Can You Build Muscle After 50?
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the subject of bodybuilding after a certain age. You will have read and heard from many experts and health articles that many of the body’s natural strengths diminish from your thirties onwards. It’s a disconcerting fact that your skeletal muscle begins to deteriorate due to atrophy from your forties, making the idea of being ripped at 50 seem an impossibility. While, yes, muscular atrophy is a fact, so is the ability to build muscle despite of that. In this article we take a look at how that can be done.
Why You Need To Prioritize Building Muscle After 50
It’s not just about if and how, but why weight lifting and strengthening your muscles should be a priority. From your fifties onwards, building lean muscle isn’t a thing of miracles that just leaves you looking younger, it’s a result of work that will battle the onset of muscle atrophy, keeping you more able and active in your day-to-day activities as well as those in the gym. It can improve your stamina, both physically and mentally, help you burn more fat while resting and can also help with the natural decrease in your bone density as you age.
How To Start Building Muscle After 50
Getting the right mindset
Age-related muscle loss is known as sarcopenia, which translates as “vanishing flesh”. This is the result of approximately ten ounces of muscle that you do not replace due to a more inactive lifestyle. ‘Inactive’ may seem a relative term, and some people – not you – but some people may argue that they are not inactive while their muscle mass diminishes as they age.
Being ‘old’ is an excuse in this context of not keeping in shape. It is far from a disability, more a game changer. The changes to your metabolism and loss of skeletal muscle are not something that happens overnight, so the whole ‘I’m old so I’ll take it easy’ mantra won’t cut it here. Health and fitness is a matter of making adjustments – adjustments for weaknesses that need extra attention, recovering from injuries, factoring in your goals and your capabilities. At the end of the day, one hand washes the other with exercise: the more you commit to it the greater the rewards and improvement to your endurance levels.
After the right mindset, nutrition is a key ingredient to fueling your ambition.
The first thing you can do that doesn’t involve lifting weights, is eating more protein. By consuming more eggs, chicken, pork, beef, seafood, and soy, combined with a routine resistance-training regimen, you can maintain your muscle mass, increase your metabolism, and improve your bone density.
As you age your muscle can’t take advantage of the repairing and growing attributes of protein, meaning that you need to eat more to reap the benefits it will have on your muscles.
Want to get technical? Committing to macros is a good way to ensure your body gets what it needs. Here is a good idea of what your ratio can look like:
30% of total calories from Protein
45% of total calories from Carbs
25% of total calories from Fats
As a general rule, your intake may look something like this on a daily basis:
250g healthy carbs
90g healthy fats
Further to this, vitamins can make a big difference to your energy and recovery levels, not to mention your bone density. Make sure you consume adequate calcium, potassium, vitamin D and vitamin K. As for things to avoid, you might look at how much alcohol and caffeine you consume.
Doctors advise taking a 600 to 800 mg supplement of calcium every day, along with adequate vitamin D intake with food or with supplements. Studies have shown this can reduce the occurrence of fractures by up to 30 per cent. Without enough calcium in the diet, the body will leach it from the bones, causing them to weaken over time. Without enough vitamin D, the bones cannot absorb the calcium.
Make sure you’re lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance training
Older people getting back into the gym because they feel they must often take the easy road, or at least, the road they think is easiest, which involves low impact cardio exercise, swimming, walking, and very little if any resistance training. Lifting weights, however, is arguably the most important thing you can do to help to strengthen weakening muscles and stay mobile and motivated. Muscle fibres need attention to keep them from tightening and becoming weak and while cardio exercise is equally important for your circulation, heart and metabolism, resistance training is integral in keeping your skeletal muscle in working order while burning calories – not to mention it is essential for building muscle.
Design workouts around compound moves
The best exercises are standing compound lifts. This is for two reasons: first, compound lifts use several muscles at once and don’t involve the same focused strain on your joints (and tendons) as isolating exercises like bicep curls. By hitting more muscle groups you will be strengthening the most possible fibers in the process.
The reason for the standing suggestion is because when you age your bone density also diminishes. This can be addressed by any strength training that places force against your bones, or works against gravity.
With these two considerations in mind, try the following as a starting point:
Standing shoulder press
Focus on big lifts and good form
It doesn’t have to be about difficult lifts and learning new things at first. As a general rule it is a good approach to focus on standard lifts that hit the most muscle fibers (compound lifts). The oldies are the goodies, after all and they’re essentially all that you really need to build your muscles. That said, keep things simple, focus on a few multi joint exercises and, above all, pay attention to your technique, either with a coach or using mirrors. Therein lies the difference between the right way and the wrong way, and good and bad posture.
Don’t mistake your weak back for an injured back
Back concerns can come in many forms and shouldn’t be ignored. But often with age it can be a result of neglect, too much sitting and because of poor posture. By avoiding addressing the issue, staying off any strenuous back exercise and giving up at the first sign of stiffness you may put off what may be worked on. Your posterior chain is a set of muscles including your lower back, glutes and hamstrings, which all work with one another and support you in everything from standing to squatting.
Start small and keep these muscles loose with regular stretches, and fortify your core with abs work and balancing exercises.
How Many Sets & Reps Should I Be Doing?
For the young and old alike there are three brackets of rep ranges:
Heavy (5-8 rep sets)
Moderate (8-12 rep sets)
Light (15+ rep sets)
Especially when building muscle, it is advisable to get one set of each of these every week as they each have a different effect on your body. Higher reps are good for your circulation and toning, not to mention cardio, but heavy lifts help to build longer term muscle and strength. Find your balance. This is where a plan comes in. Aim to perform three-five sets of heavy reps and three sets of lighter reps. As a general rule it’s advisable to aim for twenty sets per workout.
Take Home Message
Hitting 50 is all the more reason to hit 50 reps. While, yes, your skeletal muscle, metabolism and bone density will be weaker than they were twenty years previously, a positive attitude, the right nutrition and regular resistance training can see you ripped at 50, 60 and 70.