It’s sad but true that when you age your lean muscle or skeletal muscle, starts to deteriorate from your 30s, with atrophy (or muscle loss) occurring from your 40s.
What are you up against as you get older?
Well, among other things, when it comes to weight training, your muscles take longer to respond to brain signals in your 50s than when you’re in your 20s, meaning the transmission of impulses from your brain to your muscles is slower.
Your muscle tendons, which attach muscles to bones, are also unable to contain as much water as you age, meaning the tissue is stiffer and isn’t as capable of tolerating the stress of weightlifting.
Further to this, because your heart muscle isn’t able to pump blood as quickly around your body, you will take longer to recover and become tired more easily.
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.
To that end, what’s in order is a re-evaluation of how much resistance and strength training you are doing. If this isn’t covered in your day-to-day – which, unless you’re a labourer or do consistent physical work, it probably isn’t – the answer is to commit to a routine strength training routine. In other words, you need a weightlifting workout plan.
You can’t stop time, but there are things you can do to fight against the loss of muscle mass.
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.
If you’re out of touch with the gym, it’s not about getting into bodybuilding, per say, but some of the same tricks apply. The key is consistency, so you need to commit to a minimum of three consecutive days in a row, allowing for a rest day after, which is equally important in allowing your muscles to mend and grow. Just don’t forget the increase in protein still applies.
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
- Bench press
- Standing row
As for the number of reps and weight you lift, that depends on what your capability is. As a general rule, moderation is a good guideline. As your ability to recover is diminished with age, lifting too heavy could put you out of action or result in an injury. If you lift too light you won’t maintain muscle mass.
Therefore a range 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps of a moderate weight is a good compromise, followed by a decent rest time between sets to ensure you’re benefiting from each lift, rather than rushing.