Introduction

Past the age of 30, we undergo age related muscle atrophy known as sarcopenia. This is a gradual decline in muscle mass and strength. With the use of resistance training, we can offset or even reverse this process, affording us increased functionality, improved body composition and a healthy metabolic rate.

 

Overcoming barriers

In my work, I’ve heard many misconceptions about strength training. People often dismiss the practice with the false belief that it’s only relevant to bodybuilders and athletes. Whilst it certainly has its place in physique training and sports performance, its functional benefits are sometimes overlooked. Every muscle in our body has a functional purpose and to maintain these functions requires frequent muscular stimulus. 

I’ve also come across the idea that we cannot increase our strength once we’ve passed a certain age. Whilst we do experience decreased levels of protein synthesis and growth hormone with age, we still maintain the ability to make significant improvements to our strength. This is particularly true if you are starting from scratch or haven’t engaged in resistance training throughout your life. Noticeable results can be experienced early on in a strength based program due to neuromuscular adaptations which cause more muscle fibers to be recruited than previously. Beyond this initial adaptation we can continue to make improvements by remaining consistent and progressively overloading. This means to gradually increase the intensity of your workout either by doing more reps, using a greater resistance or adding another new element of challenge such as a pause or controlling the speed of each rep. It’s suggested that we can increase our strength by 25-100% with the implementation of a sound training program. 

Fears and apprehensions amongst beginners are very common. One that stands out is the fear that it is too intense and will likely cause injury. My response is simply to work within the your limits. Whilst progressive overload is important, it has to be incremental. 

Another fear is of becoming excessively bulky. This is a very unlikely outcome unless your taking it particularly seriously so it’s not worth worrying about. 

 

Where to start

A good start is to establish which exercises you’re going to do. In most cases it’s worth aiming to target all of the major muscle groups of the body. You may however, choose to put more emphasis on certain areas where you have particular weakness. It’s also good to prioritize postural muscles including the abdominals and back as this will have transferability into stability and balance. 

Whichever exercises you choose, the main thing is that you are comfortable with them and that you feel they are appropriate for your individual needs and ability level. Bodyweight exercises can be a little bit less daunting and provide a gateway into training. Once you’re more familiar with the movements, you can introduce some dumbbells or even water bottles to create resistance. 

The next step is to think about how often you are going to train. The NHS recommends that over the age of 65, we aim to engage exercise which challenges strength, at least 2 times a week. I personally think that 3 is ideal if you can manage it. 

In my life, I set aside specific time slots for exercise. If I don’t do this, I find that it’s very easy to forget or just to get caught up in other stuff that’s going on. If an pre-planned and structured workout feels like an unrealistic target then the alternative is to do little blocks of exercise throughout the day in between other activities. You could do some high knees whilst your eggs are scrambling, a few lying leg raises in bed before you get up, some overhead pressing whilst you’re brushing your teeth or even a few crunches whilst your sitting in traffic. The options are endless so just find what works for you and your routine.

 

Diet and rest

I ought to talk about diet and rest because they are such a key components of increasing muscles mass and strength.

Weight training alone doesn’t build muscle. It actually creates micro tears in our muscle fibers. The process of growth and repair happens when we rest and eat, particularly when we eat protein. Protein consumption initiates what’s called protein synthesis where muscle fibers are repaired in such a way that makes them bigger and stronger. This is our bodies way of adapting to a new set of challenges that we’ve placed on it. 

I personally try to have one good protein source with each meal. This is a really easy way to keep on top of it. So for example, I would rarely just have cereal for breakfast and would more likely go for a yogurt or eggs. It’s just a case of becoming a little more conscious of how much protein you are consuming across the day. 

Protein sources can include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, tofu and pulses like chickpeas and kidney beans.

 

Summary

Perform exercises which are suitable for you ability level, progressively overload over a period of time to avoid plateauing, find ways in which you can implement strength exercise into your day with minimal friction, have adequate rest so that you’re not over training, consume enough protein to facilitate protein synthesis and finally……. try to enjoy the process.