Mistake #2:  “Not Lifting Weights to Get Stronger”

A lot of Aging Athletes lift weights and most understand the benefits of lifting weights. But very few lift weights to maximize performance.  Instead they lift weights just to lift more weights, when they should be lifting weights to actually get stronger.  So what exactly do I mean by lifting weights to get stronger?  I mean maximum strength, lifting weights in a way that improves the athlete’s 1 rep max, or absolute strength. And the only way to improve your 1 rep max is to lift heavy weights and to lift fewer reps.

Now, before all the personal trainers start screaming, “But lifting heavy weights and low reps creates bulk, and lifting light weights and high repetitions is the only way to build lean muscle!” – let me just say there is no scientific evidence to support that long and tightly-held theory. It just isn’t true.

I am going to focus on just two things:  First, the benefits of lifting heavier weights for the aging athlete; second, how you might create a routine for lifting heavy.  I won’t dwell much on either the muscle physiology or the physics of performance. I’ll save that for when I respond to the plethora of comments that will undboubtedly come from the previous paragraph.

First, the benefits of lifting heavy weight on the Aging Athlete’s war on performance:

1) Heavy weight lifting promotes greater bone density (the battle against osteoporosis and injury)

2) Heavy weight requires less time and if done correctly has virtually no negative impact on your sport-specific training regimen (by this I mean the battle to ensure quality workouts in your sport-specific training. This means you won’t be too sore or tired to run or bike. Or swim.)

3) Heavy weight lifting creates greater economy in the battle against our declining VO2 with age. It’s not as easy as buying $200 CWX tights but is a lot more effective.

4) Maximum strength improvements can be made at virtually any age. Your peformance will follow.

Now what?  Here is a typical routine and few rules to follow. (If you are not familiar with the deadlift or the bench press, please find a good teacher)

I promised not to jump into a discussion on muscle physiology. So I will instead bore you with a little physics to ensure we are on the same page. First, a definition: Mass Specific Force (MSF) – this simply means the amount of force an athlete can apply to the ground (running) or to the pedals (cycling) relative to the athletes’ body mass or weight.  The goal is to add strength without adding mass.

So as you begin this journey to get stronger, begin and end with the MSF formula of lbs lifted divided by body weight.  If you lift 100 lbs and you weigh 150 lbs, your MSF is 100/150 or 67%.  I have people start with lifting as little as 25% of their body weight and moving up from there.  There is no need to actually go all-out and lift a one rep max. If you can reach virtual max with 2 -4 reps, that works just as well.

My athletes only do two large muscle group lifts and then complement those with core strength training.

Large Muscle Group Heavy Lifts:  Deadlift and Bench Press.  The deadlift engages 85% of the muscles in the body, and the bench press is equally valuable for overall upper body strength.  (If possible use bumper plates and drop the weights when doing the deadlift. Setting the bar down is where injury problems can occur.)

The rule of 10 – no more than 10 total reps for the workout – e.g., 3 sets of 3, or 2 sets of 4 and 1 set of 2.  Any combination works, just never more than 4 reps in one set.

Core Exercises: pushups, pull-ups, planks, pistol squats, static abs, (a kettlebell exercise mixed in here is a good option, like the “get up”)  I also like the one-arm military press.

Use the rule of 6: Modify all these exercises so that the maximum reps per set is 6.  If 6 pushups isn’t enough, do them with just one arm, or put your feet up on a bench.

I simply have my athletes alternate between the large muscle group and a core exercise. It goes quickly and we are out of the weight room in less than an hour.

“Do as little as needed, not as much as possible” – Dutch trainer Henk Kraayenhof

I know I was brief and vague – and on a potentially long and complicated topic.  Questions welcome.

Next week:  Mistake #3:  Intensity leads to injury