Strength Training

By on March 1, 2015

By Debra Atkinson−

The following is an excerpt from Navigating Fitness After 50: Your GPS For Choosing Programs and Professionals You Can Trust on strength training.

The simple truth is without strength training you’re going to be weaker, fatter, more frail, dependent, and more likely to experience a fall resulting in a fracture. Aerobic type training is not going to stimulate skeletal muscle growth or improve strength therefore is not going to have as big an impact alone on improvements on body composition as a resistance training and aerobic exercise program combined (1). The more decades you’ve accumulated the more you should prioritize strength, of all speeds.

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Strength training provides a higher return on your investment of exercise time (provided you have a good routine) with every passing decade. There are two key reasons why.

You reached peak muscle mass at about 25. Each year after that without exercise to combat losses you’ve been losing up to 1% and approximately eight to ten percent each decade. You can do the math on that one. Why is it important to you? Your metabolism, your health: as you lose muscle you alternately increase your fat. You burn fewer calories and probably don’t push away from the table sooner. Fat loss, not weight loss is the goal and weight training is a must. Beyond that the problems that arise with overweight and obesity are multiple. Maintaining and gaining lean muscle tissue is desirable, and possible at all ages. Muscle will at some point mean independence to you. Sexy at one point was tight, toned, defined. Later sexy will be who can carry the tray in the cafeteria.

If you aren’t currently doing something to keep your lean muscle it’s time to start. Significant improvements are documented for all ages, including 90-year old nursing home patients (2). Sarcopenia, the debilitating condition afflicting the elderly is attributed to a combination of inactivity and insufficient or use of dietary protein. Loss of muscle size and strength mean greater risk of falls for older adults.

Second, you reached peak bone density by about 30. You lose, without the appropriate activity to stop it, slightly less than one percent of that bone density each year after. During menopause (which can last three to five years) a woman’s losses can increase to three percent and then return back to about one percent loss per year following menopause. Early loss of bone density goes unnoticed, as it causes no pain or discomfort. Combined muscle and bone losses mean higher risk in falls that result in a fracture. Spinal fractures that go undetected can result in pronounced kyphosis of the thoracic spine in the upper back. Read more on osteoporosis in that chapter.

Start now. Over eighty diseases can be attributed to exercise deficiency. Strength training makes daily activities of living easier, enhances posture and improves body composition. Beyond that would you respond, “Yes, please” to being younger next year? Research is showing that a decline in mitochondria, which are responsible for energy production, is not just a natural part of the aging process as once thought. With resistance exercise middle-age men improved their mitochondrial function significantly. Six months of moderate training turned back the clock in the mitochondrial function of exercisers by 40 years (3, 4). Who’s younger next year? Could be you.

In this chapter you’ll find not just the why but the how of strength training. I include recent studies to provide proof and examples of protocols that work, not to make this some scientific mumbo jumbo that solves your insomnia problem. Only studies that pertain to middle aged and older adults are included even though specific ages might not be included directly in the text. Our focus here is on strength training over 50, and in some cases flirting with 100.

Gone are the days of a generic exercise prescription for all. Old school is that everyone should do four to six lower body exercises and six to eight upper body exercises. A standard exercise prescription of one to three sets of 10 repetitions and with at least 48 hours of rest, once the mandate for everyone has been replaced by more strategic programming. You are unique.

Debra Atkinson photoDebra Atkinson, MS, CSCS is America’s Boomer Fitness Expert and author of Navigating Fitness After 50: Your GPS For Choosing Programs and Professionals You Can Trust. Debra hosts the WellU After 50 Podcast in iTunes and provides tips for pro-aging and changing our expectations for aging. She provides answers and insights for women who find the rules to weight maintenance, energy and fitness have suddenly changed. For more information about weight training watch Debra’s video.


About Debra Atkinson

Debra Atkinson, MS, CSCS is America’s Boomer Fitness Expert, speaker, and author of Navigating Fitness After 50: Your GPS For Choosing Programs and Professionals You Can Trust. After 30years in the fitness industry Debra committed to making sure women have good choices, real answers and putting an end to the diet and exercise confusion. Her new book, The After 50 Fitness Formula for Females based on her women’s coaching workshops is due out in 2016. Visit Debra at

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Strength Training