Men Over 50 Gain Muscle and Lose Weight

Masters Athlete Jim Gibson – Leading the Pack at 61!

Today interviews 61-year-old cyclist and fitness enthusiast Jim Gibson. While many people become less active and sedentary in their seniors years,

Masters Fitness Athlete Jim Gibson

Masters Fitness Athlete Jim Gibson rocks the spin room as an instructor at 61

Jim Gibson, at 61, is kicking it up a notch.  Jim has taken his love of cycling to the classroom where he conducts spin classes.

If you’ve ever done spin, you know it can be challenging as a participant, much less as an instructor.

Jim also lifts weights  regularly to build and to maintain upper-body strength, and he also pays close attention to his diet.

Jim provides a fantastic example of what’s possible after 50!

Q:  Tell us about the physical activities you stay involved in.

A: I try to spend at least an hour a day at the gym.  Four times a week, I teach cycling spinning classes (at LA Fitness and Body Dynamics) for cardio fitness and three days per week I do a complete upper body session of resistance training.  I alternate the resistance training to make sure I have one or two days to recover between each session.  Occasionally, I will work in a day of TRX or Yoga, just to keep things interesting.

Q: Why the interest in this area?

A: Since 1986, I have been an avid cyclist and this is my primary interest.  I began riding to help manage a very stressful time and it became a life-long activity.  I started entering races and eventually rode for a semi-pro team.  During this time, I was fortunate to get to ride in several European countries and did a number of week-long group rides here in the US.

Coming from Oklahoma, there were plenty of places to ride without having to worry about traffic, or other road hazards.  When I moved to Florida in 2001, I started riding on the local bike trail, but soon learned that riding in a dense urban environment is very different and frequently, dangerous.

It was not long after taking up cycling in St. Petersburg, I had two serious accidents with injuries and it was during a rehab period I discovered indoor cycling, or “spinning”.  I knew right away this form of exercise had all the benefits of open road cycling with none of the drawbacks.  It never rains, it’s never cold, it’s safe, you can do it any time, you can customize your workout, you get to meet really nice people and listen to great music.

After a few spinning sessions, my wife decided to try it and we found it was an exercise we could both enjoy together.  Within a few months, my wife encouraged me to get certified and become an instructor.  Today, nearly seven years later, we are both instructors teaching 6-8 classes per week.

My interest in weight training stems from my cycling experiences.  Earlier in my cycling program, I spent so much time (hunched over) on the bike that I developed serious rhomboid spasms and it caused me to have to sleep sitting upright in a chair instead of on a bed for six months.  I was at the point of having to inject muscle relaxants directly into the back muscles and when I begged for more powerful doses, the doctor refused due to fear of inducing a heart attack.

After another doctor examined me, he said my back muscles had atrophied due to lack of use.  This is a common condition for avid cyclists who have overly developed lower bodies and unused upper bodies.  It is exacerbated by the riding position of leaning forward and stretching the back muscles into a hunched position.

On the doctor’s recommendation, I started physical therapy, but the progress was far too slow and tedious for my interest.  So, I decided to start going to the gym to do back exercises, along with attending yoga classes.  Within two weeks the pain went away and it has not returned since.  Seven years later.

As the back exercises continued, I decided start doing more weight training.  In order to accommodate the weight, yoga and cycling activities, I found I was spending upwards of 14 hours per week at the gym.  It didn’t take long before I was reaching a burnout level.  So, for about the past three years I have cut back to 7 hours per week, which is comfortable and allows me to maintain a very good level of fitness.

Q: How do you stay in shape for your activities?

A: I try to make each of my exercise sessions count.  By that I mean I try to maximize my energy output.  When cycling, I go as fast, or as hard as I can during each segment.  As an instructor, I feel people expect me to be able to work harder than anyone else in the room and I try to perform to that expectation.  At the end of the hour-long session, I always have the biggest puddle of sweat below my bike, so I know I am getting a good workout.

