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65 And Getting Stronger: Here’s How

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We’re 65 and getting stronger. Here’s how we’re doing it with strength training, diet, and rest, and some of the strength gains we’ve made.

65 and getting stronger

Well, praise the Lord. I’ve reached 65 years old. There are some good perks with being 65. I get some cool senior discounts. Our market gives a 5% discount on groceries which means I can get beef a little cheaper. Oh, and I get Medicare. The government cares about me, ah, OK.

So I guess, technically, I’m a “senior citizen” now, though I don’t feel any different. I actually feel better than I did 20 years ago, and I’m stronger than I was 20 years ago. Actually, I’m stronger than I was last year.

Yes, at 65, I’m getting stronger. If I had been a weak 64 year old and now was slightly less weak, it would be no big deal. But currently I’m in an advanced category for most of my barbell lifts.

But don’t people get weaker as they age? If you read my last post, you’ll see that people do get weaker as they grow older. However, I showed you that people can defy the trend.

I’m defying that trend right now. At some point in the future, I suppose I’ll start to grow weaker. But for now I’m still trending upward. And by the way, Barbara is also getting stronger.

In this post, I’ll reveal some of the strength gains we’ve made and how we’re doing it.

Resistance training

The best way to build and maintain muscle and strength is through resistance training. There are many ways to do this, but seven years ago we chose barbell training. The rest of this post will focus on our barbell training.

If you’re new to barbell training, I recommend beginning with the Starting Strength Method. It starts with the new lifter and takes you to an intermediate level. The gains I made with this program were astounding.

The Starting Strength program revolves around 4 main exercises. These are bench press, squat, overhead press, and deadlift.

There are some modifications of this program for older individuals. Power cleans are not recommended for older populations so we don’t do them. Pull ups are great if you have the equipment. I don’t so I don’t do them.

If you want to start barbell training, here are some key resources you should start with.

Also check out here, here, and here.

Even though we’ve been lifting for 7 years and our program has modified slightly, the four main lifts still make up the core of our current routine.

One important point before I get into specifics: Barbara and I are not naturally strong individuals. We’re just average people. I myself was even below average when I started due to suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome for over 20 years. So the gains we’ve made are a result of good programming and a lot of hard work.

Where to train?

If you prefer to train at a gym, make sure the one you choose has barbell equipment, especially power racks. Not all of the commercial gyms have these. We chose to train at home. We can lift when we want and nobody can shut us down. In my next post, I’ll cover the essentials you’ll need for your own home gym.

Let’s take a look at our current gains and programming.

Bench Press

John: 65 years old. Body weight: 165 lbs

This year I put on over 10 pounds to my bench press maximum lift. I benched 185 x 1 pretty easily a few weeks back so I expect I’m around 190 max.  

Here I am recently doing 5 reps with 160 pounds.

I bench once a week and use the Wendler 5/3/1 routine. The core of this program is still centered on the four main lifts. 

This program has worked well for me for many years. Since I’m still recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome and also 65 years old, I have to be careful not to overextend myself. The volume and intensity of the 5/3/1 program seem to keep me in the sweet spot of exertion.

Barbara: 65 years old. Body Weight 129 lbs. 

Barbara upped her bench press to 70 lbs x 3 reps x 3 sets. She handles this pretty easily so I suspect she can do a lot more. Women have a tendency to lose repetition strength after the 3rd rep so she works 3 sets of 3 reps. She hasn’t missed a day of bench in years.

Here is an important point about bench press, especially for older people. While benching, your humerus literally jams into your rotator cuff. So it’s key to use correct form and not to over do it. I try not to lift maximum weight and avoid doing a lot of reps.

Overhead Press

John

This year I set an all time maximum 115 lbs for overhead press. That’s more than I was even able to do when I was lifting in my late twenties. 115 is huge for me. It put me into the advanced category for my weight and age!

Here I am doing 115 pounds overhead press.

I use the Wendler 5/3/1 program for overhead press. I press once a week.

Barbara

A friend of ours gave us a short steel bar for standard weights, and it’s perfect for women to do overhead press with. So Barbara graduated from 12.5 lbs dumbbells on each arm to 30 lbs total x 8 reps for 3 sets. Again she handles this pretty easily so she’s probably ready to go up in weight. She presses once a week.

