Strength Training @ 50+

There are three dimensions of human frailty- time, disease and disuse.  The passage of time is inevitable.  The onset of disease is the result of internal system fatigue or external exposures that damage the body tissues. Medical technology has helped make the impact of disease significantly less. Disuse, sedentary living or lack of activity is devastating to functional capabilities and is the number one cause of human fraility. In order to improve our quality of life we must embrace physical activity.


One of the most significant signs of aging and physical dysfunction is the loss of muscle mass. By the age of 45 most men and women muscle tissue begins to waste away. On average, men lose about 5% and women 3% of their muscle mass each decade. The majority of the muscle mass loss is related to a decline in production of Growth Hormone and the lack of physical exercise.

The loss of muscle mass has a significant effect on our abilities to physically function productively as we age. Most activities of daily living such as lifting and carrying items, climbing stairs, getting in and out of chairs and cars, gardening, house cleaning, involvement in recreational activities require moderate levels of strength.  The loss of muscle mass and strength impacts our agility, balance, and coordination and consequently our ability to walk and increases our risk of falling.

Fortunately, muscle resistance or strength training can significantly reduce the amount of muscle mass we lose as we age.  The benefits of resistance training are far reaching and include; increase muscular and bone strength, increase muscle mass and decrease body fat, increased resting metabolism, improved care strength and posture, promotion of joint stability, improved agility, balance and coordination and improves body image and self esteem.

 Resistance Training

Resistance training is an essential component of a balanced and effective training program. To develop an effective resistance training program, it is important to consider principals such as;

1. The type of exercise selected.

–          What is its specific purpose?

–          Is it the most effective exercise to do what you are trying to accomplish?

–           Is it safe?

–          Are you physically capable of performing this type of exercise?

2. Muscle balance.

You must exercise both the agonist and antagonist muscle groups. For example you must exercise both the bicep and triceps muscles but not with the same amount of resistance. As well, you must exercise the right side of the body as well as the left to prevent dominance of one side.

3. Exercise order.

You should exercise the larger muscle groups first such as the chest and back muscles before exercising the arm muscles.

4. Rest between sets.

You can modify the intensity of the exercise by minimizing the amount of rest between sets. Typically, for the oldr adult 1 to 3 minutes between sets is recommended for full restoration of energy.

5. Breathing.

You should never hold your breath when you are doing resistance type exercises. This is extremely important for the older adult who may have high blood pressure. As you perform the exercise you should breathe out (exhale) and as you return to the original position breathe in (inhale).

6. Technique.

Proper technique is vitally important to maximize the effectiveness of the exercise and to prevent serious injury.

7. Speed of movement. 

Most of resistance training should be performed slowly and under full control. The rule of thumb is 2 beats to push or pull the resistance and 4 beats to return to the original position.

8. Loading.

Always start with a light load to ensure proper technique and avoid injury. Perform all exercises to the last point of success rather than the first point of failure.


Table 1: Resistance Training Guidelines



(Minimal Experience)


(Regular Exerciser)


(Serious lifter)

Goals 1. Learning proper technique.2. Learning correct exercises.3. Developing core strength.

4. Gaining muscular endurance.

1. Refining proper technique.2. Learning new exercises.3. Developing core strength.

4. Gaining muscular strength.

5. Exercise variety.

1. Exercise variety.2. Increasing muscular size.3. Maximizing core strength.

4. Maximizing training time.

Frequency 2-3 x’s/week 3-4 x’s /week 4-6 z’s /week
Intensity (% 1 rep max)-See Note 1 < 70% 1RM 70%-80% 1 RM 80%-100% 1RM
Result Muscular endurance Muscular strength and hypertrophy (size) Maximum strength and power
Reps 12-15, no muscle failure (may feel a mild burn) 8-12 1-8, reaching failure
Sets 1-3 1-4 1-6
Rest Between sets 30sec. – 1 min. 30sec.- 2 min. 2+ min.
Equipment Choice 1.Weight training machines.2. Body weight exercises.3.Satbility ball. 1. Weight training machines.2. Pulleys.3.Free weights.

4.Body weight exercises.

5.Stability ball

1. Weight training machines.2. Pulleys.3.Free weights.

4.Body weight exercises.

5.Stability ball

6. Medicine ball

Routine Choice -Total body-Balanced workout(6-8 exercises) -Total body.-Split program.-2 muscle groups per workout(2-3 exercises per muscle group) -Split programs.-Advanced designs(eg.- circuit training, splits, pyramids).-2 muscle groups per workout(2-3 exercises per muscle group)

Note 1: One Repetition Maximum Calculation 

Repetition Coefficient
1 1.00
2 .943
3 .906
4 .881
5 .856
6 .831
7 .807
8 .786
9 .765
10 .744
11 .723
12 .703
13 .688
14 ,675
15 .662
16 .650
17 .638
18 .627
19 .616
20 .606

1Rep Max = Load (wt. lifted) / Coefficient

(Example- 1RM = 50lbs/.786 (coefficient for number of times 50lbs was lifted lifted) = 65 lbs.)

Muscles, no matter the age, will adapt to strength training yet are very sensitive to the stimulus applied. At higher resistance, more power development will occur but there is an increase risk of injury. This is especially relevant to the 50+ adult whose muscles, tendons and ligaments are not as pliable and do not recovery from the stresses of exercise as quickly as they did in their younger years. Lower intensity strength training will promote endurance and mild to moderate increases in strength which is more applicable to the 50+ adult. It is important prior to beginning your resistance training program that you establish realistic goals so that a proper program can be developed.

Safety and Resistance Training for the 50+ Adult

Safety has to be the number one priority for the 50+ adult when they exercise.  The following safety rules must be adhered to when strength training;

    1. Ensure that there are no medical reasons why you cannot participate in a strength training program by having medical clearance by your doctor.
    2. If there are modifications that are recommended by your doctor they must be adhered to rigorously and completely.
    3. Make sure you are completely warmed up prior to beginning your resistance training.
    4. You must completely understand the exercise and how to perform it correctly.
    5. You must perform all movements of the exercise with perfect technique, under control with no jerky movements for every repetition.
    6. Always use a weight that can be controlled, performed through a complete range of motion and pain free.


Progression and Resistance Training

Progression is essential for all resistance training programs. The body will quickly adapt to the resistance and movements that you are performing.  The following is a list of progressions that  can be implemented safely to increase the level of difficulty of the program when you are ready to do so;

    1. Single joint to multi-joint movements. (ie- machine leg extension(knee only) to a squat (knee and hip)
    2. External to internal stability. (ie- Overhead press in the sitting position(the seat is the external support) to standing overhead press (have to rely on the internal stability of your core muscles).
    3. Slow to fast movements. Faster movement require additional neurologic and muscular recruitment and coordination.



Resistance training is a fundamental component to a balanced and effective exercise routine for the 50+ adult. Following medical clearance, it can be performed safely and effectively to enhance muscle strength, balance, coordination, posture, bone strength, self image and self esteem. It is also an effective way to control body fat and provide joint stability and flexibility.

If you’d like more info please contact Mike.

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