When it comes to weight training, I always try to use this time as a cardio session.  I know this goes against most bodybuilding programs and I am not allowing my muscles to recover/re-oxygenate between sets, but I feel that whatever I am losing in muscular size potential, I make-up for with cardio fitness.  I know it works because I am always drenched in sweat after each of my weight training sessions.

Q: Tell us about your workouts. What do you do? How often?

A:  My workouts are normally very intense and heavily oriented toward cardiovascular fitness.  At 61 years of age, I am much more concerned about quality of life than having a “beach bod” so I try to stay focused on disease prevention activities.

I teach 4 spinning classes per week.  The workouts are very challenging.  I incorporate a lot of interval work that includes several short bursts of all-out energy followed by a brief recovery and then repeat (10-15 bursts in an hour class).  Typical intervals might include 30 seconds to 1 minute of all-out standing sprints at speeds of 100-120 rpm.  These bursts can be a real lung-buster, if done properly.  The next level of interval work is hill climbs that incorporate heavy pedaling resistance for a longer duration of time (up to 3 minutes).  Normal riding positions such as a runs, floats, and standing climbs, seated climbs and seated sprints make up most of the rest of the workout.

Like any other form of exercise, you only get out what you put in.  Being an instructor, I get to see everyone in the class and it is discouraging to see the number of people (many less than half my age) who come to class but choose not to work.  From my perspective, it is easy to see that we have become a nation of softies and I find it very disturbing (end of soapbox).

My weight training program is just as intense as my spinning class, but is focused entirely on the upper body.  I’m not sure if it is true, but I feel I get plenty of lower body work in my spin classes.

I try to incorporate a “boot camp” regime that includes 20 minutes of intense core exercises, followed by 40 minutes of super-set like training.  During the first 20 minutes, I go non-stop between sets, which are focused on abs and core.  After a brief 2 minute rest, I start the upper body routine with 30 seconds or less between opposing muscle sets.  Because I have a separated shoulder from an earlier cycling accident, I have to be careful about overhead lifts and unbalanced free weights.  To accommodate the injury, I do a lot of my work on an adjustable arm, cable machine.  If it is set up properly, you can do two sets at a time (the equivalent of using two stations) with very little change-over time.

I try to keep as much muscle confusion as possible by varying the weight, reps and sequencing.  I don’t do a lot of muscle load targeting.  I will normally do two, three set exercises per muscle zone.  Depending upon the weight, I will do between 5 and 15 reps per set.  I try not to do the same weight program two times in a row.

I am always drenched in sweat and frequently panting during my weight sessions.  Sometimes I wonder if I am doing something wrong because most of the other guys lifting weights don’t ever break a sweat.  I understand the need for a muscle recovery cycle, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to use it.

Q: How do you keep yourself motivated?

A:  Motivation can be challenging at times and I have several things to help in that department.  First, since I am an instructor and even though it is really a hobby more than a job, I have an obligation to the gym and my class attendees to show up.  So that really takes care of spinning.  As an extra incentive, you never know how many and which type of people are going to show up for a class.  So it’s always a little exciting (sometimes disappointing) to see how many are there.  Finally, it is very motivating when you see or hear from people, who credit spinning for improving their health and fitness, or even if they complement the class.

Weight training is much more difficult for me, since I do it by myself and on my own schedule the motivation has to come from an internal source.  I suppose my biggest motivator is knowing that for the past several years I have been disease-free, healthy, able to sleep soundly and to do virtually anything I choose with relative ease.  My blood pressure is low, my Cholesterol is very high in HDL and low in LDL, I have very few aches and pains and perhaps a major factor is that I can eat virtually anything I want (in moderation) and my weight stays within a 5 lb. range.

At 61 years, I don’t know if I could ask for more.  I see so many people my age who suffer from serious ailments and it scares/motivates me to keep it up.

Q: What is your biggest personal challenge to achieving and maintaining fitness over 50? How do you overcome that challenge?

A: The only challenge is mental and that is a huge one.  The only way it will work is to choose to get started.

Once you start, you will want to quit many times for the first few months.  This is a critical time, when you have to push yourself to have the discipline to get up and go.  If you can make it through this time, you have an opportunity to make exercise a part of your life’s routine. Having an exercise buddy can be a great motivator and I credit my wife for helping me get through the initial period.

