Gym thoughts–don’t die doing deadlifts

If you are both a man with a belly like a pregnant woman, and a card-carrying member of AARP, you have bigger concerns than sculpting your glutes and hamstrings.

The other day I was at the gym, minding my own bees-wax, when an older-ish man took up residence next to me. Lets just say that during the next 10 minutes, I grew more and more astonished by his workout routine. I thought it would be fun (for me) and educational (for you) to recreate some of the stuff I saw.

Are you ready? This is going to be awesome.

The man.

This is a fairly accurate representation of his appearance, though the sparkling white legs are aallll mine.

Here is a side view of the belly.

Though I must admit it was fun to stuff that sucker in my shirt, the belly isn’t just for laughs; it’s a key part of the equation.

His version of the deadlift.

Notice how “his” shoulders are scrunched up to his ears? How his back is rounded, sort of collapsed forward? How the weights are touching the ground out in front of his feet? Standing up again will not be pretty, especially because I doubt there is much in the way of abdominal support under that belly.

Also not good? Doing deadlifts at all when you have these risk factors for cardiovascular disease:

  1. age and gender (male, over age 55)
  2. waist circumference (greater than 102 cm for men)
  3. terrible form (this one I added on my own)

If you have a belly like this

doing deadlifts, along with exercises like this (which I also witnessed)

should not be how you spend your workout time.

I’ve been known to go on and on about the necessity of strength training, particularly for women and older adults. And there is nothing wrong with deadlifts or biceps curls. They are excellent exercises, when performed correctly. But if you are an older adult, and you have a lot of weight around your middle, targeting specific muscle groups should not be your priority.

Focus on building a good cardiovascular base of fitness. Once you can consistently sustain moderate cardiovascular activity for at least 30 minutes, you are on the right track. If you can do that, and you are still not seeing a reduction in belly fat, set your sights on gradually increasing the duration OR intensity of your cardiovascular exercise.

Strength training is always part of a balanced fitness regimen. But if you are a deconditioned older adult, and weight-loss is your goal, it should have a circuit-like feel. Move efficiently through exercises that utilize large muscle groups (glutes, thighs, back, chest) so that even your strength training has a cardiovascular quality.

And deadlifts? There are a few ways to do them correctly, including straight-legged and Romanian. No matter which you chose, your goal should always be to protect your low back, while primarily working the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal stabilizers.

1. Neutral spine, shoulders pulled back and down, belly pulled tight. A note about belly tightening: I don’t mean clenched like you’re preparing to take a gut punch, I mean drawing in through the belly button, as though someone is pulling a string from your belly button through your back.

2. Hinge forward from the waist, keeping the shoulders back, lower back flat, and tummy tight. Slide the weights (or barbell) down the tops of thighs. My neck should be a little more neutral than it is in this photo. I think I was looking up a little to make sure my photographer was doing his job! Also, I should be using heavier weights, but that stinkin’ back can’t handle it right now, so I used these little ones to show form.

3. Keeping the lower back supported and flat throughout the movement, stop when the weights are just at, or a little past the kneecaps. Squeezing glutes and hamstrings, return to starting position; repeat. My weights are a little lower here, probably because they are so light that nothing is really stopping me. With heavier weights, you will only be able to go so far before your lower back starts to round. Don’t let that happen.

4. Here’s a version with bent knees. The back is still flat, and the weights are close to or touching the legs/knees.

These photos represent a simplified, entry-level type of deadlift. If you are interested in more specific information, along with a couple of good photos, check out this article.

Sometimes I think people who are going back to the gym after a long absence, revert to the exercises they did 30 years ago. Science changes, your needs change, your body changes. Talk to your doctor if you are considering a new exercise regimen. Then, get a little help, in the form of an orientation (at the very least), or a training session with a certified personal trainer.  Your back, and your belly will thank you.

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