The Ultimate Strength Training Program For Over 50 To Start Feeling Great Now: Step-By-Step Guide
In this post, I’ll show you how to put together a strength training program for over 50 that’s personalized, sustainable, safe and time efficient.
What we’ll cover:
- The importance of gaining muscle mass through lifting weights for both men and women
- The role of testosterone in health and fitness for older guys, and how strength training helps
- Nutritional considerations to support your muscle and strength building efforts
- Safe, effective strength training exercises for over 50 for building muscle and rebuilding injury-prone areas
- The type of exercise program people over 50 should avoid
- Bodyweight exercises you can try at home
Let’s dive right in.
Gaining muscle mass by lifting weights
Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, which decreases your ability to move effectively and increases your risk of falls and fractures. (Medscape.com)
The best way to counteract this process is through progressive resistance exercise, or strength training. Increased muscle mass, or hypertrophy, is achieved by lifting heavy weights to trigger an adaptive response in your body. The individual muscle fibers become thicker, resulting in an increase in the cross-sectional area of the muscle.
There are 3 big benefits to gaining muscle mass when you’re over 50:
#1. Larger muscles are capable of producing more force, allowing you to produce more forceful movements, making everyday activities and any strenuous physical activity you perform easier.
#2. Larger muscles require more calories. As long as you don’t over-eat, you’ll get and stay leaner by having more muscle on your body.
#3. Larger muscles insulate you from musculo-skeletal injuries. By having larger muscles surrounding and supporting your joints, you achieve a “bubble-wrap” effect which increases your resistance to strains and sprains.
The muscular growth process works the same in both men and women, but there’s additional hormonal health benefits for men due to the effect strength training has on testosterone levels.
Testosterone levels are key to health and muscle performance in older guys
Testosterone is a hormone that is responsible for many male characteristics. Many men experience a decrease in testosterone as they get older.
Low testosterone can affect a man’s sex drive, muscle mass, energy, mental health and more.
Strength training workouts for men over 50 will boost testosterone levels, without the dangerous side effects of synthetic testosterone replacement therapy. The more muscle you have, the higher your testosterone will be, and the more youthful and energetic you will feel.
To support both men and women in their muscle building efforts, maintain a healthy weight and avoid weight gain, nutrition is super important.
A healthy diet is by far the best “weight loss workout” of all!
Many people over 50 get caught in the trap of performing “weight loss workouts” to out-exercise a bad diet. This is a very ineffective way to try to lose weight, and you will end up frustrated and under-recovered from training too long and too often, which will stifle your muscle building efforts.
Here’s the good news: with the application of a couple simple nutritional guidelines you can maintain a healthy weight, stay reasonably lean and feeling great.
The essential nutrients
There are six essential nutrients which must be consumed every day, in the right amounts, for optimum health benefits and fitness.
The problem is that eating is one of life’s simple pleasures, and a lot of the foods and beverages we enjoy the most are not on the above list.
So the balancing act we have to figure out is: how do we enjoy eating, get our essential nutrients in, and not get too fat? I offer 2 simple rules:
#1. Get what you need, then have what you want – Prioritize the essential nutrients and make sure your daily diet has those covered first. Once you get your essential nutrients in, it’s ok to have what you want, regardless of the nutritional value of your treat. How much of what you want is ok? See #2.
#2. Everything in moderation; don’t overeat – Once you’ve gotten your essential nutrients in for the day and it’s time to have what you want, make sure it’s only in moderation.
Of course, eating habits vary among different people for many reasons – personal tastes and preferences, cultural influences, allergies and sensitivities, etc. As long as you get your essential nutrients in and enjoy eating without overeating, you’re doing it right; how you get there is up to you.
Now that we’ve covered the importance of intense strength training for people over 50, and how to support your efforts with proper nutrition, let’s get into the actual workouts.
Strength training exercises and workouts
To create your own ultimate strength training exercise routine, you need to apply 4 basic training principles.
The 1st Principle – Form
- Set the exercise up so you are safe and in a comfortable stretch in the start position.
- “Press” exercises: Start slow, lift in 2 seconds, smooth turn-around, lower in 4 seconds, smooth turn-around, repeat.
- All other exercises: Start slow, lift in 2 seconds, pause for 1 second, lower in 4 seconds, smooth turn-around, repeat.
The 2nd Principle – Intensity
- On each set, keep performing reps with proper form (as described in Principle #1) until you literally can’t move the weight at all.
- If you complete a rep, no matter how hard it was, always try another one until you get stopped in your tracks, while maintaining good form.
- When you do get stopped, keep exerting force and trying to move the weight for a few seconds, then slowly return it to the starting position.
