weight training for over 50s

If you are a senior looking to fight the flab and the physical cost of your advancing years, you might be tempted to put on some running shoes and run around the streets of your neighbourhood morning, noon and night. However, there is another way to stay trim and keep your body strong without the need to pound your way through the elements of an English winter; namely weight training.

Unlike aerobic, or endurance, activities, which improve cardiovascular fitness and require moving large muscle groups hundreds of times against gravity, weights provide so much resistance that muscles gain strength from only a few movements. Weight training trumps running, biking or other aerobic type workouts for both fat loss and improving strength.

Tips for Beginning Weight Training Over 50

Avoiding Injury

Before you begin weight training you need to provide yourself with an honest assessment of your starting physical condition. Know your weaknesses. The key is to start slow and not get injured. An injury will not only set you back in your ability to train, it can negatively affect your attitude. If you are not confident in your ability to get back into shape, it is hard to stick to a new training regime.

Don’t be in a hurry in the first few weeks. Start slow and get your body used to the movements and accustomed to moving through a full range of motion. Do some basic exercises using bodyweight only. Squats for the legs and glutes; push ups for the chest, shoulders and triceps. You can also just hang from a bar to start building grip strength and for stretching the shoulders and lats. Use a light barbell (maybe just the bar only) and do some straight leg deadlifts for the low back and hamstrings.

Then do overhead presses with the bar only as well. This is a good shoulder, triceps and core stabilizer. Try some dumbbell rows using light weight for back, biceps and forearm work.
Perform this work-out 3 times a week for two weeks ensuring you rest at least 24 hours between workouts. You shouldn’t be sore from these workouts. Again, this is just to get the body moving and used to bending and moving through its intended range of motion.

You can utilise low loads (even something like resistance bands) to provide an introduction to resistance exercise, whilst also generating an anabolic stimulus and the beneficial impact it will provide.

Variety

Variety in your training is another way to avoid the ‘niggly’ over-use injuries so prevalent as you get older. For middle-aged weight trainers, rotating through exercises with different implements and strength curves can be a good way to stay healthy and strong.

Variety should not just be limited to exercise choice, but also exercise order. Although a slightly more advanced technique (once you learn the concept of keeping tension on a muscle), placing more stressful exercises such as squats and barbell bench presses towards the end of a workout means you can create a similar training effect albeit with less load.

Progression

Building on the previous point, one of the best ways to train as a senior is to find ways to increase time under tension on your muscles and the difficulty of exercises.

Besides adding reps, experimenting with different tempos is highly effective in reducing joint stress by providing a different stimulus and creating a greater muscle-building stimulus.

Grouping lower back-intensive exercises into one day a week can be a great way to allow recovery for the often-vulnerable lower back structures.

If training the legs every three to five days, an example rotation could be to do a squat or deadlift variation one workout, and train predominantly with unilateral and machine exercises on the next, before going back to a squat or deadlift workout.

On this note, squats and deadlifts may not be necessary at all in their true form if you are a beginner with limited movement capability, as this will often do more harm than good.

With the over 50s, a frequent issue is a lack of stability in the joints. So, utilising isometrics, unilateral work and slow tempos initially can help bring up this vital aspect of fitness.

Often with the over 50s focusing on perhaps four to five exercises per workout at the maximum is advisable. Simply picking an upper body ‘push and pull’ session, and lower body ‘push and pull’, rotating, and keeping an eye on quality is an excellent way to train.

Spending ten to fifteen minutes a day on mobility and flexibility will pay huge dividends when it comes to staying healthy as you age.

How much weight should I use?

Determining the amount of weight you should lift depends on the number of repetitions you can do properly, In general, you want to work with a weight you can lift properly for eight to fifteen reps,

How many sets and reps are best for over 50s?

Traditional weight training for optimal strength goals involves three to five sets of eight to twelve reps, but that may be unwise as spine and knee problems can occur when working with heavy resistance. A safer and more practical idea is to do a variety of exercises and multiple sets that engage the same muscles. For example, instead of three sets of straight biceps curls, do a set or two of pulldowns (which targets back muscles and biceps), then do a set of biceps curls with a squat or lunge.

