Training as an older adult isn’t the same as when you’re younger. But just because your biological age is increasing doesn’t mean your workouts have to suffer—meet metabolic resistance training, the best workout program for older adults, regardless of your fitness level.
The Best Workout for Older Adults
Aging brings challenges, whether it’s achy joints, loss of muscle mass, or reduced cardiovascular capacity. Regular movements are hugely important if you want to maintain your health well into your 80s and 90s. Simple compound movements incorporating weights are some of the best exercises to fight muscle loss, strengthen bones, and maintain hormone balance.
Can Older Adults Build Muscle?
There’s a common misconception that older people can’t build muscle. Thanks to the nasty effects of aging combined with low testosterone levels, if you haven’t achieved your dream body by now, you may as well throw that hope out the window. It’s not true. While declining testosterone levels and the natural effects of aging make it more challenging for older adults to gain muscle, it’s not impossible if you’re following a solid training program and a testosterone-supportive diet.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at early-phase adaptations in body composition and strength in college-aged men (18-22 years) and middle-aged men (35-50 years). DEXA scans showed that middle-aged men built muscle just as well as college-aged men, gaining roughly 2.5 pounds and 2 pounds of muscle, respectively.
Strength gains were also similar, with middle-aged men gaining an average of 14 pounds of strength on the bench press and 40 pounds on the leg press, while college-aged men gained an average of 7 pounds of strength on the bench press and 55 pounds on the leg press.
But it’s not all roses and butterflies for middle-aged men—men over 60 can reap the benefits just as much. A 2004 study showed that resistance training for older adults can increase muscle quality (strength relative to muscle mass), increase power, reduce the difficulty associated with performing daily tasks, boost energy expenditure, and improve body composition. But perhaps the best part? It can help prevent or reduce some of the nasty health effects associated with aging, such as disease risk, fractures, and falls.
Regardless of age, the basic rules for building muscle are the same. Of course, your age will impact how quickly you make progress, but you can’t change your age, so focus on what you can change—the way you train.
What’s The Best Workout Program For Older Adults?
We often hear this question: ”what’s the best workout for x.” Although there is no one-size-fits-all model for training, some exercises are better for older people than others. Cardio is excellent for improving cardiovascular health and burning calories, but hitting the cardio machines probably isn’t the best for someone in the 60s looking to build muscle and support healthy aging and longevity.
But do you know what is? Metabolic resistance training. It’s a variation of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that allows you to control the pace and intensity but simultaneously helps to build muscle, burn fat, and boost testosterone—exactly what the best workout program for older adults should do.
Essentially, there are a few targets we want to hit where health and aging are concerned:
- Fight sarcopenia
- Boost testosterone
- Burn body fat
- Build muscle
Why? Testosterone levels naturally decline as we age, making it harder to burn fat and build muscle. If we don’t proactively do something about it, sarcopenia is the result—involuntary loss of muscle mass. But muscle, strength, and hormone balance are hugely important as we age to prevent the onset of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, and more.
Simply put, it helps us to age healthily.
So, what’s this about MRT?
Metabolic resistance training is a training style that combines high-intensity work (essentially cardio) with strength training; it maximizes your body’s capacity by combining strength training and aerobic cardio exercise to build muscle, burn fat, and get shredded in the least amount of time possible. That said, high-intensity workouts might not be for every older adult—but there’s nothing wrong with modifications. Do the movements to the best of your ability and push your body outside its comfort zone.
The best workout program for older adults shouldn’t be something you’d do when you’re 20—it needs to be tailored to the individual and support them in the state they’re at. We’re talking about four workouts per week combining bodyweight training, metabolic resistance training with dumbbells, core training, and mobility—don’t forget about that last piece. If you want to maintain your independence and movement well into your 80s and 90s, working on mobility as part of your recovery is key.
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