If you’ve hit your 50s and are starting to feel like your fitness is declining, don’t panic. Men over 50 experience changes in physiological factors that affect how they build muscle, such as hormone levels, bone density, and muscle growth. With the right combination of exercises—and tailoring your lifestyle to support muscle growth—you can build muscle as quickly as you did in your younger years.
Revitalizing Fitness at Home: The Best Functional and Unilateral Training Program for Men Over 50
- Low hormones, decreasing bone density, and sarcopenia are just some of the challenges men over 50 face
- Resistance training can help counteract age-related decreases in strength and muscle mass
- Functional training incorporates movements that mimic everyday actions to build strength and improve balance and flexibility
- Unilateral movements use only one side of the body at a time to reduce muscle imbalances, improve balance and coordination, and build strength
Finding the right training program to achieve your fitness goal is tricky, regardless of age. With dozens of styles, some increase hypertrophy, while others maximize cardiovascular fitness.
But for men over 50, most workouts aren’t as effective as they once were. On top of that, time constraints also make it more challenging to get into the gym. So, what’s the best workout program for a 50-year-old man at home? The classic combination of functional and unilateral. It’s designed to build muscle, increase strength, improve stability and balance, and boost overall physical fitness.
Importance of Maintaining Fitness Over 50
Aching joints, busy jobs, and poor fitness levels make it easy to curb your workouts as you age. But for men over 50, physiological changes in the body make working out more important now than ever. Starting in your 40s, several things begin to happen that can affect your health and how you build muscle:
- Low testosterone and growth hormone
- Declining bone density
- Reduced muscle mass (sarcopenia)
All of these equate to one thing: difficulty building and maintaining muscle. But while age-related muscle loss might be inevitable to some extent—the average male loses anywhere from 2-5% of muscle mass per decade after 30—several studies have shown that resistance training can help counteract muscle weakness and frailty as you age.
Here are some other reasons why maintaining your fitness level over 50 is important:
- Reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease
- Reduce the risk of disability
- Improve strength
- Improve cardiometabolic health
- Boost mental health
- Improve physical function and quality of life
- Reduce the risk of injury
Aging and Fitness – The Importance of Adapting Your Workout
It’s estimated that physical activity decreases by 40 to 80% as we age—that’s a high number. As people age, mobility declines, joints become achy and sore, and the drive to exercise isn’t there. On top of that, aging contributes to things like fatigue, weakness, and reduced exercise tolerance to exercise due to age-related changes in muscle fibers.
While you need not curtail exercise altogether, modifying your workout to adapt to these changes is important. For some, that may mean cutting back weight while maintaining the current number of weekly training sessions; for others, it may mean cutting back frequency in favor of more rest and recovery days.
Until you reach a point where your body is well-adapted to a high-intensity training program, you’ll want to adapt to your needs to avoid injury and other setbacks.
One of the best training styles to reduce injury risk and support maximum muscle growth in your 50s is functional training—let’s talk about what that is.
What is Functional Training?
Functional fitness is all the rage right now. While power moves like clean and jerks, presses, snatches, and all of those have their place in building strength, functional fitness is all about making everyday movements easier and safer—key factors during aging.
That’s things like:
- Carrying groceries
- Picking up kids
- Walking stairs
- Being mobile on the floor
Functional training focuses on building strength and improving balance and flexibility to support daily life movements. It does this by replicating daily movements: squatting, pulling, pushing, bending, climbing, walking, and running. So, in functional training programs, we focus on doing movements that mimic everyday actions (squatting, pulls ups, etc.) over movements on machines (cable rows, lat pulldowns, leg presses, etc.). This is also why functional training encourages using free weights instead of machines—free weights require more balance and control, just as you would have to do with everyday objects.
Another thing functional training considers is compound movements. Unlike isolation movements that activate a single muscle group, compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups at once to complete the movement, so you’re replicating how your body would naturally move. For example, squatting is a full-body movement that engages all of the muscles in the lower body, the core, and some of the upper body.
What is Unilateral Training?
Most workouts you’ll see incorporate a lot of bilateral movements—presses, pulls, rows, snatches, and deadlifts. While there’s nothing wrong with doing bilateral movements, research shows that there are a lot of benefits to be had from unilateral training. Unilateral training is, as it sounds, using only one side when performing a movement. So, why is this so immensely beneficial?
For men over 50, unilateral training has enormous benefits for improving core stability, joint integrity, and strength.
On top of that, unilateral movements are also beneficial to:
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Increase core stabilization
- Reduce the risk of injury
- Improve muscular stimulation
- Speed up injury recovery
- Increased contralateral strength effects
The Best Functional and Unilateral Workout Program for Men Over 50
The best workout program for a 50-year-old man at home will incorporate function, unilateral movements designed to:
- Fight sarcopenia: Counteract age-related muscle loss and preserve your independence
- Build muscle: Develop a leaner, stronger physique and increase your resting metabolic rate
- Balance strength: Unilateral exercises ensure a balanced workout, enhancing symmetry and reducing the risk of injuries
- Enhance metabolism: Improve your body’s ability to burn fat even when at rest
- Improve stamina and endurance: Increase your energy levels, cardiovascular health, and overall endurance with regular HIIT training
- Increase functionality: Strengthen your core, and improve your mobility, agility, and performance in everyday tasks
This total body home workout uses six fundamental movement patterns to deliver comprehensive benefits.
Here’s your workout:
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest for four rounds before moving on to the next exercise.
- One-Arm Racked Squats
- Single DB Chest Press
- One Arm Suitcase Forward Lunges
- Single DB Bent Over Rows
- Single Leg Deadlifts
- Single DB Stationary March
Most younger men lift weights because they want to look strong and fit. While older men may have the same goal, shifting your focus away from aesthetics and toward function is a much more realistic goal in your 50s. Combating sarcopenia, a slowing metabolism, low hormones, and the other natural processes that come with aging isn’t easy, but incorporating functional movements and unilateral exercises is a great place to start.
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