George Turner Q & A:
If you've been working out for years and are now in your 40s, 50s or even older, don't accept the inevitability of drastically diminished physical strength and capacity. If you're in that age group and have never worked out, you're in for one of the most rewarding and exciting periods of your life.
First of all, to produce maximum results, an exercise program must be comprehensive. Although the aerobics component is an integral part of any program, it isn't the only important component by any means. Bodyfat level, muscle tone, tendinous attachment strength, pituitary and hormonal function, a positive nitrogen balance and strong lung capacity are all key components of fitness. Proper metabolism, brought about by the normalization of thyroid activity, is extremely important if you want to become superfit.
Following is a comprehensive plan for veteran bodybuilders who perhaps are feeling that their best years are behind them. If that's you, read on. (In Part 3 I'll have a program for those who have never trained with weights on a regular basis.
Here are some general ground rules?
1) Even if you're overweight, restrict your aerobic activity to 12 minutes, three times a week. You can accomplish all the positive cardiovascular results you want in that time.
2.) Warm up all bodyparts thoroughly before you work them hard against resistance.
3) Don't weight train any bodypart more than six times a month.
4) When using a split routine, never do upper-body work two days in a row.
You're going to work up to relatively heavy resistance on all basic, compound exercises, including squats and deadlifts. Do the basic exercises first in each bodypart routine, and pyramid your weights on them to make certain that your tendons and joints are thoroughly warmed up and ready for heavy resistance.
The following schedule is ideal for any experienced bodybuilder past the age of 40. Over the 53 years I've been training myself and others, I've found it to be a perfect amalgamation of aerobics, weight work, rest and recovery.
Day 1: Work a major upper-body part (chest or back) in combination with a secondary upper-body part (shoulders or arms).
Day 2: Do all lower-body work. A typical routine includes aerobics, abs, thighs, leg biceps, calves and lower back.
Day 3: Rest.
Day 4: The two upper-body parts not worked on day 1. If you wish to specialize on one of the upper-body parts - say, back or chest - this is the day to do it. Having rested on Day 3 and with the prospect of resting your upper body again on Day 5, you can really give an all-out effort.
Day 5: 12 minutes aerobics. After you've been on this routine for a month or so, you may wish to work abs and calves on Day 5 as well.
Day 6: Cycle begins again at the Day 1 workout.
Because you're a veteran bodybuilder, I'll let you decide on your warmups. Remember . . . BEING A VETERAN MEANS YOU'RE SMARTER. ALWAYS WARM UP!
The following is an excellent sample workout for the (b)older veteran bodybuilder that I guarantee will jump start new gains, whatever your age.
Day 1: Chest, Biceps, Triceps.
Start with barbell bench presses. Do 5 sets, pyramiding the weights, with your reps at 12, 10, 8, 6, 5. Do the last 3 sets to failure. The second chest movement is incline dumbbell presses. It's a secondary movement, so you do only 4 sets of 10, 8, 8, 8. Keep your reps and weight constant on the last 3 sets. Finish off your chest with flat bench flyes. Again, do 4 sets but this is a shaping movement, so you keep the reps high, at 15. Do them as strictly and as heavy as you can. Yeow! What a pump!
Because I've always felt that biceps should be worked for shape while triceps should be worked for thickness, you'll do all of your curls very strictly. The first biceps movement is standing barbell curls. Stand with your back against a wall of column. Everything from your butt to the back of your head should remain against the wall throughout the set. Place your hands no more than 20 inches apart on the bar. Curl slowly, lower slowly and don't completely straighten your arms at the bottom of each rep. Cramp the biceps hard at the top, fully contracted position. Do only 4 sets, using a weight that allows you to get 10 hard reps. Keeping the same weight, decrease the number of reps each successive set, for example 10, 9, 8, 7.
Next comes seated alternate curls. With the dumbbell at your sides and your palm facing the outside of your leg, start the weight moving up. As you curl up, supinate your wrist, turning your palm up. Lower to the starting position and repeat. Make it strict! Again, do 4 sets, but this time the reps are 12, 10, 8, 6. You perform the final curl variation on a slant or preacher bench using a short bar attachment to a low pulley. 3 sets of 12 are enough for this beauty. Make your biceps scream!
For triceps you only do two exercises. The first is dips. Keep your body straight, no arch. Contrary to what you may believe, triceps - like quads - respond best to somewhat higher reps. Do 5 sets. The first set should be a tough 20 reps. Keep the same resistance, but drop 2 reps on each succeeding set.
The last triceps exercise is lying French presses performed with a short barbell. Lower the weight behind your head, not to your face. Use a weight that you can just barely eke out 15 reps with, and do all 5 sets with the same weight. Go to failure on every set. How about it, my man? Is that old iron talking to you?
Day 2: Abs, Cardio, Legs, Lower Back.
This is the day that's most responsible for keeping you strong, well muscled and youthful. First up is ab work.
