Welcome friend! If you are wondering ist it is possible to build muscle at an older age you’ve come to the right place. In this post, you will learn about building muscle over age 60.
I say it a lot here on Elder Strength: Maintaining muscle mass and strength as you age is one of the most important factors for a healthy and active life as a senior.
But there definitely seems to be this common notion that older people can’t or even shouldn’t lift weights. Or do any other forms of strenuous exercise for that matter. Or that it isn’t possible to improve physical fitness when you are older.
While this can be true with some medical conditions, in reality, most seniors can do some form of resistance training to improve muscle strength and mass.
The basic principles for improving physical fitness remain the same no matter what your age is. Of course, there are certain realities that come with aging, so one has to be realistic.
You can’t likely compete with someone in their 30s or 40s after 60. Not to mention people in their 20s. But you can almost always improve your physical fitness. Or at least maintain your current level.
This is especially important for seniors because your ability to move independently and be active is directly dependent on your physical fitness. This usually becomes obvious only once you have lost a very significant amount of muscle mass and strength. That’s why prevention is key.
So building muscle mass and maintaining strength levels is important at any age, but especially as you are becoming a senior.
The good news is that building muscle and improving strength levels is not hard and it’s possible after 60 as well.
The principles I will outline in this article will work for building muscle, no matter what your age is. Without further ado, let’s get started!
The Importance Of Muscle Mass For Older People
Before we go into the principles of muscle building I want to talk a little bit more about why muscle mass is so important for your health.
The truth is that general exercise advice in the past has been focused on aerobic exercise, which is of course important. On the other hand strength training and building muscle has usually been seen as too strenuous for older people.
There even seems to have been a bit of an attitude toward strength training in the past. Many have considered it a macho or even narcissistic form of exercise because the common notion is that people are doing it to look good naked.
Probably more importantly, in the past, the need for building muscle really wasn’t there. People had to get around more on foot and a larger population did physical labor. People were generally fit and strong enough to lead healthy and active lives.
Also, the sad truth is that in the past on average people used to die from other health factors before old age frailty could set in.
Unlike before, we now have a lot more seniors that are medically healthy but unfit. The average life expectancy has soared due to health education, advances in medical science, and environmental and occupational health.
Fortunately, science and media have caught up with the benefits of strength training for older people. So we now have actual health recommendations that include resistance training for seniors.
But why is muscle mass and strength so important? To simplify, there are two important reasons. Your muscles are your engine. All other physical activities depend on them. Lack of muscle mass will lead to degradation in balance, mobility, stamina, endurance, and stability. You name it, it affects it.
The other reason is that muscles act as a sort of buffer for health. They are metabolically more active than fat tissue. Higher muscle mass will help keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, inflammation, and cholesterol in check. Strong and healthy muscles will make all activities easier, increasing the likelihood of leading an active life that includes a lot of exercise.
If you get seriously ill and bedridden, additional muscle mass buys you time. Being bedridden can quickly lead to loss of muscle mass and strength and the ability to walk. The less muscle mass you have, the higher the likelihood is of that happening.
So muscle mass is definitely important. Let’s look at some definitions.
Let’s Define Building Muscle
So what does building muscle in older age actually mean? I think it’s important to define the terms as well as talk a bit about realism.
For the sake of this article, building muscle means increasing muscle mass naturally through exercise, diet, and lifestyle choices for the purpose of improving general health and physical fitness.
Muscle mass simply means the size and density of your muscles. While many people think that adding a few pounds of muscle mass will make them look like bodybuilders, this is not the case.
A healthy person in their sixties can realistically add something along the lines of 5 to 30 lbs of muscle mass if they’ve been sedentary before. The upper limit is for larger men with good genes for building muscles.
This type of amount is not going to make you look like a bodybuilder or even an underwear model unless you also lose most of your body fat. But it’s definitely going to make you look more athletic. And more importantly, help you move more easily.
I want to point this out because people have very warped conceptions about building muscle and strength. And some people even have irrational fears of ending up too muscular. This simply can’t happen by accident.
For most people, it takes years and years of dedicated consistent work in their youth to build a physique that would pass as a bodybuilder.
Even then it takes good genes to stand out from the competition. Most bodybuilders are on steroids and other anabolic drugs AND have good genetics AND train like animals AND are young. So there definitely isn’t a need to worry about ending up looking like them by accident. Especially after 60. I talked more about this in the articles Bodybuilding Workouts For Men Over 50 [How To Do It Right] and Bodybuilding For Women Over 40 [With Recommendations].