You know you have reached this point when you don’t even think about whether or not you want to go.  You just find yourself going through the motions of getting ready without even thinking about it.  You will know you can sustain it when you miss a day or two and kind of feel like something is missing.

Once exercise is just a part of your daily routine, you start to look forward to it and by this time, you will have established a network of like-minded friends and acquaintances who can help sustain the motivation.

Q: How do you approach diet and nutrition? What are your meals like? What kind of supplements do you take, if any?

A:  I firmly believe diet and nutrition play a major role in getting to and maintaining fitness after 50.  When I first started my exercise program about 35 lbs. and 7 years ago, my wife also started reading a great deal about diet and nutrition.  As a result we have really modified our eating habits and I’m sure it has a great deal to do with our fitness success.

In general, I can eat anything I want and I am not afraid to tackle a hamburger with fries.  However, for the most part, my diet consists of organic foods and small portions, but frequent meals (about every 3.5 hours).  A typical morning consists of oatmeal before my spin class, 30 grams of whey protein powder after class and 2 organic eggs with 2 strips of crisp bacon and 2 scratch-made, small biscuits for lunch.  In the mid-afternoon, I will frequently have a glass of organic vegetable juice (get a juicer.  It is an easy way to really healthy super-foods).  In the evening, I will have some wine and a small snack, maybe some almonds or other types of nuts.

In terms of supplements, I take low-dose aspirin, NO2 Black (NO and L-Arginine), L-Glutamine, B-5, Fish Oil and DHEA.  My doctor also has me on testosterone replacement therapy, which is not uncommon for men my age.

I have done some investigation into the therapy and found that, low testosterone in men over 50 is a major cause of weight gain and muscle reduction.  When low-T symptoms are present they cannot be reversed, regardless of diet and exercise.  In fact, the therapy has shown to significantly aid in subcutaneous fat reduction and muscle growth, when properly administered.

It should be emphasized that the therapy should only be used under the guidance of a physician.  Improper dosage can cause either no improvement, or actually the reverse effects.  Lest you be tempted to “roid-out”, please be forewarned.

Q: Have you overcome injuries and/or surgeries? What were they? How did you overcome them?

A:  My most significant injury came from a cycling accident that resulted in a separated shoulder.  This is an injury when the actual shoulder bone is torn away from the attaching tendons and ligaments holding it together.  The result is an unsupported, unsightly bone sticking up from the top of your shoulder. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to repair a shoulder separation and when my doctor told me the cure (surgery with pins and hinges) could be worse than the ailment, I chose to just live with it.   However, I am physically impeded by a very weak link between my arm, shoulder and back on the left side.

In many people this injury can be crippling due to the “loose” nature of the shoulder connection.  That’s one big reason why I starting the weight lifting program.  To date, I have been able to live quite well with the separation through a careful program of focus on proper form in the weight room along with a general strength-building of the surrounding shoulder muscles.  Even though I can’t bench press 400 lbs. anymore, I can get a good workout without too many limitations.  Mostly, I can get by with just avoiding heavy lifting overhead

Q: Do you have a target weight and/or body fat level you maintain?  What is it? How do you achieve it?

A:  I really don’t have a target weight or body fat level.  Generally, my weight stays between 212 and 218.  The norm is about 215.  At 6’ tall, it seems to fit my frame pretty well.  At one point, I dropped to 206 when I was spending 14 hours a week at the gym, but it seemed to be a “burn-out” pace for me.

Cutting out the occasional hamburger and fries might help to pull the weight down a notch, but since “beach bod” is really not my goal, I figure I’ll go ahead and treat myself once in a while.

Q: What are your health and fitness goals for the future?

A: I would like to think I can maintain my current health and fitness for many more of my senior years.  My goal is to keep doing it for as long as I am able.  So far, so good.  I can’t remember the last time I was sick, or in any serious pain.  In general I am very grateful for all the benefits I have derived from the exercise lifestyle.

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