How often should I weight train?

Beginners benefit from twice-a-week training, at least for the first month or two. After that, three to four times a week can be done if the goals warrant it. Weight training workouts usually require a day’s rest in between to allow muscles to recover. Forty eight to seventy two hours of recovery time between exercise sessions is recommended. However, if you want to train daily, spread out the muscle groups and body parts on different days. For example, do a chest workout one day and arms another, etc.

How do I know when it’s time to increase resistance?

This depends on your needs. In general, once you can lift a weight properly without pain fifteen to twenty times you can add weight.

Increase weight for larger muscle groups, such as legs at ten percent a time, but only raise resistance five percent for smaller muscles, like arms and shoulders.

Tubing, dumbbells, kettlebells or other resistance?

As long as the resistance is appropriate for the muscle groups and the individual has the ability to control it, any modality will work. For example, a dumbbell chest press works the same muscles as a tubing chest press, but the tubing version may be easier to control for novices. Try a few different resistance methods to find one that suits you best.

You will likely need training first for a type of workout you’ve never done before. For instance, no one should just start swinging kettlebells without understanding the control that’s required for them to be effective. Also, if the last time you lifted was decades ago, you should seek out instruction.

Stretching and foam rolling benefits muscles after a workout to ease muscle soreness and speed recovery.

Discomfort When Weight Lifting

You shouldn’t experience pain while lifting weights, but it’s normal to feel some soreness the next day. Experts believe that as muscles are challenged by the resistance of a weight, some of their tissue breaks down. As the muscles heal, they gradually increase in strength and size. Although muscles should be worked until they are fatigued, common sense will dictate when it’s time to stop.

If you feel joint or nerve pain, or are putting a tremendous amount of strain on any part of the body, you are probably going overboard and will potentially harm yourself. As strains, sprains, and tissue damage can take weeks or even months to heal, preventing injury should be a priority.

Benefits of Weight Training for Over 50s

In general, as people grow older, their muscle fibres shrink in number and in size (atrophy) and become less sensitive to messages from the central nervous system. This contributes to a decrease in strength, balance, and coordination. Recent research has indicated that inactivity is responsible for the majority of age-associated muscle loss.

Furthermore, losing muscle is detrimental to your health and fitness because it is the component of your body that is active and burns the majority of the calories you consume. Even when you are resting, your muscles are burning calories. So, when you lose muscle mass your metabolism decreases and those extra calories that are not being burned are stored as fat.

Fortunately, resistance exercise can reverse much of this decline.

It is well known that weight training can increase bone mass, which lowers the risk of developing osteoporosis and fractures. Proper strength training doesn’t apply stress directly to joints so it is ideal for people with arthritis; indeed, rheumatologists often recommend it. Although it cannot reverse arthritic changes, lifting weights helps alleviate symptoms by strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround joints.

Resistance exercise can also help older people live independently by giving them the strength they need to perform everyday tasks. There is even evidence that resistance exercise can help people sleep better and can improve the mood of mildly to moderately depressed individuals.
To reduce the risk of falls and injury, people over 60 who haven’t recently been active should begin by strengthening their legs, arms, and trunk muscles with 3-4 weeks of weight training 2-3 times a week before walking long distances or engaging in other aerobic exercise.

Benefits of Weight Training for Over 50s Women

When women enter menopause there is a decline in the ovarian production of oestrogen and progesterone, which act as ‘controls’ for cortisol and insulin.

It is often the case that menopausal women will be more stress-sensitive, and as such, this should be factored into their exercise regime.

During intense and long-duration exercise, cortisol is produced. In order to produce a positive adaptive response to exercise, cortisol is necessary and very beneficial.

During resistance exercise in particular, the rise in anabolic hormones in combination with cortisol provide a very healthy and beneficial response, whereby the body will work to lose fat and build muscle.