Now that we have a dab of realism, let’s get on with the topic of the day, building muscle after 60!
The Stress Recovery Adaptation Cycle
Building muscle requires 3 fairly simple steps but it’s also very easy to get any one of them wrong and get no results.
It all starts with the workout. When you work out, you put your muscles under a stress. They are performing work that they are not used to. Or that at least is the point, to challenge your muscles in novel ways. Usually, this means performing more repetitions or increasing resistance on an exercise.
The second step is recovery. Once you have worked out, you are not actually yet stronger. Your muscles are depleted and damaged and need nutrients (protein and energy) and rest to recover.
The final step is adaptation. Your muscles have gotten a signal that they need to be able to perform demanding work. As you rest and eat properly, in a couple of days your muscles will recover just a bit stronger than they were before if everything goes right.
When you repeat this cycle over and over again, increasing your reps and weights every now and then you grow stronger. As you can imagine, the process is slow and takes weeks, months, and even years to see noticeable results. Fortunately, the improvements will be a lot faster in the first few months of training before diminishing results set in.
Now that you know the theory, let’s talk a bit about what to do in practice.
What Not To Do
Because people who have never done effective strength training have funny ideas on how to build muscle, I’d like to start by pointing out what not to do just to get some common misconceptions out of the way.
1. Do a ton of single exercises like crunches and situps. This is a very common thing people do when they want to “get in shape”. They start doing one or two exercises every. This is not effective and will lead to muscle imbalances.
2. Use exercise equipment that have ridiculous claims about their effectiveness. Any kind of resistance is just as effective, including your own body weight. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on gimmicky fitness gadgets.
3. Avoid (relatively) heavier weights in a fear of becoming too muscular. Looking at you ladies here. Lifting very light weights for endless repetitions is not effective in building muscle. It’s better than nothing but that’s about it. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, there’s no fear of ending up too muscular. The resistance needs to be at least somewhat challenging to produce any real results. That said, it’s also important to know your limitations and build the weight up gradually to avoid injury.
4. Use too heavy weights with poor form and reduced range of motion. This is for you gents. No better way to get injured than using too heavy weights with bad form. Leave your ego in the locker room and don’t care about what other people think. You are training for yourself and the only way to get results and progress is by performing exercises with proper form.
5. Eating a ton of supplements. Building muscle doesn’t require any supplements. Just food. Most supplements are a waste of money and some are even potentially toxic. Buy high-quality food instead and learn about nutrition to make sure you are getting everything your body needs. There are a few supplements that can be beneficial, but the effects are subtle. These include creatine and multivitamins.
6. Doing grueling workouts randomly. Building muscle is all about consistency and progression. A single grueling workout will only make you feel horrible and probably make you give up. In the worst-case scenario, you get injured. Many people decide to get fit, exercise way too much a few times, and then give up. Instead, you should start slowly and strive toward consistent progression. It’s more enjoyable too.
How To Do It Right
1. Select a compound movement for push, pull, and legs
The most important thing about building muscle for health and physical performance is selecting the correct exercises and performing them consistently. An effective workout routine will include functional compound (involving several joints) exercises for legs, for pushing muscles of the upper body, and for pulling muscles of the upper body.
2. Start light and learn the movements
I can’t stress this enough. It’s important to learn the movement patterns before you start challenging yourself in them. This means that you will need to take time to learn the movements and in some cases, you might need first to work on your mobility. Even though this takes a bit of time and patience, it will pay off in the long run.
3. Progression over time
Building muscle is a very slow process that requires the correct steps to be in place for the stress-recovery-adaptation cycle. A single vigorous workout will not produce any other results but sore muscles if you perform it every two weeks. Slow and steady wins every time. Three easy workouts per week are all you need to get started, just focus on progression over time. Add reps and/or weights every workout.
4. Rest and nutrition
As we talked about earlier, the magic happens during the recovery phase. That’s when your muscles adapt and grow stronger and larger. If you work out too often, too hard, or with bad form, you are not giving your muscles a chance to recover. If you are not eating enough nutritious foods, you are not giving your muscles enough energy and nutrients to recover. If you are not sleeping enough, your body will not be able to rebuild your muscles stronger. So it’s very important to get your workout routine, rest, and nutrition (diet) in check to see real results.