Squats

For both of us, squats are the most demanding but probably one of the most beneficial exercises anyone could do. See my post: Why Barbell Squats Might Be The Most Important Exercise You Can Do.

John

My legs have always been the weakest part of my body. Outside of running in my twenties and walking, I literally never exercised them.

This year I was able to do a 200 lbs high bar back squat easily. That’s an all time high for me. Okay, I didn’t achieve 100% parallel, but I was close enough for my needs. 

At light weight, this lift is technically not that difficult. But when the weight starts to get heavy you need total concentration. Ah, total concentration. Do you want to be more cognitively aware? Start doing squats. They are excellent for building better cognition.

Also, because of my age and previous shoulder bursitis, I cannot do a low bar squat so I’m limited to high bar.

There is a special safety squat bar made for people who can’t do back squats because of shoulder limitations.

You can find a Rogue safety squat bar here.

And from Titan, a safety squat olympic bar here.

I recently changed my programming for squats. I was using the Wendler program, but felt like I wasn’t recovering adequately. 

This is my current routine:

65 x 5, 115 x 5, 125 x 3, 155 x 1, 165 x 1, 177.50 x 5

I do squats once a week.

For my next 4 week cycle, I’ll end with 178.50 and then 180 for the next cycle.

After using this program for the last month, my recovery from squats is a lot better.

Again, the important thing with squats is that you want to have good technique. It’s way better to use lower weight and do it correctly.

Once I got to an intermediate level at squats, Squat University helped me develop better technique. See their instagram channel. It was here that I learned that your anatomy will dictate how you squat. 

If you start barbell training and you’re getting to heavy weight, you’re going to learn to lift correctly eventually. You’ll have to if you want to increase your strength and stay away from injury.

Barbara

Barbara hates, hates, hates to have a barbell on her back. We solved that problem this year by switching to landmine squats. Sounds out right bad-ss doesn’t it? Well, they are. Here’s what they look like.

She’s been doing them for a couple of months and has been adding weight steadily. She finally enjoys squatting. Well, kind of. Squats are hard!

Barbara does 4 sets of landmine squats with 35 pounds on the bar. She does them once a week.

Remember, the best exercise you do is the one you enjoy doing!!! Consistency is the name of the game in resistance training.

Deadlifts

John

My deadlift maximum is about the same as it was a few years ago. I haven’t tried a max in years, but it’s probably still around 300 lbs. When I did that, I was a few years younger and 10 pounds heavier.

I also changed my DL program slightly for the same reasons as I changed my squat program. DLs are the most neuromuscularly draining exercise so good recovery from them is a must. At older ages, you have to be acutely aware of this and not be afraid to adjust your programming.

This is my current DL routine:

65 x 5, 115 x 5, 145 x 5, 157 x 3, 215 x 1, 225 x 1, 247.50 x 4 @8

Next month, I’ll add a pound and adjust my totals. I’m increasing slowly at this point. I’ll get to where I have to go. That’s stronger!

I deadlift once a week.

The @8 means that I probably could have done 2 more reps. That gives me a projected 1 rep max at about 297 lbs. I’d really like to get 300 again. I’ll probably try when the weather gets warmer. After working with this program for a month, I’ve found my recovery to be a lot better. 

Barbara

After a brief hiatus, Barbara started back up with deadlifts. But get this. She’s using a new piece of equipment. She wasn’t crazy about DLs so we decided to get a rackable hex trap bar from Titan.Rackable Hex Trap Bar V2

When using the bar, you’re doing a modified DL. There’s much less stress on your lower back. The leg muscles play a bigger role in the lift as compared to the lower back in a regular deadlift. 

She doesn’t complain about DLs at all now. Again, the best exercise is the one you like doing.

Here’s her routine. 90 X 5, 120 X 5

65 and getting stronger with trap bar

Barbara does this exercise once a week.

Accessory Exercises

As I mentioned, the above four exercises comprise the core of our barbell training. However, we do add in some accessory exercises. These are not necessary, but we enjoy lifting and can tolerate the exercises so we do them.

