Weight Training for the Aging

Weight training has a host of positive benefits for the aging individual, many of which help to slow down and even reverse many of the undesirable changes associated with aging.


I'm not exactly sure who coined the phrase "fountain of youth", but he or she may have very well been referring to the benefits associated with resistive weight training. Resistive weight training has a host of positive effects for the aging individual. The numerous studies conducted to evaluate the effects of weight training in the aging have shown weight training to be extremely beneficial to individuals well into their 90’s.

One such study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 100 frail men and women in their 80’s and 90’s, all of whom had generalized arthritis, some degree of heart disease, and at least one chronic illness. After 10 weeks of weight training the mean strength increase was near 120%. This and other studies have dissipated the belief that age may preclude one from lifting weights and has brought to our attention the importance of weight training for all ages, especially those over 40.

Maximum muscle size and strength generally occurs between the ages of 20 and 30. Thereafter, there is a progressive decline in muscular size and as a result, strength. Weight training is an effective tool for preventing and recovering some of these muscular losses associated with aging. Many determined older individuals have initiated a resistive weight training regimen later in life and were able to surpass the muscular size and strength they possessed in their youth.

Other benefits associated with weight training include increased metabolic rate, increased energy, increased flexibility, increased sense of well being, increased bone density, increased strength of connective tissue, not to mention the positive effects on the cardiovascular system. In fact, these are the very things we are in extreme jeopardy of losing as we age. By simply following a moderate weight training regimen a number of these age related changes can be slowed and even reversed.


Getting Started

As general rule of thumb, for those of you over the age of 40, those with a known health condition, those taking any medications , or those who have led a sedentary lifestyle for some time should first consult their chiropractor or other health care physician prior to initiating any moderate weight training regimen. Safety first!


Reality Check

Once you and your health care provider have determined that it's safe for you to begin a weight training program, you must take into consideration that you're no longer in high school or college. Those days of a turbo charged, indestructible body are a thing of the past. The weekend warrior syndrome is now common reality. This is best demonstrated by the middle aged male who suddenly decides to play a weekend sport with the boys after a long period of inactivity and as a result sustains an injury from this seemingly benign activity.

As we age, our body's ability to deal with physical stresses, such as exercise and other rigorous activities, decreases. What your body was able to cope with years ago versus what it is now able to deal with is usually very different. To understand this, consider the following. You are fighting two realities as you age. First, your activity level has likely decreased as you've aged due to a number of factors... time for your spouse, children, job, and increasing responsibilities. Second, as you age your body goes through a number of physiological changes which tend to lessen your recuperative abilities. This is especially true for those individuals who failed to remain active over the years.


Effective Training Means Training Smart

Good news is that resistive exercise can not only allow you to regain some of what you've lost, but it may also allow you to achieve new levels of health. It's never too late to begin reaping its benefits. It is however important that once you reach the age of 40 and beyond, you ease into any new physical activities. Allowing sufficient time for the body to rest and recuperate from the new physical demands becomes increasingly essential. Too much too soon spells I N J U R Y !


The Weekly Workout

The following weight training routine allows you to train each major muscle group once per week based on a four day workout week. The days you choose to workout on aren't that important. Just avoid clumping all four workouts together without rest days in-between. Also, be sure to adhere to any guidelines or restrictions that your primary care physician has given you. Remember, nothing will stop you from weight lifting quicker than an injury.


General Guidelines

Prior to each workout, it's essential to stretch and perform warm up sets before loading up the weight bar. Start with approximately 5 minutes of stretches for all the muscle groups to be trained. Then, using 50% of your normal workout weight, perform 1-2 warm up sets for 15 repetitions. Once this has been completed, you have primed your muscles and joints minimizing the chance of injury and are now ready for business.

Initially you will have to experiment with different weights to determine how much you can safely use while effectively stimulating the muscles. Be sure to have a spotter especially when using barbells in positions where you may become trapped under the bar. Muscles that haven't been worked out for awhile sometimes power out unexpectedly. Over time you'll find that the weights you normally use become lighter as your muscles grow larger and stronger. When this occurs increase the weight slightly to allow increased stimulation to the muscle fibers. This will allow for continued growth and development.

If your new to weight lifting or haven't lifted for over 3 months, begin with 2 sets per exercise. Increase one set to each exercise each month until you get to 4 sets per exercise.

Patience is key and is essential to prevent injury and allow the body to adapt and grow stronger. The weight that you've chosen should allow you to safely perform 10-12 repetitions for each set. The final few repetitions are generally more difficult to perform than the first few but should not cause excessive strain in order to complete. Generally 60-90 seconds of rest between sets is sufficient, however, be sure you've had adequate time to catch your breath.


The Cardiovascular Exercise

You'll notice that Workouts 1 through 3 also include a cardiovascular exercise. This will train your heart, which happens to be one of the most important muscles in your body. There is a number of different exercise equipment in most gyms which provide for a great cardiovascular workout. Stationary bikes, treadmills, stair steppers, as well as aerobics are all excellent choices for your cardio exercise.

If it's been some time since you've performed any cardiovascular activities, start with 10 minutes of cardio exercise for the first few weeks of the program. Try increasing your cardiovascular activity by 2-5 minutes every couple of weeks until you are able to perform 30 minutes.

Again, follow any restrictions given to you by your physician and never push your body too far too quickly.


Workout Sets and Repetitions

Workout 1:


2-4 sets Incline Presses
2-4 sets Decline Presses


2-4 sets Shoulder Presses
2-4 sets Lateral Raises


10-30 minutes

Workout 2:


2-4 sets Cable Pulldowns
2-4 sets Seated Cable Rows


2-4 sets Dumbbell Shrugs
2-4 sets Crunches


10-30 minutes

Workout 3:


2-4 sets Barbell Curls
2-4 sets Dumbbell Curls


2-4 sets Close Grip Presses
2-4 sets Cable Pushdowns


10-30 minutes

Workout 4:


2-4 sets Leg Presses
2-4 sets Leg Extensions
2-4 sets Leg Curls


2-4 sets of Calf Raises
2-4 sets Crunches




Tips for Preventing and Minimizing Potential Injury

  • Those interested in weight training but lacking confidence or experience should seek the expertise of a qualified personal trainer. The job of a personal trainer is to assist you in achieving your fitness goals in a quick and successful fashion as well as to provide support and inspiration for you and your workouts.

  • Listen to your body. Mild to moderate muscle soreness is a common occurrence especially in the early stages of a weight training program. Pain in the area of joints, sharp or atypical pains, or any abnormal feelings many be a sign of a serious or potentially serious problem. Train smart... have it checked by a chiropractor or other health care professional.

  • Don't ignore the other essential facets of health. Weight lifting while wonderful, must be joined by proper diet and nutritional supplementation, adequate rest and sleep, a positive mental outlook, as well as a healthy spine. All are greatly essential for optimum health.

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