Aging can have negative effects on muscle. Many studies have shown that adults who are not doing exercise designed to prevent muscle loss tend to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade. Most folks are pretty familiar with this age-related muscle loss (called sarcopenia) and think it is a foregone conclusion that they need to lose muscle as they age. This is simply not true. Aging has many additional effects that may impact muscle growth these include: hormonal changes, metabolic changes (insulin resistance, excessive body fat, inflammation etc) and neurological changes. Yet, studies have shown that most of these can be counteracted. It will probably not surprise you that healthy nutrition, the right kind of exercise and appropriate recovery are the prescription.
Gaining muscle and preventing muscle loss is possible no matter your age. The basics are the same and they start with healthy nutrition.Most adults are not getting enough protein to protect their existing muscle and definitely not enough to gain more muscle. If you want to gain muscle you need get more protein. Let me say that again, you need more protein. For most people with healthy organs, the RDA intake of .8g/kg or .36g/lb is woefully short of the mark. We normally suggest that most of our clients start at around 1g/lb of lean body mass they are trying to support or attain. It is pretty simple, without the proper building blocks, the body will not build or maintain muscle. How much you need will depend on your lean body mass, your metabolic rate, your daily activity, and how hard/often you are working out. If you want accurate measurements you need to get tested.
The second part of gaining muscle and maintaining strength is intelligent resistance training. No matter your age, sex, height, weight, day of the month you were born…you need to do resistance training to gain or maintain strength and muscle mass. Just as importantly without exposure to resistance training, you will also likely lose bone mass as well. You need an intelligently designed program that includes bodyweight exercise as well as weight training. The number of sets and reps should provide adequate stimulus for muscle growth. Each person is different and we highly recommend working with a coach. Study after study has shown that resistance training alone is almost as effective in anti-aging as hormone replacement therapy with none of the side effects. Bottom line. If you have normal hormone levels for your age and if you want to gain muscle, an intelligently designed weight lifting program will get you there. No matter your age.
The last big part of gaining muscle at YOUR age is to ensure that you have adequate rest and recovery. This is probably one of the things that will change the most when you adjust for age. To be direct, you can work your young self a lot harder with less recovery than you can your older self. Metabolically and hormonally you adapt more quickly when you are younger. Each person is different, but in general, this looks like more recovery days, more days of lower intensity and additional focus on other modes of recovery (chiropractic, physical therapy, yoga, etc). Perhaps the biggest thing any athlete of any age can work on is to ensure they are getting enough quality sleep. This can be extremely hard when life, family, job and other pressures kick in. For the older athlete, quality sleep is key.
You can gain muscle at any age. It can be harder and it often helps to get the assistance of a qualified coach. The keys are the same: healthy nutrition, intelligent exercise (resistance) and adequate recovery.
We have helped hundreds of folks of all ages with nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle. We can help you.
Schedule an appointment, get an assessment, get your customized plan, and get results.
Client: “I want to tone up and lose some weight, abs would be great… But, I don’t want to get bulky. I’ve heard that lifting weights will make you bulky… Can I just do cardio?”
Me: “Whew…I am so glad we are just going to focus on getting in shape because getting bulky is a LOT MORE WORK!”
All snarkasm aside, healthy/sexy/good looking body composition is a journey for all of us. Like any journey where you are starting and your destination are key to figuring out the best route to take. (Spoiler alert…no, weights won’t make you bulky, they will make you sexy)
Let’s talk about healthy weight loss and more importantly what makes you look better naked. The science is pretty clear. Muscle burns about 3x more calories than fat does when you are at rest. What that means is that if you increase your lean body mass (muscle) you have a higher resting metabolic rate and an increased daily calorie burn. Additionally, when you do resistance training (weights) you continue to burn excess calories long after the workout stops. This is required for your muscles to repair replenish and yes…grow. So, in short, you want to gain muscle in order to burn more calories. Almost all research shows that successful long term weight loss COMBINES strength training with nutrition.
Let’s also be real. Muscle also looks better than fat, and normally due to hormonal differences in women, muscle gain is sleek and not bulky. In fact, when men or women WANT to get bulky (for sport or competition) it usually requires dedicated effort, specialized workouts (in many cases this is multiple sessions per day) and eating a lot more. Folks that bodybuild have a saying “You gotta eat big to get big” and it is really a lot of work.
Despite what you see on Insta there is no perfect body type and each person is different. Your existing body type, percent body fat, weight, genetics, hormones, stress, lifestyle, previous experience, injury history, health history, etc all play a big role in how YOUR body stores and loses both fat and muscle. These factors also impact how fast you will lose fat, gain muscle or get in shape. They also are huge in determining is the best nutrition plan that works to achieve your goals. Just because some Insta influencer is eating the “All Cheerios Diet,” is tight rope walking and has great abs, doesn’t mean that it is healthy, effective or the best plan for you.
