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Weights: To Lift or Not to Lift?

Lifting the iron might not be easy, but it’s quite simple

Time flies. You’re 40-something and wondering if weight training is the thing for you. Okay, so you’re actually closer to 50-something, closing in on 60, and considering lifting weights to improve your health and strength before you’re 70 in a few months. Yes, no, maybe—couch, remote, bowl of crunchies…you’re uncertain.

Barbells and dumbbells are crude and unwieldy devices designed for muscleheads, brutes and inmates. Hoisting the objects is a tedious and nonsensical expenditure of time and a source of much labor and pain. Weightlifting at this time of my life…hmmm…the idea sounds as appealing as tapping my forehead with a ball-peen hammer or grooming alligators. I must be losing my marbles.

I take it you haven’t experienced the fascination and fulfillment and fury of engaging the iron. You haven’t grasped a pair of hefty, well-balanced dumbbells, stood with them suspended mightily by your sides and comprehended their energy and force—their sheer gravity. It’s a powerful and exciting thing to behold and to reckon with. Pure joy! They and their attributes are at your command to reward you in unimaginable ways.

Weights and lifting them make men and women of all ages strong in body, in mind and in soul. They build muscle and strength, as surely as they build character. They improve energy and endurance, as certainly as they improve acuity and physical calm. The iron, though cold and lifeless, is instructive and endearing and dependable.

Spirits are raised as the weights are raised. Patience grows as the weights, sets and reps are counted and accrued. Physical ability and utility advance as the lifter diligently practices his or her lifting skills. And they, the pursued skills, are not a thing of mindless routine. They are the graceful and deliberate application and performance of the body’s mechanics and the mind’s focus.

Few things are more fulfilling than personal progress. One workout leads to another, effort fortifies effort, control delivers control, and once-unattended physiological systems respond and develop. The infamous clanging and thudding of weights are a study in disguise and worthy of the trainee’s attention. No encyclopedia needed; common sense and instinct will do very nicely.

To lift weights or not to lift weights, that is the question.

Exercise vs. training. Exercise is like a canary—caged and cute. Training is like the soaring eagle—awesome and free. Training includes a wholesome lifestyle with plenty of rest, thoughtful dietary practices and regular weight-resistance engagement. Training is positive action and attitude; exercise is a single good thing to be done, a part of the whole. Training is the whole. I suggest you train for life.

The first workout is the toughest. It’s usually the result of long consideration, intense anticipation and heady confrontations with doubt, procrastination and hope and fear. Gee, we make mountains out of molehills, or, in this particular scene, cavernous iron mines out of barbells. Tough is good. It’s time to be tough. The tough endure.

Lifting the iron might not be easy, but it’s quite simple. You need an agreeable gym with the basic equipment, and there’s likely one in your neighborhood…unless you live on the outskirts of Sleeping Mule, Nevada. Once the right gym is selected, plan to visit it three nonconsecutive days a week.

How to choose a gym. Your goals are to build muscle and strength, tone and shape and energy and endurance. Lucky you, the wholesome lot go together, like musclehead stew; add one, and you add them all. I suspect that more than one reader wants to lose weight and bodyfat. That, too, is in the pot. What a deal, what a meal! Everything in one: robust health, sound physical fitness, vigorous conditioning and gorgeous good looks.

One caveat, potential metal-moving maniac: You’ve got to eat smart to ensure that your devotion is effective—wholesome foods, no junk, hearty protein, valuable carbs and good fats. No problemo. Easier than apple pie…a lot of which, by the way, is not highly recommended.

Hello. Are you still with me? Remember, the iron stuff is guaranteed to please: muscle and shape, strength and health, no matter how old you are. Some respond better than others—we’re all different—but we all respond positively. Trust me. I’ve been both young and old. I’ve known both youth and maturity.

Finally, permit me to cut out the boring medical research, elaborate instruction and the horrid details of physiology and get to the steel-packing, iron-pumping basics. Let me tell you what I would do if I were you. This is a general training plan for the 50-, 60-, 70-some individual of decent health and condition, you being the definer of the terms decent health and condition.

Buck up. Take a quick look at yourself and make a valid self-evaluation. Intimidating (downright scary), but it helps to face the truth.

Go to the gym. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it can be the most difficult exercise of the workout. We quickly become expert at devising reasons not to go. Don’t listen to them. They’re lies.

Hop (crawl) on the stationary bike and fake it for five minutes. This diversionary technique gets you rolling, figuratively speaking, and warms you up, giving you time to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the good work ahead.

Muscle builders think of the body in basic sections, or muscle groups: chest, back, shoulders, arms (biceps and triceps), torso and legs. There are many exercises for each group, and their actions often overlap. I have chosen the following for their ultimate worth. Smile. Drink lots of water.

Now the fun begins. You’re a soaring trainee about to arouse and invigorate the muscles of the entire body through a series of five push and pull exercises, my faves, and I pass them on to you. It’s a darn good start. Do two sets of each exercise for 10 reps every other day, three days a week.

1) Dumbbell bench presses for chest, shoulders and triceps
2) Barbell curls for biceps and upper-body stability
3) Machine dips for triceps, chest, shoulders and upper back
4) Seated lat rows for back and biceps
5) Lunges for legs and torso

Walk for 15 minutes on off days. Excellent workout.

There’s nothing like personal instruction for a day or week from a worthy instructor. Be aware. Some of the very best learn on their own by observing or working with a relative or friend who has a clue.
Break a leg. Build an arm.

Editor’s note: For more from Dave Draper, visit and sign up for his free newsletter. You can also check out his amazing Top Squat training tool, classic photos, workout Q&A and forum.

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