Reading Time: 7 minutes
As a personal trainer, you already know that it is possible to create lean muscle mass no matter what your age. But sometimes it is hard to convince clients of this. Society has already cemented their belief that they are doomed to muscle loss versus muscle gain.
If you find yourself in this situation, it helps to provide some tried and true methods for building muscle later in life. Here are a few to consider.
As we age, maintaining muscle mass and strength becomes increasingly important for overall health and vitality. Many individuals over the age of 50 may assume that building muscle is a pursuit reserved for the younger generation, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, with the right mindset, exercise routine, and nutrition, it's entirely possible for personal training clients to strengthen and build muscles well into their golden years.
Building muscle after 50 offers numerous benefits beyond just aesthetic appeal. It can enhance physical performance, improve bone density, boost metabolism, increase mobility, and even enhance mental well-being. By incorporating the appropriate exercises and adopting a balanced diet, individuals can embark on a journey to reclaim their strength, defy age-related stereotypes, and enjoy a life filled with vitality and vitality.
So, let's defy the notion that muscle building is solely for the young, and embark on a transformative journey that proves age is just a number when it comes to building muscle and embracing a healthy, active lifestyle.
When you firmly believe that building muscle is impossible, you’re not likely to put in the effort needed to get results. Weight training seems like a futile effort, so why give it your all?
That’s why the first step to helping 50+ clients increase their lean mass involves changing their mindset. Challenge the myths they’ve held onto when it comes to muscle gain, strength training, and age. Help them understand that muscle loss is not something they simply have to accept as they grow older.
Yes, research does indicate that people lose an average of 3-8% of their muscle mass every 10 years after turning 30, with this rate increasing at 60 years of age and beyond (1). This is referred to as sarcopenia and bone density tends to decrease as well. But that doesn’t mean that this is an absolute.
Do a quick online search for “older bodybuilders” and you will find that many people have rock-solid physiques in their older years. Like the 64-year-old woman who has won eight bodybuilding prizes or the many men over 60 who are more fit than people half their age (2, 3).
There are still many things you can do to increase your lean muscle later in life. One of them is weight training.
There is a heavy focus on aerobic exercise with age. This is because this type of exercise program helps improve heart health and can reduce an older person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. Yet, there is one other form of physical activity that is critical to building muscle. That activity is resistance training.
Lifting weights helps you build muscle. It breaks your muscle tissue down so your body can build it up again and make it even stronger. One study even found that strength training helps stop age-related muscle decline (4). That is, for as long as the person continues to lift weights.
It doesn’t have to be a heavy weight either. Following a progressive resistance training program introduces clients to weight training slowly. This type of exercise program can also help avoid injury.
When developing the strength training workout, incorporate compound exercise movements. This enables clients to work more than one muscle group at a time. That makes it helpful if they want results but don’t want to spend a lot of time at the gym. Squats with bicep curls or lunges with triceps extensions are two examples.
If clients are turned off by weight lifting, suggest that they do resistance exercise with just their body weight. Planks are good for building muscle strength in the core muscles and biceps. Push-ups strengthen the chest and back.
Muscle fiber needs protein to grow. Some of this protein is created by the body via muscle protein synthesis. This is the process the body uses to turn amino acids into muscle protein. Increasing dietary protein helps aid protein synthesis.
According to a 2015 study, eating more protein helps “counterbalance muscle loss in older individuals” (5) It works by increasing the amino acids that are available to the body to use for creating muscle protein.
This research further suggests that most older adults need more than the recommended 1.2-2 grams of protein daily per kilogram of body weight. This is partially due to amino acid availability declining with age. Also, seven to 12 of those grams should come from the branched-chain amino acid leucine.
Protein intake can be increased by eating more lean red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. If clients struggle with getting more protein in their diet, a supplement can help. They can sip on a whey protein shake after their workout, giving their body the nutrients it needs to help muscles grow.
Determining protein intake is an individual process. Take into consideration the client’s total calorie intake, give them a protein goal, and monitor their results. Continue to adjust their protein intake until you find the amount they need to build muscle mass without adding body fat.
Part of building muscle after 50 involves making sure the body has the nutrients it needs to good support muscle growth. One of these nutrients is vitamin D.
Research indicates that having adequate levels of vitamin D helps improve muscle performance in older adults (6). It also helps with balance, thereby reducing their risk of falls.
A blood test can determine whether the client needs to get more vitamin D. Suggest that they ask their healthcare provider to check their levels. If they are low, getting 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight each day can help.
Another way to increase vitamin D is by eating more salmon, sardines, or tuna. Egg yolks are also rich in this vitamin, as are mushrooms, cow’s milk, and oatmeal. If they can’t get enough vitamin D in their diet, a supplement may be recommended. Taking calcium at the same time aids in vitamin D’s absorption.
