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How to Build Muscle After 60

By Kim Nunley

Men and women over 60 can build muscle with a high-volume strength-training program. While older adults don’t build muscle as quickly as younger ones, they will still see notable increases with appropriate training. Lifting weights benefits those over 60 because it helps limit muscle loss, builds strength, boosts metabolic rate, decreases low back and arthritic pain, increases bone density and supports cardiorespiratory health.

A Workout to Build Muscle

A workout designed to develop mass features a relatively high number of sets and reps, because this high volume breaks down your muscle tissues and stimulates the muscle-building process. Muscles take longer to heal in older adults, so schedule two weight-training workouts per week and give 72 to 96 hours of rest between each one. If you’re only starting to lift, begin by doing one set of eight to 12 reps of each exercise. After consistently training for four weeks, bump it up to two or three sets, which increases training volume and further supports muscle growth. Add on sets gradually by doing multiple sets of only certain exercises at first, rather than increasing sets of all the exercises at the same time. Begin each workout with five minutes of walking and 10 reps each of arm circles, torso twists and bodyweight squats to warm up your muscles.

Exercise Selection

Put together a battery of exercises that target all the major muscle groups. Free weight exercises, which use dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells, are more effective for muscle building. Plus, they’re considered functional exercises because their strength and coordination benefits transfer to real-life movements. Target your lower body muscles with squats, lunges, leg presses, deadlifts and calf raises. Work your upper body muscles with bench presses, lateral raises, pulldowns, rows, biceps curls and triceps pushdowns. For your core, use crunches, trunk curls and trunk extensions.

Picking an Appropriate Weight

While the amount of weight you can lift naturally decreases with age, the rule of selecting the right weight doesn’t change. Exercise science specialist Thomas R. Baechle recommends a load of 70 to 80 percent of your one-repetition maximum, or the heaviest load you could lift one time, for providing a high strength stimulus and yet a low injury risk. To easily and safely determine this weight range, pick a weight for each exercise that makes it challenging to complete a set and yet never makes you feel as though you’ll lose control. If you struggle before reaching rep number eight, lighten the weight. If you’re able to comfortably complete more than 12 reps, bump up the weight.

Individualizing Your Program

Lifters older than 60 may have health concerns that may affect their lifting routine. Women naturally lose bone density with age and should take precautions to very gradually increase sets and weights to allow time for their bone tissue to adapt to the stress. Weight training, most specifically weight-bearing exercises like squats, benefits women with low bone density, as it stimulates bone growth. For men and women who suffer from low back pain, a single set of lumbar extensions added to a workout one day per week can help alleviate pain discomfort due to back weakness. Those with arthritis can be rest assured that regular weight training is not only safe but can help to reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

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