Is it even possible to build muscle over 50?
Build muscle over 50? Isn’t it too late for that?
No, it’s not. Take heart – you really can.
But you need a slightly different approach than you used when you were in your 20’s.
And here’s why…..
Everybody repeat after me:
“Once I turned 50, everything started _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.”
And of course, you said “falling apart”, or some variation of it.
Once you get over 50, you start feeling the effects of age-related wear and tear on your body. Things that used to be easy to do are getting harder.
Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, causes a progressive decrease in strength and muscle mass, and to some extent happens to all of us.
Injuries from the past are coming back to haunt you. New injuries are much harder to recover from.
Hormone levels are dropping. Blood sugar levels are rising.
When you look in the mirror, things are a little different than they used to be. Abs are getting smoother. Arms are getting smaller.
And these problems threaten to diminish the quality of life in our later years, right at a time when we should be enjoying life the most.
It can all get very frustrating and discouraging.
The answer seems clear enough – the way you build muscle over 50 is to get on an effective strength training program. But a lot of people question whether or not that’s even possible at this age.
In this post, we’ll examine why it’s possible, and how you can build muscle and strength after 50, without getting hurt or wasting time.
Related Content on how to build muscle over 50:
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- How To Achieve Excellent Fitness Over 50 in 90 Minutes A Week
- Super Effective Workouts For Men Over 50 (That Won’t Take All Day To Do)
Exercise is a message, recovery allows the response
An adaptive response is a process your body activates to protect you from any stimulus – or message – it perceives as threatening.
For example, if you go outside on a hot, sunny summer day, the message is that the ultraviolet rays of the sun can damage your skin. The adaptive response is a suntan.
Increases in muscle strength are an adaptive response to intense physical activity.
The process begins when your muscles are forced to do something they can’t easily do at their current level of strength, like lifting a heavy weight until you can’t lift it anymore. The message is that heavy weights takes a lot of energy to lift, and could cause an injury if something doesn’t change.
The response is that your body then adapts by getting stronger, so it will be better equipped to handle that weight in the future.
And just like the response of getting a suntan, the physiological process of building muscle doesn’t just suddenly stop working at 50, or any other certain age.
It works the same way whether you’re 20 or 65 – but the thing that changes is your ability to recover from intense strength training exercise.
The way we lifted weights with our buddies when we were 20 isn’t the best way for us now.
As you get older, the recovery process gets less efficient, and you need to adjust your strength training program to see continued results.
Critical needs for building muscles beyond 50
Problem: You need more recovery.
By now you can probably tell that the strength training routines you used in your 20’s aren’t cutting it anymore. There’s no way you can make it through the 2-hour workouts you used to do back in the day.
As we age, the organs in our body that facilitate recovery from exercise become less efficient – such as our lungs, heart, liver, kidneys – as does our endocrine system, the collection of glands that produce hormones.
Solution: Brief, infrequent and intense (but safe) workouts.
As we discussed, to increase your muscular strength, your workouts need to be intense. That requirement doesn’t change, no matter how old you are.
Don’t worry, intense in this context just means putting in a maximum effort, whatever that is for you.
What does need to change is how often you work out, and how long each workout is, to allow for full recovery and an increase in muscular strength.
In my experience, to build muscle over 50 most people need 2 to 7 days between intense strength training workouts to get the best results, which means working out 1 or 2 times per week.
And a full-body workout should be under 45 minutes. If it’s longer than that, it turns into aerobic exercise, and you’ll end up pacing yourself instead of going all-out with heavy weights.
Problem: Aches and pains have accumulated over the years and need to be dealt with.
As we get over 50, we tend to get reminders of past injuries, in the form of chronic aches and pains. And nowhere is this more noticeable than in the gym.
The chest exercises you fell in love with as a kid now make your shoulders sore for 3 days. Your favorite leg exercise now causes too much knee pain to use any real weight. And you must be super careful to avoid throwing out your back.
Solution: Adjust the range of motion; avoid momentum.
Determine a comfortable stretch position for every exercise. If it’s difficult or painful for you to get into a machine or reach the stretch position during the exercise, you’re going too far. Always work in a pain-free range of motion.
On every rep, lift the weight slowly from the starting position without jerking it.
Change direction slowly when you start the next rep, without bouncing or slamming the weights.
Keep constant tension on the working muscles the whole time to maximize the muscle building effects while sparing your joints.
Problem: New injuries are harder to come back from.
The healing process is slower for everything at this age, from a cut on your finger to knee surgery. After 50, getting injured can take forever to bounce back from.
So it’s prudent to try to figure out ways we can try to minimize our risk of injury while in the gym. As we all heard when we were kids, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’.
Solution: Smart exercise selection and equipment selection.
Make sure you can exit the exercise safely at any time.
On any exercise where you will be under the weight, make sure there is some barrier to catch the weight to prevent you from getting stuck under it. (Don’t be the next guy in a YouTube video getting trapped under the weight while bench pressing). Most weight machines can be set up this way.
