Building Muscle After 60
January 10, 2017

Building Muscle After 60

Brian Patterson home gym

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 perspective, I’m in my early 60s. Today, I have more muscle than I did in my 20’s and I’m continuing to improve.

I learned how out of necessity. It turns out that this method is pretty straightforward and has been validated time and again by research (links to articles and studies below).  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 the testosterone-fueled male ego? Rarely, without some special push.

Bench pressing  in my mid-50’s

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 in my 50s? 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. Shorten your rest periods to 30 seconds between sets and ‘bam!’ you’ve got a solid, muscle-pumping workout.

Stop Cheating

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.

Muscle Monsters?

I’m not saying you can easily transform yourself into one of those steroid freaks in the muscle mags. You can’t unless you take lots of steroids and have the right genetics. Don’t take steroids.

But science has proven you really can build real, measurable muscle — starting at any age — and this is the way to do it. By building back the muscle age is robbing from you, you can halt and even reverse Sarcopenia (muscle loss), Osteoporosis (bone loss), Obesity and Type II Diabetes, Dementia and more. Resistance training can help preserve your overall health, mobility, and Freedom as you age.

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. The Pump is good. Pain is bad.

We create that muscle micro “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 are 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.

Proven Effective

The 8 – 12 Rep Range with lighter weights and good form has been proven to work. 

See the Section below titled “Want Hard Proof?” for a number of articles on studies by prestigious scientific entities like the Mayo Clinic and major Universities to muscle mags like Flex and Muscle & Fitness.

The proof is consistent and thorough. This method works to build muscle, especially for those of us who are past 40, 50, 60 and more.

The Key is to Stay Focused Mentally

Your 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.

We Are Going to Pump You Up

The Pump is a great feeling. Some controlled soreness is good. Pain, especially in our joints,  is bad. Try to learn the difference. If you feel Pain – stop!

Our egos tend to tell us that more weight equals more strength equals more muscle. Wrong. Unless you’re trying out for the Olympic team, forget about your weight totals.


Muscle grows in response to microscopic damage to the tissues. With proper rest and nutrition, the fibers are repaired a little stronger and thicker than before.

Hypertrophy is the process. You feel it as  that ‘pump while you’re working the muscle and perhaps after or even the next day 

To those points above there is typically general agreement.

Succeed by Failing

Where I diverge a bit from others is that I believe in focusing each workout on a specific muscle group with enough sets in order to take it to “failure” rather than mixing up various muscle groups on each workout day. You still work the entire body but you do it one area at a time over a week’s time. 

Failure occurs when you cannot complete another clean rep without cheating. Don’t cheat on any rep.

If you’re focusing on biceps, for example, I would stay on biceps until you’ve reached failure. In my case, this equates to 5 sets each of 3 separate exercises. Typically I’ll do bicep barbell curls x 5, bicep dumbbell hammer curls x 5 and bicep rope curls on a machine x 5.

On that same workout day, I’ll also do triceps right after biceps in a similar way. Then, I’ll add some work on forearms and wrists. And that’s it. All arms and done. On to the next body area in the next workout.

In a nutshell the formula goes like this:

  • 8 – 12 reps to failure in every set
  • 30 – 40 seconds rest between sets
  • High volume of work: 3 – 5 sets per exercise, 3 or more exercises per target muscle group
  • Focus on one muscle group/area per workout
  • Muscle exhaustion is the goal — feel the pump

Lighter Does Not Mean Light

At the same time, we’re not talking about aerobicizing here. When I say “lighter weights, higher reps” I don’t mean waving a tiny dumbbell around for 100 reps.

It does mean finding the right level of resistance to cause your muscle to fail between 8 – 12 reps. In this case, failure is a good thing. It means you can’t do another clean rep without cheating because you’re taking the target muscle to exhaustion. You take a brief rest and do it again. This is how we cause hypertrophy.

Add resistance whenever 12 reps become too easy on that first set. It’s that simple, numbers wise.

Your focus is on the feeling, not the numbers.

Want Hard Proof?

Below is a sampling of studies and articles on this subject. They range from the academic to traditionally hardcore bodybuilding publications. All share in the conclusion that lighter weights & higher reps to failure is the best way to build muscle.

Remember: Lighter Weight does not mean Light Weight. It means a level of resistance that causes your muscles to fail in the 8 – 12 rep range (some say 12 – 15 reps, but it’s essentially the same idea).


As reported by the New York Times:

Dr. (Marcas) Bamman says you should push your muscles until “they are exhausted.”


5 Advantages to Lifting Light: This article points out that lifting lighter gives you comparable results and also offers a number of advantages over heavy.

FLEX online

Flex tackles the debate on which is best and declares that: “… the majority of your workouts should utilize light-to-moderate weight for moderate-to-high reps… in the 8-15 range for best results.”

McMASTER UNIVERSITY, Hamilton, Ontario:

This study found that low-load/high-volume workouts were more effective in creating “acute muscle anabolism” than high-load/low-volume work. In other words, lighter weight with higher reps beats heavy weight with low reps.

Again, this study found that going to failure was the key driver to muscular growth.


An article on McMaster University’s latest study in 2016: Pumping iron: “Lighter weights just as effective as heavier weights.” This article asserts that this latest study contradicts the decades-old, old-school view that the only way to get big was to go heavy.


The prestigious Clinic says that you should use a resistance level heavy enough to tire out your muscles in the 12-15 rep range. They say that a single set of 12 reps could be just as effective in building muscle as three sets using a heavier weight.