Your abdominals require only one exercise. The muscularity in your abdominal area becomes evident not because of the number of ab exercises you do but because of your overall bodyfat level. That, of course, is a reflection of your diet. Do steep decline situps with a hard, cramping contraction at the top - my favorite part of this exercise. You don't have to do the endless repetitions commonly associated with ab work. Set the angle on the situp board steep enough that you can just manage 20 reps. Do a total of 5 sets, dropping 2 reps with each successive set.
Next comes cardio work. Do 12 minutes on a stationary bike. Put a solid effort into it. When you dismount, you should have a thigh pump and be sweating profusely. Not only have you completed your cardiovascular work, you're also thoroughly warmed up for the upcoming leg work.
Now you do your full squats. This is the cornerstone exercise for all weight training. More than half of the muscle in your body lies between your waist and your knees, along with the attendant blood supply, and no other movement gives those muscles as much quality stimulation. Squats are also one of the few exercises capable of dramatically improving your thyroid activity, allowing you to metabolize your food more efficiently. The visceral stimulation improves hormonal functions as well. Sure, they're tough, but the rewards far outweigh the effort required. Do 6 sets, pyramiding the weight and dropping the reps as follows: 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 5.
Follow the squats with leg curls. Do 6 sets here also, working up in weight and using this rep pattern: 12, 12, 10, 10, 8, 8.
Calves are next. Do 8 sets of standing calf machine work or, if you have a training partner who weighs as much as you do, use donkey calf raises. There's no compression on your spine with donkeys. Try to get 20 reps per set.
The last exercise on leg day is regular deadlifts. Your foot spacing should be about the same as you used for squats. With your arms straight up, your head up, your eyes looking up at about a 45 degree angle, do 5 sets of 6 reps. Work up in weight with 40-pound jumps or thereabouts. Not only will it strengthen your lower back immensely, but it will also make it much easier to remain erect when you're squatting.
You only do 6 exercises at the session, but what a fantastic feeling of positive accomplishment. Father Time, take a hike!
Day 3: Off.
Day 4: Back and Shoulders.
As mentioned above, you're coming off a rest day, and after this workout you have another rest day, so at this session you blast lats and delts. Chins are the first lat exercise, so you pyramid the weight. If you can, do the same reps that you used for squats: 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 5. If that's beyond you right now, you can substitute with lat pulldowns.
The second exercise is T-Bar rows. Do a set of 10 followed by 3 sets of 8, with the last 3 sets requiring a major effort to complete.
Seated low pulley rows to the waist are next. Do 4 strict sets of 15 with your top weight. This exercise should make your lats scream!
At this point I'm going to have you do three sets of a transitional exercise. Straight-arm pullovers are an excellent final lat movement, as well as an excellent exercise to stretch and warm up your entire shoulder girdle. With your shoulders supported, lie across a flat bench. Your head and butt should be hanging off the bench on either side.
Note: First, check this article on pullover complications from Joseph Horrigan:
Keeping your arms nearly straight, with just a slight bend at the elbows, inhale deeply and lower the dumbbell as far as you can. Feel the stretch. Start out with a weight you can do 15 good reps with. Go 10 pounds heavier and do 12 reps. Increase the weight another 5 pounds and do a final set of 10. Stand up, walk around, breathe deeply.
For shoulders, begin with Seated Dumbbell Presses. Do them on an adjustable chair or bench with the back nearly straight up. Press the two dumbbells at the same time, with the weights moving right past your ears. Let them come together - but not touch - at the top. Make sure you keep your elbows back and in line with the dumbbells. Do 6 sets, pyramiding the weights and using the following rep sequence: 12, 12, 10, 10, 8, 6.
The second movement is Bentover Laterals for the posterior delts. Do 5 sets, pyramiding the weights as you do 12, 12, 10, 10, 8 reps.
Next come Lateral Raises. I like to do them standing, sometimes with dumbbells, sometimes with a low pulley, one arm at a time. Same reps as the bentover laterals.
The final movement is a personal favorite, Shrugs. Try to go heavy with these darlings. Do 5 sets of moderately heavy high reps of 15, 15, 12, 12, 10. Remember to do them HEAVY!
I use this workout myself, although I sometimes do chest and back on Day 4 and shoulders and arms on Day 1. There are a number of variations available to you.
Unless you're used to the volume of work and the intensity level required, you must work up to them carefully. You may wish to start by doing just the first one or two exercises for each bodypart or by eliminating some of the sets.
If you pay attention to the fundamentals involved, it's easy to design your own comprehensive workout programs. 3 exercises per bodypart is plenty, as is a total of 12 to 15 sets per session. Make your first exercise for each muscle group a basic, compound exercise and pyramid it. The second exercise should work the secondary, or supportive, muscle group of the same overall bodypart where applicable. Because it's been involved to a degree in the first exercise, it should be warmed up and requires only one warmup set rather than several. That is why you do only four sets. The third exercise is used primarily to pump a lot of blood into the bodypart being worked, so do it for 15 to 20 reps and keep it very strict.
Continue the cardiovascular work three times per week. Substitute running or one of the other aerobic machines if you like, but keep the intensity high, break a good sweat and give it 12 to 15 good, hard minutes.
In Part 3 I'll lay out a start up routine for the (B)older bodybuilder.