Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bodybuilding for the Man Over 40 - Joe Nista

Reg Park

Steve Reeves

Bodybuilding for the Man Over 40
by Joe Nista (1977)

The average North American male over 40 years of age is in nothing less than pitiful physical condition. He’s too fat and too weak too manage anything more strenuous than mowing his lawn, if that. A three block run would reduce him to jelly. He can’t sleep, lacks regularity and his nerves are in the type of shape a banjo’s E-string should be. Some picture!

As we in the iron game know, this is not the case for a man over 40 who weight trains on a regular basis. Hard, flat bellies are in. So are firm, functional muscles, clear eyes, sound sleep, youthful skin texture and a tranquil approach to life. I ask you, how could anyone settle for the type of existence described in paragraph one when he could have such health and fitness?

As yet, there are so few men interested in bodybuilding after 40. I have been somewhat of a pioneer in this area during my era, but far too many individuals tend to give up at age 40. They think it’s all downhill from that point on, and they can’t see any point in training hard or watching their diet. They couldn’t be making a bigger mistake, because this combination of diet and exercise is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.

The aging process is insidious; it’s always there, and although we can slow it down a bit, age inevitably gets us all. Up until about 18 years of age, we are growing and every cell that is broken down through exercise or general daily stress is replaced by more than one new cell. That’s growth.

From about 18 to 30, the dying cells are replaced on a more or less one to one ratio. After 30, however, everyone is aging. The dying cells begin to be replaced at a less than one to one ratio. Aging – you can’t beat it, but you can slow it down with the fountain of youth I’ve been talking about.

I’m 48 and feel great, but I’d be a fool to say I’m the same man I was at 38 . . . or 28 . . . or 18. Physically, I’m better; I’ve never had a better physique, and I’m still improving, but I’m more prone to injuries and I don’t recuperate as readily as I used to. Strength doesn’t dissipate as quickly as most people think but I must use it more judiciously than in my youth.

At 18 I’d never heard of protein. None of us really had. We were told we must drink milk, but we had no idea why it was necessary. I detested milk because it bloated me and gave me gas. at 18 I was only getting about 30 grams of protein and next to no calcium. It is my contention that most injuries incurred after 30 are a result of improper eating habits as a child. The effects of this in my case didn’t show up until after 35, but they did come.

Contrasting my present condition with that of age 28, I can see that my current mental attitude is much better. I can adhere to the dietary plan and training regime better now, whereas 20 years ago I trained in a very helter-skelter manner. One week would feature super-hard training and the next would be a big zero. I healed and repaired immediately, so I felt better than now, and I made gains.

If a man of 28 could look at training and diet as a harmonious way of life instead of something to be endured, he’d be miles ahead of where I was. At 28 or 30 a bodybuilder doesn’t need many shortcuts, because he’ll grow and remain healthy, but as time goes on he will search for shortcuts. He’ll need to find the little nuances in each exercise that give him the most, and the training techniques that produce the greatest results in the least time.

I hate to talk about injuries, but if you’ve followed the gist of this article so far, or if you’re already over 40, you know that this is a very real concern for veteran lifters! I’ve had all of the major muscle and joint injuries during my 35 years of bodybuilding, so perhaps you can benefit in some way from my experience in solving such problems.

Shoulder injuries are particularly common, because we are somewhat driven by our egos and try to bench press the same weights we could handle in our youth. We could probably still be handling those heavy poundages safely if we had taken better care of ourselves as youths, but really . . . who does? We can still come close if we consume very high levels of calcium, magnesium, pantothenic acid (which releases the cortisone hormone in our bodies) and vitamin C (which repairs collagen and other connective tissue).

To fight shoulder injuries, most chest work should be preceded by shoulder work. No matter how much you warm up on bench presses, you can’t hit the little shoulder muscles with that movement. They stabilize and can become strained. In turn the joint is damaged. Working shoulders first can often forestall this. Your bench press might suffer at first, but in the long run it will go up.

I’ve even had two spurs on my shoulders and chronic bursitis, but by eating better and continuing with light to heavy exercise I have retained the suppleness of my youth. By being careful I’ve experienced no extraordinary shoulder difficulties for some time now.

Elbow pain is not so much a result of aging as it is of improper warmups, especially before doing triceps work. Always do your triceps exercises at the end of a workout, by which time the elbows will have been thoroughly warmed up through shoulder and chest exercises. As an added precaution I also do triceps pushdowns before triceps extensions, because the hands are maneuvered through a more normal arc of movement with that exercise. Unnatural movements are what kills you and your joints.

Sore knees and squats also can go together, but I have evolved a method to keep doing squats even at my supposedly advanced age. There are small tendons and ligaments over and around the kneecaps, and these need to be gradually stretched. Just jumping into a set of full squats is murder on these structures.

Before you squat, do a light set or two of leg extensions. Then do only one-quarter squats for a couple sets, followed by a few sets of half-squats. Finally, you are ready for full squats and adding some weight to the bar.

Back injuries can often be alleviated by strengthening the surrounding lower back musculature, especially if the back is weak. You can, however, further weaken the back if you do too much. Keep the reps low, sets to a minimum and weights light. With a normal back, of course, you can do much more. I prefer hyperextensions and light stiff-legged deadlifts.

On back exercises and ALL exercises for that matter – I believe in maintaining full control over the weight at all times. Do the first repetition in a very slow, controlled manner, and then gradually accelerate the movement’s tempo as the set progresses.

Cardiovascular fitness is essential, but the method chosen by many nowadays can be fraught with potential injury. Running is being pushed as one of the prime activities but it tends to become boring and tedious, also very hard on muscles, tendons, etc., on the feet, ankles, knees, hips and back. Swimming would be much better, because the body is virtually weightless in the water and there is much less strain on the joints and connective tissue.

Most individuals can’t get in a good cardiovascular workout with weights because they don’t work the legs hard enough. You have to accelerate the pulse up to 120-125 or more beats per minute and keep it there for at least 12-20 minutes. You can do this with weights by doing squats, leg presses, lunges, sissy squats and the like.

Personally, I prefer to play racquetball a few times a week. You can burn off a lot of calories doing this very intense form of exercise.

Individuals over 40 at Nista’s Gym often ask me about doing limit singles. They want to test their strength occasionally. This can be safe, but only if three guidelines are followed:

1.) Don’t do it sooner than three months after a layoff.
2.) Use spotters.
3.) Do an extensive warmup first.

Diet is also a very important factor for lifters over 40, but that in itself would take up another article. Study nutrition, find your own individual needs, but most importantly – keep drawing from our fountain of youth.

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