Focus on Senior Muscle

The miracle of weight training is that it actually slows muscle tissue loss associated with aging. In fact, it’s possible to regain some muscle that may have been lost to injury or inactivity.

In this article I’ll share some experience gathered, and proven along my path in the fitness industry, having specializing with hundreds of clients past 60 years old who’ve done regular resistance training with me.

Cardiovascular training and stretching have their place in a balanced fitness plan. But it is progressive resistance exercise that builds muscle, allowing us to stay younger, active, and independent for as long as possible. Nothing else comes close to being as effective!

Usually inactive men and women over age 30 slowly lose muscle tissue every year. At about age 50 this loss of muscle (and strength and endurance) starts happening faster. And after age 65, it accelerates even more. Scientists have a name for it. They call it “sarcopenia.” It is from the Greek, meaning “poverty of flesh.” It is what we generally see in frail, elderly people who are bent over from a combination of osteoporosis and sarcopenia complicated by inactive lifestyles. Please don’t let this happen to you.

Age will take its toll, of course. But a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle will greatly accelerate the decline. Properly exercising with weights applies the brakes. In fact, with proper nutrition and this kind of training, muscle will not only be retained, some that has been lost can be rebuilt. It is the safest natural prescription there is for anti-aging. Put another way, barbells, dumbbells and appropriate cardiovascular exercise is the antidote to sarcopenia.

Lifting weights is popular today with people of all ages, but it is not new. Progressive resistance exercise supposedly began in about 500 B.C. The story goes that a man named Milo decided to shoulder a small calf and carry it the length of the stadium at Olympia. He continued carrying the calf regularly until it was fully grown. As the animal got heavier, Milo got progressively stronger. True or not, the story illustrates the point effectively.

While lifting barbells and dumbbells is the most common form of this kind of training, bodyweight exercises, Pilates, resistance bands, kettle bells, sandbags and fitness machines can also be used to provide progressive resistance. Even water aerobics, though classified as cardiovascular, is a form of resistance training.

Senior beginners should first have a physical examination and discuss with their doctor their plan for a fitness weight training program. If some activities or exercises should for any reason be restricted, you want to know about it before beginning a program. The next step is for them to arrange for proper instruction. That should lead them to follow a beginner’s program or to schedule a few sessions with a professional trainer, who’s well certified, in order to get off to a safe start.

Doing too much too soon or using improper lifting techniques can lead to setbacks, or something more serious. Resistance exercise is great for the brain also leaving that “sense of well-being” after a good workout. It’s important to ensure the client receives age-appropriate training and always uses proper form.

This photo is my all-time superstar client Ms. Agnes, who at 94 trained with me twice a week for years!

As always, get up and move.There’s just no substitute for exercise at any age!

2. Oxford Journals of Gerontology
3. (J Lab Clin Med 2001;137:231-43)

About the Author

Bill McGinnis is an NFPT-certified Master Fitness Trainer with over 25 years in the fitness industry. He has trained at the University of Texas Medical Branch Alumni Field House on Galveston Island, TX, and has worked as the Men’s Fitness Trainer at the Betty Ford Center and as a Fitness Manager in Southern California. He can be contacted at [email protected].

View the Author’s Profile and other articles published on Personal Trainer Today.


These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.