Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 02/27/2011

LWO: Lifting While Old

Portrait of the author as a young (and tanned!) man

Take a quick look at that picture, and guess which one is me. Make a mental note of which one you guessed.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that two of the people in the picture, my sisters, are obviously female. Although it’s not completely obvious, the other five – my four brothers and me – are male. So that narrows it down.

The fashion historians in the audience will probably figure out from the long, center-parted hair and wide lapels that this was shot sometime in the mid to late ’70s. The math majors will note that a guy who was born in 1957 (says it right there on my Wikipedia page) would’ve been in his late teens or early twenties.

This information narrows your choices considerably.

When I showed the photo to my younger daughter, she didn’t pick me out until her fifth try. She told me the blond hair threw her off; she never guessed there was a time in my life when my hair was that light. I was willing to believe her for maybe five seconds, until I realized two of my brothers also had blond hair when this was taken, and she picked both of them before she got to me.

Now I’ve given it away. My older brother, the very handsome devil in the burgundy suit, has brown hair. So the only person in the photo who’s male, early 20s, and blond is the guy in the upper-left-hand corner, the skinny one with overlarge glasses and a bad haircut.

I worked as a lifeguard during the summer when I was in college (as did my equally well-tanned older brother), and a typical day included golf, tennis, or running in the morning before work; 500 to 1,000 yards of lap swimming during work; and countless pushups and situps during our breaks between shifts on the lifeguard stands. I also lifted weights at home on the days I didn’t work.

If I lifted anything truly heavy, I don’t remember it. But the cumulative activity of any given summer would probably equal a year’s worth of movement for the deskbound, 54-year-old guy I eventually became.

Contrast that with my current workout program. I’m trying out a fascinating new workout system by one of my coauthors. But I quickly realized I couldn’t do the program as written. I would’ve broken myself if I’d tried.

At my age, I can’t do a truly heavy lower-body workout twice in one week. At best, I can do near-max-effort front squats on Monday and high-effort deadlifts on Friday. I also struggle to give a true max effort on more than one upper-body exercise in the same workout. When I do, that’s pretty much it for the week.

So where does that leave me? I can do a max-effort lower-body exercise on Monday. I can do two max-effort upper-body exercises on Wednesday. And on Friday I can hit upper and lower body with medium-effort exercises. If I try to do more than that, the fatigue is too extreme and the recovery takes too long. Plus, it stops being fun.

That’s my 54-year-old self: trying to get as much work done as efficiently as possible, but with acute attention paid to my limitations. My 20-year-old self didn’t care about how hard anything was. If I used the word “recovery,” I was probably talking about a hangover. I had lots of time, lots of opportunity, lots of energy, and, since I worked 10-hour shifts in a swimsuit, lots of incentive to be in great shape.

In between, I did something down the middle. I didn’t really push to get strong until my 40s. In my 20s and 30s, I trained a lot more than I do now, but with generally lighter weights on exercises I rarely do anymore.

What about you? What changes have you made to accommodate your age?

Any age. Doesn’t matter. Do you train differently now because of something you learned? Because of changes to your life? To your weight? To your interests? I’m genuinely curious.



  • Those suits are beautiful!

    My age-related changes are hard to figure, since I’ve only been training a few years after leading a mostly sedentary life At 43 and busy, I’m training a lot less, but getting better results than when I was training more last year. I train harder, but less often.

  • Chris

    Although “New Rules For Lifting” has been around for a few years, it is brand new to me. I am truly excited about lifting weights again after (literally) thirty years of false starts. When I was 20 all I had to do was look at my weights and I had immediate growth. Looking back, my “programs” were a joke. Now that I’m fifty I’m having trouble getting through some of the workouts as written in NROL. But that’s OK. The way I look at it, I’m going to get through this first year, modifying as I go, and by the time I go through these workouts again I’m gonna nail ’em. My only regret is that I don’t have a time machine so I could go back in time, smack my younger self in the head with this book, and say “throw that Schwarzenegger book in the trash, and get to work!”

