So, you’ve just turned 50 and you haven’t been in the gym for more than a few years. Should you start lifting weights again? Is it safe? Will it do any good?
Yes, you may have to start slowly, but starting a resistance training program during your “later” years can provide many benefits. Here are just a few:
- Weight lifting training builds strength and endurance and helps maintain mobility. Lack of exercise causes a loss of strength and reduced capability for full range of motion movements which further accelerates aging.
- Weight training is the most effective way to build lean muscle while you reduce body fat. Building muscle increases your metabolism. Gaining added muscle mass after age 50 promotes bodyweight fat burning even when you are not actively exercising and lifting weights, increasing your resting metabolic rate by an additional 30-50 calories per day.
- Weight training increases bone mass, helping lower your risk of developing osteoporosis and reducing the incidence of fractures. As you add muscle you also add weight to your skeleton, stimulating your bones to strengthen and grow.
- Weight lifting is a natural way to promote the production and release of testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) in your body. Maintaining testosterone and HGH levels high will greatly slow the effects of aging.
- Look good and feel good. You can exercise to look good on the beach, or to increase your energy level to keep up with your kids or your grandkids.
- Strength training for those over 50 helps improve sleep and the mood of mildly to moderately depressed individuals. This is due in part to the release of endorphins and similar neurotransmitters in the brain related to exercise.
- As you age, your muscle fibers shrink in number and size, leading to a loss of strength, balance, and coordination. Lack of physical activity contributes to this decline, resistance exercises can reverse much of this decline and increase the size of muscle and muscle fibers.
- Focus on the basic multi-joint movements and start with simple bodyweight exercises. Include squats, lunges and push ups and pull ups.
- Focus on proper form and listen to your body. Your goal should be no pain or injury. Injury is much harder to recover from at your age.
- Your resistance training exercises should be performed 2 to 3 times each week to work those major muscle groups including arms, legs and the core.
- Avoid wasting your energy on small muscle groups, curls and similar exercises take time and effort away from the big moves that will provide the biggest gains in strength and size. Focus on the big lifts and do them safely and correctly.
The American College of Sports Medicine or ACSM has recently released fitness guidelines specific to weight lifting after 50 years of age.
- Choose a weight that’s heavy enough to allow 10 to 15 repetitions per set before muscles fail. Once you can lift a weight properly 15 times you can add weight.
- ACSM recommends alternating your strength training with 20-60 minutes of aerobic activity 3 to 5 days a week and 20-30 minutes of weight training 2 to 3 times a week.
If it has been a while (years) since your last gym visit, don’t try to pick up where you left off. Get back into it slowly and avoid injury. A simple strain or pull when you are 18 will set you back only a day or two, but at 50+ may derail and delay your entire program. To reduce the risk of injury:
- Resistance training should be performed no more than 3 times each week and never 2 consecutive days in a row.
- Rest on alternating days (more on this to follow).
- If you’re ever unsure of proper form or how to correctly perform an exercise, work with a knowledgeable trainer or coach. Be careful when following internet advice and videos.
- If you have access to a gym and weight machines, work with the machines at first as they force you to follow perfect form along the path of the machine. Once you are comfortable and back in the gym routine, use the free weights as they require balance and coordination.
- Soreness is not unusual, especially in the 24-48 hour period immediately following training. You should not however, experience pain when lifting weights.
- Take your time, take it slow to start. Follow the basics and do them well. Hit the weights, focus, minimize the socialization, finish your workout and go home. Avoid overtraining.
As we get older, it takes our body’s longer to recover from our workouts. Heading back to the gym for another training session before your body has recovered puts you at risk for overtraining and overuse injury and slows any of the strength or muscle gains you’re working for.
Take at least one, and occasionally two full days off between your weight training (resistance) sessions. For best results, schedule one or two days per week completely “off”, no weights, no cardio, nothing more demanding than stretching.
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