Lifting weights is an all-around beneficial experience. Some may lift weights for masters sports, some may lift weights for competition, or some may just lift weights to look good, feel good and be healthy. Regardless of your reasoning, weightlifting after 55 has many benefits.
This is a time in life where you may not be thinking about lifting weights. Some may think it is bad for their back or bad for their knees. These are all misconceptions. The truth is, you need to be lifting weights and resistance training after 55.
Here’s our beginners guide to weightlifting after 55!
Why It’s Useful to Weightlift After 55
Maintain Muscle Mass
As you age, muscle mass can begin to decrease. This is called sarcopenia or the degenerative loss of muscle mass. One way to combat this is to participate in weightlifting. Weightlifting helps to increase muscle mass and prevent the loss of muscle.
By providing the stimulus that lifting weights supplies, the body will be forced to adapt. As you lift weights, the muscles are broken down and acute forms of damage are done. This broken-down muscle is then built up even stronger and more resilient.
Weightlifting is also useful for fast loss. Fat loss happens when we are burning more calories than we are putting in. Lifting weights is a great vehicle to make this happen.
As you are lifting weights, you are increasing your heart rate and the strain on the body. The body has to work to repair and re-establish homeostasis, and this process consumes a large amount of energy.
This type of training also has somewhat of an after-burn effect. For a long period of time after a weightlifting session, an individual will continue to burn calories.
Bone & Joint Health
As someone 55 years of age or older, a worry is that weightlifting will injure you or hurt your joints. This is not actually true. Weightlifting can actually enhance the structure of your bones and joints.
The pressure that the added weights apply force these structures to adapt. They end up remodeling themselves and becoming stronger than they were before.
There are plenty of weightlifters who are much older than 55 and have no issues whatsoever. The movements are not hazardous. They are only hazardous when done incorrectly.
Mobility & Flexibility
Lifting weights can be very beneficial for mobility as well. As you age, you may feel as if you aren’t as mobile as you were before. Certain positions may not feel as comfortable or you may even have trouble getting there.
Weightlifting is great for improving this. It has been said that if you don’t use it, then you will lose it.
If you never practice getting stronger in certain ranges of motion, then you will eventually lose it. This is where weightlifting can come in and help out.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
It is thought that someone who only does weightlifting is “out of shape”, however, workouts can be structured to enhance cardiovascular ability as well. The cardiovascular system is taxed pretty well when lifting weights and is great for the body.
Overall, weightlifting is a great addition for an individual looking to get healthy. It is especially great for someone who is 55 and older looking to build muscle, lose fat, or just get healthier.
How a Training Session Should Work
Whether you are a beginner to weightlifting or you are a seasoned veteran, there is an appropriate way to train. At an older age it is important to do things the right way as to avoid injury.
First, you need to know what you are going to work out that day. You may have a program that you follow or maybe you just wing it. Regardless, it helps to know what movements you are going to be performing.
This is important because you are going to design your warm up around it. Generally, the warm up is designed to get your heart rate up and increase blood flow to the muscle being worked that day. You wouldn’t want to warm up biceps if you are working on calves.
Designing a warm up is easy, just mimic some of the movements that you are going to be doing that day. If you are squatting, then make sure there are some sort of squatting patterns in your warm up.
From there I would target any areas that you are having trouble with. You may have sat all day and have tight hips. You can address this in a warm up. You then need to do some activity to increase your heart rate. Any form of cardio or fast activity will easily accomplish this.
Next on the list is getting some reps at a light weight. For any of the desired movements, we never want to jump straight to the heavy stuff.
To make sure that you are prepared, you are going to want to go through it with something a little lighter. This is going to ensure that you are primed to take on the heavier stuff in your workout. Some higher reps at a lighter weight should do just fine.
After you have worked your way up with some lighter sets, you can then start with your working sets. These are the sets you will do at the desired weight.
You should feel primed and ready to go for these. Just a rule of thumb, these do not need to be maximum weights. You should do reps and sets at a weight that feels difficult, but that you don’t fail on.
Once all of the hard stuff is out of the way, it is now time to cool it down. This time can be comprised of some slow cardio and stretching. The added cardio will help to flush blood through the muscle.
This gets out a lot of the lactic acid and jumpstarts the recovery process. Stretching will help keep the muscles from getting overly tight as the day goes on. It doesn’t have to be a yoga session but you should stretch with a purpose.
Weightlifting After 55: How to Progress
You may be someone looking to progress your lifts, even at 55 or older. This is great, and super achievable.
You just have to be strategic about it. Progression can be looked at on a graph, and it will need to show up as linear. This concept is one of the greatest for making jumps with lifts. The basis of it is that you start at one weight and slowly work your way up.
For example, if I am doing 5 set of 5 reps on back squat using 205lbs; the next time I would want to try and use 210lbs to progressively overload my body. Over time this will make incremental gains in strength or whatever quality you are training. This is called progressive overload.
There are two variables that you can manipulate for progression. They are volume and intensity. Volume is the added number of reps times weight. This number is essentially the total poundage and stimulus that you are giving the body. It really comes down to the reps.
Intensity, however, is more so the strain on the body and nervous system. A good way to think of this is, rate of perceived effort. If something felt really heavy and hard, then it was probably more intense. Weight is always a good measure of intensity.
Since this article is for older adults, it is recommended that you make smart changes to these variables. Some things may be harder to recover from so just be smart when choosing the weights to go for. You may have been able to jump 20 pounds at a time in your 20’s, but now you may be looking at 5-pound increases. Remember, progress is still progress.
As you age, nutrition is going to be a key component. You may have to pay more attention to it in regard to weightlifting and recovery.
The biggest help is going to be a high protein intake. This will ensure that you are getting fully recovered from your training.
Vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats are also going to help by providing you the proper micronutrients for success. Many of the processes that go into fat loss or muscle building are fueled by vitamins and minerals.
A good diet to follow, especially after 55 is the Mediterranean diet. This diet is full of protein, and plenty of plant sources. Not only does it assist in recovery from workouts, but it also helps to keep weight off, fix blood lipid levels, and make the heart healthy.
Really any diet centered around protein is going to be great for weightlifting.
Starting Strength is a great program to follow. This is the most basic form of linear progression out there. It can be molded around any goal for weightlifting.
You just choose the movements and follow the format to get where you want to be. It is common for people to add large amounts of weight to their maxes with this method. Some of the highlights are:
- Easy to follow
- Continuous progression
- Can be adapted to any movement
- Easily repeatable
The Texas Method is a favorite of many. This is a popular program for athletes but works extremely well for any population (including 55 or over). It is similar to the Starting Strength program, except it just has a different structure. Some highlights of this program:
- Can be a little more complex
- Gives great linear progression
- Not as easy to track
- Can be a little tougher with workout load
Weightlifting after 55 may seem intimidating, but it really isn’t. You just have to start, and this is a great place to start. Weightlifting has a multitude of benefits such as increased muscle mass, fat loss, and overall improvements of health. For males, it can help increase testosterone levels as well.
It has may ways of helping you reach those desired outcomes, but they are all connected. Nutrition does play a part in all of this, but the main thing is to get enough protein.
Just make sure to progress things appropriately and structure your workouts well. Hiring a personal trainer or attending a few group sessions may help to learn the basics.
Remember, your workouts need to include a warm up, sets with light weight, working sets, and a cool down. If you do all of this correctly, then weightlifting after 55 will be fun and rewarding.
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