Staying strong at 60 and beyond is a very important component in your quest to enjoy your current lifestyle and set yourself up for an enjoyable and active retirement. Yet fitness magazines and most personal trainers will give you the impression that building bigger muscles should be your prime objective in the gym.
Yes, building bigger muscles is great for the ego. Unfortunately, for the most part that’s all that bigger muscles will help – your ego. If you’re looking to have more energy, improved immune response, handle stress better and keep your bone density higher to better protect you, you’ll need to focus on building your strength.
When it comes to weightlifting, most routines can be broken into one of three main categories: bodybuilding, powerbuilding and powerlifting. Bodybuilding focuses on building muscle size while powerlifting focuses on building strength. As you may have guessed, powerbuilding is a combination of the two, with no true focus on either one. Most amateurs in your local gym fall into that category whether they know it or not.
Obviously, there’s some crossover between bodybuilding and powerlifting results, often the results of an athlete’s unique genetics. Some bodybuilders build strength easily within their workouts, while some powerlifters end up with bulging muscles without training for size. But in both cases, this is the exception, not the rule.
That you should evolve from size to strength training as you mature is evident in basic human physiology. All else being equal, your body reaches its greatest potential for building muscle size at 24 years of age – it reaches your maximum stage for building strength at 40. Does this mean you can’t get strong at 60 or 70? Of course not – research has shown even those over 100 still benefit from weight training. But it does indicate that your body feels strength is more important than being physically attractive during your second half-century.
So how do you stay strong at 60? Or get strong at 60 or beyond? Assuming you’ve checked with your licensed medical professional and have their approval to start lifting weights, start by learning proper form for performing the big compound movements (a compound exercise is one that involves 2 or more joints during the lift).
The competitive sport of powerlifting focuses on just three exercises: squats, bench press and deadlifts. Between the three they involve every major muscle group in the body so they comprise an excellent measure of overall strength. But for ongoing strength training purposes you want a few more exercises thrown into your mix.
Bent rows and the overhead press, standing or seated, are both great compound exercises to add to your mix. Those 5 compound exercises should be the mainstay of your workout focus, then you can add some shoulder mobility exercises and some isolation exercises for arms, abs, hamstrings and calves as your time and energy allow. Don’t overdo it on those, though, as you don’t want them keeping you from recovering fully between workouts.
And that’s another key to staying strong at 60 and beyond: keep the workout intensity as high as you safely and prudently can, but allow more time between workouts to allow for full recovery. Try to hit each body part twice a week, either through a training split or using full-body workouts twice a week. And it should go without saying you need proper nutrition and a good night’s sleep each night to fuel and support your recovery between workouts.
As to the workouts themselves, experiment and see what works best for you. Keep your sets between 3 and 5 sets per exercise, and don’t go over 6 nor under 3 reps per set. Try to avoid the temptation to train to your 1-rep max – for the most part that’s setting you up for injury and is far too hard on your central nervous system (CNS).
Even most competitive powerlifters only test their 1-rep max at competitions, keeping their training to 60% – 90% of their 1-rep max. Focus instead on increasing your 5-rep or 3-rep max. Rest assured that if your strength is building your 3-rep or 5-rep strength, your 1-rep max is increasing too!
As a final tip, every 5th or 6th week cut the weights back to about 50% for that week. That gives your body and your CNS a chance to recover fully – you’ll usually find you can up the weights from your previous lifts by 5 or 10 pounds when you go back to the gym the following week.
At first it’s an effort to get started and keep going regularly, but before long you’ll find it’s just another part of your new healthier, stronger and more active lifestyle – and you’ll love how you feel each day! Staying strong at 60 and beyond really can help you enjoy every aspect of your life more and more on an ongoing basis!