CARVILLE: Human Experiment Part III: Beginning |

CARVILLE: Human Experiment Part III: Beginning

Phil Carville
Fitness Columnist

Last month's column described a "human experiment" in which I began to train a senior friend of mine so that he could add muscle and lose weight.

Beginning is always the hardest part and he had some slowness in getting started, which is natural. He is 77 years old, experiencing loss of muscle mass, gaining some weight and has some arthritis in his hands and shoulders.


We started with a baseline of flexibility and muscle testing with an eye for any corrective exercises which might be needed. Luckily, he didn't need any special corrective exercises other than to just build strength and increase flexibility.

We tested flexibility with the South Yuba Club trainer protocol which includes an interview and basic medical and/or conditioning issues. We took his base line measurements: weight, inches of waistline – thigh – biceps, et cetera. Once completed, we moved on to a set of basic functional movements to determine how to build his exercise regimen. The goal here is to create an individualist set of exercises and to ensure a safety while maximizing progress.

Base Line

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In the beginning, it took him 18 minutes to jog/walk a mile on a treadmill. He could do only four 'knee-pushups' because of some shoulder pain-stiffness. He could do eleven sit-ups and nine squats before maxing out (perceived exertion level).

These were four important areas: cardio baseline, upper body strength, core body strength and lower body strength. Now there was something to measure against.


Most seniors can expect some rapid progress because they have not used their muscles enough. The body responds when it is challenged by exercise. The first 30 days showed how the body can perform. Even the mitochondria in your cells get the message and reproduce for greater strength. The body is a miracle machine.

The mile on the treadmill was reduced to 14 minutes (22 percent improvement) and became much easier. The goal is a 12-minute mile.

With increased shoulder flexibility, the "knee push-ups" increased to nine (125 percent improvement). Full-body pushups are now on the agenda.

Core body strength improved from 11 sit-ups to 21 or a 90 percent improvement. Squats increased from nine to 19 (110 percent increase).

Most seniors without special medical issues can expect similar results. This is not rocket science. We are starting from a low base. When we have not used our muscles and developed basic conditioning, the body de-tunes itself. We sink to the lowest common physical denominator.

Big Gains

While the initial percentage gains seem dramatic, the real payoff is in the long run. The percentage gains will slow down, but the payoff will be greater.

Let's say a senior gets to a 12-minute mile or the ability to jog/run for 12 minutes at a five miles/hour rate. That is terrific. He/she has developed a whole 'new physical conditioning denominator.' The 12-minute mile "shape" means he/she can climb many stairs easily, lug two bags of heavy groceries to the car, lift the grandkids or enjoy an 8-mile roundtrip hike to Rucker and Blue Lakes in the Lakes Basin area.

What a joy. It's called independence … a fuller life … a richer life.

Grab an Oar

The wonderful news is that each time my friend works out, it is the mental feeling that is his greatest joy. He feels better, has more energy and has a more positive and fulfilling image of himself.

You can too. We, seniors, are all in the same boat. We can sit in it and drift aimlessly. Or we can pick up the oars and move in the direction we want.

I think we all want to row.

Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. He welcomes comments and will answer your questions. You can contact him at

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