Weight Training Tips for Older Men

Here are some weight training tips for older men.  Weight training seems to be the best way for most people to age better, stay more vital as they age, keep doing for yourself as you age, feel better and even look better.  But you need to be aware of the pitfalls.

Weight Training Tips for Older Men - Avoid Excess Volume

Volume is the accumulated sets and reps.  So 10 sets of 8 reps would be more volume than 5 sets of 5 reps.

As you age, you lose considerable recovery ability.  You get more tired.  When you get injured (and you will), it takes longer to recover. 

You will find that your life will really suck if you do too much volume.  It is difficult to sleep.  You ache.  You will be clumsy.  I typically struggle a bit making coffee the morning after a too massive of a workout.  You won't feel like doing anything.

The simplest solution is just to find the right amount of volume and still make progress (i.e. find the Minimum Effective Dose).

Here are some of my most recent workouts and schedule to give you some ideas on how I have minimized the volume of my workouts while still pushing around some huge weights for me.

My Workout A - Tuesday June 9, 2023

  • Bench

  • Warmups (6 total warmup sets) - 5 reps/45 lbs,  5 /45, 5/95, 3 /135, 2 /185, 1 /225

  • Work set (1 work set) = 5 reps for 250 pounds

  • Rack Pull 

  • Warmups (4 total warmup sets) - 5 reps/135 pounds, 3/225, 1/315, 1/365

  • Work set = 5 reps for 395 pounds

  • Hammer Dumbbell Curls

  • 8 reps/20 pounds, 8 /30, 7/50 
  • My Workout B - Saturday June 17, 2023

    Standing Overhead Press with a barbell 

    Warmups (5 total warmup sets) 5 reps/45 pounds, 5/45, 5/65, 2/95, 1 /135 

    Work set (1 work set) = 5 reps for 155.5 pounds


    Warmups (6 total warmup sets) 5 reps/Bodyweight, 5/BW, 5/45, 3/135, 2 /225, 1/295  

    Work set (1 work set) = 5 reps for 335 pounds

    Dumbbell curl

    8 reps/20 pounds, 8/30, 8/40

    My Workout A - Sunday July 9, 2023


  • Warmups (6 total warmup sets) - 5 reps/45 lbs,  5 /45, 5/95, 3 /135, 2 /185, 1 /225

  • Work set (1 work set) = 5 reps for 260 pounds
  • Rack Pulls

  • Warmups (4 total warmup sets) - 5 reps/135 pounds, 3/225, 1/315, 1/365

  • Work set = 5 reps for 415 pounds
  • Hammer Dumbbell Curls

    8 reps/20 pounds, 8/45 

    My Workout B - Friday July 14, 2023

    Standing Overhead Press with a barbell 

    Warmups (5 total warmup sets) 5 reps/45 pounds, 5/45, 5/65, 2/95, 1 /135 

    Work set (1 work set) = 5 reps for 156.5 pounds


    Warmups (6 total warmup sets) 5 reps/Bodyweight, 5/BW, 5/45, 3/135, 2 /225, 1/295  

    Work set (1 work set) = 5 reps for 345 pounds

    Dumbbell Curls

    8 reps/20 pounds, 6/45

    At this time I have been doing rack pulls instead of deadlifts because I tweaked my lower left back (kind of an on-going issue over the years) and the rack pulls are easier to avoid hurting that area.  At some point I want to go back to deadlifts and potentially rotate the deadlifts with the rack pulls.  For now I am enjoying moving some big weights with the rack pulls.

    Summary of main ideas of this routine:

    • 3 exercises for workout A and B.  
    • Alternate workout's A and B each time.  
    • At least 2 days of rest between each workout, sometimes 3 and sometimes 4.  If I am busy with life, I take more time.  Ideally I would weight train 2 times per week.  Some weeks I do, some weeks I do not.
    • Each workout takes about an hour. 
    • I do a very short overall body warmup at the beginning of each workout and also some shoulder specific shoulder warmups.
    • The first warmup set is done very slowly.
    • Low repetition warmups.
    • I take as much time as necessary between sets so that my heart-rate is low and I feel like doing the next set.  
    • Basically one heavy work set for each exercise.  

