When I started this post, I didn’t realize that building muscle at different ages is such a complex topic. My research involved material from several books and magazine articles. Some of things I read are pretty confusing, contradictory, or depressing for older folks wanting to get in shape. On the bright side, just about everything I read agrees that strength training is the number one thing you can do to increase your overall fitness. I refuse to be discouraged, and hope you will so the same. So let’s take a look at how does age affect strength training.
Be Encouraged by Success Stories – Look at What Woman have Achieved!
Ernestine started strength training at 56 and won her first body building competition at 71. I believe she was the oldest woman to have won that competition. She started her fitness journey with her sister who became ill and passed away. Ernestine committed herself to fulfilling her sisters dream of becoming very fit. Ernestine is now in her 80s and although she no longer competes, she is still a personal trainer, teaches classes, and travels as a motivational speaker.
Josefina Monasterio appeared on AGT as a body builder at age 73. Very impressive. Josefina started life in poverty in Venezuela, an is a now a lifestyle coach. If you are interested in an inspirational books you can try her
In the July 6, 2020, issue of First magazine there is an article about Jackie Fender. After debilitating fatigue at age 71 and not being able to enjoy life due to lack of fitness, Jackie Fendler started strength training. She now has a box full of trophies from weight-lifting competitions. Jackie is delighted to be able to do things that she was not able to do in years.
My Research on Age and Muscles – Studies, How accurate are they?
I teach college level science, and am well aware of the scientific method for doing research. When you do research, you want to change one variable at a time between tests to see if that variable produces a different outcome. This becomes real difficult when you introduce the human body. Let’s say we want to do research to compare 30-year-old to 60-year-old strength trainees. If the research is to be very accurate, there are many things to consider besides age:
- smoker or non-smoker
- nutrition – (are they going to eat the exact same diet?, have been eating the exact same diet previous to study?)
- fitness level at start of study – (how will you measure this? endurance? health conditions? BMI?)
- genetics – unless you study identical twins this is tough and how do you have twins that are 30 years apart
- body type – Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph
- hormone levels
It is always interesting to see the varying results in research. You always want to check to see who did the research and who funded it. It is rather like looking up information on Google or what you read on Facebook. Chances are there might be some motivation behind finding the results that they did.
How Accurate are the Discouraging Things I’ve Read?
In one article I read, and I can’t find it at the moment, it said that a 30-year-old woman can build triceps muscles in 2-3 months and it takes a 60-year-old woman 2-3 years. There was no study stated, so I asked myself “How accurate is that?” I have not found a study on this and if folks have found one please let me know in the comment.
I read and mentioned in another post that after the age of 30 humans start losing muscle mass at something like 1.5% a year, and that sounds discouraging. Once again, I am asking myself a question “Did the person’s nutrition or amount of exercise change?”. By the way, that loss of muscle can be prevented by strength training. It just adds up if you have been a couch potato for years and now have to work harder to build muscle.
Positive Things I Have Read
Muscle loss is preventable as stated in the Sept./Oct. edition of OnFitness Magazine. The article, Building Lean Muscle Mass Fights Aging, discusses that keeping up with strength training minimizes age-related strength decreases at all ages. It even goes on to say that male master athletes at the age of 75 have demonstrated higher strength values than untrained 40 year old men.
There is another great article in the same Onfitness issue called “Age is No Excuse!” It talks about studies that say older people are not as fragile in strength training as people think. This is important because recent studies are showing that the intensity strength training is important in building muscle. The article talks about how older folks are able to work out at the intensity of younger people, but it suggests easing into the intensity and have longer warm-ups. I really like OnFitness magazine as it talks about the science and studies that prove what they write in their articles.
Update 9/1/2020 - A fitness friend has recommended I read the following book by Fred Bartlit and Choosing the StrongPath: Reversing the Downward Spiral of Aging
What Most People Agree On – Nutrition, Hormones, Sleep & Stress
A top body builder was once asked what are the top things that affect building muscles for body building. His response was that nutrition is number one, allowing appropriate recovery time is number two, which is followed by the training itself at number 3.
From everything I have read, everyone agrees that nutrition plays a critical role in our ability to build muscle. There are all sorts of different diets out there, but I don’t want to get into that now as the best diet for your body and building muscle is a huge topic all on its own. Let’s suffice it to say that if you are a junk food junkie, it will affect your ability to gain muscle. When people are younger, our bodies will take more abuse from the food we eat. As we age, damage from eating junk takes its toll on our bodies and its ability to function at its best. The same is true for smoking.
Another big item that affects our bodies as we age is the changes in hormones. It is an undisputed fact that men and women’s hormones change as we age and that it affects our bodies in some less that desirable ways. Hormone replacement therapies sound nice but there are possible negative side effects that aren’t so nice. There are studies being done on supplements that may help reverse the consequences of lower hormone levels, but from what I read the studies don’t seem to be conclusive yet. If anyone has more information on that, I’d love to hear about it in the comment.
Lack of appropriate amounts of sleep and the increased level of stress in our societies harms our bodies. It is important to get a good night’s sleep and to destress. Many people are including something to destress into their workouts. It could be a form of exercise like running, Tai Chi or Yoga. Another option is to include meditation into your daily routine.
Take Away – Don’t Use Age as an Excuse Not to Strength Train
The best exercise to help your body reverse the affects of aging is strength training. The rate of how fast we build muscle does change as we age, but some of this we can control. The biggest factor we can control is our diet. Other things under our control is the amount of sleep we get, how much stress we are under, and what we are doing to alleviate the stress.
Our changing hormones levels is a little less under our control. Hormone replacement therapies can have adverse side effects, and you should consult your doctor about that.
More mature trainees can train with the same intensity as younger people, as a matter of fact it is recommended. If you do the high intensity training, make sure to increase the intensity gradually and do a longer, more focused warm-up than the younger folks.
My last thought is that we all want take care of our joints. I know plenty of water skiers and down hill skiers that have had multiple knee and hip surgeries at young ages. I personally am against exercise that has you jumping when its not necessary.
I look forward to you comment. Please feel free to enlighten me if you find research that disagrees with this information.
Founder of Strength Training Books for Women