Friday, June 3, 2011

A Strong Foundation Over Forty - David A. Nixon

Ernie Franz in his early 50's.

Clarence Bass

A Strong Foundation Over Forty
by David A. Nixon (1989)

This article is for the older trainees who are at the beginner stage in weight training. It is also for those who have been plying at the weights for some months or even years without direction, motivation or appreciable gains. You will be given sound direction (in the form of a comprehensive training regimen), a spark for your motivation (which, however, can only last as long as it is self-sustained), and guidance on how to intelligently tax your muscles (which should trigger some substantial gains).

As this article is geared for the older trainees (male and female, who I will collectively at times refer to herein as “seniors” out of an appropriate sense of respect and for ease of reference), I will offer my insights or at least my perspective on the mistakes that appear characteristic of a sizable segment of us, and my proposed corrective action.

In the gyms where I regularly train, as well as in the many where I have visited while on trips, I have always made it a point to closely observe the programs of the seniors, out of feelings mixed of kinship and curiosity. This study offers a great practical course in the different responses to the aging process. What I have learned from the observation is that the seniors as a class show a great tendency to employ approaches that are ill-designed for the achievement of success; the use of too many easy, intricate isolation exercises that nonetheless burn energy, with too few compound mass movements that build muscle, as well as resorting to too much social chatter with too little passionate effort.

Looking first at the last symptom, it often seems as though the older trainee has a misguided sense of accomplishment derived from merely making an appearance at the gym at his or her stage of life. The kudos that we draw from the youngsters just for showing up at the iron pit can indeed be beguiling, as we find ourselves the subjects of spontaneous favorable comparisons to their poor, derided, self-indulgent parents who, we are told, would never bestir themselves to put in a training session. Well, yes, without impolitely referring to members of anyone’s family, there are far too many of us elders who have abysmal attendance records for “gym class”. The fact that you go to a gym is a vital step in the right direction. But it’s what you do there that spells the difference between success and stagnation. Showing up alone is not enough.

If you want to achieve success, the place to start is your head.

Get it “right”, adopt a motivated mindset, analyze the ingredients needed for success and determine how you can incorporate them into your lifestyle.

Those success ingredients are the worst kept secret in creation. Along with that positive mind frame, you simply add sound nutrition and recuperation along with demanding exercise. We all know this, but for various reasons most of us fail to practice it. With but a few basic changes, you can turn that around.

For the exercise part of the equation, turn to the basics – squats, presses, bench presses, dip, rowing, curls, standing calf raises and ab work. For those who are new to the intensive demands of rigorous bodybuilding, one set each for two weeks followed by two sets each in an all-body workout three sessions a week for a month will suffice. The program thereafter will be increased to three sets each for the following three months. After that, you’ll be ready for the intermediate course, to be detailed in a future article. You’ll notice that I advocate here an approach that has fallen into disuse is this space age of technological wonders: full-body workouts. Nowadays, everybody seems to start with split programs that form the regular training systems of competitive bodybuilders vying for the big titles. We must stop and realize that many of these men built their foundations on full-body sessions. And even for those who leapt right into more advanced split programs, that they nonetheless made progress is largely attributable to superior genetics, as most of their contemporaries who followed suit in similar overachievement courses have long since turned into disillusioned quasi-spectators in the gym (seen a lot of them) or, worse, couch potatoes.

The full-body workout has served well for many, many years as the route to building the sound foundation for an impressive physique because it affords an ideal mixture of regular, systematic training with sufficient recovery time. For those whose bodies are not yet accustomed to the rigorous demands of hard weight training, three sessions a week are sufficient to greatly tax the muscles and spur growth – assuming that the other elements of proper nutrition, rest and attitude are present. The thrice-weekly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) full-body routine enables one to get the proper recuperation time given an application of prudent judgment. Thus, any senior who chooses to be constantly on the go, with a crammed calendar, recreational activities and other athletic endeavors can kiss off any hope of attaining a body that fits the bodybuilder’s mold. You have to husband your physical resources more wisely than that if you want to build muscle.

Let’s look now at the components that comprise our fundamental routine. Alternate exercises are also provided for occasional use to combat feelings of tedium. The central focus, however, should be fixed on the main exercises detailed below, with use of the alternatives forming the exception.

1.) Squat – We start with the kingpin of the program: squats. Henceforth, think of leg extensions as simply a warming-up movement. For upper legs, we squat, going down to parallel or lower depth, using a raised heel if desired. Squats are a great exercise, packing muscle on the quads, hams and glutes, while also inducing growth throughout the entire body by inducing a hormonal and metabolic spur. Use a weight taxing you to get 8 to 12 reps, striving to progressively increase your poundage. Alternate exercises, front squat and leg press.

2.) Press Behind Neck – It is preferable to do this exercise in a seated position, on a bench with a back support. This is an excellent shoulder girdle exercise, hitting all three deltoid heads while also working your traps and triceps. Go for a weight that produces failure after 6 to 10 reps, seeking – as in each movement in this program – to continually increase the weights. Alternate exercises, standing barbell press and two-dumbbell press.

3.) Bench Press – Another super compound exercise, which will produce muscle growth in the pecs, shoulders and triceps. To accentuate the development, use a wide grip. To concentrate more stress on the shoulders and triceps, employ a narrower grip, approximately shoulder-width, for 6 to 10 reps. Alternate exercise is the incline bench press with barbell or dumbbells.

4.) Dips – An underrated gem that will give tremendous development to the pecs and triceps, as well as to the shoulders. To emphasize pec development, lean into the movement. For more triceps involvement, maintain a perpendicular posture, 6 to 10 reps. Alternate exercise is the weighted bench dip.

5.) T-Bar Rowing – Another wonderful movement, one that will thicken your lats and substantially work your traps and biceps, while also indirectly hitting your glutes, 6 to 10 reps. Alternate exercises are lat machine pulldowns and chins.

6.) Curls – The granddaddy movement for biceps, still the best exercise for that showpiece muscle. Use strict form, keeping your elbows against your sides and back straight, 8 to 12 reps (looser, slightly cheated form is permissible for the last couple of reps). Alternate exercises are preacher bench curls or incline dumbbell curls.

7.) Standing Calf Raises – Be sure to get a good contraction at the top, holding it for a slow moment, as well as getting a good stretch at the bottom, 20 to 25 reps. Alternate exercise is the seated calf raise.

8.) Crunches, Side Bends, Planks, Leg Raises etc. To beat boredom when training your abs, use various exercises.

Warm up well before each session. Work hard, maintaining a firm resolve to progressively raise the weights employed while still using good form. Start out with 5 sets or each exercise, adding weight each set up to a top set. Over time work up to 3 work sets with the same poundage, then add weight and go back to a single set with your top weight, and repeat the cycle.

Adopt a sensible lifestyle, getting ample rest each night and a short nap in the day if possible. Eat a well-balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, wild rice, eggs, dairy products and meat. Adjust your caloric intake to your objective with respect to body weight. Even when maintaining such a wise nutritional program it’s advisable to supplement with at least a good multi-vitamin-mineral combination.

No program is a foolproof map for success; however, this one – tailored of the tried and true basic exercises – comes as close to providing that elusive guarantee for the neophyte as any yet devised in our sport. You senior beginners and others who have heretofore been mired at the starting gate – give it a strong try and develop that all-important foundation before moving on to other approaches.

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