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Note: This article was originally published in the January 2006 issue of the Denver publication Community News. An updated version was published in the August 2008 issue of Community News.
There are many things you may be too young to do: drink, drive, vote, get married. But are there things you're too old to do? That's much less likely, especially when it comes to exercise.
Weight training is now known to be beneficial for everyone from teens to seniors. Done one to three times a week, with a balanced selection of exercises and with proper technique, weight training can make you stronger and more toned. It can also improve your posture, give you more energy and endurance, increase your flexibility, improve your coordination and balance, strengthen your bones, and help you lose weight. It can also give you more confidence and lift your spirits.
Cold or rainy weather is no obstacle to this indoor activity. Basic equipment is inexpensive and durable. Most of the exercises are not hard to learn, and are generally extremely safe. Your progress is easily measured. Weight training is also a surprising amount of fun.
I've taught weight training since 1976. Back then, women rarely lifted weights, and myths regarding weight training abounded. A common one was that it would make you "muscle-bound": stiff, slow, and bulky. Commercial gyms preached that fancy weight training machines were superior to low-tech free weights (dumbbells and barbells), and that therefore people had to join gyms - for high fees, of course - to get the best possible workouts.
Many believed that training regimens had to be complicated, with a large variety of exercises performed in a set order with a set number of repetitions. Battles raged among iron-pumping authors regarding exactly which exercises to do for which training purposes, in what order to do them, for how many repetitions, and how often per week.
The reality is much less intimidating. Take cost, for instance. A few pairs of cast iron dumbbells - the most basic equipment - will run you less than $1.00 per pound at most sporting good stores. Sears has a good selection, too. You'll pay even less at used sporting goods stores, such as Play It Again Sports here in Denver.
Once you've learned a few simple exercises and are sure you want to continue, you can invest in more equipment: ankle weights, a foam rubber mat for doing floor exercises and leg-lifts with ankle weights, a barbell and a few pairs of weight plates, and a flat weight bench with upright holders for the barbell. All this can be purchased piece by piece, as desired. Play It Again Sports sells a sturdy flat bench that includes under-the-bench storage space for dumbbells.
What about the exercises themselves? Here, too, you can keep it simple. From a book or an instructor, you can learn two or three basic exercises for each major body part: the chest, back, shoulders, upper and lower arms, front and back thighs, buttocks, and calves. Do a variety of sit-ups to tone the abdominals. Add a few warm-up calisthenics and stretches and some finishing, cool-down stretches, and you can get a good workout in under an hour.
It used to be taught that you had to do three sets of 12-15 repetitions per exercise to work each muscle group sufficiently. Newer studies have shown that one long set of 20-25 repetitions of each exercise can give you almost all the benefits of repeated sets. Longer sets may even be better at burning fat.
No matter what other form of exercise you do, you'll find weight training to be a good complement, given that it makes you stronger and increases your endurance. Aerobic activities such as walking, hiking, swimming, and bicycling are beneficial and suitable for those of all ages. My favorite is walking, both outdoors and on a treadmill.
Today, at 62, I teach only two weight training classes per week vs. my former 24 classes per week. Now my main work consists of tutoring foreign languages, so I sit most of the day. My 1998 mastectomy and a subsequent shoulder injury from a fall left me with some apparently permanent limitations. In short, I'm older, heavier, and much less athletic than I once was.
But that's the most important point of this article, that you don't have to be young or already strong and fit to benefit from weight training. Nor do you have to spend a fortune on equipment or a personal trainer. You can learn from books or from classes, such as those at the YMCA or a neighborhood rec center.
If you're ready to give this fun and effective form of exercise a try, I invite you to come try my small, home-based classes in SW Denver. The program combines stretches, calisthenics, and a variety of exercises with dumbbells, barbells, and ankle weights. All equipment is provided, and there are no contracts. Cost is only $8.00 per one-hour class. For more information, please click here.