Weight Training for Older Men

Weight training for older men is critical to the quality of your life.  Lifting weights, getting stronger and keeping your muscles is critically important for men, even older men.  You need to be strong, the stronger you are the better you will feel.

Plus, you will look better.

I saw how critical strength was to older men as I watched my once vital, powerfully strong father wither into frailty and death in the last year of his life.

This once unbelievably energetic and powerful man struggled to get up from a chair.  Going to the toilet was very difficult.  Getting out of bed took everything he had.  Every single simple action he needed to make was almost monumentally difficult.

This is what happens to older men.  As you age and get weaker, every part of your life is going to be an enormous struggle with each day eroding into more and more misery.

Do you want that?

I certainly don't.

Weight Training for Older Men
What to Avoid

So, you don't want to get weak, or stay weak, as you age.

You want to be strong and able to do for yourself as long as possible, hopefully until your last day, or hour, or better yet, your last second on this earth realm.

You don't want to spend years withering in a nursing home or assisted living being helped by others to do the simplest things.  You want to live well, as you see fit, the rest of your days.

So, I choose to stay strong by weight training.

But older men need to adjust their expectations on what they can do in the gym. 

Adjustments work two ways

  1. Adjust your thinking upward to weight train if you have never.
  2. Adjust your thinking downward to scale back the extent of your training to match your capacity as you age so you can keep doing it without running yourself ragged, getting sick and getting injured.

The best source of information for weight training for older men if you have never weight trained, is from Mark Rippetoes book - Starting Strength and Dr. Jonathan Sullivans book - The Barbell Prescription

Starting Strength teaches you how to do the movements.  The Barbell Prescription teaches you the why and the various training routines.  Both are excellent books and needed by you.

I have to make the second adjustment.  I weight trained hard, very hard, starting when I was 18 and lifted hard, seriously hard and often for about 10 years.  Pushing heavy weights around on a consistent basis was a huge part of my life.  Much of my life revolved around it.  Scheduling it.  Planning it.  Trying to recover from it.  Being big and strong with nobody messing me and enjoying the attention from women.  It was my hobby and my pastime.  The only activity I consistently pursued.  It was common for me to lift 4 and 5 days a week for 1 to 2 hours at a time.

I loved it.

When I got married, all that changed.  I totally stopped weight training for 15 years.  The normal excessive demands on married men with children and work demanded that I stop. 

So I did and it showed.  I got very fat, flabby, with no muscle definition and much weaker. 

I was still somewhat strong from the accumulated strength you gain from lifting for years and from the stress and strain of carrying my ever growing body size around and the continual hard work of hustling off to the job, busting my you-know-what at work, raising a family and bending over backwards for an extremely demanding wife.

But I did not feel well and I did not look well. 

Me in 2002. I was 38 years old. Very heavy and looking terrible. I was not old but I felt old and looked old. I had not weight trained in about 10 years

If there is any way, you, as a younger man, can keep weight training through these demands...do it.  You will have a far better life. 

But older men need to adjust how you train you age. 

Some younger men respond well to high volume sets, multiple sets, days in a row workouts and sometimes even multi day workouts.

As you age, you have to avoid that.  It is too hard on you.

What I've learned is that weight training for older men you need to do as little volume as possible while still getting in an intense workout.

Doing sets of 10 reps or more with your major lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench presses and overhead shoulder presses is too many reps for weight training for older men.

And as explained by Mark Rippetoe and Jonathan Sullivan, the majority of your weight training workouts should be based on the squat, deadlift, press and bench press.

10 reps on the

  • Squat will really bother your knees.
  • Bench will really bother your shoulders and elbows.
  • Press with really bother your shoulders.
  • Deadlift will really bother your back.

So don't do that.  Limit your heavy work sets to 5 reps max.

As you get stronger, or move up in weights, maybe 3 reps.  One way to approach the training is to move up the weight slightly over the weeks, I try to get 3 reps.  Then the next week 4 reps.  Then the next week 5 reps before moving up the weight again.

It seems to work to do some of the lighter weight assistance work of 8 reps or maybe up to 12 because it is so difficult to add small amounts of weight.  You basically add a rep, rather than more weight, but carefully. Always carefully.  Use good form and listen to your body.  If you feel like are going to get hurt...STOP...and put the weight down.  You can hurt yourself doing assistance work just as you can hurt yourself doing the big lifts.

As you get tired at the end of any set, you are more susceptible to injury.  Your mind is far stronger than your body and wants to push past your physical limits.  Especially if you weight trained in your past at a fairly high level.  But you need to be careful.

When you are weight training for older men you want to avoid ligament strains, muscle pulls, damage of any kind, tendonitis and over training.  Your recovery ability diminishes as you age.  It is nearly impossible to overcome training volume without lengthy layoffs.  And healing an injury takes an enormous amount of time.

The starting strength model is based on 3 sets of 5 reps on squats, bench presses, overhead shoulder presses and power cleans.  With one set of 5 reps on the deadlift.

This works good when you start and to build your strength.  But at some point in your training you become quite strong and you won't be able to recover from that amount of weight training volume with the sets across.

I don't do power cleans at all.  I am afraid of the movement.  It is fast and hard.  I don't see myself ever trying it.  If you're an older man, who has never done it, why bother?

I also tend to do 1 set of 5 reps on the squat rather than 3 sets of 5 especially with big weights.  The problem for me is that that first set is heavy and hard and I have a hard time recovering to do a second and 3rd set.  I have pulled a hamstring on the second set.  So, I normally just do the one set.