They also note that you don’t need to “spend hours a day lifting” to benefit. Just two or three 20-30 minute sessions a week can produce noticeable results.

Of course, if you’re really working to build serious mass, you’re probably going to want to amp that schedule up a bit. Personally, I prefer 4 days a week with between 45-60 minutes per workout. But, it is true it does not require endless hours in the gym.

As with anything else, quality beats quantity.

The Fountain of Youth

A report published by Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico demonstrates how resistance training can actually reverse aging at the genetic level.

In that study, all of the older adult subjects (mean age 68) performed supervised resistance training exercises on two non-consecutive days of the week for 26 weeks. The group included both people who did not exercise at all and those who regularly did some form of exercise.

They did 12 different exercises that addressed the entire body:

  • Chest Press
  • Leg Press
  • Leg Extension
  • Leg Flexion
  • Shoulder Press
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Seated Row
  • Calf Raise
  • Abdominal Crunch
  • Back Extension
  • Biceps Curl
  • Triceps Extension

Lighter Weights, Higher Reps

They also used a method similar to the one we promote here at BoomerMuscle. Lighter weight with higher reps with 3 sets per exercise (we say 3 – 5 sets). We encourage finding the ideal amount of resistance that takes you to muscle failure after 8 – 12 repetitions. By failure, we don’t mean passing out; simply getting to a point where another rep done without cheating isn’t possible.

In the genetic study, subjects began by doing just one of each exercise at 50%of their one-rep maximum resistance. They gradually increased to 3 sets at 80% of their one-rep max. Supplements to consider

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. 

Supplements to Consider:

Some people will recommend a wide variety of supplements like herbal testosterone boosters and more. The supplement industry is not heavily regulated. There are lots of wild claims out there. To my knowledge there are only three supplements that have been generally proven effective and safe to use:

  1. Creatine
  2. Whey Protein
  3. BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids)

GNC AMP 189Creatine 

I use and recommend GNC’s AMP 189 creatine. I use it in tablet form. I trust GNC because this is a long established brand and a publicly traded company with a lot on the line. That means they have to protect their brand against damage. I tend to trust what their label says for those reasons. Plus, I’ve had great results from the product. 

Wikipedia notes that: Extensive research has shown that oral creatine supplementation at a rate of five to 20 grams per day appears to be very safe and largely devoid of adverse side-effects,[23] …” The article also says that creative appears to be effective at helping to increase muscle mass. 

These links will take you to additional articles by the Mayo Clinic  and WebMd on creatine. But, be careful if you have kidney issues. People with higher than normal muscle mass will already have higher than normal numbers on a Creatinine test. That is the waste product of Creatine and higher numbers are considered a marker for kidney disease. Taking Creatine could cause those numbers to spike higher. It’s something to be aware of. Use caution in considering this or any other supplement product.

ON Gold Standard

Whey Protein

I use Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard. It is good tasting and I believe effective. It has thousands of highly positive reviews on both GNC and Amazon. And rates it #1, as well. My experience with the product has been positive.You can check a nicely organized list of the benefits of whey compiled by the Mayo Clinic here.

The links above will take you to Amazon. If you decide to make a purchase, they will give me credit. But it does not in any way affect the price you would pay. You can also find these items at you local GNC or health food store.

BCAA – Branched Chain Amino Acids

I use and recommend Optimum Nutrition’s BCAA  capsules. There is also a powder to mix as a drink. It’s a personal preference. The supplement claims that it helps muscles recover from workouts, and I do believe I can feel the difference. Since we’re getting older, we can use all the help we can get with recovery. Recovery is, after all, just as important as the workout itself and good nutrition. Recovery is when our muscles grow.

    • Easy to swallow capsules
    • Supports muscle building and exercise recovery
  • Recommended: First thing in the morning and/or during the 30 minutes just before or immediately after training. Simply take 2 capsules with your favorite beverage

Here is a study from the National Institutes of Health on BCAA and recovery. As with any and all supplements, check with your doctor over any concerns, especially if you have conditions like high blood pressure or kidney-related issues.

The links above will take you to Amazon. If you decide to make a purchase, they will give me credit. But it does not in any way affect the price you would pay. You can also find these items at you local GNC or health food store.

What about Vitamin T?

I have in the past used testosterone supplementation under a doctor’s review and prescription. It definitely is a boost, but it’s not without potential drawbacks. Especially if you have current health conditions, you would definitely want to have your blood tested and receive the medication from a competent legal resource.

Here is an article by the Harvard Medical School on testosterone therapy that gives a sober perspective on pros and cons. And here is another more ballsy piece by the aptly-titled Testosterone Nation, that gives a more gung-ho perspective on the idea of supplementing testosterone.

Whatever you decide to do when it comes testosterone, I would advise moderation and caution. Your overall health is the most valuable thing you have, so don’t overdo anything. And please steer clear of any illegal substances like steroids. Not worth it!

So what are you waiting for?

If you’re not already working out, it’s time to get started. No excuses. You don’t need expensive gear or a gym membership to get going.  There are lots of “how to” articles on this site under the menu category “Workout Guides.” Check them out, they’re free.

Get my 5 Keys to Feeling Stronger – Right Away for free here. No sales pitch or hassle. You’ll get a brief video on the 5 Keys plus a downloadable PDF guide on the studies noted above plus a summary cheat-sheet on the 5 Keys.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments below or drop me a line:

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