Barbara likes that toned arm look so she adds in some bicep curls. I add in lat rows and narrow grip bench press. I like to keep these muscle groups in shape because they’re used in other exercises.

Deloading 

Here’s one last important point. I take one week a month and deload my lifts. I’ll use a weight a little heavier than a warm up weight. It’ll be enough so that I won’t lose any gains I’ve made. I personally think this has helped me tremendously in recovering from the previous strenuous three weeks, and I think it’s probably the main reason I haven’t sustained any major injury. 

Barbara will deload spontaneously. Her body tells her when to take a day off.

Some Key Takeaways I’ve Learned About Resistance Training

  1. Unless you’re severely disabled, you can do resistance training. Wait, let me rephrase that. You must do resistance training. See my post: If You’re Over 40 You’re Probably Losing Strength. You Must Deal With It Now!
  2. Check with your physician to make sure you’re able to train.
  3. Find a good gym that has barbell equipment.
  4. If you can’t find a gym or prefer to train at home, you can do it.
  5. Use a good plan and one that you like.
  6. Stick to the plan and be consistent. Show up for every workout. When you don’t feel like training, remember why you’re doing it. Better strength means better health. You and your significant others will appreciate that.
  7. There are different methods of resistance training. Barbell, machines, bands, body weight, etc.
  8. If you’re going to start barbell training, try the Starting Strength Method. We started the program at 57 years old when we were completely untrained. It worked well for us.
  9. Learn to lift correctly. At heavier weights, this becomes critical.
  10. Evaluate your programming. If you’re getting injured, check technique, plan adherence, and recovery. If you’re exhausted everyday, you may need to deload or readjust your plan. I’ve done this several times.
  11. Always be cognizant of your technique. Once you start barbell training, you’re in training. You’ll either need a coach or you can become your own coach. It’s not that hard to be your own coach, but it does mean learning about the process. I continually watch videos on technique.
  12. Online coaches I would trust: Starting Strength & Barbell Logic.
  13. Don’t worry about gains. They always come. Even if you can’t see them, they are still there.
  14. If you’re an older lifter, then deload more often. That doesn’t always mean taking a week off, but it can.
  15. Use good equipment. More on that in my next post.

Diet

Of course, if you’re going to do resistance training, you’ll have to have a good diet. Over the last 15 years, I’ve optimized my diet for me. You can see my diet plan here: How We’re Staying Healthy At 64: Barbara and John’s Diet And Exercise Strategy.

Barbara and I basically eat the same way. My quantities might be slightly higher.

One thing that’s not negotiable for older people is proper protein consumption. You must get enough protein. See here: Are You Getting Enough Dietary Protein To Maintain Healthy Muscle Quality?.

Sleep

In order to recover properly, you must get optimum sleep. See my posts: How’s Your Sleep Routine? and How To Optimize Your Sleep Cycles For A Restorative Night’s Sleep.

In order to get good sleep, you need a good mattress. See: Why We Bought a Sleep EZ 100% Natural Latex Mattress.

Supplements

My supplements haven’t changed dramatically from last year except for a couple of items. One big one was the addition of creatine. I’ll write a post on my experiences with creatine in the coming weeks.

Aerobic Training

Barbara and I have maintained a walking routine for over 10 years. We try to do at least 1.5 miles everyday. During cold or bad weather, we use our treadmill. Here’s a key insight into walking. You can break up your routine into 3 ten minute stints. You don’t have to get the whole 30 minutes at one time. The benefits are the same.

See this video by Stan Efferding, 54 years old (at one time one of the strongest men in the world), on why 10 minute walks are important.

Equipment

My next post will show you our home gym.

Okay, that’s all I have for this post. God bless and have a great week.

Read this next:

How to start strength training over 40

Get A Good Grip: How Your Hand Grip Strength Predicts Longevity

The 10 Most Important Strategies I Used To Beat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

How I’m Using Creatine To Get Stronger

About Dr. John Bianchi

John has a doctorate in podiatric medicine and is particularly interested in sports medicine and fitness. His articles focus on health and gluten free living. Check out John’s Instagram @johnbianchi56





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