Studies show that, for many people, weight gain is synonymous with aging. The term for this is “sarcopenic obesity” (7). The more body fat you have later in life, the greater your risk of cardiovascular disease, physical disability, and early death. Having more fat also makes it harder it becomes to engage in a physical activity designed to build muscle mass.
In cases such as this, weight loss may be the best first step. Focus on burning calories via cardio exercise to begin to get the weight down. This helps the client begin to feel better and sets the stage for adding in a strength training routine.
Also help the client understand the difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats. Encourage them to include more of the former in their diet via eating avocados, nuts, and seeds. Reducing or eliminating unhealthy fats—which include saturated fats—is helpful too.
Building muscle after 50 is absolutely achievable with the right exercise regimen. Here are some exercises that can help you build muscle effectively:
Incorporate resistance training into your routine to stimulate muscle growth. Focus on compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Examples include:
Squats: Targets the lower body muscles, including quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
Deadlifts: Works the posterior chain, including the back, glutes, and hamstrings.
Bench Press: Engages the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Rows: Targets the upper back muscles.
Overhead Press: Works the shoulders and triceps.
Dumbbell or Barbell Exercises
Utilize dumbbells or barbells for exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, and lunges. These exercises help to isolate specific muscles and promote muscle growth.
Bodyweight exercises can be effective for building muscle and improving overall strength. Include exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and planks in your routine.
Stability and Balance Exercises
As you age, it's important to maintain stability and balance. Incorporate exercises such as standing on one leg, heel-to-toe walk, and yoga or Pilates movements to improve balance and stability.
Strong core muscles are important for overall stability and posture. Include exercises like planks, Russian twists, and bicycle crunches to strengthen your core.
Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts by increasing the weight, reps, or sets over time. This progressive overload will challenge your muscles and promote growth.
Proper Form and Technique
Pay attention to proper form and technique during exercises to prevent injuries and maximize the effectiveness of your workouts. If needed, consider working with a qualified fitness professional to ensure proper form.
Rest and Recovery
Allow muscles time to recover and rebuild by incorporating rest days into your training schedule. Aim for 48 to 72 hours of recovery between sessions targeting the same muscle groups.
Remember, it's important to listen to your body and work within your fitness level. If you or your client are new to exercise or have any underlying health conditions, consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified fitness trainer to design a workout plan tailored to your needs and abilities.
If your clients do all of these things and are still struggling to increase their muscle mass, genetics may be to blame. There is a link between genes and a person’s ability to build muscle. Some genes affect your body composition, for instance. Others impact the rate at which you will likely lose weight or gain lean muscle mass.
For men, testosterone levels are another gene-based factor that may negatively impact their ability to build muscle. Testosterone naturally declines with age, reducing the body’s ability to increase muscle mass.
Suggesting that the client pursue genetic testing can help determine if any of these issues are at play. They can either do this via a blood test through their doctor or, if qualified, you can do this testing yourself.
Becoming a certified DNA-Based Fitness Coach provides you the training and tools necessary to test your client’s genes. Getting your certification helps you understand the impact that genetics can have on a client’s exercise results. You’ll also learn how to use their genotype to their advantage, making it easier for them to hit all of their fitness goals.
Distinguish yourself apart from all other trainers. The DNA-Based Fitness Coach program unlocks the full potential of your clients by understanding how genetics play a role in program design. This provides greater accuracy and eliminates trial and error with clients — it's a game changer.
Volpi, E., Nazemi, R., & Fujita, S. (2004). Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 7(4), 405–410. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2
Maloney, A. (2020, November 23). Bodybuilding gran has the physique of a 30-year-old & looks younger than daughter. The Sun. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1166472/bodybuilding-gran-64-has-physique-of-a-30-year-old-and-looks-younger-than-her-daughter-after-losing-5-stone/
Cotton, G. (2015, November 17). The 8 oldest, most jacked men in the gym. Muscle & Fitness. https://www.muscleandfitness.com/features/active-lifestyle/8-oldest-most-jacked-men-training-vets-gym/
Kennis, E., Verschueren, S. M., Bogaerts, A., Van Roie, E., Boonen, S., & Delecluse, C. (2013). Long-term impact of strength training on muscle strength characteristics in older adults. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 94(11), 2054–2060. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2013.06.018
Baum, J., & Wolfe, R. (2015). The link between dietary protein intake, skeletal muscle function and health in older adults. Healthcare, 3(3), 529–543. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare3030529
Dawson-Hughes, B. (2017). Vitamin D and muscle function. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 173, 313–316. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsbmb.2017.03.018
Wannamethee, S. G., & Atkins, J. L. (2015). Muscle loss and obesity: The Health Implications of Sarcopenia and sarcopenic obesity. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 74(4), 405–412. https://doi.org/10.1017/s002966511500169x
Receive $50 off your purchase today!