Starting a weight-training program in your 60s can give you a new lease on life. Building lean muscle mass improves your physical and mental health and can make you look and feel better than you have in years or even decades. But the goals of weight training at this age might be different from those when you were younger, and there are also some risks to take into consideration. Knowing these can help you plan a program that is both effective and safe.
Weight Training for Men Over 60
Weight training at 60 years of age brings the same benefits as it does at any age, including:
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But the benefits don't stop there. Strength training for older men can be very helpful when it comes to factors specifically related to aging. For example, weight training can:
- Increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis
- Improve mobility and balance
- Prevent cognitive decline
- Decrease the risk of injury in daily life and exercise activities
- Protect the joints
- Prevent or improve chronic health conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and depression
But First, the Warnings
Just because you're older doesn't mean you can't build a lot of muscle and strength. It just means that there are certain things you need to take into consideration to prevent weight training from from making you feel worse rather than better.
It's just a fact that as you age that you lose muscle mass, and the muscles you do have are weaker. They're more prone to strains. Your bones are more easily fractured, and your joints can't take as much wear and tear as they used to. Your weight training routine needs to be planned accordingly and needs to progress gradually.
You also need to allow adequate recovery time. Your muscles grow in between weight training sessions, not while you're training. Therefore, you have to allow enough time before training the same muscle group again.
This is true at any age; but older adults likely need more recovery time than younger people, especially after high-intensity exercise, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Whereas three days was found to be sufficient for younger men to recover from a strenuous workout, it was not enough for their older counterparts for whom recovery may exceed five days.
Components of Your Program
A well-designed weight-training workout for a 60-year-old man includes more than just going into the gym and lifting weights. It includes exercises that improve balance, stability, agility and mobility. In addition to strength, these components will not only make you fitter, but will improve your daily functioning and decrease your risk of falls and other common age-related mishaps.
Read more: Can You Lose Weight While Strength Training?
Resistance Training Exercises
There aren't any specific exercises that men in their 60s should or shouldn't do. Which exercises you include in your program depends on your preferences, your exercise knowledge, your access to equipment and so on. When you're starting out, you don't need to get fancy. Your goal in the beginning should be to learn the basics of proper exercise technique and to build muscle memory.
Compound exercises are generally more effective and less time-consuming for those whose goals are to build strength and muscle and increase their fitness. Unlike isolation exercises — biceps curls and leg extensions, for example — compound exercises activate more than one muscle group at a time. Examples include:
- Dead lifts
- Lat pull-downs
- Military press
According to the American Council on Exercise, compound exercises burn more calories, promote intermuscular coordination, raise the heart rate to offer a cardiovascular benefit and build dynamic flexibility and movement efficiency.
In addition, according to the Poliquin Group, compound exercises done at the right intensity can boost testosterone, a potent male hormone that decreases with age. However, the intensity needed to get this benefit is not suitable for new lifters. It involves lifting heavy weights for a lower number of reps and a higher number of sets than is recommended for beginner or even intermediate lifters. Once you have built a solid foundation of strength, you can begin to use weight training as a means to potentially build your testosterone levels.
Sets and Reps
Choose a few exercises for your lower body and a few for your upper body. Just doing squats and lunges is enough to target all the major muscle groups of the lower body — quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes. You can target your shoulders, arms, back and chest with chest presses, pullups, rows and military presses.
For the first few weeks of your program, use light weight or just your body weight. Do one or two sets of eight to 12 repetitions using perfect form. Then, you can start to add weight and sets. Choose a weight that allows you to perform at least 8 but not more than 12 reps with proper form. Increase your total sets to two to five.
How often you lift each week depends on your intensity. In the beginning, you can train each body part two or three times a week. When you start lifting heavier weights, you'll need more rest days.
But everyone is different. According to nationally known fitness coach and world-champion powerlifter Charles Staley, many factors determine how much recovery time you need, including health status, nutrition, sleep quality and stress. If you're eating well, sleeping well, otherwise healthy and have low stress, you might recover more quickly than a 35-year-old who can't check all those boxes.
Listen to your body. As you increase the intensity of your program, see how you feel when you take more or fewer rest days. If you feel a loss of strength in subsequent workouts, you know you're not taking enough recovery time. On the other hand, don't take too much time; you should lift weights once a week, at the least.
Balance, Agility and Mobility
Real athletes know how important it is to include exercises for balance, agility and mobility in their weight-training programs to improve performance. These exercises also have special benefit for aging lifters. In each workout, include one or two exercises in each category.
Improve Your Balance
Balance exercises can be as simple as standing on one foot, which may be quite challenging for you in the beginning. After that, increase the challenge by standing on one foot with your eyes closed, raising your arms over your head or moving them around you and standing on an uneven surface such as a BOSU ball.
You can also include some single-leg exercises in your weight-training program that will have the same effect. Examples include single-leg dead lifts and Bulgarian split squats.
Become More Agile
Agility is what enables you to react quickly — a skill that declines with age. Practice agility with exercises such as:
- Box jumps
- Agility ladder drills
- Single-leg lateral hops
- Medicine ball throws
Increase Mobility and Flexibility
Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion, while flexibility is the ability of a muscle to lengthen. Both rely on one another for proper function. Make sure to spend time stretching all the major muscle groups after your workouts. Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat it one or two more times.
Improve the health and function of your joints with exercises like arm circles, hip circles, ankle and neck rolls, squats and shoulder pass-throughs with a dowel. You can perform these before each workout or whenever you have time throughout your day.
Take It Slow
Slow and steady wins the race, but actually, this isn't a race. You may want to make up for lost time, but taking your time to build a solid foundation of strength at a gradual pace will pay off in the long run. Doing too much too soon is a surefire way to burn out or end up with an injury, which will sideline you for longer than it did in your younger years. So use the wisdom your years have given you and play it safe.
On the other hand, don't be too safe. As with anything in life, in order to make gains and achieve your goals, you need to keep pushing and challenging yourself.
- Better Health Channel: Resistance Training: Health Benefits
- Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: Prolonged Recovery to a Single Session of High-Intensity Interval Training in Older Men
- ACE: 5 Benefits of Compound Exercises
- Harvard Health Publishing: Testosterone, Aging, and the Mind
- Poliquin Group: The Testosterone-Boosting Workout
- Bodybuilding.com: Ask the Ageless Lifter: How Often Should I Strength Train?