Is weight lifting the key to a long and healthy life? According to the research, it may be! Research has shown strength training to offer a multitude of life-enhancing benefits that play a direct role in our standard of living during middle and old age.
Of course, we aren’t 20 forever so before jumping into a new physical activity we must be sure it is safe. Nichols et al., 1993 concluded heavy resistance training to be safe for older adults, as long as you focus on gradual progression.
It is always a good idea to start lifting weights lighter than you think you can cope with to maximise safety and minimise the risk of injury. Gaining strength is a marathon, not a sprint!
Strength Training Benefits
Sarcopenia: One of the first signs of ageing is age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. Research by Volpi, Nazemi & Fujita, 2004, found the rate of muscle loss for inactive men and woman to be around 3 - 8% per decade beyond the age of 30.
The best treatment for sarcopenia is strength or resistance training. As little as 2 to 3 sessions of progressive resistance strength training per week has been shown to increase muscle strength (Liu & Latham, 2009) which means you have no excuse not to fit it into your week!
Also, it is never too late to start strength training and fight back against age-related muscle loss! A study by
Metabolism Boost: An added benefit from the muscle gained from strength training programs is a faster metabolism. Not only is the workout itself an excellent way to burn calories but an increase in fat-free mass is linked with a higher resting metabolism (Pratley et al., 1994). This will make it easier to stay in shape and avoid weight gain
Skeletal Health: For each year an adult does not perform any form of general strength training they can experience a reduction in the density of their bone mineral by 1% to 3% (Westcott, 2012). This is medically referred to as osteoporosis and is characterised by a heightened risk of bone fractures, most commonly of the spine, hip and wrist and low bone mass (Layne & Nelson, 1999).
Fortunately, it seems strength training is an effective osteoporosis remedy as it has been found to improve bone mineral density. Mosti et al., 2014 found 12 weeks of squatting at a training intensity of 85 to 90% to generate an increase in hip and lumbar spine bone mineral density of 1 and 2.2% respectively.
Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease: Individuals aged 65 and over who performed strength training twice per week have a 46% reduction in all-cause mortality, even when all their past health and medical history was taken into account (Kraschnewski et al., 2016). Shiroma et al., 2017 concluded that strength training 2 to 3 times per week was able to reduce the rate of type 2 diabetes by 30%. A reduction of 31% in cancer-related deaths have also been linked with 2 weekly strength training sessions by the University of Sydney.
Functional Independence: Possibly the greatest benefit resulting from strength training is its ability to improve and maintain our quality of life through physical independence. Joints supported by stronger muscles have been shown to improve posture and reduce the chance of falling via improved balance (Unhjem et al., 2015) which is a significant cause of injury as we age. In fact, fall-related injuries increase significantly from the age of 50, with 30% of people aged 65 and up falling at least once every year (Orr, Raymond & Singh 2008).
Strength training 2 to 3 times per week was also found to have a positive effect in reducing the pain reported by participants with osteoarthritis (Liu & Latham, 2009).
Strength Exercise Program
Now we understand the scientifically backed benefits of strength training let’s take a look at the most efficient strength building exercises.
Performing bicep curls all day long won't do much for your strength. When structuring your strength training routine it is important to involve all the major muscles of the body.
Neglecting one can lead to imbalances in your physique which will not only leave you with a disproportionate physique but also increase the likelihood of injury resulting from muscular imbalances.
If you are in it for the long game avoiding injuries becomes a priority. Being consistent and training with good form will supercharge your results and promote muscle mass.
Lower Body Strength Routine
Deadlifts: Place your feet slightly narrower than shoulder width apart and your shins 2 inches away from the barbell. Reach down and grab the bar shoulder width apart. Brace your core, maintaining a ridged spine pull the bar from the floor focusing on squeezing your glutes and bringing your hips through.
Back Squat: With the barbell resting atop your traps and feet roughly shoulder width apart, break at the knees and hips lowering until your hip crease is parallel to the top of your knee then explode back up. Push through the floor with your mid-foot.
Weighted Walking Lunges: This can be performed by either holding a weight in each hand or with a barbell across your back. Try to tap the knee of your non-lunging leg onto the ground before stepping forward. This is more of an accessory exercise to the two above but it is still a great exercise for strengthening the lower body. For this exercise, remain in the 8 – 12 rep range per leg through the entirety of your strength cycle but of course still aim to add weight each week!
Upper Body Strength Routine
To ensure a progressive increase in muscle strength the intensity of the exercises will have to be gradually adapted. This would involve starting at around 65% of your maximum for 3 – 5 sets of 10 to 12.
After 2 – 4 weeks of training when you are handling weights in the 70-80% range lower the reps to 6 – 8. At 85% and beyond you may have to lower the reps to 3 – 5. After 12 weeks of training, reset the weight. See below a basic outline to follow.
12 Week Progression Guide
Week 1 – 3: Sets of 10 – 12 reps starting at 65% of your max
Week 4: Deload
Week 5 – 7: Sets of 6 – 10 reps with 75 – 85% of your max
Week 8: Test / Deload
Week 9 – 11: Sets of 3 – 4 reps with 80 – 90%
Week 12: Test new maxes
Perform 3 – 5 sets for each exercise and add weight (2.5 – 5kg) each session. Rest between sets is as much as you need to bring your heart rate down, aim for anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes. Perform each session 1 to 2 times per week.
Training at Home
Not all of us have access to a commercial gym or have the time to get to one, while others just don’t find the gym appealing. Fortunately, there is a solution, training at home! It doesn't involve any complicated or expensive weight machines neither.
To make this a possibility there are a few key pieces of equipment that you need to invest in, let’s take a look.
Essential Items for Strength Training at Home (All available in the US on amazon.com)
Dumbbell Set: A staple when it comes to strength training and perfect for those looking to incorporate dumbbells into a variety of strength building movements. The following excellent Neoprene option will do the trick for most beginners.
For those looking for more of a challenge, I would suggest this set of adjustable dumbbells that allow you greater flexibility when it comes to the weight. They are available in options from 2 x 20lbs all the way up to 2 x 100lb.
Kettlebells: A great variation that can be used for a wide variety of movements. These kettlebells by Yes4All are well priced and offer a variety of weight combinations to suit your needs.
Resistance bands: An often overlooked but brilliant tool for your strength training needs. These cheap resistance band sets from TRIBE are super reliable with their anti-snap technology and suitable for a wide range of strength exercises.
Free weights and resistance bands is all you need for your home workout routines. You can accomplish so much from lowering body fat, losing weight and also increasing your strength and muscle mass. Lean muscle can be achieved with this next full body workout circuit as long as your diet is in check.
Home Strength Training Circuit
Here is a strength training routine you can perform at home using a combination of the above equipment.
Strength training has been shown to improve many aspects of our life from the age of 30 and beyond from its ability to stop age-related muscle loss, improve body composition, managing body weight, and importantly to help reduce the risk factors associated with life-threatening diseases and maintain our physical independence into old age.
Remember, age is no barrier to weight training. No matter your age, whether 30 or 80, starting strength training today is certain to benefit your health and quality of life.