Building muscle after 60 is not only possible, it’s not that hard to do. There is a ‘secret,’ which I’ll divulge in just a minute.
First some background for perspective. I’m closing in on the last couple months of my 60th year as we enter 2017. Today, I have more muscle than I did in my 20’s and I’m continuing to improve.
I learned the secret out of necessity. It turns out that this secret is pretty straightforward and has been validated time and again by research.
I’ve been an avid weight trainer all my life. Up until my mid-50’s, I lifted like I always had before — mostly for the sake of my ego.
My goals were always to lift more pounds than I had before. It’s called Progressive Resistance in the iron world. That was how I measured myself and proved to myself that I was not yet old.
In the back of my male mind, I knew that couldn’t last forever. But when does logic trump testosterone? Rarely, without some special push.
That push came to me in the form of arthritis in my shoulders. Too many years of heavy bench pressing took their toll. I could continue, but it would be painful. I was bench pressing 610 pounds for a couple reps on my leverage machine at the time.
I was devastated. Officially old and washed up. Now what? Strictly cardio? Thank goodness for Google. After some searching, I shifted my outlook to using lighter weights with higher reps, which is not an entirely new concept and I did not invent it.
In addition, I moved to a method where you take each set that you do to ‘failure.’ Meaning, you can’t perform another clean repetition. No cheating allowed.
In my ego driven days, cheating on movements was normal. The point was to move the weight, and to keep adding weight. Form didn’t matter so much.
Today, the trend in strength training leans toward a lot of complexity. Functional training. Multiple movements. Blending in cardio, yoga, cross-fit and TV-show style stunts like flipping tractor tires and jumping up and down off big boxes.
Personally, I think they’re all nuts. Especially when it comes to a training program for people over 40… 50… 60 and up. Click here for more on what today’s Guru’s get wrong.
Building muscle does not require Insanity, Confusion or Bootcamps
The real formula has never really changed. It goes like this: Muscle fibers grow in response to controlled damage that we do to them through specific exercises. It’s a biomechanical process.
The muscle fibers tear on a microscopic level. This damage is repaired while we sleep using the good nutrition and protein we’ve put in our bodies as fuel. It is not about pain. Forget the old saying, “no pain, no gain.” Think NO PAIN EVER.
Exercise + Good Nutrition + Rest & Recovery = Muscle Growth.
If you’re working hard enough, you will feel a bit sore. Think of that soreness as the “Pump.” That’s a good feeling. That’s your body sending blood into the muscle fibers with healing nutrients. Pump is good. Pain is bad.
We create that muscle “damage” by targeting specific muscles with various types of resistance exercises. These can be done with weights or with resistance bands or even with bodyweight movements.
Our muscles don’t think. They just respond to resistance and don’t have the capacity to know or care where it comes from.
How do you train?
Do 8 – 12 reps per set
The ideal amount of resistance is one that you can finish 8 to 12 clean repetitions with before reaching “failure.” By “clean” I mean no cheating. No swinging the weights around or using body english. “Failure” means you can’t do the next rep in a clean way.
You might start off with an amount of resistance that you are able to do 12 clean reps. The next set, you might get another 12 or drop to 10. And so on until your last set. If you don’t get at least 8 reps, it’s not a big deal. The only important thing in this method is the feeling in your muscle.
Do 3 – 5 sets per exercise
Decrease the number of reps as necessary to finish the final sets. Rest as briefly as possible in between sets. If you’re first starting out, this time will slowly decrease as you get in better shape.
You’ll increase the resistance when/if 12 reps is too easy on that first set. Otherwise, don’t get hung up on the amount of weight or the numbers.
30 – 40 seconds rest between sets is ideal. Take a little more when switching to a new exercise.
The 8 – 12 Rep Range has been proven to work . Dr. Marcas Bamman, Director for Exercise Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was recently quoted in the New York Times saying that men and women in their 60s and 70s who began a weight training program developed muscles that were as large and strong as those of your average 40 year old.
“Our lab and others have shown repeatedly that older muscles will grow and strengthen,” he told the Times.
In their studies, volunteers used weights calibrated so that the lifters could barely complete a set of eight to 12 repetitions before the target muscles grew tired and had to rest. (That’s what I refer to as ‘failure’)
Dr. Bamman says you should push your muscles in this manner until they are exhausted because this is what triggers the biomechanical processes that lead to larger, stronger muscle fibers.
The prestigious Mayo Clinic also reinforces that using the 12 Rep range has been proven to build muscle.
“Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. When you can easily do more repetitions of a certain exercise, gradually increase the weight or resistance.
Research shows that a single set of 12 repetitions with the proper weight can build muscle efficiently in most people and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise.”
The Key is to Stay Focused Mentally
You’re main focus is not on increasing the amount of weight you use. It is on taking the target muscle to “failure” in each set. You can adjust the number of reps and the amount of resistance as you work through your sets. You are not focusing on numbers. You are focusing on the feeling in your muscle.
You want to get into a mental groove called the Mind Muscle Connection. Feel the pump. The amount of weight and the number of sets are just tools to get you to the pump.
It’ almost a form of meditation when you really get into it.
A Sample Workout
For a sample workout program, see this post. It can be done at home or in a gym. With simple equipment or the full complement of gear. Again, the only important thing is getting that feeling in your muscles. What gear you use doesn’t matter so much.
All the latest Guru garbage doesn’t matter either. I tend to focus on a specific muscle group each day. I do isolation exercises. I don’t get overly concerned with whole body movements. And those are all mortal sins in the fitness world today.
My way is straightforward and simple. Doesn’t require watching 12 DVDs or hiring a trainer.
You can do it.
It’s old school. Like us.
For more supporting background:
Here’s a link to an article on research analysis conducted by the University of Michigan that demonstrated older adults definitely can and should build muscle: “It’s often thought that older adults must tolerate the strength and muscle loss that come with age. But analyses of current research by University of Michigan scientists reveal that not only can we fight the battle of strength and muscle loss as we age, we can even build muscle and strength well into our Golden Years.” Credit: U-M Health System.
This is a quick article on the same subject, with references to a study by the University of Alabama. It answers the question: “Can you regain muscle mass after age 60?” with a resounding “Yes.”