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Am I too old to start lifting weights?

Written by Sarah on

No! In fact, you already are without even realising it. But there’s probably more you could be doing with resistance training to make your life better now and in the future.

I’ve been asked by a few people recently if they’ve left it too late to start resistance training, having never done it before. It’s a concern a lot of people have so I thought it might be helpful to explore what exactly resistance training is and why it should be a part of all of our lives.

Let’s start by being clear about what we mean when we talk about resistance training (also commonly known as strength training/weight lifting). Basically, we are talking about any exercise where you are using your body to lift or pull against some kind of resistance.

This could be a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell or resistance band but it can also be your own bodyweight and a huge variety of everyday items. Essentially if you clean your house, carry shopping or pick up your pet you are already resistance training – probably multiple times a day!

We break down resistance training into some key movement patterns (push, pull, squat and hinge are the big four). Working through these movement patterns means you should be targeting all of your major muscle groups.

Here are some examples of ‘training’ you might be doing already –

Push – hoovering, sweeping and mopping are great examples of pushing. What are you doing with your shopping trolley in the supermarket? You’re pushing it! Utilising those chest, shoulder and tricep muscles (back of the upper arms). Especially on those trolleys with the dodgy wheels that need some serious pushing to get them moving!

Pull – opening a door, pulling the curtains open in the morning, pulling your wheelie suitcase through the airport when you go on holiday – all great examples of using your key pulling muscles (biceps, forearms and back).

Squat – ever find yourself sitting down and standing up again? You are performing a squat. Whether it’s to perch on the loo or getting up from your armchair you are using your quads, hamstrings and glutes (legs and bum) to get you down and up again.

Hinge – when you put your shoes on in the morning you are hinging (bending at the hips), when you bend down to stroke your pet or pick up your child/grandchild you are hinging. Any time you are moving your upper body forward and bending in the middle you are hinging and the muscles which enable you to do this are your hamstrings (backs of your legs), glutes (bum) and erector spinae (back).

You might now be thinking, ‘Great, I’m already doing this stuff, so what’s the point of all these dumbbells and other fancy equipment if I’ve got this covered?’

The point is progressive overload. We want to keep building muscle mass and getting stronger and to be able to do that we need to add more weight over time to make the movements harder (by increasing the resistance you are moving against). You could do this by loading your shopping trolley a bit heavier every week and overfeeding your pets so they become gradually heavier to pick up. However, it might be more efficient (and better for your pets’ long-term prospects!) to follow a regular strength training programme utilising some of the equipment I mentioned at the start of this blog.

Your next thought might be ‘Fair enough but why do we need to keep building muscle mass? I don’t want to start competing in bodybuilding competitions.’ Because if you’re not building it you are losing it. According to Harvard Health, we lose 3-5% muscle mass per decade after the age of 30. If you are a woman, you will lose even more during menopause (lucky us!).

‘That sucks. What does this mean in everyday life though?’ The stuff that you are doing now (pushing that trolley, getting up out of that chair) will get harder as your muscle mass decreases. You are more likely to get aches and pains if your muscles aren’t working properly and the likelihood of getting injured will increase. You are going to be less likely to live independently if you don’t have the strength to undertake day to day functional movements. This stuff is really important and relevant to your everyday life.

The NHS recommends that people over 65 should be doing some strength training at least twice a week. As we get older it’s not just our muscle mass that strength training helps, it’s our bone health too. We all lose bone mass and strength as we age (another menopause ‘bonus’ means women lose more than men) and this increases the risk of osteoporosis, falls and fractures.

Not only can being strong make your life better, it can also make it longer. According to Dr Michael Moseley’s radio 4 series ‘Stay Young’, a recent analysis found that people who did 30 to 60 minutes of resistance training a week had up to a 20 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease and cancer. He also interviewed a champion weight lifter who started weight training for the first time in her 70s!

I work with clients in their 50s and 60s and have seen first-hand the stats to back up their training. A client in her 50s who hadn’t done any regular resistance training before has seen her muscle mass increase by 5% in the 6 months she has been training with me. That’s a result of her dedicated and consistent training twice a week, progressively using heavier weights. When we started working together she was bench pressing 4kg, now she can lift 20kg.

If you want to make your life easier now and better in the future then resistance training is for you! Now. No matter how old you are. It’s never too late to experience the benefits.

If you’d like to find out more about how resistance training could become a regular part of your life, get in touch for a free consultation.

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