Whether you are a longtime exerciser or finally getting around to getting off the couch, strength training is an essential part of your fitness routine. A man over 50 doesn't necessarily have to approach strength training differently from other age groups. The strategy and frequency depends on your goals and current fitness level. Never use the excuse that you are too old to start. With dedication, men in their 50s who have not done any strength training previously can expect big results.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises adults, including those over age 50, to fit in a minimum of two strength-training sessions weekly. Each of these sessions should address the entire body, including the hips, legs, abdominals, chest, back, arms and shoulders. One set of eight to 12 repetitions using a weight that makes the last few repetitions difficult to do with proper form is sufficient for health, but if you want to see more muscle gain, you'll need to do multiple sets.
As you age, you naturally lose muscle mass. Strength training helps you offset the 5 to 7 pounds of muscle you lose every 10 years once you pass the 50-year benchmark, Wayne L. Westcott and Thomas R. Baechle explain in the book "Strength Training Past 50." If you find you can't eat the way you did in your 20s and 30s without gaining weight, strength training can help. Muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat, so you boost your energy burn by as much as 7 percent in just three months of regular training. You even may lose accumulated middle-age spread.
Strengthening your muscles has benefits that extend beyond the surface. Regular strength training increases your bone density, reducing your risk of osteoporosis and weakness as you age, and it decreases your risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, arthritis and back pain. If you already have one or more of these conditions, strength training can help you manage the symptoms and prevent further complications.
The type of program a man in his 50s follows really depends on whether he is seeking general fitness, planning to do endurance sports or enter a bodybuilding competition. The protocol for these goals is similar for any age group, so consult a trainer to help you design a program that is right for you. If you have never formally stepped onto the gym floor, Joe Turcotte, a certified strength and conditioning specialist with Lifetime Fitness in Colorado Springs, Colorado, recommends starting with weight machines, which help you develop proper form because they move you through a fixed range of motion. Older men also should participate in strength training that involves neuromuscular conditioning, such as balance and body weight exercises, before moving on to free weights.
A man over 50 does have to be careful and avoid doing too much strength training, Turcotte warns. Someone in his 20s may be able to train specific muscle groups three or more times per week; however, when you reach your 50s, your recovery time is naturally slower. This is especially true if you've never strength trained before. Leave a minimum of two days between training for specific muscle groups. You'll reduce your risk of injury and maximize recovery so your muscle grow stronger.
Before beginning a strength training program, get clearance from a physician. Turcotte notes that your risk of injury is slightly higher when you start training in your 50s, and you have a longer recuperation time if you should experience a strain or pull. Proper nutrition also helps you get the best results, Turcotte advises. For example, consume high-quality protein, such as whey, right after training to help with recovery and promote muscle growth.