If you want to learn more about building muscle in older age, check out these free resources: Benefits of strength training for seniors, Free weight training routine for seniors, Starting Strength For Seniors, Bodyweight Exercises For Seniors [Free Strength Training], Fall Prevention Exercises For Seniors [3 Exercises]
I hope you found this post useful and that it answered your questions about building muscle after age 60. If something was unclear, feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.
It’s definitely possible to build muscle after 60, it’s just a bit slower and you need to have realistic expectations. More important building muscle and strength in older age are one of the most important things for your overall health and ability to maintain independence, so don’t take it lightly.
Fortunately building muscle is not rocket science and it doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming. Just three short workouts a week, enough good food and rest, and you’re set!
Thanks for reading and see you next time! Remember to share the article if you think someone you know might benefit from it.
18 thoughts on “Building Muscle Over Age 60 – Is It Possible?”
This was a very informative article. I have had a quad bypass and have lost muscle and have become far more out of shape than I care to be. I want what I had back. Recovery has been slow, but have now started a cardio rehab program to get me started. I am 72 years young, 170 lbs. and have done physical labor most all my life. This article has given me a fresh out look.
Glad to hear you found the article informative Mike! And also great to hear you’ve decided to improve your fitness. With your background it’s especially important to plan your workout routine with medical professionals but I’m sure you are aware of that.
I’m 64 I retired & became a loaf Now I find I’m unstable on my feet. Can’t do basic household chores without needing to sleep rest. I’m starting by squats & indoor bike throughout day. If my muscles are too tired I csn always pump my heart on the bike. I have total gym.
Sorry to hear about your health problems Bonnie. I’m glad you are including exercise in your daily routine. Remember to get a medical evaluation before trying things your read online. If you are unstable on your feet and suffer from significant fatigue, this is very important, so don’t put it off. All the best!
I like that title, elder strength–I was going to join an mma club to get some pointers on self defense. My big assed neighbor was in my face the other day with a threatening posture and I want to be able to put him on his ass if I have to have a go at the big fat beast. Still, I hesitate to do anything as he has a 15 year old daughter.It’s lose even I win and hurt him permanently. (the bigger they are, the harder they fall.)
Glad you like the title Richard! Martial arts can be great exercise but remember the best self-defense is to avoid conflicts at all costs. There are no winners in street fights so I urge you to make peace with your neighbor. A kind act might just surprise him and put any disputes at rest. Good luck and be safe!
Thanks for your article(s). I’m a 62 yo male and suffer from a TBI (traumatic brain injury) which left me wheelchair dependent. I was a letter carrier for the USPO, walked about 10 miles a day, 5 days a week for 15 years. I’ve been bodybuilding since I was 14. I’m still bodybuilding and contemplating entering the wheelchair bodybuilding contest in 2023. Thank you for posting the knowledge I was looking for.
Glad you found the content useful James! And sorry to hear about your TBI, must be hard t. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this but I will anyway. Bodybuilding can be very taxing on the body. The workouts and the caloric deficit required to achieve a sufficiently low body fat for competition can be very stressful for the body even if you are completely healthy. I can’t give you any medical advice but it’s very important that you discuss your workout and diet plans with a physician that’s familiar with your condition. If bodybuilding gives you purpose, drive and motivation it can be a great activity. But with your condition, it’s especially important to keep health above the competition in your priority list. Good luck!
Great article. I’ve sadly lost most of my muscle mass over the last few years. I’m 60 very soon! I’ll try your advice.
Glad to hear you found the article useful Jacky! The good news is that you can gain back the lost muscle fast and then some. Just takes a bit more time and patience than it did when you were younger. Good luck with the training!
Thank you Elder Strength I found this very informative.
I am 70 and get out on my bike for a minimum of 20 minutes every day often more. I enjoy it immensely so cardio is no problem nor leg strength. However over the last year there has been significant muscle loss in my upper body and I have invested in low weight dumbbells that I plan to increase gradually. Because I’m retired I can often sit for hours in a day playing guitar and every 30 to 40 minutes I have a break by moving around and (now) lifting weights for 5 to 10 minutes. But because I’m doing this every day I’m not allowing the recovery time which you say is important. Under these circumstances should I be?
