Should Seniors Lift Heavy or Light Weights? &(Why Seniors Should Build Muscle As They Age)

It’s Rob Richley, Personal Trainer, helping men over 40 getting back in shape without injuring them selves in the process and today I want to talk about if seniors should lift heavy or light weights.

“As a general rule seniors should lift a weight heavy enough for them to complete 10 repetitions using impeccable exercise form. They should be able to complete no more than 12 repetitions of the given exercise but stop at 10 repetitions to prevent injury.”

The fact is, “heavy” is a relative term and it depends on many factors such as:

How long have you been training?

What exercises are being used?

How many sets and reps are being used?

Are you a beginner?

Do you have any injuries?

As you can see, the answer to the question isn’t straight forward but guidelines can be determined based on your unique circumstances…

But my recommendation above will work for all levels of training age, beginner or more advanced.

Keeping to the 10 repetition mark in each exercise is a good rule of thumb for both strength and building muscle.

Some seniors can handle heavy weights because they have been training all their lives and some are beginners and need to start out with lighter weights to begin with.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to handle heavier weights, it simply means they need to progress adhering to excellent exercise technique and satisfying all the components of recovery.

Guidelines for Seniors Lifting Heavy or Light Weights

I see this all the time, seniors who are just beginning their weightlifting journey lifting far too heavy weights, heaving, and using bad exercise form which results in frustration and injury.

Perhaps picking up dumbbells that are too heavy for you to handle, then heaving the weight, allowing the back and shoulders to do most of the work. Swinging them using bad exercise form is a recipe for injury.

A Much Better Way

If you are a beginner start out with a weight light enough to complete 10 good form repetitions. Make sure the rep cadence is smooth (no bouncing the weight). A rep cadence of 3 seconds lowering the weight, a 1 second pause and 3 seconds lifting the weight works well. 3-1-3.

When choosing exercises stick with compound movements as they train 2-3 bigger muscle groups in one movement, are safer and have better hormonal effects.

For example, the dumbbell bench press lying on a flat bench will work the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps. This is classed as a compound exercise.

Now let’s say you start performing the exercise in question, how will you know you picked a weight heavy enough?

Well, when you get to repetition number 5 or 6, the weight should start to feel challenging and by repetition 10 you should feel close to wanting to put the weight down.

In theory you could do a maximum of 12 repetitions but stop at 10, to be on the safe side and prevent injury.

Bottom line: You want the weight to feel challenging but still have some left in the tank in order to surpass this weight next time.

To progress each week, exercise form needs to be kept impeccable.

When you can complete 10 good reps of a given exercise, add a tad of weight i.e., a pound to each major exercise and aim to complete 10 reps the following week.

Don’t rush this process, take the time to build up to heavier weights whilst maintaining good form.

How Many Sets?

A good rule of thumb is to do 2 or at the most 3 sets of each exercise. Lifting weights as you get older has many benefits including preventing osteoporosis, strengthening the bones and ligaments, boosting metabolism, and increasing testosterone levels.

The weights you are using don’t need to be super heavy, but you should challenge yourself and strive to progress to heavy weights for you.

Aim to lift weights no more than 3 times per week, allowing a day of recovery between each workout to allow the muscles and joints to repair and heal.

Should Men Over 60 Lift Heavy Weights?

Providing excellent exercise technique is adhered to and “heavy” weights are worked up to, there is no reason men over 60 should not lift heavy weights.

But again, “heavy” is a relative term, only you know how heavy you should go by experimenting with the desired exercise and completing 10 reps. The key is progression and having the patience to work up to heavier weights without getting injured in the process.

If the weight is kept too light then it won’t have the same hormonal and muscle building effects as slightly heavier weights.

That’s why I recommend challenging yourself and keeping the weight heavier as you get stronger and progress from one week to the next.

At What Age Should You Stop Lifting Heavy?

The only time you should stop lifting heavier weights is if you are recovering from an illness or injury. It’s a proven fact that even a man past 70 years old can build muscle if solid exercise form is adhered to, proper nutrition is followed, and enough recovery is paid attention to.

The problem is seniors who have never trained before trying to lift heavy weights before they are ready, when they should have started out light and worked their way up.

That is what gives a bad reputation for lifting heavier weights for seniors. But if they had started out light, paid attention to proper lifting technique and all the components of recovery including getting adequate nutrition and not lifting more than 3 times per week, it would be a different story.

Can You Still Build Muscle After 70?

If you start out with weights that aren’t too heavy, pay proper attention to nutrition and provide your body with enough rest outside of the gym, you can still build muscle after 70 or even 80 years old!

The body is amazingly adaptable, the key is progression and only you will know a good starting weight for the exercises you are about to perform.

Once 10 reps have been completed in good form, add a tad of weight the following week and try to get 10 good form reps again.

Keep this progression system up for the coming weeks and months and watch as long-term progress almost takes care of itself.

Stick to compound multi-joint movements that train 2-3 muscle groups in one movement as they are far safer for men over 40, build more muscle, increase ligament strength, and boost hormonal function especially testosterone.

Choose 1-2 exercises for each muscle group and complete 2-3 sets of each exercise. Group muscles together as to provide enough recovery between workout sessions. For example:

Day 1 – Chest & Back
Day 2 – Shoulders & Arms
Day 3 – Legs

Train on non-consecutive workout days i.e., Mon-Wed-Fri and make sure to get adequate calories, with enough lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Only you can go as far as you can go by actually going as far as you can go. Expect a lot from your body as you get older and that is exactly what it will deliver.

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