  • I’m kind of in the same boat as Roland as I was not very athletic until my mid-40’s–my workouts when I was younger consisted of “doing the machines” or walking on the treadmill–so it’s hard to compare!
    I know that as a 40-something woman trying to get into shape, a 6 day a week program, what I started with, nearly killed me. It took New Rules for Women telling me it was ok to only work out twice a week with to start to get the hang of truly being in shape. Before, I thought I was a slacker ’cause the heavy weights 3 + times a week was impossible for me.
    The message I’ve gotten, is that I need to work out smarter, more efficiently; is it my age? Not sure, as I’ve found that many of my clients, especially women in my demographic, respond best to just the same 2-3 times a week.

  • Ramsey Doran

    The trifecta of my life’s fitness looks like this: Part 1: 0-20, Competitive swimming & diving, wannabe basketball player through high school First two years in college, I majored in football (I am female despite the name) and minored in beer; part 2: 21-40, married football player. had four kids and chased same, discovered clogging (unsophisticated form of Irish dancing) at 29 which resulted in excellent cardio fitness and very toned legs and very interesting adventures; 41-60, looked in rearview mirror at store and discovered I had three asses. the next week started training at gym and I haven’t looked back (except to check on status of my one ass), took up cycling at age 46 and use it for primary cardio and fun. Depend on Lou’s NROL for Women’s for my weight training, which greatly enhances my cycling. Turned 60 last week and still searching for my outer goddess . Thanks Lou!

  • Jim Cleer

    Turning 44 in a couple of weeks and I am probably in the best shape of my life since I was 16. I started NROL about 2 months ago and amd now heading into Fat Loss II. I was pretty much a beer sucking couch potato for the past 15 years and this book and workout has made huge changes in my life. I have not had a beer in almost two months. Not on purpose, but just because I no longer desire one. I love going to the gym and feel as if something is missing if I miss a planned workout because of work or family, but I have also learned that it is not the end of the world if I do miss it. I always think back to this guy in a Bowflex commercial I saw about 8 years ago. He would say “I’m 40 years old and I am in the best shape of my life”. I really don’t know what kick started me working out, but I am glad I did I have lost over 30 lbs in the last year and 3 waist sizes. I have about 15 more pounds to go for my goal and I know I will get there.

  • When I was younger I did downhill skiing, grasshockey, running, hiking and cycling like a maniac. I like to think that is what built a strong foundation because after the first 18 years, I spent 30 going to university, working, slaving, eventually having children (late!) and doing only a bit of sports and walking my dogs. I was like a lot of people I guess.

    When I turned 50 last year I started making a real effort to get strong and fit again but found some earthshatttering changes had taken place in my body since I was that crazy young person. Doing any activities that required youthful joints was out and recovering from heavy exercise takes about 3 times longer than I remember.

    Its like working out in a stranger’s body but with the help of your books and Rachel Cosgrove’s too, I’ve made great strides and can enjoy my young children and busy, busy life. I find one big difference in the older me and the younger me is I exercise with a long term goal in mind (a pain free, fit, healthy dotage) as opposed to the self centered ‘in the moment’ kind of goal of a younger person.

    As to your picture. My photo album is filled with similar ones. I was born in 1960 and am the youngest of 8 kids so there are lots of family shots like that. Brings back memories.

  • Brad

    Wish I had a picture of me in my Nehru jacket with gold emblem… seems like it would fit in well here! I’ve got just a few years on Lou and have struggled the past few years to find something that I can continue to do without too much pain or injury. Gave up basketball at 44 to preserve the legs (I like not needing a walker), switched to primarily lifting for 10 years until that was too hard on me to continue as I was doing it. I have always interspersed swimming as “recovery” but occasionally have trouble with the shoulder. I took up racquetball seriously in December until it took two weeks to use my elbow again so I think I’ll leave that one alone for now.

