Maybe you used to exercise a lot until work and family responsibilities took over your life; or maybe you've never exercised at all. Either way, there's no time like the present to start exercising (again). But where should you begin? At the beginning. Especially when you're "of a certain age," taking it slow at first will build a better foundation of strength and prevent injuries that older exercisers are prone to.
Building a Solid Foundation
You want to make up for lost time, so you jump into an exercise routine whole-hog. But the aches and pains get you down or you get injured, and your plans for a six-pack by age 55 are put on hold. That's not a good way to reach your goals.
The best workouts for men over 50 progress in stages, starting with developing a foundation of strength and cardiovascular fitness, then building on that as you become stronger. The beginning stage also includes exercises to improve balance, coordination and agility.
This first stage isn't going to build massive muscles, but it will set you up for the next phase of training in which you'll work on muscle growth and getting even stronger.
Start With Cardio
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting heart disease as the major cause of death for men in the United States, cardiovascular fitness is especially important for men over 50. If you haven't been doing any type of exercise, just being more active is a great start. Walking more, taking the stairs and riding your bike around the neighborhood are effective ways to start building fitness.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as walking or jogging, each week. Or, you can get 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running and cycling, each week.
For even greater gains in aerobic fitness and weight loss or maintenance, up your cardio exercise to 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous intensity each week.
Which Type of Cardio?
Any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up for a prolonged period of time is a good choice. If you've been inactive, just get out for a brisk 30-minute walk each day. If you're ready for something more challenging, up your pace to a jog, or dust off your road bike and take it out for a spin.
At the gym, the treadmill, elliptical machine, stationary bike, stair climber and rowing machine are all great choices. Just be sure to work out vigorously enough to break a sweat and get your heart rate up. You can also try aerobics classes, power yoga classes, high-intensity interval training workouts and spinning classes.
Ultimately, the best type of cardio is whatever activities you enjoy doing. Choose two or three and switch up your workouts each week so you never get bored.
Building Functional Strength
Functional strength is the type of strength that helps you perform everyday tasks with ease. Rather than enabling you to flip truck tires, it simulates movements you do at home, at work or in sports. A functional exercise routine is the best entry point into weight training for men over 50 years old.
Examples of functional fitness exercises include:
- Multidirectional lunges
- Shoulder press
All of these exercises mimic actions you might perform in your daily life, such as pressing something overhead or sitting down and getting up from a chair. They build all the muscles in your body and strengthen the small stabilizer muscles that help you balance and maintain good posture. But these exercises aren't just for beginners.
Start with just your body weight or light weights for the first few weeks. Do two or three full-body workouts each week, including one to three sets of eight to 15 quality repetitions. Focus on getting the movements just right and developing muscle memory. Then, you can start to add weight.
Developing Balance, Coordination and Agility
The ability to stand on one foot and hop out of the way of a moving object are examples of functional movements that require balance, coordination and agility. Developing these components of physical fitness helps you stay agile as you age.
Although you don't have to worry about it just yet, falls are a common cause of injury and even death in older populations, so developing these skills now can help you stay active, independent and injury-free longer.
Each time you strength train, include a few exercises that specifically work on these components. Some examples of exercises for better balance include:
- Toe squats (body weight squats on your toes)
- Single-leg balance with leg extension
- BOSU ball squats
- Single-leg dead lift
Coordination and agility exercises include:
- Jumping rope
- Single-leg hops (side-to-side and front-to-back)
- Box jumps
- Lateral box jumps
Adding Muscle and Strength
At a certain point, you may want to build visible muscle mass or get stronger. Both of these are great goals. Adding more muscle mass as you age is important to counteract the natural loss of lean muscle that occurs with aging. To continue your muscle and strength gains, you have to add weight, frequency (workouts per week) and/or volume (the number of exercises, sets and reps per workout).
It's important to do this gradually. Adding too much weight or volume too quickly can not only lead to a lot of day-after muscle soreness, but it can also lead to muscle strains and joint injuries. It's just a fact that the older you get, the more easily you get injured and the longer it takes to recover. So be conservative, and never sacrifice good form and lifting technique to lift more weight.
You can also increase the challenge of your workouts by adding more complexity. Combine shoulder presses and squats and do thrusters. Pick up a kettlebell and do swings or Turkish get-ups. Other exercises to try when you're ready include:
- Renegade rows
- Walking lunges
- Bulgarian split squats
- Hip thrusts
- Clapping pushups
Don't Forget Flexibility and Recovery
Flexible muscles and mobile joints are one of the most important aspects of staying fit and having a healthy body. Weight training can put a lot of stress on the muscles and joints, so it's important to give them a little attention each time you work out.
If you like yoga, take a few classes each week. Make sure to stretch before and after each workout. Pre-workout, you can do some dynamic stretches such as walking lunges and butt kicks after your warmup. Post-workout, do static stretches and hold them for 30 to 60 seconds.
Mobility exercises improve the range of motion of your joints. Arm circles, shoulder pass-throughs with a dowel, neck circles, hip circles and ankle rolls are all effective exercises to do before and after a workout.
Finally, get enough rest between your workouts. Older bodies need more time to recover than young bodies. Take days off and do low-impact activities such as walking or biking to practice active recovery. Also pay attention to your diet, eat plenty of protein and fresh vegetables, and stay hydrated.