Aging and Weight Training

Since officially parted company with Gold’s Gym on the 15th of February I have had ample time to catch up on my reading and pursue a few side interests.  Among these interests is keeping up with current events. The news reports have been bombarding me with information on the current situations in the Ukraine, North Korea, Venezuela, Sochi and of course the United States.

All this information got me thinking about barbell squats and weight training in general.  Pretty simple really, you need to be doing it. If your an older adult, you really need to be doing it.   


I have had numerous athletes over the age of 55 years old and I insisted that nearly all of them squat. I say nearly all since several did not possess the conditioning or mobility needed to perform squat repetitions.  Just because I believe squatting is a good thing, does not mean it is the best thing for everyone.  The most athletic among my older athletes performed back or front barbell squats and least athletic performed bench air squats, which minimally meant that they would be able to reach a 90 degree angle, control their balance while squatting and building muscle stamina and cardio capacity under body weight.


The Squat Minimum-Minimum

In the cases of clients with functional or medical limitations, my initial training was designed to instill the ability to sit and stand up in an unassisted manner.  The desired outcome is to graduate to bench squats, then on to air squats and progressively more complex movement patterns.  Personally, I believe these cases are best serviced by a Physical Therapist and most commercial gyms are ill-suited for this purpose. .A general CPT has been trained to train healthy populations, not to work with those with major mobility issues

Knowing firsthand that these clients do indeed sign up for personal training, or have been directed to engage in weight training by a physician or physical therapist, the personal trainer must have  a high degree of patience and attention to detail. The coaching cues for this type of training emphasize the basic-basics of the squat mechanics and you can expect varying initial levels of fear or hesitation.


I have a Fiver that say’s this lady would love not having to rely on that cane to get out of a chair or walk-around.

Many of my athletes HATED doing squats, a few outright challenged me or try to negotiate with me so they could do some other exercise.  Truthfully, many of their younger and fitter counterparts hated it too. Some of them hated it simply because being nearly unable to get up by yourself from a bench made them feel weak, others hat


 “Chris, I will do squats on Tuesday if you give me a pass today.”


The “really?” look. (I like Tommy Lee Jones)

What I can’t understand, and honestly find personally insulting is when I have a person that IS perfectly capable of squatting, or has successfully squatted before giving me that look, or worse, actually saying “Really?” when I add weight to the bar or bring over heavier dumbbells.   MyTrainerChris handles it with coolness,wit and inspiring words….AngryBrownManChris would  smack your face off your face.   


 I was told recently that I should let the AngryBrownMan out from time to time.

After reflecting on it for awhile, I’ve realized that very few of my ex-coworkers actually had their clients perform squats with a barbell. Several did with body weight, dumbbells or as part of an HIIT routine, but on the whole I believe I was one of maybe 2-3 that coached the barbell version on a wide variety of athletes.

So why should older athletes squat, or at least use resistance training for their legs?  After all, there are trainers that believe that you shouldn’t squat after age 40 (I’m not making that up…hell, I couldn’t make that up.) For older people, Isn’t walking, jogging or biking enough?  

Walking, jogging and biking are better than nothing at all…just like breathing and consciousness…but in my opinion strength rules all  .


In the February 2014 edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (the official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association) the effects of leg strength decline was studied in athletes of advanced age that engaged in habitual endurance training. It was a light reading night.

Bottom Line up Front: If you’re an older adult, you really should be lifting weights. (Gee where does that sound familiar?)

From the study…

“With advancing age, there are significant changes in body composition such that body fat increases although modest losses are observed in muscle mass. The age-associated loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) seems to be consistent in cross-sectional studies in sedentary subjects of approximately 0.5–1.0% per year past the age of 50 years. Approximately 13–24% of adults older than 65 years have lost enough muscle mass to be considered sarcopenic, and this number increases to >50% of adults older than 80 years. 

The consequences of sarcopenia in sedentary adults includes decreased strength, metabolic rate, and maximal oxygen consumption. There is also a clear relationship between loss of muscle strength (dynapenia) and a loss of independence that contributes to falls, fractures, and nursing home admissions. Sarcopenia seems to affect both men and women similarly, although women tend to be at greater risk for loss of independence.”

Skipping ahead…

“…demonstrated that chronic intense exercise maintains thigh muscle mass and prevents fat infiltration in cross-sectional comparison of older master athletes. It is suggested that regular physical activity and structured exercise can help offset the losses in physical function described in older adults. However, our research group has previously demonstrated a loss in maximal aerobic capacity, muscle strength, and power in a cross-sectional group of older adults who exercise regularly, with their losses similar to that of their sedentary peers.

Exercise recommendations for older adults have progressed over the past several years with recent physical activity guidelines including recommendations for resistance training and intensity, whereas earlier versions focused solely on low intensity walking activities.   Starting in 1995, public health oriented guidelines (Centers for Disease Control/ACSM, Surgeon General Report, National Institute of Health consensus panel) suggested that the accumulation of ≥30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week would reduce the risk and progression of cardiovascular disease. However, resistance exercise was not part of these core recommendations. Recent evidence-based Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2007, 2008, 2011) present a consensus that all adults, including older adults, should have an aerobic activity goal (500–1000 metabolic equivalents [MET] minutes per week), which can be accumulated in bouts of 10 minutes or longer. Resistance exercise was also included in these guidelines to be performed twice a week to improve bone strength and muscular fitness .

Skipping down a bit…

“Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of habitual endurance (no weights-MTC) exercise on muscle mass (sarcopenia) and function (dynapenia) in active older adults.  Ninety-five very active older men (n = 59) and women (n = 35) were selected from a population of 237 master athletes participating in a longitudinal study at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. Data collection for the main study began in May of 1987 and continued through December of 2001; subjects attended the laboratory biannually for comprehensive physiologic testing.

Subjects self-reported years of training, distance run per week (kilometers), days run per week, and if they cross-trained in swimming, cycling, resistance exercise, and any periods of inactivity due to injury/illness since their previous test. “

The Gems…

“…another important change observed in skeletal muscle with age is a loss of motor units (MU) and a remodeling of skeletal muscle and the preferential loss of the type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers, which may contribute to strength losses. When one considers the size principle of motor unit recruitment and the fiber types required to sustain endurance running as an activity, the required strength output is low, cyclic in nature, and requires predominantly type-1 fibers.  When these muscle mass and recruitment patterns are combined with the reduction in total training volume (and most likely intensity) observed in our older runners, it is possible that our subjects (who used running as their sole means of exercise) may have sustained enough MU activity to maintain muscle mass but not enough high-threshold MU activity to sustain the faster type-2 muscle fibers that may contribute to the strength losses observed in this group. ” 

Essentially, If you don’t use it, you lose it. 

“…our data does support the newer exercise guidelines for older Americans suggesting resistance training be an integral component of a fitness program and that running alone was not sufficient to prevent the loss in muscle strength with aging. Physical activity and exercise programs for older adults should follow recent guidelines and include specific recommendations for days per week, number of exercises, sets and reps, and the intensity of the exercises performed.”



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