    Although I don’t think the BMI is the end all and be all, I’d like to get closer to where I should be than where I am now (6’3″, 215) so I’ve gone back to HIIT on a recumbent bike. Still swim on the in between days. I play around with a lifting platform in my garage (clean and presses, do the same with some DB’s and do a lot of chins/pullups on my bar out in the back yard or in the gym. I also garden quite a bit and do pretty physical stuff around the house so I guess that counts but, regardless of what I do, I wake up most mornings feeling it.

    It seems like life is now about just trying to find ways to adapt without giving up working out altogether. Guess getting older is better than the alternative… at least so far! 🙂

  • Thanks all!

    Jim, I met the Bowflex model, Andy McCutcheon, a few years back. He did the workout photos for a book I edited, The New High-Intensity Training, by Ellington Darden.

    Really, really nice guy, very smart. And holy shit was that guy in great shape! Had a martial-arts background. I can’t remember the details, but I’m pretty sure that’s where he built his fitness base.

  • Dennis Gonzalo

    I used to lift a lot in my college days but stopped sometime decades ago. I am in my mid-fifties now and I wanted to get back in shape. Courtesy of our company library, I was able to borrow three books of the New Rules of Lifting. What I am curious about is, do I need both the New Rules for Lifting (book #1) and the New Rules for Lifting (abs book – book #3)? I am interested in buying my own copies but I had a couple of questions.

    I read the first few chapters of both books and the NROL abs book appears to be telling me that it contains “new” knowledge and it has all the work-outs I will need which leads me to think the the first NROL is still useful to read but optional for my purposes. Is my perception accurate? Thank you.

  • Dennis, I would definitely start with NROL for Abs as your program for at least the next six months. I’d cycle through it twice (assuming you like it the first time!), choosing more challenging exercises and variations the second time through.

    The original NROL has great workouts that thousands of readers have used successfully, but it has some exercises and techniques that Alwyn doesn’t use anymore.

    There’s nothing wrong with most of them (although there’s a lot of debate about barbell back squats, especially for older lifters who might have back issues), and you can certainly try them out after you do NROL for Abs. If nothing else, your body will be much better prepared for them than it is now.

    • Anonymous

      by barbell back squats.. you mean just the bar, weights plus squat? I had no idea about the concern about backs. I do worry about knees though!

  • Bernie Koeppel from Love Boat + John Denver = young Lou.

  • Bob

    Sounds like most of you “kids” understand the limitation of getting older and trying to keep making progress with your lifting. I’m a “geezer” lifter, (62)having competed in Olympic lifting many years ago, I still “strength train” rather than bodybuilding – big difference. Yet I find my recovery is slower especially when I push myself a bit – which is significantly less than when 40, 50, 55. I’ve adjusted my expectations too… I still covet the six pack abs and low body fat but am not likely to achieve the pentultimate physique portrayed in most rags – which are pointed at the 16-30 year old crowd. There is very little written advice dedicated to the boomer crowd, but one book titled Grey Hair and Black Iron by Brooks Kubick is a good compendium of routines and advice for older strength trainers. Also a book entitled Quantum Fitness by pat O’shea is excellent and gives a good portion of itself to the over-the-hill-gang. Bill Starr had some good advice in a Milo journal when he advises that “old man Usta doesn’t work out here any more”. “I usta bench x” “I usta clean and jerk y” “I usta squat z”. Train within your means and within your recovery ability. Back off a bit more often, but still challenge yourself. Be careful too – as we get older we can’t afford a serious injury…coming back is harder than ever. True story.

  • George Haberberger


    I’m 59 years old and have been lifting about 30 years. Did a lot of just going-through the-motions for years. About 5 years ago I had a partial tear of a rotator cuff, (not from the gym). The sports medicine doctor I saw used prolotherapy to repair it and as a suggestion he said to get Book of Muscle and use those workouts because I had been doing essentially the same set of exercises for years.

