“I feel the same way I did when I was walking shirtless on the beach about 40 years ago. I can tell you, I always caught girls staring with the corner of my eyes.” That was my client´s Dan reply to a simple “how are you?” question. At that point, me and Dan have been working together for about 6 months. He had gained 10lbs of muscle mass since the time we started. His strength gains have come a long way and progress was obvious.
So next time you wonder:” Can a 65 year old man build muscle?”, the answer is absolutely yes! In fact, if you take in the account some of the points discussed below, it really isn’t that hard. Me and Dan did not do anything out of ordinary. He is not a freak of nature with crazy good genetics, he is just a normal guy with enough motivation to improve himself.
Dan came to me with a goal to improve muscle mass. He used to be an athlete and comparing his body from his 20’s to now was like comparing comic book to a book on “How to Understand Women” (His words not mine). He has never been diagnosed with sarcopenia but had all the symptoms. Dan was just about to retire, therefore he said he needs a project to keep his mind occupied. He made an excellent choice in choosing his retirement project; he chose himself.
1. Prevents/controls chronic condition (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, back pain…)
Exercise will increase blood flow and therefore oxygen flow through your body. That will work in order to repair/replace your body cells.
2. Increased bone density reduce risk of osteoporosis
Placing “healthy stress” on your body through resistance training promotes bone mass and joint health.
3. Improve sleep and avoids insomnia
Post exercise temperature drop is one of the reason why it is easier to fall asleep after exercising.
Working with Dan had to be approached differently. just like prison is not just a room, age is not just a number. When it comes to exercising and gaining muscle mass it is a limiting factor. There are few points that should be considered before starting a gym regiment:
Age will slow down the process for your body to get warm. Not just that, older joints need more time to be lubricated. Warming up releases synovial fluid which brings oxygen and nutrients into joints.
Dan started every workout on elliptical for 10 minutes before doing anything else.
Balance decreases drastically with old age. That is due visual, vestibular and somatosensory systems not communicating well with each other. Therefore, seniors are more likely fall. Combine falling with osteoporosis and we can quickly end up with a broken bone. But you are in luck! Resistance training will help both balance and osteoporosis.
Every workout, Dan would have at least one exercise that would be unilateral. This means that it is done with only one limb at the time, putting the body in more unstable position.
It is rare to see old person with a big butt. Butt muscle consists of Glute medius and Glute maximus. The ladder represent body’s largest muscle which is responsible for good upright posture. Glute medius is responsible for any side movements. Lack of strength and size of butt muscle will guarantee low back pain. That is due to back doing all the work instead of muscles around it helping it. In my opinion, that makes the butt most important muscle to train in older individuals.
Static Exercises or isometric exercises are when you are tensing your muscles without any movement. Good example for that is a plank exercise. It is a great way to work around injuries, however it is not the best option for senior citizens due to increase in blood pressure afterwards. Therefore, if you are already suffering from hypertension stay away from isometrics.
Quick shock-absorbing motions are not good news for joint health. Younger athletes often get injured due to their coaching turning plyometric session into cardio session. Imagine what that kind of workload would do to a degraded 50 year older joint. I cut plyometric work completely from senior’s workout regime and instead focus on working of exercises with full range of motion
Alright, that one is shocking right? Let’s take a step back and think about number one factor why older adults NEED to exercise. In my opinion, it is to apply strength into their everyday life. Sitting down, using exercise machine and working one muscle at the time is NOT helping with that. When using machines, muscle groups do not communicate with each other as well as they could and should. Therefore, while you might add muscle mass, you are not working on improving functionality of your body.
I understand the benefit of machines. It is easy to learn, there is low risk of injury and it are easy to do. In my opinion, you might as well bring a coffee and a newspaper while you are at it.
The time in the gym could be used way better by performing exercises that are applicable into everyday life.
“But free weight exercise requires a lot of technique. What if I am doing it wrong?”
The beauty of internet is that you can find everything there. Youtube the exercises below and watch technique video guides (I will add a link). Still unsure about your technique? Schedule an hour with your local personal trainer and have your questions ready.
Dan has been a big fan of machines before he met me. He has told me how he usually got stronger at a certain machine and would then be stuck at the same weight for months. We talked about how lack of variation is the reason for lack of progression. With free weight exercises he still plateau, however we always manage to get out it through changing exercises.
I like to divide my strength training for senior adults into three groups: Core, Lower body, Upper body.
Core muscles are the belly muscles and muscle in your mid a lower back. When an individual fall, those muscles will play a big role in helping individual stand up again. The following exercises will help you to train your core.
1. DOWN-DOG PREP
2. PALLOF PRESS
3. FIRST PHASE OF TURKISH GET-UP
4. SIT UPS
1. TRX SQUAT
2. REVERSE LUNGE STEP UPS (UNILATERAL)
3. GOBLET SQUAT
4. SLED PUSH/PULL
5.BARBELL GLUTE BRIDGES
6. DEADLIFT (Correct technique!!!)
7. GOOD MORNINGS
1. DUMBELL CHEST PRESS
2. PUSHUP VARIATION
3.BENT OVER ROWS
4. LAT PULLDOWN
5. AUSTRALIAN ROW
6. SLED PUSH/PULL
As you probably already know, building muscle will also require changing some things in the kitchen. Higher protein intake is needed.
“Resistance training creates microtears in our muscle fibers. Those micro-tears can only be recovered by amino acids. Protein consists of bunch of amino acids, and that is why you need protein for muscle recovery. Whenever amino-acid recover micro tears, it also makes your muscle little bit stronger and bigger. That is ONLY possible if we have enough protein in our diet.”
Dan and I did not count calories. However, we did change some nutritional habits that he had. For the first part, we had to increase his carbohydrate intake. We did that by adding two different snacks into his diet. What is more, we had to increase his protein intake. He purchased a protein supplements that he swears by. If you want to read more about it, I have written an article about Protein Supplements for Seniors.
Building muscle for men over 65 is little bit trickier. The limitations are bigger, therefore elderly need to be careful before starting their training regime.
Dan is a living example that it is totally possible to change your physique even though you are not 20 anymore. Do not spend your retirement years in front of television. Find yourself a project or a hobby. And why not picking the most important project out there? Pick yourself. So next time you ask yourself:” Can I, 65-year-old man, build muscle?” know that there is no doubt about the answer.
The only thing you need is a will to do so. So, a better question would be: “Do I have enough determination to do so?
Do not make the same mistake as majority. Do not think too long to give the answer.
LIFT, EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT!
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