Strength training for men at 50plus

It's never too late to get into shape. If done correctly strength training can help you roll back the years. Resistance training not only helps you look and feel younger by improving muscle tone, metabolism, and balance, it actually reduces the signs of ageing at the cellular.

OK so it sounds great but I can hear you say "I'm 50 plus, I've got a bad back, hip, knee, or other joint pain. How am I supposed to get back in the gym?"

Well, the first thing you have to do is go and see your doctor. Make sure that your doctor is happy with the exercise program you are thinking of undertaking. Once you have the all-clear from the doctor the first rule of strength training at 50plus is avoid injury.

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Remember while no pain, no gain may still be the mantra of anybody who wants to get stronger you're not actually supposed to be in pain when you're lifting weights. Discomfort from muscle due to fatigue, yes.

You're pushing yourself, challenging your muscles; tissue breakdown and the associated soreness as muscle fibres heal and grow is to be expected. Joint or nerve pain when you're lifting weights is a no. It's a warning sign that you're putting too much pressure on your body and that you're probably about to hurt yourself. Strains, sprains, and tissue damage when you're over 50 can take weeks or even months to heal, so preventing injury should be the top priority.

The different types of older gym-goers.

In an article in Men's Health Keith Lazarus, a personal trainer who is himself 50plus

came up with what I think are some very interesting guidelines for men over 50 who want to strength train. He divided older gym-goers into three groups and outlined some basic rules for each group. The groups he came up with were:

  • those that never stopped training.

  • those who have lapsed.

  • those that have never trained at all.

Men who have never stopped training: You’ve been in the weights room longer than most of the people sharing the gym with you have been alive. You’re training like your twenty-five, but your body is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. It's time to adapt your training to ensure you stay in shape.

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Lazarus suggests that at 50plus it's time to leave the split training routines of our youth behind and focus on a whole-body functional fitness programme instead. Functional fitness emphasises mobility and quality movement over heavy weights and individual body parts. Variety is the key so it's cross-fit for one session, weights the next and finally a session of pure movement at the end of the week.

Photo by Foto Garage AG on Unsplash

Men Who Are out of Practise: If you haven't been to the gym for a while and want to get back into it, Lazarus suggests you should start from the very beginning. Forget the weights you used to lift, put your ego to one side, and focus on form, not heavy weights. This will give your body a chance to get used to the movement again and help you avoid injuries. Your muscles don't forget and once the muscle memory kicks back in, you can add more weight. Remember you are over 50 and training at this point is not about becoming who you were 20 years ago, it's about being the best you can be today. As Lazarus says, if you're over 50 and you've been out of the gym for more than 2 years it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible for you to regain the strength and fitness you once had. Muscle and mobility deterioration at this age are irreparable. That’s not to say you won’t still improve it just means that your best now and your best of 20 years ago may be different.

Men who have never trained before:

If you've never been to the gym before than Lazarus recommends that you start with the basics. Don't worry about lifting weights, just focus on learning some new movements. “A lunge, a side lunge, stepping up or simply touching their toes.”

When you consider that many men in their twenties can't touch their toes flexibility, mobility and safety are paramount. Photo by Foto Garage AG on Unsplash

Nutrition Hacks: Solid nutritional principles are important at any age, but for men who are strength training at 50 plus there can be the difference between seeing the results you want and failure. See our blog 10 steps towards a healthy lifestyle for some basic tips on how to improve your diet.

Here are 10 tips to help you succeed in the gym at 50plus:

1. Aim for brief and intense workouts

At 50 plus in the gym, just like in the bedroom, it's quality over quantity but intense training sessions 2-3 times a week are enough for most men at this stage in their lives, any more can start to cut into your recovery ability. HIIT-style training (High-Intensity Interval Training) i.e. training to positive muscle failure ( maxing out) – is ideal for men over 50. This combines both brevity and intensity. If you’ve never trained HIIT style before, it can be tough when you start but once you become accustomed to intensity, you’ll never look back. (Remember to get your doctor's ok before you start anything new.)

2. Avoid Injuries at all costs.

Avoiding injury is our NUMBER 1 PRIORITY in the gym. A muscle strain or tear that might mean a few weeks out of the gym when you were in your 20s can mean MONTHS out when you're in your 50s. So NEVER put to much weight on the bar and never do an exercise that hurts. If it hurts, stop immediately and find an alternative.

Photo by Evan Wise on Unsplash

3. Machines are your best friend.

Not only do machines prevent injury, but they minimize wear and tear on your joints. Remember joint wear and tear is a big deal at 50plus.

4. Use higher reps and low weight.

Higher reps and lighter weights mean less load and less strain on your joints and central nervous system. So for men over 50, this is normally the best way to train. Research indicates that moderate loads of 8-12 reps are best for muscle growth, whilst sets of 15+ reps are ideal for developing muscle endurance.

5. Warm-up properly.

You're over 50, you need to take your warm-ups seriously. Not only will it reduce the likelihood of an injury, but also ensures the release of hormones vital to a successful workout such as growth hormone, testosterone and insulin. These hormones play a key part in both your performance during your workout and the recovery phase after. Get on the treadmill or bike and get the blood flowing for 10-15 minutes before your workout.

6. Do regular stretching and mobility drills

The axiom "use it or lose it" applies to our flexibility as well as our muscle mass. At 50 plus we should aim to stretch at least 2-3 times a week for 5 minutes at a time. Regular stretching will get rid of many of the aches and pains that creep up over time. Think about doing Yoga and/or Pilates.

7. Focus on form not weight.

Doing exercise properly will help you avoid injury, target your muscles effectively and maximize the impact of your workouts. Cut down the weight and focus on form. Completing the full range of motion associated with each exercise for every rep will ensure you get the most from the exercises that you are doing.

8. You cannot afford to skip workouts

At 50 plus, it's harder than ever to make the gains we desire and that much easier to lose them so no excuses workouts are non-negotiable. Set up your routine and stick to it (unless you are tired or injured).

9. Utilize time under time tension

When you're exercising, slow your movements down and focus on the quality of your muscle contractions. Slowing each repetition places more tension on your muscle fibres; ultimately leading to greater contractions and more gains. Spend 1-2 seconds lifting the weight and 3-4 seconds lowering it.

10. Stop making excuses

Your age is NOT a reason to let yourself go. Your body might not work as well as it used to. You might not be able to lift as much as you once did, but so what. That doesn't mean you can't get back in the gym and build some muscle. Most of the limitations for building muscle and strength at 50plus are in our heads. So stop making excuses and get down to work.

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