    I used that book for a year, finishing the Advanced Programs and then wrote to you to ask what to do after Book of Muscle. That’s when I discovered we went to the same high school although you were five years behind me. You suggested Chad Waterbury’s Muscle Revolution. I used about 4 different programs in that book repeating that cycle twice, At the time, I thought the programs were really difficult. After that I got Waterbury’s Huge in a Hurry and used that for about 18 months, going back to do the Get Strong and Get Big routines twice. Last spring I did a Tabata routine for a week. That was not fun. Last fall I did a 12-week Kettlebell workout by Geoff Neupret. It was a good workout but my Gold’s Gym only has kettlebells up to 35 lbs. so I think it may have been a bit too easy.

    After that I bought Waterbury’s Body of Fire which was some of the most exhausting and challenging workouts I’ve ever done. That man has an unnatural love for squat thrusts. I did it for 14 weeks, which was two weeks into the “extra” 4-week 4th phase. The last two weeks were just too daunting.

    Body of Fire did burn off body fat and reveal heretofore hidden abs, but God I dreaded all those bodyweight movements with no rest between sets. Now I’m doing Waterbury’s Outlaw Strength and Conditioning again after several years, which after Body of Fire, seems easy.

    Don’t know what I’ll do after this. Thinking about Wendler’s 5-3-1 and even though I’ll be 60 this year I still intend to lift as heavy as possible. I think I am in better shape than when I was in my 30s and 40s even though muscle soreness is a constant presence.

    Any suggestions?

  • Wow! I had no idea you were so OLD 🙂

    I’ll be 50 in a couple months, and it’s hard for me to quantify what’s changed, because I’m actually fitter than I was at 20 or 30, but that’s combined with an older body. The main difference I see is that I need more recovery time – I can’t do a major workout every other day. Right now I’m doing that well-known program that begins with a “P” and ends with an “X” – it has six hardcore workouts per week. I’m doing three!

    It’s all good though. I’m glad I’m working out, period.

  • Bob

    DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. Abreviated workouts seem to be the key to this. Still the intensity and volume have a lot to do with this as we get older (…and older). Abreviated workouts seem to be the key. 5x5s every third day with HIIT one of the in between days and a 30 minute walk the other. Or you can do your cardio the same days as your lifting to really give you a rest on the two days in between. I’m doing:
    Day one: Squats, Power cleans and push presses;
    Day two: HIIT walking/jog with elevation on the treadmill to 85-90% MHR (Karvonen) 20-25 minutes;
    Day Three: 30 minute vigorous walk;
    Day four: Deadlift, Bench and Bent over BB Rows .
    Followed by 2 days active rest and then do it all over again. I try to do light, medium and heavy alternating, but I often just work as hard as I feel I’m up to on the lifting days.
    I have been able, with this routine, to avoid most DOMS unless I go all out and do PRs or stupidly more than I should, and still make measureable progress.

    Constant soreness is nature’s way of telling you you’re over training. Take your resting heart rate before you get out of bed in the morning and see if it is above your normal resting heart rate. That will be a tell-tale sign of over training.

    Lou, I like your books. How about something comprehensive for geezers?

  • Bob, we may just have to make that happen!

  • Ramsey Doran

    I met a woman in the steam room at the Y this week, who will be turning 40 this summer and said she had lost 70 pounds over the last year but seemed stalled. I asked if she had tried weight training and she said that the classes just discouraged her. I gave her my weight-training pep talk and then decided she needed my copy of NROL for Women more than I did. Today I ordered another copy for myself and hope I can remember my workout for today. I also hope that this woman can use the book to help her get body to where she wants it!
    She also has a 13-year daughter who weighs 287 pounds and who is in desperate need of more help than her mom seems able to give. OUr paths may never cross again due to our schedules, but I have to wonder where does a parent go to help a child who is dangerously obese?

  • Ramsey, I don’t think anybody can answer that question completely and honestly.

    If she genuinely wants to help her daughter, the first place she would look is to herself, and her own home. Those calories had to come from somewhere.

