Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

The Reluctant Personal Training Client

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC | July 21, 2016

Active, 63, and not that into strength training

I had an active 63-year-old guy referred to me by a member at the gym.  He had the history of shoulder pain and knee issues that are to be expected for this demographic, but as a self-proclaimed cardio junkie, Dennis was in pretty good physical condition. He’d never done any serious strength training and spent most of his time exercising on a bike, in spin class, or running.

He generally felt weak, though. And after having recently lost 85 lbs, understood that he needed to lift weights. He left our first meeting convinced that gaining strength would be beneficial, but he really wanted me to understand that he wasn’t interested in getting “huge”. Sometimes, it takes considerable effort to convince a guy or gal whose experience of the gym is rows and rows of shiny machines, shiny trainers and shiny cardio equipment that a black iron gym full of very non-shiny bars and plates is where they’ll actually make meaningful progress.

After week 1, Dennis hit the following numbers at a bodyweight of 185 lbs:

  • Squat – 85x5x3
  • Press – 65x5x3
  • Deadlift – 155x5
  • Bench – 65x5x3

Overall, he was able to perform the lifts quite well, although he shook quite a bit during the press and a little bit while walking out the squat. I made a mental note of it, but proceeded normally. 

After a couple of weeks, the shaking had mostly gone away on the squat and had improved on the press. The third set of squat in particular, though, was starting to get difficult. Dennis spends most of the day doing fairly hard work outdoors, and he was adamant about not wanting to gain any weight. As a guy who had lost over 80 lbs within the last year, getting him to gain even 5 lbs was probably out of the question and would have probably led to him quitting training and going back to the Y or something.

As such, I took his squat to a single heavy set twice a week plus a back-off set at 90%. On the middle day workout, he would do light squats and deadlift. Lat Pulls or dumbbell rows rounded out the workouts on the heavy days.

Monday Wednesday Friday
Squat 1x5, 1x5@90% Squat 2x5 @ 80% Squat 1x5, 1x5@90%
Press/Bench 3x5 Press/Bench 3x5 Press/Bench 3x5
Lat Pull/DB Row Deadlift 1x5 Lat Pull/DB Row

Dennis was able to run this modification for another 9 weeks at which point I switched the last day of the week to a medium day. Numbers at this point were as follows:

  • Squat – 170x5
  • Press – 95x5x3
  • Deadlift – 190x5
  • Bench – 140x5

His knee pain was gone and his shoulder felt better more often than it hurt. For a trainee who is really enjoying the process, or is younger, or wants to work really hard, it would have been appropriate to keep pushing the numbers up. In the interest of continuing progress, although at a much slower pace, I switched his program. I really did not want him to get stuck or miss a rep on the squat or deadlift and was being very conservative in the interest of pushing off a miss for as long as possible or avoiding it all together. I kept his logs and he had little interest in how much weight was on the bar, so from his end of the deal, the experience was purely subjective.

After week 12, the program looked like this: 

Monday Wednesday Friday
Squat 1x5, 1x5@90% Squat 2x5 @ 80% Squat 2x5 @ 90%
Bench 1x5, 2x5@90% Press 5x5 ascending Incline Bench 3x5
Deadlift 1x5 Lat Pull 3x10 RDL 3x5

My next modification would have been to start cycling the rep range on the heavy day. Set of 5 on week 1, triples on week 2, doubles on week 3, and singles on week 4. 

Before that happened though, Dennis failed a squat. Not catastrophically or anything - there was no big wreck. He got forward of his mid-foot on the way up and had to take a step. We helped him up with the weight and helped him rack it. He was freaked out by this and further convinced himself that “lifting heavy” wasn’t a goal for him. Remember that no matter what I said or what his logs showed, as an exerciser, this particular trainee wasn’t necessarily interested in training and the subjective took precedence over the objective in his mind. Even so, a relatively uncommitted trainee made pretty significant progress. His final numbers after 5 months at a body weight of 185 lbs were as follows:

  • Squat – 220x3x2
  • Press – 102x5x3
  • Deadlift – 245x5
  • Bench – 160x5

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t really strength training.  

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