How to Exercise to Gain Muscle Over 60

A lean, strong body isn't just visually appealing, but healthy. No matter your age, you can get in shape and build muscle through regular exercise. Strength training is particularly beneficial because it promotes hypertrophy and improves bone mineral density. Building muscle over 60, though, isn't going to be easy; be prepared to change your diet, commit to regular training and tweak your lifestyle habits.

Strength training combined with a high-protein diet can make it easier to build lean mass in your senior years. (Image: kali9/E+/GettyImages)

Benefits of Bodybuilding Over 60

Have you ever heard of Ernestine Shepherd_, _Andreas Kahling_, _Rusty Jeffers or _Sam Bryant_? These world-famous bodybuilders are well over age 50, but in better shape than many of their younger peers. Ernestine Shepherd, for instance, is the world's oldest female bodybuilder. Surprisingly, it wasn't until age 56 that she started her fitness journey.

These people are living proof that age is just a number. Whether you're in your 50s or your 80s, you can build a strong body. It's never too late to change your diet and exercise habits. Thousands of studies confirm the benefits of weight training over 60.

A 15-year study published in the journal Preventive Medicine in 2016 has linked strength training to decreased overall mortality in older adults. Heavy lifting not only shapes your body, but can increase your life span and protect against chronic diseases. On top of that, it improves body composition and prevents muscle loss, leading to a lower risk of metabolic problems.

Set Realistic Goals

Rebuilding muscle mass after 60 takes time and discipline. Your body won't transform overnight. That's why it's important to set realistic goals and make lasting lifestyle changes.

Assess your current fitness level. If you're new to training or haven't exercised in years, focus on building up your strength and endurance. As you progress, set specific goals, such as building muscle or losing fat.

If you're fairly active, you'll find it easier to commit to an exercise plan and build lean mass. Just make sure you have realistic goals. You may not be able to put on 5 pounds of muscle in three months, but you can definitely do it in a year or so. Stick to your workout, monitor your progress and make adjustments along the way.

Create a Workout Plan

Your exercise routine should match your fitness level and align with your goals. To build muscle, prioritize strength training and full-body circuits. If you're slightly overweight, add some cardio to the mix — just make sure you don't go overboard.

According to a 2017 study published in the journal Obesity, strength training works better than cardio for overweight and obese older adults. Subjects who limited their calorie intake and started to lift weights experienced greater fat loss and preserved more muscle than those who combined dieting and cardio.

Aerobic training benefits your heart and boosts physical endurance but produces little or no results in terms of hypertrophy. In fact, it could hamper your progress. As the Poliquin Group notes, too much cardio further raises cortisol levels in people who already have elevated cortisol due to stress, which, in turn, affects testosterone and growth hormone production. This may lead to weight gain and muscle loss, increased hunger and sugar cravings.

Include HIIT in Your Routine

A better alternative to steady-state cardio is HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training. This form of exercise not only helps preserve muscle but also builds lean mass and ignites fat loss.

A 2018 study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise has found that HIIT improves muscular fitness and cardiometabolic health in less time compared to strength training, making it ideal for those with a busy schedule.

A typical HIIT session takes 20 minutes or less. Yet it's more effective for fat loss than traditional cardio and may lead to muscle and strength gains. So what does this mean for you?

To start with, try to incorporate HIIT into your workout routine. This concept can be applied to most exercises, from squats and pushups to treadmill running. All you need to do is alternate between quick, intense bursts of activity and less-intense activity or rest.

For example, you can sprint for 30 seconds, walk for another 30 seconds and repeat; complete three or four HIIT sessions per week to reap the benefits.

Focus on Compound Exercises

Building muscle after 60 isn't difficult if you know what to do in the gym. Not all exercises are created equal. Squats, bench presses, pullups, pushups, dead lifts, lunges and other compound movements yield the best results in terms of hypertrophy. They engage nearly every muscle and joint in your body, leading to faster gains.

First of all, compound/multi-joint exercises allow you to lift heavier weights than you would when performing single-joint/isolation movements. High-load resistance training results in greater strength gains than low-load resistance training.

As Sports Medicine points out, compound exercises alone are enough to build muscle and strength. Single-joint movements are only necessary for those trying to correct muscular imbalances or strengthen certain muscles, such as the calves, lumbar extensors or biceps.

One of the biggest benefits of compound exercises is that they can boost testosterone levels. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that squats and dead lifts increase the production of testosterone and growth hormone. Researchers state that training with free weights elicits greater hormonal responses than using gym machines.

Eat for Your Goals

Diet and exercise are equally important. Clean eating can make all the difference when you're trying to build lean mass, no matter your age. Make sure your diet provides optimum amounts of protein, carbs and good fats as well as micronutrients. Consider increasing your protein intake to stimulate muscle growth and repair.

This nutrient increases muscle protein synthesis, leading to hypertrophy and faster post-workout recovery. Quality protein sources, such as whey, may help reduce body fat and preserve lean mass while you're on a diet.

According to a 2015 review published in the journal Sports Medicine, protein supplements have no impact on untrained individuals. However, they may help build muscle size and strength and boost aerobic and anaerobic power as training volume, duration and frequency increase.

Lean meat, eggs, fish, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, beans, lentils and quinoa are all excellent sources of protein. Depending on your activity level, consider adding protein supplements to your diet. Protein shakes, for example, are ideal before and after exercise because they help ensure a maximal anabolic response.

Get Adequate Rest

Weight training after 60 comes with its challenges, especially for those who haven't worked out in years. Any type of exercise, whether it's cardio or weightlifting, puts stress on your body and central nervous system. Therefore, getting adequate rest is essential.

As the American Council on Exercise notes, poor recovery can lead to muscle damage and injuries. It also affects physical performance and interferes with the body's ability to replenish its glycogen stores. The more intense your workout, the more rest you need.

Refrain from working the same muscle group on consecutive days. Take two or three days off from training every week so your body can recover from exercise and repair damaged tissues. Consider using alternative methods to accelerate the recovery process, such as sports massage, foam rolling or stretching. If you're constantly experiencing muscle pain, back pain and other aches, consult a physiotherapist.

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