    Second, I think she has to find a psychologist or social worker with whom her daughter can talk about the real reasons why she eats to excess. If asked, the daughter would probably tell you she doesn’t like being 287 pounds. But if asked the right questions by the right person, she might offer some insight into what she gains by having the weight, or by the behaviors that lead to the weight.

    Is it a biochemical imbalance? Sometimes antidepressants can take the edge off cravings for food, especially carbs. (But sometimes they can’t.) Is it impulse control? That can be treated as well on the behavior side as well as with medicine.

    Third, she has to find something to replace food in her life. It takes a lot of food to become 2 1/2 times the size of a typical 13-year-old.

  • Laura

    Can I just add one thing Ransey. I have a 12 year old daughter. I KNOW for a fact she is shaped by how she sees me behaving. I have taken a real interest in my own health, (eating/exercise) in the last year or so and she follows right along. If I eat well, make nutritious meals, talk about why I’m buying the groceries i do, she gets into it and tries to be like me. She see me going to the gym and reading books like NROL and we talk about it. The best thing any mother/parent can do is be a living role model.
    I truly feel sorry for a girl that is so heavy at such a young age. One of my sisters has been grossly obese since she was young I it has made her life very hard indeed. To say nothing of missing out on normal adult relationships, a fundamental need we all have.

  • Ann

    In regard to Ramsy’s question, I am a 57 years old and have been battling with eight for over 30 years. I have had the head knowledge about proper eating and the importance of exercise but I never had the heart knowledge. 3 months ago I had gastric bypass surgery. Part of the process for this surgery was the requirement for a psychological evaluation. I was lucky enough to find a counselor who specializes in eating disorders and am still seeing her for emotional eating issues. I knew this is why I overate but never had the tools or support to deal with it. Now I am down 50 lbs and look to loose 50 more! I am also working out at the Y and really enjoying it! The fitness instructor there told me about the NROL for Women and I am starting the training for that today! Bottom line is, uncontrolled eating with no underlying medical problem is usually an emotional /psychological issue. Finding a good therapist and support group has been life changing for me! My heart aches for the young people who are battling obesity. Family can be supportive, however, it boiled down to me taking charge of my well being and finding people who who weren’t emotionally involved with me to deal with the issues.

  • Ann, thanks for your story, and congratulations on your weight loss so far.

    I know one other person who started exercising for the first time following a gastric bypass surgery. She told me she just never thought of herself as someone who could exercise. (I think I mentioned this story in NROL for Women.)

  • Ramsey Doran

    Thanks to all who have responded to my query regarding the morbidly obese teenage girl. I commented that I was unsure I’d ever see her or her mom again as our schedules are quite different; I will now make the effort to connect and gently pass along some of your good advice. I failed to mention that when I saw this young girl, I wanted to cry. She is less than five feet tall and her legs are horribly bowed. It appears there might be a congenital defect (perhaps hip displasia) but her added weight must exacerbate any problem there is. I know I must tread lightly and let this family find a solution together with medical professionals, dieticians, etc. I am hoping she has had a chance to read NROL and been inspired to help herself and her daughter. I am also hoping I can encourage her to take further steps towards making her family healthy.

  • Brad

    Ann… just remember… NEVER GIVE UP!!!

    Hang in there, girl!

  • Andy Bennett

    NROL for Geezers!

    I want to pre-order a copy.

    For me, it’s not so much a matter of changing, since I didn’t really start weight training until I was 53. Now at 58, I’m still struggling to find the right intensity, frequency and volume to make progress, and feel good. About 6 months ago I tried increasing from 3/wk to 4/wk, doing all major lifts twice per week, one heavy, one light (except deadlift only one heavy day per week). Previously I’d done 4 workouts spread over 10 days, major lifts once in that cycle. I had been making progress, but wanted more. Since the change I have had more pain, more fatigue, worse sleep, and zero progress in strength. I played with the routine quite a bit, but now realize that I need to get back to what I was doing before.