If you have back problems, it’s a good idea to always have your chest or back supported during an exercise. For example, seated dumbbell curls would be preferable to standing barbell curls.
If you want your shoulders to stay healthy, don’t put anything behind your neck. This includes barbell squats and behind the neck pulldowns or shoulder presses.
Note: To learn more fitness tips and how to get stronger after 50 without getting hurt or wasting time, get my free report “The New Rules of Strength Training Over 50” by clicking HERE.
Gaining muscle mass by lifting weights
To gain muscle mass, the workout has to be intense – as close to a maximum effort as possible.
And if you make the intensity of your workout high, which is necessary to get stronger, it will necessarily be brief. You can’t go totally all out for long periods of time, just like nobody can sprint at top speed for a mile.
There’s a principle in exercise science called the S.A.I.D. principle – which stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.
In simple terms, it means you get what you train for. So if you want to gain muscle mass, you have to train specifically for muscle gain; and if you want endurance, you train specifically for endurance. And those 2 training programs are polar opposites.
Is gaining muscle mass with endurance exercise possible?
No, it isn’t.
To increase endurance, the duration of your workout has to be high, which means it will necessarily be lower in intensity. Again, if you’re going to run a mile, you can’t do an all-out sprint – you have to pace yourself.
Remember, intensity of effort and duration of effort are inversely proportional. So you can either train hard, or you can train for a long time, but you can’t do both.
Resistance exercise builds muscle mass; a cardiovascular exercise routine builds endurance. Mixing them up will cause you to waste time without getting the results you want.
Should I do endurance exercises at all?
I’m a big believer in the idea that we rust out faster than we wear out. So I recommend being active, engaging in low to moderate intensity leisure activities or endurance exercises on your non-strength training days.
Just remember – you only have one gas tank, so if you’re doing higher intensity activities like entering road races you’ll need to allow some extra recovery time between those activities and your strength training.
The benefits of high quality protein intake to build muscle over 50
Protein comes from the Greek word proteios, meaning “primary” or “holding the first place.” It is necessary for building lean muscle, and repair and maintenance of many tissues in the body. Including adequate amounts of protein in every meal should be your first consideration to support your strength building efforts.
Recent research indicates that protein needs for older adults who engage in strength training are higher than previously thought – about 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per day. (Pubmed)
For example, I weigh 170 pounds, so to determine my daily protein intake needs I would convert my weight to kilograms (170 divided by 2.2), which is 77.27 kg, and multiply that by 1.6, which equals 123.62, which I round up to 124 grams of protein needed per day.
Foods high in protein include meats, poultry, fish, dairy products (the low-fat kind are healthier), and eggs.
For the first 30 to 60 minutes immediately following an intense workout, there is a window of time where your muscles are more receptive to energy replenishment and rebuilding. The way to take advantage of this situation is to consume a high protein, carbohydrate-rich snack within the first hour after your strength training workout. Many experts believe that about 20 grams of protein in this snack is optimal for hastening the recovery and rebuilding process.
There are many nutrition shakes and bars on the market with 20+ grams of protein that can offer a convenient way to get your post-workout snack. You could also try 8 ounces of low-fat milk, chocolate milk or yogurt; a sandwich with low-fat protein sources like chicken or turkey; or a protein shake made with whey protein powder.
The newfound popularity of bodybuilding after 50 – Gaining muscle to improve health and performance
If you’re thinking about bodybuilding, now may be a perfect time.
As you age, you lose lean muscle mass. You may have less energy and be less active. Bodybuilding can reverse the process, helping you build muscle mass and have more energy. (Webmd.com)
And many people over 50 who start weight training for the health benefits soon develop an interest in competitive bodybuilding.
An Over-50 category was added to the NPC Southern States Bodybuilding Championships, held annually in South Florida, in 2013.
“Older people take pride in their own physique, especially when they want to look hot in South Florida. They can still be strong, and look good, and feel better, and that’s what keeps them motivated”, said Peter Potter, organizer of the event.
You can build muscle over 50, but you’ll need to make some age-related modifications to your workout program to maximize your results.
Once you get over 50, your ability to recover from intense muscle building workouts decreases. To compensate for this, cut your strength training workouts down to 45 minutes or less, once or twice a week, but be sure to put in a maximum effort on every workout.
To work around chronic aches and pains, be careful not to over-stretch your joints when weight training; work only in a pain-free range of motion.
To avoid needless injuries, always move the weights slowly and deliberately – don’t throw them, and don’t drop them.
You get what you train for. Building muscle requires brief, intense workouts using heavy weights.
A high-protein snack right after your workout can enhance recovery and muscle growth.
Many people over 50 are finding that bodybuilding workouts are a great way to combat health issues and improve your overall fitness level.
Incorporate these ideas into your strength training program, and there’s no reason you can’t continue to build muscle over 50.