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Watch Larry Kramer's Trainer Show You a Simple Weights Workout to Stay Super-Fit as You Age

November 30, 2017

Greg Rothman

Greg Rothman

Maybe you've heard the bad news: People with HIV, even on treatment, might -- and we stress might -- age faster than those without.

But, probably you've also heard the good news: That moderate, regular exercise and strength training can have huge benefits for older people -- including those with HIV. Studies have shown that it helps everything from weight loss, strength, muscle mass, endurance, heart health, and balance to mood, memory, and cognitive sharpness. It even seems to be able to reverse aging's natural damage to the mitochondria, those little power plants within each one of our cells.

A 2008 study found that when HIV-positive people in their sixties did a basic weight-training session twice a week for a year, they improved their strength, overall physical fitness, and T-cell counts while also reducing skinfolds on their arms and legs. And who doesn't want that?

Another piece of good news: You don't need to be a cisgender man, a hulking bodybuilder, or even go to a gym to get these results (though, of course, if you have access to a free or affordable gym, all the better). All you need in your home is about eight square feet of dedicated space, a wall mirror, a sturdy bench, a set of dumbbell pairs ranging between 10 and 50 pounds, and a rubber physio ball -- all of which you can often find on Amazon or Craigslist for a few hundred dollars at most.

You can also build your dumbbell set incrementally, starting with a pair of low weights and adding new dumbbells as your own strength builds. Don't worry -- regardless of gender, you won't get huge muscles unless you're taking steroids. You'll just get strong and toned.

All of this advice comes from New York City physical therapist and fitness trainer Greg Rothman, who does strength training with several older HIV-positive clients -- including 82-year-old AIDS activist legend and author Larry Kramer.

On a recent afternoon at a Synergy gym in New York's East Village, Rothman showed off videos he shot of Kramer doing a series of workouts. Says Rothman, who is very fit and very intense: "Larry just said to me the other day, 'Greg, thank you for keeping me healthy so I can go on doing my work.' I teared up and hugged him!"

Rothman detailed a simple, 30- to 45-minute strength training workout. It starts with a short warmup on a treadmill or elliptical machine, or even just with jumping jacks or running in place (put on some funky music!). It then proceeds, for beginners, to two sets of 15 repetitions (reps) of the following seven exercises, which together hit all parts of the body:

  • Squats for your legs. "Keep your chest and chin up, and when you squat down, put your body weight into your heels," says Rothman.
  • Chest press for your torso. Lie down on a bench.
  • One-arm row for your back.
  • Shoulder press.
  • Bicep curl.
  • Tricep French press.
  • Physio ball crunches.

Rothman suggests starting with a roughly 30-minute workout, then -- after a week or two -- moving to a roughly 45-minute workout of three sets (instead of two) per exercise, 12 reps (instead of 15) per set. He also urges you to increase weights incrementally (except for the ab crunches) every few weeks for continued progress. Otherwise, your muscles will "get bored" with the challenge and growth will stall out. (Greg has also previously shared advice on how to grow those muscles.)

"You'll add muscle and strength to your body pretty quickly," he says.

So, watch the video and follow along with Greg! And remember: Even if you can't immediately find a free or cheap gym or afford some dumbbells, you can start with a simple daily regimen of squats, pushups, and maybe chin-ups. No weights needed!

Tim Murphy has been living with HIV since 2000 and writing about HIV activism, science and treatment since 1994. He writes for and has been a staffer at POZ, and writes for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Out Magazine, The Advocate, Details and many other publications. He is also the author of the NYC AIDS-era novel Christodora.

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