Weight training after 50

There are many benefits of strength training, but starting to weight train after age 50 can present a few challenges. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of weight training after 50.

1. Should I lift light or heavy?
Rather than worry about what weight you’re lifting, we will first look at the reps that best suit your goal. The amount of weight you should lift depends on the number of repetitions you can do properly, this is backed up by research from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines. A good rep range to aim for in general is anywhere between 8-15 repetitions. If you complete 15 reps and still feel like you could continue the set, try increasing the weight and dropping the reps to the lower end of the rep scheme.

An exception may be rehab exercises. As always with rehab, consult a professional and follow any physio exercises as prescribed to you. When looking at rehabbing a minor injury yourself a good rule of thumb is to aim for a lighter weight for 20+ reps and increase the resistance while decreasing the rep target as you progress through the program from week to week.

2. 8-15 reps is vague; how many sets and reps are best?
Standard resistance training for peak strength goals consists typically of 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps, but, if you have a pre-existing spine or knee issue, these can be exacerbated when loading up with heavier resistance, so make sure form is optimal and lighten the load until you feel comfortable that the injury/problem has been resolved. A safer and more practical idea is to do a variety of exercises and multiple sets that engage the same muscles. For example, instead of doing your standard 3-4 sets of bicep curls, do 1-2 sets of a lat pulldown or row (both of which hit the biceps as well as the back). Then perform a single set of bicep curls utilising another muscle group like legs by adding a squat, so in total, you’ll complete three sets of exercises targeting the same basic set of muscles but by adding variety can take the strain away from the injured muscle group as it is being assisted by larger muscle groups.

3. At what frequency can I train? Are back to back sessions ok?
Just starting out we recommend 2-3 times a week training, at least for the first 4-6 weeks. After that period, increase the frequency if needed to 4-5 times a week and see how recovery feels.
If you’ve trained hard, weight training usually takes at least 24-48 hours to recover a muscle group. An excellent way to train every day and still facilitate recovery is to split your body parts into different groups to train, for example, training back and biceps one day then chest and shoulders another and so on.

4. How do I know when it’s time to increase resistance?
Really this depends on your goals as to when to increase and by how much. In general, as soon as you can comfortably lift more than the provided rep scheme, try to increase resistance. For example, if your rep scheme states 8-12 reps, but you could comfortably reach 15 reps, try increasing the resistance. If you increase however and you cannot reach the lowest rep of the rep scheme (in this case its 8 reps), then you’ve increased by too much.
For larger muscle groups and compound movements, increase 10 per cent at a time but only raise the resistance of five per cent for isolation movements or smaller muscles, like arms and shoulders.

5. Which resistance type is best? Bands, bars, dumbbells or something else?
It mainly comes down to your control, preference and if the equipment is suitable for the exercise/muscle group being worked. There is no one way better than the other so feel free to experiment and find what suits you and your training best.

For example, a dumbbell chest press, and a push up will both work the same muscle groups, but push-ups may be more suitable for novices to control; however, the dumbbell chest press is easier to control the resistance. Try a few different resistance methods to find one that suits you best.

Stick to one type of movement and resistance type for 4-6 weeks and see how you progress before changing to the next type. It’ll be trial and error for the first few, but once you know what is best suited for you, you’ll be able to progress much faster.

If you would like further advice or guidance, please speak to a member of the fitness team

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