Only 10-15 percent of elderly people perform structured strength training. What’s happening with the remaining 85-90 percent?
Are they too old to lift weights and hence build muscle?
Of this remaining percentage, a significant number still has mobility, and that includes those who use scooters but still can fully use their upper body.
Why Aren’t These Older Individuals Strength Training?
Even a person who uses a scooter can do dumbbell exercises. Many older people believe that it’s not possible to build muscle after a certain age. This assumption can have very costly consequences.
Like the old saying goes, “The only people who can’t benefit from exercise are dead.”
Even a bedridden person, who has use of the arms, can gain some muscle (e.g., pressing light dumbbells above the chest, or pulling tension bands downward from an anchor point above the bed).
If older people with limitations (e.g., scooter) are capable of lifting weights, what about all the people of retirement age who golf, bowl and go for extended walks sightseeing? What’s keeping them from conducting weight workouts?
Not only is one never too old to build muscle, but there really is no excuse for why people over 60, and especially people over 40, should not strength train.
One particular study report appeared in the June 2011 Deutsches Ärzteblatt International.
Frank Mayer et al, from the University of Potsdam, literally showed that grandpa and grandma can gain muscle with resistance exercise.
The researchers found that in subjects over age 60, consistent resistance training resulted in improved muscle strength, decreased muscle shrinkage, and stronger bones and tendons. These improvements lead to a reduced risk of falling.
The study also showed that intensity makes a difference. Older people should not limit themselves to tiny dumbbells or the lowest weight amount on a machine simply because they’re over a certain age. The more intense the workout, the greater the results.
According to the study, an increase in muscle mass results when the intensity is 60-85 percent of the amount of maximal weight that a person can lift just one time.
So if a senior citizen can press a 50 pound barbell just once, then a weight load of 30-40 pounds (for repetitions) would be required to build muscle.
Often, people insist, “I’m too old to lift weights.” However, the opposite is what should be minded: You are too old not to lift weights.
Photos of “old-timers” who are strength building enthusiasts are spectacular. No, these aren’t images of men who are freakishly built up with stiff-looking muscle, or grannies who have chests and shoulders like their sons.
These are individuals whose bodies look 20 or 30 years younger than their chronological age. It’s not just about vanity, of course.
Older people who work out with weights simply don’t get sick as often as their sedentary counterparts; they don’t suffer the same degree of injuries, aches or pains; the rate of high blood pressure and brittle bone disease is markedly lower as well.
The body has the amazing ability to adapt to an unfamiliar work load. If this work load is repeated, the body will get stronger and more efficient, no matter what age.
Exercises For Building Muscle Need Not Be Fancy, Complicated Or Require Balance
Sticking with the classic basics is all that’s necessary, even though today’s personal trainers often have their older clients struggling to perform strange balancing moves.
▸ One form of strength training is simply standing up and down repeatedly from a chair: chair squats. The resistance is one’s bodyweight. At the gym, one can do horizontal leg presses, plus leg extensions and hamstring curls.
▸ Healthier older people can do dumbbell squats and work their way up to Smith machine squats.
▸ The effectiveness of isolation exercises for older people who wish to gain muscle pale in comparison to that of compound exercises.
Isolation exercises work only one muscle group at a time, and compounds work several muscle groups at a time. A person over 50 or 60 will benefit so much more from doing seated rows rather than standing around curling dumbbells.
▸ There is no practical reason for the older trainee to do triceps kickbacks, even though this is a common sight at gyms, especially among women.
The kickback is primarily done by older women to tighten and firm up the back of the upper arm. While only the back of the upper arm is getting worked, nothing else happens with any other part of the body; a waste of time for a minimal result.
The triceps area can be worked quite efficiently and more comprehensively, while other body parts get worked, if one performs the compound exercise of chest pressing.
This will work not only the back of the upper arm, but the shoulders and chest, thus burning much more fat and going a lot further as far as increasing lean muscle tissue.
▸ The older trainee needs to make sure that some of the routines are done while standing. Standing while maneuvering against resistance will dramatically improve stability, mobility and reduce the risk of falls.
So for instance, a standing barbell or dumbbell row can replace a seated row, and a standing lat pull-down can replace a seated one.
Shoulder presses with barbells or dumbbells can be done standing rather than seated. In reality, if one ever needs to hoist a load overhead, he or she will very likely be standing while doing this.
▸ Another great exercise for the older person, including very sedentary ones, is that of walking around while holding weights straight at their side: farmer walks. This will strengthen the entire body.
As the aging population explodes, more and more older people are realizing just how critical it is to hold onto muscle mass, and just how possible it is to build muscle in middle age and beyond.
To read about real life people in middle and retirement age who have dramatically transformed their bodies with strength training and other forms of exercise, check out “Fit Over 40 program.”
“Fit Over 40 program” also explains how anyone of any fitness level, even those with disease, can get started on a health-promoting program that will bring back life to one’s years.