Weight Training for Older Men from Starting Strength

Older Men Need to Lift

A heart breaking story played out over and over again of men growing old, weak and frail.  This happened to my dad.  This happens to most older men.  But it does not have to happen to you.


Weight Training for Older Men
More Thoughts for Aging Lifters

  • Squat once every other week or less if you are squatting substantial weights, say above your body weight.
  • Squat heavy for 3 reps rather than 5 reps once you are squatting heavy.
  • Ensure you use the wider stance, low bar, knees out Starting Strength style of squat that is hip dominant.
  • Deadlift every other week or less if you are deadlifing heavy, say substantially above your bodyweight.
  • Same idea on keeping the reps at 3 instead of 5.
  • Warmup adequately, but not so much that you are worn out for your work set.
  • Try to do ONE heavy work set rather than sets across.
  • Avoid high reps, such as 10 reps for warmups and work sets for most exercises.  The injury potential is magnified as you get winded and lose focus.  Keep to 5 reps, maybe even 3 reps on the big lifts.  Keep to 8 reps or so for assistance work too.
  • Do not do so many sets.  This is where you get hurt.
  • If you are going to do multiple work sets, sit down to rest for many minutes between sets...up to 10 minutes or more.
  • You may need to bench a little more often than you squat and bench to keep your chest looking better.
  • Try to do the minimum effective dose of training.
  • Do less reps, less sets, fewer workouts to avoid injury but still keep your strength up and feel good.
  • Some weight training for older men movements are not necessary.  Some even hurt you.  You want to reject ALL movements that hurt you.

Weight Training for Older Men from Dinosaur Training

Dinosaur Training -Brooks Kubik -Blog

"Are Five Work Sets Too Much?"

I just got an email from a reader who says he does 5 x 5, using five work sets for each exercise.

He wondered if that was too much.  Short answer: Yes, it's probably too much
work -- but, like anything else, it depends on several different factors -- and it will probably change for you over time.

Many trainees get very good results from ONE work set. They find that they over-train if they perform more than one work set -- especially in exercises like squats and deadlifts.

Other trainees do well with TWO or even THREE work sets. But three is the limit for most trainees, unless they're doing very low reps (singles,doubles or triples).

As a general rule, older trainees do better with fewer work sets -- and stronger, more advanced trainees do better with fewer work sets. So what works best for you may change over time.

If you do five work sets, you need to follow an ultra-abbreviated training program. Limit yourself to one or two exercises per workout.  You won't be able to do justice to more than that.

And here's a thought: If one, two or three work sets do the job for you, why do more than that? 

Weight Training for Older Men
Thoughts from Starting Strength


Do less.  Do less. Do less.

Do less sets.  Try one work set worked hard and intensely.

Don't tire yourself out with your warmups.  The volume of work sets and even excess warmup sets will not be good for you.

Do less reps. Limit reps on the main lifts to 5 maximum or maybe 3 to 5.

Lift less frequently.  Give yourself more days between workouts.  Weight training 3 times a week is probably too many times a week.  Avoid training based on specific days of the week.

But keep lifting.

Even with limiting the amount of work you do, you will get hurt.  You will get rundown and sick and have to take plenty of time off to recover.

Weight Training for Older Men
Using sets of 3 of sets of 5 reps thoughts

A Happier Man's Current Workout

  • Workout 1.  Bench, Close Grip Bench, Bent Rows, neck extenstion, Dumbbell Curls, Tricep Pushdowns, Hammer Curls, Behind the back Standing Wrist Curls.
  • Workout 2a. Press, Squat, Neck, maybe some arm work if I have time or it has been a long time since my last workout.
  • Workout 2b.  Press, Deadlift, Neck, maybe some arm work.  Basically workout 2a and 2b are the same just alternating squat and deadlift.

I sometimes work in a few other exercises such as shrugs, rack pulls, leg presses and curl variations. 

Weight Training for Older Men
Things to Help You Recover

  • Glucosomine is good for the joints.
  • Fish oil is good.  Although some people point out that it may be better to avoid fish and any fish products due to mercury poisoning.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Multivitamins.  Maybe every 3 to 4 days.
  • Creatine is good.
  • BCAA's are good.
  • Knee sleeves for squatting.
  • Elbow sleeves for benching and pressing.
  • Knees wraps for squatting.
  • When squatting, use the low bar, wide stance method as described in the starting strength method.  This puts the majority of stress on your back and hips, rather than on the knees
  • Active release therapy massage is good.
  • Foam rolling may not be that effective because your body weight is creating compression.  You need shear.

Weight Training for Older Men
What to Think About to Keep Going When You Don't Feel Like It

I think about how my dad was so very weak in the last year or so of his life.

Everything he did was a struggle.  He had no strength.

When I think of not going in to the gym, or ending my workout early, or not getting in an intense workout, I think of my dad and how the weakness at the end of his life, made the quality of his life very poor.

We learn a lot from our parents.  Both what to do and what not to do.

My dad taught me to not get weak as I get older.  Thank you dad.  Just one more great thing you taught me.  I miss you and wish you were here to get into the gym with me.

Weight Training for Older Men
› Weight Training for Older Men

The only way I could become the happier man I am today was by leaving my wife.  You might be in the same situation I was in.  I suggest you take a look at my book - Leave Your Wife & Become a Happier Man with the 3 Step System.

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