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I want to build some muscle mass, for both raising my RMR and for useful/practical strength and endurance. I don't want or need to look like a body builder, I just want to lose a little fat (I'm doing cardio and paying attention to nutrition already) and get stronger. I'm 41 and male if that matters.

I have a bench and a bunch of weights at home, used to lift fairly regularly about 10 years ago but since then it's all been sitting around. I could start using it again, but it sounds kind of boring so I'm thinking of changing it up by snagging one of those towers that let you do pullups, dips, elevated pushups, and whatever you call it when you grab the handles and raise your legs off the floor.

Seems like a good way to build useful strength and muscle, but right now I don't know how many reps of most of the tower exercises I could do. I've been doing pushups for a couple of months and can do a fair number of those, but I don't know if I could do even one pullup.

So my questions is this: can I snag the tower and work my way up to being able to use it from where I am, or am I going to have to spend some time on the bench before the tower can be useful? I think I'll be much more likely to actually work out with the tower, so I'd love to find a way to jump right into that.

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3 Answers 3

Have a look at the book "Convict Conditioning" by Paul Wade. I gave more information about that book and some free internet resources related, in this answer. The author teaches how to build strength with a pullup bar, departing from a very easy version of the exercises he calls "the rehabilitation steps" and building up gradually up to pullups and pushups with one arm and such things. I think that suits you and your tower well.

But, for God's sake, be careful and progress very gradually, with whatever way of training you eventually choose. I am exactly your age an I had been for years out of weightlifting as well. I resumed in May and, in only one month and a half, I got a lot of tendonitis around my neck and both shoulders (additionally, carrying my 2 yr old doughter always on the same arm didn't help much). I am still on physical therapy. Yes, being 41 does matter. Generally speaking, it is your tolerance to the so-called "microtrauma" and your recovery ability what has changed. You haven't noticed it yet because that doesn't affect normal everyday activities. So you want to take it easy and build up slowly, specially if you have not lifted for years, as it seems the case. Forget about the failure and no-pain-no-gain bullshit and simply progress on the spreadsheet, by adding reps gradually or small weigth increments at fixed reps if you use dumbbells. Or, if you train with bodyweigth and that tower, then follow all the steps exactly as laid on the Paul Wade book.

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Based on your stated goals in the first paragraph, I would suggest that you get a power rack, enough weights for squats and deadlift and take a look at Mehdi's 5x5 Beginner. It is three days a week, three primary exercises per day. It is based around the squat, which is by far the best exercise you can do, if you are doing it right. The workout leaves plenty of room for pullups, pushups, and other bodyweight exercises. I just sold my squat rack, weight and bars for $200 because I have a free gym through work. Figure it costs between $60 and $100 a month for a good gym, 200 or 300 bucks is worth it.

I am not knocking bodyweight exercises, but if you aren't able to do a bunch of them it is easy to get discouraged and not get the results you are looking for.

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@Bodyweight exercises can be easily done gradually, departing from very easy versions. Wall pushups, then pushups with hands on a table, then on a low bench, then pushups with knees on the floor and so on... I tried the compound exercises of Mehdi, and my personal opinion after that is that an untrained middle aged person should not put the weakened muscles around his/her shoulder girdle to bench press a 20 kg olympic bar for the first time, or even worse, deadlift without a strict professional supervision. –  Mephisto Sep 8 '13 at 9:10
    
Besides that, Mehdi wants you to do the movements fast in order to gain explosiveness. That is wrong and very dangerous to middle aged bodies with weak tendons. Speed should be gained through the addition of plyometric exercises. Rippetoe has included the Power Clean for that reason in SS. But Mehdi's naive idea of doing the deadlifts and benchpresses quickly is asking for injuries. The OP is in the same situation as me, and I recommend him to start with very slow bodyweight exercises departing from easy versions. That will be my approach after my tendonitis are healed. –  Mephisto Sep 8 '13 at 9:14
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Question is asked like an either or but I see nothing wrong with using what you have at home to get going combining the weights and your body. Once you grow out of what you have perhaps you could join a gym. Since you have a bench and a bar at home you can already do so many things, bench press, deadlift and so on. Pull-ups are not easy to start with but you will increase fairly fast. You could use a bench to stand on and help push with your legs just to get going. There could be many examples given but would need a bit more detail on what you have at home.

If you are more interested in a program P90X is a generally a good program but tends to burn muscle a bit to much for my taste.

You mentioned to lose weight and if this really is the main goal you can skip all this exercise to being with and 100% focus on your diet. You will see very quick results with fairly small changes.

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Advising weight loss by means of only diet without any exercise is unhealthy. Even I know that. (-1) Specially when the OP is 41, the muscle loss related to aging is starting. He should never loose weight without doing at least some light resistance exercise to minimise muscle loss. –  Mephisto Sep 1 '13 at 22:31
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