Weight Training Routine for Over 50s

Here is an example of a strength training program that will work all the major muscles in your body. This routine is designed for you to do every third day. For example do this program Monday, Thursday, and Sunday etc. Spacing out this routine is important to give your body a chance to recuperate between workout sessions. Weight lifting tears down muscle fibres, so your body needs the proper recovery time to rebuild those fibres stronger.

You should do each exercise for two sets of ten repetitions with at least one minute, but no more than two minutes, between each set. For each exercise select a resistance with which the last three repetitions are difficult to complete.

Warm-up

Always warm-up before every work out session. This gets your muscles warm and ready to exercise. You can warm-up by doing at least five minutes of any type of cardiovascular activity at a slow to moderate pace. After each workout always do some stretching.

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is a great exercise for strengthening and developing the upper back muscles that are critical for good posture. People whose shoulders are slumped forward most likely have underdeveloped upper back muscles.

First, sit down and adjust the thigh pad to a position that firmly fits over your thighs. Then select a resistance with which the last three repetitions are difficult to complete. If this is your first time doing this exercise, it may take experimenting at several weights before you find the right resistance.

Next, grip the bar a little wider than shoulder width, sit down on the seat and place your knees firmly under the pad. Start with your arms fully extended and your chest held high. This is your start position. Now, pull the bar slowly down to the base of your neck while squeezing your shoulder blades back and together.

Slowly return the bar to the starting position. You should take about three seconds to pull the bar down and about two seconds to return the bar to its starting position. Proper breathing is very important, so remember to exhale as you pull the bar down and inhale as you return the bar to the starting position.

Dumbbell Chest Press

The dumbbell chest press is one of the best dumbbell exercises for developing and strengthening your chest, and the front of your shoulders. Again, you will have to experiment to select the proper weight to use.

Pick-up a dumbbell in each hand, and sit on the end of a bench. Place the dumbbells end-up on your knees, then lie back on the bench and position the dumbbells chest height at your sides. This is your start position.

Press the dumbbells up over your chest until your arms are fully extended, being careful not to lock your elbows. Slowly return the dumbbells to the start position.

Your breathing pattern is to exhale as you press up and inhale as you return to the starting position.

Lateral Dumbbell Raises

The lateral dumbbell raise develops and strengthens your shoulders. Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of you.

Position your feet shoulder width apart, slightly bend your knees, and hold your chest high. This is your starting position.

Bend your elbows slightly and raise your hands out to your sides about shoulder height (with your palms facing down).

Return to your starting position. Be careful to keep your forearm and your elbow at the same level at the finish of this movement. Your breathing pattern is to exhale as you raise your arms up and inhale as you return to start.

Leg Press

The leg press is one of the best exercises for overall strength and development of your legs. First, sit in the seat, positioning your feet about shoulder width apart and chest high on the platform.

Adjust the seat height by pulling the handle and sliding forward until your thighs are parallel to the platform. This is your start position (make sure that your lower back is pressed firmly against the back of the seat).

With your feet flat, slowly press upward until your legs are fully extended but short of locking. Slowly return to the position where the weight almost touch the weight stack.

The breathing pattern for this exercise is to exhale as you press up and inhale as you return to the start. Again, you will have to experiment to find a weight with which the last three repetitions are difficult to perform.

Step Ups

Step ups are great for developing and shaping your butt and should be part of every over 50 gym workout.

With this exercise you will do 10 repetitions on one leg followed by 10 repetitions with the other. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and position yourself in front of a bench.
Place one foot flat on top of the bench, positioning your body to make a right angle at your knee.

With your chest held high and shoulders square step up through your heel and lightly tap the bench with your other foot before returning to the starting position.

Breathing pattern for this exercise is to exhale as you step up and inhale as you step back down.

Weight Training Workouts and Exercises

Final Thoughts

The benefits to the over 50s of weight training is at least as great as it is for those in their 20s or 30s. At a time in life when muscle fibre is naturally shrinking and strength and balance starts to be compromised, resistance training for seniors provides the opportunity to reverse this process and gives you the body strength and balance to continue all your physical activities unaffected by age.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Weight Training Over 50

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