The 3rd Principle – Progression
Using a “rep range” will give you a repetition target to shoot for every workout, as well as allow you to compete with yourself by trying to exceed what you did in your last workout.
A tried and true rep range for lower body is 9 to 12, while the rep range for upper body should be 7-10.
- Use a weight that allows for at least the low number of repetitions in the rep range. When you can meet or exceed the high number, increase the weight a little (usually 1-10 pounds) on your next workout.
- Progressive overload is required for continued strength gains. Every workout, strive to do more reps, heavier weights, or both, than you did last time.
The 4th Principle – Recovery
- Starting out, strength train twice a week, with 2-3 rest days in between (for example, Monday/Thursday, Tuesday Friday, or Wednesday/Saturday).
- If you have no progress on most of your exercises for 3 weeks or more, decrease your frequency from twice a week to three times every two weeks.
- If progress ceases again, reduce your training frequency to once a week, and leave it there for life.
Include general strength building exercises as the foundation of an effective strength training program for over 50:
Choose 5 exercises from the following list:
- Leg press
- Leg extension
- Leg curl
- seated calf raise
- Calf raise on leg press machine
- Chest Presses
- Shoulder Presses
- Close grip underhand pulldown
- Abdominal machine crunch
- Back extension machine
- Abdominal floor crunch
- 45 degree back extension bench
Add corrective exercises to a strength training program for over 50 to address injury-prone areas of your body:
Choose 3 exercises from the following list:
Shoulder External Rotation
Lie on a bench or floor mat on your left side. Place a rolled-up towel between your right upper arm and your side. Start with light dumbbells. Grasp a dumbbell in your right hand. Bend your right elbow to 90 degrees, and lift your right hand toward the ceiling as far as you can, keeping your right elbow near your side (2 seconds). Pause; slowly lower the weight (4 seconds), smoothly change direction and repeat. Repeat with your left arm.
Static Contraction Neck Flexion
Lie on a bench or floor mat. Tuck your chin and lift your head about 1 inch off the bench or mat while maintaining the chin tuck position. Start your timer, and hold this position for as long as you can. Your goal is 1-3 minutes.
Grip Strengthening – Plate Hold
Place 2 barbell plates on an exercise bench. Stand close to the side of the bench, start your timer, and pinch one plate in each hand between your thumb and fingers. Keep pinching the plates as long as you can; when you are about to lose your grip, place the plates back on the bench and stop the timer. Your range is 45 to 90 seconds.
Knees – Strongest Range Leg Press
Set the seat so that your knees are bent at about a 30-degree angle. Sit with your lower back firmly braced against the back pad and your feet about shoulder width apart. Push with your feet until your knees are almost straight (2 seconds). Change direction smoothly and slowly return to the starting position (4 seconds). Let the weights gently touch, change direction smoothly and repeat.
Should I focus on “functional” strength training exercises?
So-called “functional training” workout facilities usually have few if any machines, only Olympic barbells and bodyweight exercise stations. The routines in these facilities focus on “functional movement” like explosive weightlifting, jumping, throwing weighted objects, etc.
Performing these types of movements carries an extremely high risk of injuryand rarely build muscle. Steer clear of these types of gyms.
3 strength training exercises you can try at home
Standing Calf Raise
Place the balls of your feet placed on a step. Steady yourself by lightly holding a counter, door frame of back of a chair. Lift heels as high as they possible in 2 seconds, hold 1 second, lower to start position in 4 seconds. Can be performed 1 leg at a time, or holding a dumbbell for extra resistance.
Negative Only Push Ups
Get into top push up position with hands slightly wider than shoulder width and roughly in line with nipple height. Slowly lower by bending the elbows in 8 seconds. Do not go lower than humerus bone being parallel with the floor to avoid overstretching the shoulder. Use your knees to quickly get into top position before starting the next negative rep.
Negative Only Chin-Up
You’ll need a doorway chinning bar with a chair or step stool under it. Grab the bar with a close underhand grip and step up on the chair or stool until your chin is over the bar. Step off the chair or stool and lower yourself slowly (try for 8 seconds). Climb back up to the starting position and repeat.
Adding strength training to your fitness program when you’re over 50 will help you move better, be more injury resistant, and feel more youthful and energetic. Set up your program to include 5 general strength exercises and 3 corrective exercises. Work out twice a week in the beginning, decreasing to 3 times every 2 weeks and eventually once a week as progress slows down. Eat healthy, getting all your essential nutrients first before enjoying your favorite indulgences.
Do that and you’ll enjoy the benefits of exercise and live a full, active life for many years to come!