Getting older sucks. But the truth is, older people can build muscle, and they can do it without insanity or pain.
All it takes is commitment to a consistent workout schedule, and a smart plan of attack.
One of the problems with strength training is that it traditionally focuses on numbers to determine if you are making progress. Bench press 200 pounds one month, how about 210 the next month?
That’s ok, when we’re 20, 30, maybe even 40. But it just doesn’t work for most people past a certain age. We have joints to be concerned with, and they can tend toward painful things like arthritis. Constantly trying to push more weight around is a zero sum game at that point.
I found out the hard way. I started working out at 12. Lifelong obsession. I’m 60 at this writing. When I was in my mid-50’s, I hit a wall. I had been going with the old method and adding more and more weight to my lifts. Frankly, it was as much about ego and defying age as it was a sound growth principle.
Anyway, I peaked at a 630 pound bench press on my PowerTec Leverage machine. In the process, I pretty much turned my shoulders into creaking mush. They still make that cracking sound when I stretch.
And the worst part was I had to quit an endeavor I loved, or re-invent how I went about it. After a period of feeling sorry for myself, I put together a workout strategy that really works to build muscle. In fact, it works better than my old ego-driven method.
And most importantly, it doesn’t hurt or stress my joints.
I’m also working around a history that includes a knee hanging by a thread, 3X bypass surgery and lifelong heart meds and fairly recent colon surgery. All of us have stuff to work around, right?
So, we need to forget about things like Insanity, Bootcamps, HIT and so on. If you’re still able to go hardcore, more power to you. But don’t come crying to us one day when your shoulders and knees are ready to revolt.
Instead, we need to focus on one of the core principles of old-time bodybuilding: Taking a target muscle to failure using good form with lighter weights. Ideally, one set will comprise 8-12 reps. You’ll do a significant amount of volume in the workout. Perhaps 3 target exercises comprised of 3 – 5 sets each for a total of 9 – 15 sets per body part.
But you’re not going to be focused on setting new world records or forever adding on more weight. You will focus instead on the feeling in your target muscle.
If you’re doing biceps, you want to feel the muscle working through the entire range of motion. Our goal is to create microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. Later, after ingesting quality food and protein, those fibers will repair themselves while you sleep. As a result, they will be slightly bigger and stronger. Not much will happen overnight, but over time, the growth will be noticeable.
In the meantime, you should feel it. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the sensation your muscles have when they are pumped. It’s a good feeling. It’s blood rushing through bringing nutrients to repair the muscle. Pain is bad, period. But that soreness is a sign the workout actually worked.