Lifting weights and strength training will not in itself make you bulky. As a part of a comprehensive plan including diet and other forms of exercise, strength training will help you to be stronger, look great and feel awesome.
Want a customized plan? Need help? Just want to talk more about getting bulky?
“ The deadlift is unrivaled in its simplicity and impact while unique in its capacity for increasing head-to-toe strength.” Coach Greg Glassman – CrossFit Journal 12, August 2003
The best part of the CFJ 12 is the conversation between Coach and Doctor about why someone who is “elderly, marginally ambulatory and frail” should learn to deadlift. It is one of my favorites.
From CFJ 12:
(Transcript of actual conversation) Doc: Many of my patients shouldn’t be doing
the deadlift. Coach: Which ones are those, Doc? Doc: Many are elderly, marginally ambulatory,
and frail/feeble and osteoporotic. Coach: Doc, would you let such a patient, let’s say
an old woman, walk to the store to get cat
food? Doc: Sure, If the walk weren’t too far, I’d
endorse it. Coach: All right, suppose after walking home she
came up to the front door and realized
that her keys were in her pocket. Is she
medically cleared to set the bag down, get
her keys out of her pocket, unlock the
door, pick the bag back up, and go in? Doc: Of course, that’s an essential activity Coach: As I see it the only difference between us
is that I want to show her how to do this
“essential activity” safely and soundly and
you don’t. Doc: I see where you’re going. Good point. Coach: Doc, we haven’t scratched the surface.
Because I know you won’t read it, here is the tl/dr on CFJ 12:
We deadlift because:
It is essentially a functional movement. There are many instances in life where we need to pick up/put down things.
It is unparalleled in developing core strength.
Like the back squat, the fact that you are able to lift heavy loads creates an important hormonal response that helps develop muscle, tendon and bone strength throughout the body.
It is whole body in nature.
OK, so the question becomes…why do we straight bar DL instead of using a Hex Bar/Trap Bar DL?
In his article “ Almost No One Should Straight Bar Deadlift” Mike Boyle does not say anything that contradicts any of this. His belief is not that we should not deadlift, but that we should primarily use the Trap or Hex Bar instead of a straight bar for various reasons.
The Hex Bar/Trap Bar is a useful tool. It has the ability to start in a higher position (side with handles) and it also does not dictate that the athlete loads the ‘posterior chain’ (glutes, hamstrings) as much as a straight bar. It allows a very upright back and it is really more of a squat than a deadlift. It is also much more forgiving for a beginner because the knees can move forward, like a squat. Also, truly many folks will be able to lift more weight than a traditional deadlift. However, since it is more like a squat it is probably best used as an accessory lift rather than a primary lift.
Some of the disadvantages of a Hex/Trap bar vs a traditional bar.
Learning to load correctly and move the bar correctly with respect to the bar has carryover into the Olympic lifts and life. Keeping a weight closer to the center of gravity, loading the hips and hamstrings is the safest way to pull anything.
The Trap bar does not require the core to be stabilized (as much) during the initial lift which leads to a false sense of security.
The lockout position with the weight hanging in the hands away from the body is highly unstable and can create a large side to side force on the lumbar spine. Whereas the lockout position on the straight bar is highly stable, bar resting against the upper thigh bodyweight holding it stable.
Although many can lift more with a trap bar, this breaks down a bit because folks can also lift more off of blocks or pins.
Finally addressing some of Mike’s concerns with the straight bar deadlift.
Keeping your biceps safe:
If you use a reverse grip keep your arms straight.
Use a variety of grips
Learn to hookgrip correctly. Use tape.
Use straps for higher reps.
Dragging your shins:
Control the bar
Wear sweats, socks or something similar
Set up with your legs on the smooth part of the bar
Get good coaching
Learn the right start position
Load the entire body, don’t just take a gulp of air
A straight bar deadlift is a great, safe, effective and efficient tool to achieve great gains in strength and fitness. When properly executed it is really unparalleled in its ability to promote most of the adaptations we desire. The hex/trap bar deadlift is a different movement, just like dumbbell movement, Romanian deadlift, straight leg deadlift or even a hip thrust. Different. It is a good movement, but different. We can use both but still choose to prioritize the straight bar deadlift.
Just as Coach Glassman has said, “The deadlift, like the squat, is an essential functional movement and carries a potent hormonal punch. This is core training like no other.”