    I came to the reducing volume idea the hard way after suffering multiple injuries and even kind of dreading going to the gym.  Looking back, my worst injuries were on a second or third work set.  If you insist on doing multiple work sets you need a long rest between work sets.  But I just don't have the time or patience to wait 20 to 30 minutes between work sets.  Plus, everybody in the gym hates you for monopolizing the bar and rack.

    Weight Training Tips for Older Men from Starting Strength

    As Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength has said repeatedly, volume kills older weight trainers.  Volume in the form of high reps, multiple sets and too frequent of workouts.  You just cannot hope to recover from excessive volume as you age.  And you probably cannot really recover from it as a younger man unless you have great genetics (as evidenced by being a natural athlete) or by the use of steroids.

    Bad Advice About Higher Reps

    Weight Training Tips for Older Men

    I received a nice note from a reader and watcher of my A Happier Man You Tube Channel -

    "Firstly I want to say that I read your post on weight training for older men  and found it to be the best real life article I personally have ever found on the Web. The inclusion of the links and posts made it extremely useful to me in many ways. Your Youtube Video on the 5 – 3s was what I had been searching for. It was well done and referenced exactly what I had been looking for and needed."...I have no trainer nor confidant so I relied on the internet but there is so much crap out there, and little of it deals with the 50+ lifters. It was hard to find what I felt I needed. That is until I came across your site...I tried your Day #1upper body routine with the 5-3s and really liked it. I found on the last set and last rep, I was able to lift more than I had been able to do in quite some time...You talked that your late father struggled near the end. You also talked of the absolute need for a man to try to be as strong as possible in order to look after himself and enhance his life. Coming from your experiences it was all the more poignant and resonating. The love and admiration of your father shows through your post. It shows you are both a caring and quality person.  A stand-up guy in my books!"

    The Triples instead of Fives Video he referenced

    Weight Training Tips for Older Men - Some More Ideas

    Be careful on who you take advice from.

    More fit people and especially athletic trainers do not understand that an older man who may carry quite a bit of weight around the middle has a much harder time recovering than a younger or fitter or lightweight guy.  That guy doesn't have as much of a drain on him as we do.  When you're heavier, you get winded faster.  If you're heavier, you probably have spent much of your life too sedentary and have accumulated aches, pains, and other limitations.

    Getting Started After a Layoff

    I have been taking multiple longer trips in the last few years.  If I am out of the gym for a week or 2 or 3 or if I am too busy to workout or recovering from an illness or injury I will do a deload. I will also sometimes do a deload if I have made a very satisfying Personal Record usually with 3 reps.  It's hard on your mind (as well as your body) to keep going up in weight. 

    For me, I find a 10% or so deload works well.  I find that if I do a deload, I'll go down in weight, but then try to do 5 reps on my work set until I go heavier over the next number of weeks.  Continuosly going up in weight at my age and trying to do 5's is very taxing.  I'll do some 5's at the weights I've listed above, but be ready to go down to 3's very soon.

    Do Not Squat and Deadlift on the Same Day

    The starting strength novice program includes both these exercises in the same day.  But you will find that when you get very strong on both lifts, the toll on your body and mind is too much to deal with if you work them the same day.

    Do Your Pressing Before Your Squats and Deadlifts

    I know they typically say to squat first when your energy is highest, but I find it hard to do much of anything else except a few curls after squatting or deadlifting.

    What to Do Between Sets

    I sit down.  I always bring some type of bench over by where I am working out and sit down between sets.  Don't rush.  You should not be breathing heavy when you set up to do your last few warmups and especially your work set.  You will be breathing heavy after the work set.  After my last set of every work set, I usually need to sit down.

