in Bodybuilding Science

How To Build Muscle In Your 60s And 70s

Can you really still build muscle in your 60s?

A customer (Steve P, age 74) offered the following tips. I’m reposting them here with his permission.

Hi,

Sorry you are experiencing difficulty via implementing the Dr. Muscle program. Carl’s findings and programs are very valid and I would suggest that your problems might be in cause of your initial approach/expectations. I will attempt to explain and provide recommendations as succinctly as possible.

1) If you have been lifting for many years or over a lifetime like me then you can’t help but live in a time when you were at your best. What you could do in your 20’s and 30’s doesn’t correspond to your current capabilities. Re-evaluate the set-up of your program and answering the exercise question: what can you do easily for 6 reps. I try to leave my ego aside and if I error in being “too light” then the percentages of increase as programed via Dr. Muscle will correct for that in successive workouts. At least you won’t get the “de-loading” flag indicating that you are not measuring up.

2) Go to your local hardware store and invest in some washers -(6-10) that have the same hole diameter as the Olympic bar or the bar that you are using. Each washer weights less than a lb. and can give your ego and ability a boost to experience progress without the larger jump in using 2 1/2 and 5lb increments which for DB and some cable/barbell exercise can be too great of a percentage increase.

3) How do you feel after a workout? Refreshed or dragging? The day or two afterwords: not sore or very sore? You should feel a bit tired, slight soreness or pump but anxious and raring to go by your next workout.

4) Progress is not necessarily liner but will come many times in leaps and bounds. You might be stuck a week or more at a particular wt./rep range and then all of a sudden be able to do an appreciable amount more. Relish in and accept that progress.

5) At our age and if you keep your sets close (1-3 minutes) apart then 45 minutes per workout is sufficient. 3 or 4 workouts a week would depend on the above criteria mentioned and/or perhaps a weight workout one day and for the next workout do a conditioning or aerobic input.

6) Eat reasonable but don’t get caught up in a wild supplement search. Use a balanced approach – adequate amount of protein 75-100 grams a day, complex carbs and healthy fats – some saturated, and fat from salmon, avacodos, nuts, seeds, etc.

7) Maybe start a journal. Take account of how you are now preforming and feel and then compare that months later. Too often we compare ourselves with other gym members more or less our age or with what we mistakenly expect of ourselves. Culture objectivity and embrace the fact that you are (in the least) working towards positive change and progress while so many others our age prefer to be couch potatoes, complain, and take pills to assuage their disgruntlement.

Hope this helps a little,

Steve

Building muscle in your 60s and 70s is hard, for sure.

I would add to Steve’s tips to work out less often (2-3 times a week, training each muscle 1-2 times a week) and using rest-pause sets (to save time). With these tweaks and a little luck, you’ll still build muscle and look and feel sharp in your 60s, 70s, and beyond.

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  1. Here’s an update from Steve, with my point by point reply, shared with Steve’s permission. Steve, thank you for your wisdom.

    Hi Carl,

    Don’t want to bother you but I feel that some of your “older” trainees might benefit from some of my observations as I apply your principles of training to my situation.

    Just in review: I am 74 1/2 years of age, been lifting seriously since I was 16. I eat healthy and have been able to keep to my (your) workouts 4 days a week. Aging occurs at different rates and time schedules as per individual. For some people they might feel a decline beginning in their 50’s while for others it might not occur until their 60’s or 70’s. I think that for most, it comes as a surprise. What you could easily do a few months or a year ago now is taxing, and it is not just due to an “off day”.

    I previously have written to you with the thought that this process of winding down or aging is often times subtle but wide ranging across many physical and mental body systems. In terms of lifting the ability to train often – near one’s maximum with either limit weight or extended repetitions – is greatly hampered. That ability to rebound after a tough workout and to extend your effort again within the same week just doesn’t have that elastic recovery. So in this light it would seem that the older lifter would need more time or days between heavy exertion.

    [Carl: Yes, that makes sense, and fits with my observations as a coach with older clients.]

    I have been following your rest-pause training protocol and do feel that the percentages and download procedures addresses these concerns better than previous workouts. Still it would be interesting if you could nudge some researchers to do a study of “older trainees” and see what their findings would be for optimal stress inputs for positive gains/improvement.

    [Carl: I’ll do my best, and let you know if I come across anything.]

    I have also found that there doesn’t seem to be a percentage differentiation when one selects a dumbbell movement over a barbell exercise. I believe that when selecting 30lbs for a dumbbell movement as compared to 30lbs for a barbell movement your percentage of increase over upcoming workouts is much greater for the dumbbells than the barbell. For that reason I have changed my approach slightly to “total” the weight of the two dumbbells and base further percentage increases on that amount.

    [Carl: Good point, and good idea. Yes, you’ll get a smoother progression if you put in the total.]

    Another thing that I have found disconcerting is that I generally plateau with a particular exercise in 4-6 weeks. If I continue on then while I might be able to make the lift, I find that I am recruiting synergistic muscle groups which I feel defeats the purpose in working a specific muscle. So in this case, I generally change the exercise and start my “exercise climb” all over again. Without this procedure I get frustrated, overly tired and nurse a greater possibility of injury.

    [Carl: Great observations. Changing exercises often is a good way to avoid injury, for sure. But there’s a case to be made for keeping the same exercises around a long time, too. The main argument being that when you change often, it’s hard to know if you’re really making progress. Whereas if you keep the same ones, you’ll know for sure. It becomes harder to progress over time, so you have to get creative. It’s a challenge, and a tough one. It’s also a bit risky (injuries), so it may just be better overall to continue changing.]

    By far most all weight trainees seek to add more muscle and strength while trying to reduce fat. It is often times a frustrating and never ending battle. As rank beginners most tend to believe that proper eating and exercise will turn them into the super human giants featured on magazine covers. Soon this misconception is mollified as we confront the reality of our genetics.

    [Carl: Haha! Good point. And let’s not forget steroids.]

    Is there any research out there that scientifically points to the proper balance of “eating maximally” i.e. sufficient calories and nutrition to fulfill one’s genetic potential? Overeating, even of good nutrition I don’t think is a good answer anymore than trying to fill an 8 oz. glass with 12 oz of liquid.

    My observation over the past 59 years of lifting is that you first need to stimulate growth in the weight room and eat well but pumping down the high calorie protein drinks and six meal a day stuffings is more torture than benefit. The body has its own speedometer and force-feeding will not beneficially move the metabolic peg any higher or faster. What is your opinion?

    [Carl: I really liked your analogy of the 8 oz glass. I’ve also been through the shakes / 6 meals a day drill, and I agree it’s no fun. Yes, there’s a balance to strike, and my favourite way is the “slow bulk” approach. The best guide I’ve found on it is this one: https://rippedbody.com/how-to-bulk/. I think you’ll like it.]

    Thank you Carl for being there and providing us with research reports based on science not just anecdotal articles in the muscle rags. Most of those articles are out there to sell supplements, overlook drug input and want you to believe that 15 minutes a day will give you an Apollo body.

    [Carl: Thank you for your kind words, and for sharing that wisdom. Always a pleasure to hear from you.]

    Keep up the good work……

    Steve