Senior Weightlifting? No, We Aren't Kidding.
Timothy Caso knows all about the struggles of getting older. At 59, his past includes serious knee injuries that landed him in surgery and learning how to walk again through his recovery. He knows about the aches and pains and limitations that age brings with it. After all, he’s the first to admit he can’t lift the hundreds of pounds he did forty years ago.
But Caso also knows about the potential for success and the progress that can be made at any age. It’s why he wrote the book Weight Training for Old Guys (and good advice for the rest of us!) and why, as he’s about to turn the big 6-0 next year, is also training to get back into competitive weightlifting shape. Yep, you heard that right. Competitive weightlifting. And before you shrug off Caso as one of those super-humans with unattainable workout goals and unrealistic regimes, he’ll be the first to say emphatically that anyone can do it.
Caso always made fitness a major part of his life. He was on track to become part of the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team before an injury sidelined those aspirations. But that didn’t end his drive and commitment to the sport of lifting. We joined Caso in the gym recently to learn a few pointers on how seniors (and really anyone for that matter) can practice good workout habits that can make the time spent in the gym all the more rewarding.
“Let’s face it: we’re old. Fifty is not the new thirty...fifty is fifty.” That’s how Caso opens his book and it’s that realism that makes his advice easier to apply. Although weightlifting and seniors might not be words that go together often, watching Caso throw back (with proper form, always) 200+ pounds can definitely make you a believer.
So just to be clear, Caso isn’t recommending that every 50-80 year old grab a pair of dumbbells and start lifting. Of course, his first piece of advice is to talk to your doctor to discuss what your body is able to handle and what types of exercise is safe for you. Caso simply wants people to stop feeling like they don’t belong in the gym if they aren’t in perfect shape. He wants others to experience the pride and mental/physical benefits that consistent weight lifting provides. And with nearly 40 years under that weight-lifting belt, Caso has some advice he’d like to share with his fellow Baby boomers.
Stretch, Stretch and Stretch Some More
Upon hitting the gym, Caso immediately goes to the stretching area where he says he’ll be doing 35 minutes of stretching before his 60-minute workout begins. Stretching for that long might sound surprising, but Caso says that, especially as we age, we need to be proactively working to avoid injury and a big part of that, for this former weightlifting instructor, is warming up. Since we lose flexibility as we age there are added benefits to putting in this time before any workout.
If you haven’t been consistently lifting like Caso, even the lowest free weights can seem impossible to move. That’s why Caso suggests starting on resistance machines at the gym initially to develop your base strength. Once you are able to move on to the lowest free weights, you can leave the machines behind. Free weights for Caso provide the most efficient muscle workout because there is not a machine aiding in the movements and it’s up to your muscles to continually balance and hold a weight, even in resting stages. “If it’s been twenty years since you’ve been in the gym, I wouldn’t recommend you start out with bench presses and squats,” explains Caso. “You want to give yourself six months at least on the circuit machines before you go to the harder workouts. You have to get strong before you can do the lifts.” You also won’t have to worry about your technique because the machines make sure you’re doing a move properly, which brings us to our next point...
Form is Everything
“Start out with lifting nothing but a broomstick, until you learn to lift it right,” Caso says as he plants his feet in position to squat lift. Watching him lift enormous weights (remember, he’s already eligible for AARP) you can really begin to see the precision necessary for competitive weightlifting. Each muscle needs to be in the right position and do exactly what it’s supposed to at the exact right moment. It’s way more than just a “heave” and a “hoe” to get those weights in the air. And Caso sees a benefit to that type of thoughtful exercising for everyone. “When you lift, your head needs to be clear and you need to be 100 percent in the gym mentally.” Good form also helps avoid injury. “You can hurt your back, fall forward, any number of things if you aren’t using the proper form,” adds Caso. “Ultimately when you have proper technique, you’re putting the weight on the muscles it’s supposed to be on. Flexibility and training are essential to mastering that.”
Weight Loss Isn’t Just About Cardio
Vary your workout suggests Caso. If you already run or bike, consider adding weights in to make your workout more effective. “By building muscles, which cardio does not do, you can increase your metabolism,” explains Caso. “It’s like having your engine on all the time, the more muscle mass you build, the more calories you’ll burn.” Caso says that many times people will gravitate to the cardio machines because there is an intimidation factor in moving to the weight area of a gym. He urges people to forget those feelings. Most people, he says, are focused on themselves at the gym. He also suggests keeping a journal to help to stay focused on your own goals and measure yourself only against yourself, no one else.
Although Caso’s regime might seem intense, he doesn’t work out everyday of the week. Rest, he says, is just as important as working out for muscle building, giving the body time to heal.
Overtraining, he cautions, can lead to injury. “I segment my workouts into eight week cycles. And then I take a week off. The worse thing you can do is keep doing the same workouts over and over again, because you’ll get overuse injuries.” Caso separates his individual workouts into leg day and arm days and keeps a binder that he says helps him stay focused on what lifts and exercises he’s doing each day. “Write down three, four, five exercises and get them done. Most people don’t want to spend hours in the gym.”