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Old enough for a six pack?
(No. 59) Build muscle for a fruitful life, by Stephen P. Williams
A brain flitchet banished my muscles
I’m not too worried about the beach bully kicking sand in my face, but I do have concerns about my own muscle loss, year after year.
Charles Atlas, née Angelo Siciliano, above, was a model of old-fashioned masculinity for boys growing up in the 60s and 70s. His muscle building ads were at the back of every comic book, and we always laughed at them. But let me tell you, I’m not laughing any more. I’m lifting. I’m doing pushups. Squats. Lunges. Ball work. TRX bands. You name it, if there’s a free weight or anything else not connected to a machine at my gym, I’ve tried it. (I find most machines at my gym to be unfriendly, too rigid, and potentially covered in stranuses — strangers’ viruses. I avoid machines at all cost). Today I did pushups (balancing on a Bosu), squats, lunges, resistance work, overhead lifts and kettle ball movement. Tomorrow I might lift free weights or go to a pilates class.
That’s because I know these facts: muscles are the key to balance, movement and overall health; lifting works; and a person is never too old to lift.
But it is so easy to quit. One day you are at the gym, and the next day you aren’t. I quit lifting for nearly a year after some mental flitchet entered my brain early in the pandemic, telling me I no longer needed to work out. The bout of COVID-19 that left my lungs weaker, and my calves in pain whenever I walked very far, didn’t help. Plus, my gym was closed. Over a period of 12 months I gained 20 pounds. But it wasn’t until I noticed that my once strong arms were developing a little teacher shake (“Go to the principal’s office,” she demanded, pointing towards the door, her biceps flapping back and forth in the non-existent breeze), that I realized how important it was for me to do resistance work.
I don’t spend too much time worrying about reps and sets and the amount of weight I’m moving around. Rather, I try to keep my muscles engaged, over and over, whether it’s by lifting a tire, or balancing a 12 pound ball on my palm. Or I’ll pick up some relatively light 22 pound free weights and do curls, maybe eight in a set, until I feel tired. I’ll mix in some squats and lunges and in half an hour I’ve done 8 different exercises. So I add two or three more before calling it a day.
Astrologically, that’s an Aquarian workout. If you are Virgo, you might want to track everything with a pad and paper. To each his own, as long as you keep moving.
You will notice the initial results within weeks. You might not look like a body builder after a month, but you will feel kind of like Bruce Lee, light on your feet, with better balance. Getting on and off a couch will seem a little easier. After six months, you’ll be looking pretty fit.
Here’s a bonus most middle age and older people will appreciate: muscle tissue burns more calories than fat does. That means that muscle boosts your metabolism. The more muscle the better. Muscle is also especially good at targeting belly fat when it needs fuel. Belly fat is the super dangerous stuff that surrounds your organs and messes with your heart.
When you stress a muscle with weights, the sugar it has stored for energy breaks down. When the exercise ends, the muscles replenish this energy with glycogen that’s stored in fat. Muscle grows. Fat slows. This process also reduces a person’s risk of diabetes.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that men who did just 20 minutes of daily weight training gained far less abdominal fat than men who ran and danced and did other aerobics exercise.
Strength work also replenishes the supply of mitochondria in the body, the energy burning rods in our cells that are so crucial to youthfulness and longevity.
Here’s how to do weight and resistance exercises:
Breathe throughout. Do not hold your breath. For the most part, exhale as you lift, push or pull. Release on the inhale.
Remember that lifting a ten pound ball or garden implement is probably as good as lifting a 10 pound free weight. Lift what you feel like lifting.
Stop working out if you feel chest pain, aching, uncomfortable fullness or burning in your chest; wheezing and shortness of breath; you faint; or your joints flare up.
I also recommend that you look in the mirror as you lift, now and then. It’s helpful to be realistic about what shape you are in, so that you can see the improvements as they happen. Within a few months, you’ll be satisfied when you look in the mirror and see the results of your hard work.
A very good no-machine full body workout from Buster Keaton
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