Welcome to Matt’s Mix Tape: Steady beats for making the most of midlife.
The wind howls as I write, powdery snow its passenger as drifts form monuments to the harsh conditions.
We’ve made a 22-hour drive to visit family in Michigan for Christmas, putting a cap on a wild 2022.
As the year winds down, maybe you’re working on 2023 goals. And maybe those goals include fitness.
This year, I got quite a bit stronger after a long plateau. Hearing how might help you plan or, better yet, get to doing, when it comes to your fitness. I pulled three levers this year to get unstuck and I’ll tell you what they were in minute.
But first, receipts.
I use a very sophisticated and specific app to track my lifts. It’s called Apple Notes. Here’s a sample of what my tracking looks like:
I track reps and weight. When something improves, I make a note with a plus sign and the date.
Some top-end weight increases from the midpoint of this year:
Bent-over rows: From 65 lb. dumbbells to 80 lbs.
Chest press: from 265 lbs. to 305 lbs.
Shoulder press: from 158 lbs. to 198 lbs.
Seated dips: from 245 lbs. to 285 lbs.
That’s the highlight reel.
Not everything improved at that pace. Chest flys barely budged. Same with bicep curls. But everything improved at least a little, in weight or rep count, despite turning 49 in November.
A super-simple workout structure.
Two sets per exercise, both sets to muscle failure.
The first set is higher rep, between 10-12 reps.
Once I surpass 12 reps, I bump up the weight.
The second set is the same or higher weight and fewer reps, between 6-8 reps.
That’s my mega-sophisticated system.
Three changes got my strength training unstuck.
1. Changing gyms
For the past four years, I’ve used the small gym inside our neighborhood clubhouse. Just a one-block walk away and open 24 hours a day, it was excuse-free. And that worked. I was very consistent.
I wanted heavier dumbbells and more machine options, so I joined the local Crunch gym. That allowed me to add a few more machine lifts and to use significantly heavier dumbbells.
2. Taking creatine
Creatine is safe, natural, and effective. It allows your muscles to store more energy and recover more quickly. I added a rep our two to nearly every lift weeks after starting creatine.
Creatine is the only supplement I can recommend from first-hand experience. I add three grams to my daily yogurt + protein powder concoction.
3. Adding a third workout
I started a lighter workout on early Sunday mornings, repeating my chest press, shoulder raise, and dips, and adding in the leg press and lat pulldowns.
You can find convincing arguments supporting a variety of workout cadences, from one session per week to five or more. I was at two sessions per week for several years, and moving to three seemed to help.
All you can do is experiment.
Things I did not do:
Bench press with a barbell
I believe those three strenuous lifts require coaching for proper form to avoid injury, especially in middle age. No need. Dumbbells and machines work just fine.
The most important thing I did not do:
Overdo it and get injured.
Be safe and steady. The fitness game is long—play it to stay in it.
Play your own fitness game
I turned 49 this year and made more progress than I have in years. So don’t let anyone tell you you’ve topped out physically. Tweak, experiment, track, and most of all keep going, in a safe and consistent cadence.
Steady beats defeat what “they” tell you you can do in middle age.
Thank you for reading.
Keep the steady beats going right through the holiday season.
If you liked this edition, would you mind giving the heart a click? Thank you.
Thanks for sharing your fitness game with us.
I finally started weightlifting last year and I’m hooked. You inspire me to keep playing my own game.
And creatine FTW 💪🏽
I've used the same fitness app as you for years. Doesn't get any better!