Physical Activity Guidelines
If you aren’t already doing so, you should look to start some form of exercise that strengthens the major muscle groups in your body.
The recommended physical activity guidelines from both the World Health Organisation and the UK Chief Medical Officer agree that you should be doing muscle strengthening exercises on at least 2 days each week.
Why Should You Start Training?
As you get older you will slowly lose muscle mass and bone density unless you take actionable steps to avoid doing so. The good news is that by focusing on building muscle strength you can not only prevent these conditions, you can also reverse the effects they may have already had on the body.
More importantly by building muscle strength and avoiding age related conditions, you will be able to stay active and carry on doing all the things you love to do.
How would it feel to have to give up everything that you might currently be taking for granted?
What Exercises Should You Do?
This is a bit of a trick question. Whilst your exercise selection shouldn’t be overlooked, the more important thing to consider is how you perform those exercises.
In order for increased muscle strength to be the primary outcome of an exercise it needs to be done in a particular way.
Train to Failure
I see many people over the age of 60 who think that they need to be more careful with their exercises. They find a safe routine and do the same thing each week without ever looking to progress. Whilst this will have some benefits, it is unlikely to have much of an impact on your strength.
When increased strength is the main goal, you will need to push the target muscles to the point of failure. Failure refers to the point where you couldn’t do another repetition if you tried. So if you aimed to do 8 repetitions, the 8th repetition should be the last you could have managed. If you stopped at 8 repetitions but felt like you could have done another 8 then you are unlikely to gain any strength as a result.
You should be looking to reach the point of failure below 12 repetitions of an exercise. This will result in a combination of both increased strength and size of your muscle (hypertrophy). Aiming for failure at 1-5 reps will result in you gaining more strength than hypertrophy. Alternatively, reaching failure between 8-12 repetitions will result in greater gains in hypertrophy than in strength.
Given that many age-related conditions are associated with reduced muscle strength, I recommend that you prioritise muscle strength over hypertrophy.
If you wish to learn more about this concept you can read What are Reps and Sets? A Beginners Guide to Strength Training
Whilst you should aim for failure at 5 reps, I don’t recommend you try do this on your first session. You should initially look to get comfortable with the exercises that you have chosen. I then recommend trying to find a weight or resistance that brings you to failure at 15 repetitions.
Over the course of 12 weeks you can slowly increase the weight used to bring the failure point down to 5 repetitions. Some people may need longer for their bodies to adapt. If you increase the resistance too soon it is likely to result in pain and possibly injury.
I recommend that you seek out the help of a professional if you are unsure about starting, lack confidence, are injured or have a medical condition. Please reach out to Chris Tiley, if you have any questions or concerns.
Chris Tiley is a Physiotherapist based in Birmingham. He is passionate about introducing strength training to those over the age of 60 as well as anyone who lacks the confidence to start. Take a look at his blog, Never Too Old to Lift. He is able to see you via an online consultation where he will help you to create an exercise program around your individual goals and circumstances. This will consider any injuries or medical conditions that you have.