Glad to hear you found the article helpful Leigh! It’s also great to hear that you cycle daily, as it’s probably one of the best forms of exercise for seniors. It keeps your cardiovascular health good, legs strong, and prevents loss of balance skills. As you’ve noticed, it’s usually not enough to keep your upper body strong. I also play the guitar, and I know how vital adequate strength is for good playing posture and stamina. Strength training can really help to keep nagging shoulder pains and tendonitis away. Your exercise routine sounds reasonable to me. The amount of recovery is relative to the effort you put in. If you want to do a really effective workout, you should use weights and repetitions that require you to rest for a day or two. That said, daily lighter workout can work as well. It’s not optimal, but should be fine for general health. So if you are not feeling fatigued or suffering from muscle soreness, I wouldn’t worry too much about the recovery. That said, it’s probably a good idea to have a rest day from both the workout and playing (much) to avoid overuse injuries that tend to be really slow to heal. So my recommendation is to increase workload gradually, listen to your body and if there are any medical concerns, run them by your doctor.
Thanks Elder Strength sounds Ike I am on the right track for general fitness. First sign of any soreness while guitar playing or lifting weights I know to stop and reassess my posture / hand positions. If I decide it’s just muscle tiredness I rest for a day or two. If I push on regardless I could be out of action for months and I wouldn’t like that! I agree listen to your body is the best advice.
Definitely Leigh! I’ve learned the hard way that slow progress is faster on the longer run. Both in strength training and in playing the guitar. Overuse injuries can really set you back for months. This coming from someone who lost any progress of 2022 to a nagging shoulder tendonitis.
Great topic and it’s really a necessary discussion in todays world of obesity. Being honest, I used to be extremely overweight and FAT for most of my life. I was very athletic in high school and even played college ball but I was fat even then. Did plenty of weight training in my 20’s and ballooned beyond 350 pounds. I was strong but very fat.
I began Hyperthermic conditioning about 10 years ago and intermittent fasting (IF) about 5-6 years ago. Both of these have helped me to lose weight and trim down to 195 pounds precovid and I’m a little over 6′.
I finally got both shoulders surgically repaired and have been back in the gym for 7-8 hours a week for the last year. I’ll be 61 in a few months and I’m now weighing in at a lean 212 pounds and dare I say, I’m jacked.
I’m in the best shape of my life and look more physically fit then ever. Everyone notices the muscle gains, especially the ladies!
The combinate of IF, Hyperthermic conditioning and the weight room have paid off in spades for me. IF cleans out the body and forces the body to use energy more efficiently. During fasted workouts , the activation of the sympathetic nervous system increases breakdown of fat for energy. There are many more benefits to pairing fasting with weight training.
I do 30-45 minute steam sessions about 4 time a week for Hyperthermic Conditioning. The benefits of this with IF and weight training is incredible for me. Hyperthermic Conditioning raises your HGH and I-GF1 hormones which benefit muscle growth in the gym. It also improves heat acclimation, lower core body temperature during workouts, increased blood flow to muscles, reduces rate of glycogen depletion, and MANY other benefits.
I’m a walking example of obtaining muscle mass over 60 and I plan on continuing my quest. Investigate the combination of these performance activities. I think it could be a major boost to many people getting into superior shape and living longer.
Thanks for the great story Mike! Glad to hear you are in a phenomenal shape at your age. I wasn’t familiar with hyperthermic conditioning so I had to look it up. It seems the idea is to get heat exposure several times a week. I’ve unknowingly done hyperthermic conditioning for the majority of my life as I live in Finland and we tend to go to the sauna couple of times a week. Probably not the same thing though. I can believe this can have some slight benefit for some people, but I find it unlikely your fat loss is mainly due to it and IF. But I’m sure they have helped the hard work at the gym. I’ve done intermittent fasting for years and read most of the studies done on the subject as well.
While these “special methods” always seem enticing, the science is usually clear. They barely have an effect, if any, when other variables are controlled. It’s still calories in vs calories out. It’s basic human psychology to hope for magical shortcuts. And don’t take this the wrong way, on the contrary! If these methods have little effect, it means your results are likely due to your hard work and sticking to a healthy diet! I do believe that these methods can also have beneficial psychological effects. For example, intermittent fasting can help people with a good appetite reduce their daily calories, it did for me. It’s easier to skip a meal and more in a one sitting to get your stomach full in my opinion. But for some people, this approach doesn’t work as well.
There is also growing evidence that sauna can offer similar benefits to cardiovascular health as exercise, so who knows? I will keep an open mind and look more into the research behind hyperthermic conditioning and maybe write about it in the future. The important thing is that you’ve found these methods beneficial and they’ve helped you achieve your fitness goals!
To improve your article, I suggest that you do a final read to catch the missing words and letters. Or hire a proof reader to do it for you. Such errors deflate your credibility to an otherwise good article.
Thanks for the feedback Doc! Should be better now.