  • AR

    I am sooo glad for this post. I just turned 50. Started strength training with NROL about two years ago. Although I was familiar with some calisthenics from my youth, I had never strength trained before. Up until now I had never seen a discussion of these issues in print although I sure have been struggling with them myself.

    Yes, it is time for a serious book on fitness, strength training, etc. for older people. It is a crime that normal fitness books address the younger set as if nobody else existed, leaving us older people to figure things out for ourselves.

    For my own strength training, I’ve whittled the NROL workouts down somewhat, maybe about 2/3 the lifts prescribed in the book workouts. I only lift twice a week. One of those weekly workouts is the more intense one, and the second one is a “relaxed” workout. I’m a runner, so I run twice a week as well. The other days are for walks, or for just rest.

  • Ramsey Doran

    As an avid devotee of NROL for Women of the older (just turned 60) pack, I have found it hard to move beyond that book’s State 1 and maintain at Stage 2. Ergo, when I loose time in the gym due to travel, life, etc., I tend to drop back to the comfort zone of the first stage and work with it at least twice a week. I must add that I am also an avid cyclist who finds the Stage 1 regimen the perfect complement to my riding, both in types of exercise and the time constraints. However, i discovered this past weekend, during a yoga retreat (not a normal pursuit of mine), that my wrists are woefully weak. I know NROL does not recommend spot training, but is there something I can do to build up the strength in the only delicate part of my sturdy body?

  • Jay

    Lou – one more vote from a geezer – write the book for us old guys, hit 50 recently, still fighting the lifelong battle of trying to maintain some healthy mass 6’3″ 177 – just started the NROL break in phase last week – based on your guidance for beginners I was planning to move to the fat loss 1 and 2 despite the fact that i am already skinny – but reading your earlier response, maybe I should get NROL for Abs and follow that program? Advice?

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s about time someone acknowledged that while you can still lift/be active and healthy after 50, there are some things that just naturally might be more difficult. I think it’s time for a book geared for us: those that have to be a bit careful but want to be healthy and strong!

    I have a weight routine I’ve followed for years, and I run half marathons now and then because I LIKE it and I can do it with my daughter. I’m 50.

    I have sore knees sometimes, and pulled muscles take longer to recover. I’ve had to modify my squat/deadlft routine. I want to continue to do the things that keep me strong, but I’m making guesses as to what kind of recovery time I need (more).

    I think there is a niche for some information for us aging fitness fanatics for some good commonsense guidelines that acknowledge we might be living in bodies that are a little “used” at this point!

  • Mike

    Hey Lou,
    I am quite late to get my comments in here, but wanted to say something about new rules and my experience. I am 50, soon to be 51 and have learned more in the past 2 years about bodybuilding than in the 35 before that. I attribute much of that increased knowledge to NROL, I am following the man of constant obligation cycle and am currently in the strength 2 workouts, I train 2 days a week and am amazed at t he progress I am making strength wise, my knees are better than ever (well pretty darn good anyways) no pain or soreness in them at all, I am pushing toward a 1RM of 405 and even if I do not make it there it is a somewhat realistic goal thanks to NROL. The one question I have however is the almost complete lack of talk about calf work, do they get engaged enough during my squats and other lower body work? or should I be devoting a few sets of calf work into my routine? I don’t necessarily feel they are lacking but I found the omission of any discussion of them curious. Thank you very much!

  • Ruby

    I’m a 49 year old female and having been using lift like a man look like a goddess on and off scince I was 42. My latest round had me using the system as prescribed three times a week. I was able to keep this pace up for about 6 months and then the fatigue hit pretty hard so I’ve scaled it back to twice weekly with great improvement in energy for the program. My biggest wake up call was realizing that jumping rope which I have always loved is no longer an option for me. Although I am light I feel the force of gravity now like I never did before. I have switched to rebounding which thank god is a great alternative.