and can see that I’m starting to turn gray at the temples; my belly is a little larger than I’d like; and there are a few wrinkles showing up around my eyes and on my forehead, but this is most likely from me repeatedly scowling or frowning. 😜
My hairline has receded enough that I feel as though my hair is starting to look a bit like it’s a toupee—it isn’t. The cool thing is that I’ve not gone completely gray and some folks have even asked if I’m dyeing my hair—I’m not and I don’t plan to, ever. My grandfather dyed his hair well into his sixties. I guess it was his hispanic pride and machismo that he didn’t want to relinquish as he advanced in years. He probably longed for the idea of staying youthful and virile—muy guapo. From old photos, he cut quite a figure in his WWII Navy uniform in his youth. He kept fit way into his sixties and early seventies by working diligently in his yard and on his house and lifting weights and using a boxing speed bag in his basement. Which brings me to fitness at fifty…
When I was a young man, I had lots of time for going to the gym, running, swimming, taking martial arts classes, etc. After joining the Marines at nineteen, I was essentially being paid to stay physically fit during my six year stint! In the late 80s and early 90s, many of my peers idolized bodybuilders—especially Arnold Schwarzenegger—and probably picked up Arnold’s book Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Here is the latest revised version. The book is hefty and packed with tons of useful information. The problem with the book is that it encouraged hours and hours of time spent in the gym trying to get the perfect physique through countless sets and reps until exhaustion. This is essentially how I spent my twenties… running seemingly endless miles and spending many, many, hours in the gym doing tons of isolation exercises.
In my thirties and early forties, I started running a lot of marathons and powerlifting. It just seemed a natural progression—more, more, and more. My body and joints suffered and I would have been heading for a catastrophe if not for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) rearing its ugly head and significantly changing my life, slowing me down. RA forced me to protect my joints and not tear my body apart with incredibly strenuous workouts and long distance running. Before (and even for a while after) RA, I was lifting following various routines: 5X5, 3X5, German volume training, circuit training, etc. I was always in search of the perfect routine that made sense, was easy to follow, and got me stronger and/or bigger. For the most part, all of this heavy lifting made my joints hurt because of the combination of the heavy weights, repetition, and RA. This kind of attitude and training was not sustainable for me.
For the past few years, I learned that I need to protect my joints and exercise in moderation. Every day I try to do something… yoga, weight lifting, or some kind of cardio (walking, jogging, etc). My weightlifting routines are comprised of three full-body workouts per week with four or five opposing push and pull compound lifts and abdominals. Two books I found very useful were The Simple Art of Bodybuilding and Dumbbell Training for Strength And Fitness. Gone are the days of hours spent in the gym performing a myriad of isolation exercises. Compound exercises are the key to a relatively fast and strength-enhancing workout. Here are sample workouts that I do with a barbell or dumbbells, depending on how I’m feeling…
Squat – 3X5-8
Bench Press – 3X5-8
Bent Row – 3X5-8
Overhead Press – 3X5-8
Squat – 3X5-8
Incline Press – 3X5-8
Romanian Deadlift Row – 3X5-8
Shrugs – 3X5-8
For abdominals, I do one set of 25-50 repetitions of incline sit-ups, hanging leg raises, or ab wheel rollouts per lifting session. All of this takes no longer than 30 minutes per session. On days that I don’t lift, it is either cardio at the local gym for 30 minutes to an hour or 15-30 minutes of yoga using the Yoga Studio App. Here is how my workout week looks…
Weightlifting – Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday
Cardio – Friday, Saturday
Yoga – Monday, Wednesday
That’s about it in a nutshell. I spend under five hours per week exercising, but I perform one of the big three daily… cardio, resistance, and flexibility training. I do change up my weightlifting routine every 6-8 weeks or so. I add in and drop out exercises to keep my lifts fresh and my muscles confused. I also switch freely between barbells, dumbbells, TRX, and kettlebells from week-to-week. Looking back at all of the time I wasted in the gym in my twenties, I wish that I had kept my lifts simple and spent that extra time doing something more productive.