    In all cases, I like to rest enough between sets that I feel good. 

    I sit there and review my training log, towel off any sweat, drink water, chat with someone, fill up my water bottle, go to the bathroom if I have to and watch the clock to make sure I have rested long enough.  I don't have my phone with me.

    Assistance Work

    I like to use dumbbells for biceps assistance work.  I find the straight bar or even the EZ Curl bar very unforgiving on my wrists.

    The main problem with dumbbells is that they usually only go up in 5 pound increments.  There is no way to incrementally creep the weight upwards with dumbbells.  You'll get up to the weight you can lift and then stay around that level only adjusting the reps a little here and there.

    Your main focus should be on increasing the weight little by little over time on the 4 main lifts rather than trying to increase the weight on your assistance exercises.

    When to Go From 5 Reps to 3 Reps

    First of all, avoid doing 1 rep on your work set.  This implies a limit set.  The anecdotal evidence points to a bit higher reps than 1 to build strength.  If you can only get 1 rep on a work set it means you have chosen too high of a weight for your ability at that time.

    5's seem to be the optimum strength builder.  However, as you get older, 5's are really hard to do.  You get winded.  You lose focus.  You get hurt on the last rep or two.  You can't seem to add any weight.  Your old injuries ache.  You dread going to the gym.

    The solution is to drop down to 3 reps.

    When I was making my Personal Records on the 4 main lifts, I was dropping down to 3 reps.  When I plateaued and couldn't make any progress with 5's, I dropped down to 3 reps and the weight kept going up.  When my old right elbow injury acted up on my presses, I droppped down to 3 reps and could keep training without pain.

    Weight Training Tips for Older Men - Exercise Selection

    Focus your weight training attention on the 4 basic lifts:

    1. Squat
    2. Deadlift or Rack Pulls
    3. Standing Overhead Press
    4. Bench Press

    I know the Starting Strength method recommends the use of the Power Clean, but if you are an older man, I wouldn't recommend it.  They don't recommend it for older people either.

    These may be the only lifts you need to do.  At this point in my life I do these 4 plus some dumbbell curls.

    I used to experiment with these assistance exercises in the last 8 years or so of weight training:

    Chest assistance exercises

    • Dumbbell bench presses
    • Incline dumbbell presses
    • Dumbbell flys

    Biceps assistance exercises

    • Barbell curls
    • EZ bar curls
    • Various other curling movements

    Triceps assistance exercises

    • Lying triceps extension
    • Triceps pushdowns
    • Overhead triceps extensions with the cable machine
    • Dips in a machine
    • Close-grip bench presses

    Back assistance exercises

    • Bent over barbell rows
    • Bent over dumbbell rows
    • Cable pulldowns
    • Shrugs

    Leg assistance exercises

    • Leg presses
    • Calf raises

    Neck assistance exercises

    • Neck extensions

    Looking back at all these various exercises, no wonder I was always getting hurt.  It was just too much.

    I know all these exercises are fun to do and when you get enough sets and reps, they give you a great temporary pump and they may improve your muscular look.  But you have to be realistic in how much recovery ability you have as an older man.  You have to carefully choose one or two of these exercises to add to the main 4 lifts if you really feel the need to do extra.  But be careful to not do too many sets or reps.

    These exercises may be useful if you do injure part of your body and you can train with them in a manner to avoid hurting yourself worse.

    If you bench and press there doesn't seem to be a need for added chest, shoulder or triceps work.

    If you deadlift and/or rack pull there doesn't seem to be a need for any more back work.

    Certainly, if you squat, there is no need to do any other leg exercises.

    The only body part that is missing is your biceps.  So, I do some dumbbell curls and dumbbell hammer curls at the end of each of my workouts.

    Weight Training Tips for Older Men -More Volume Reduction Ideas

    The linear progression method from Starting Strength says do do 3 sets of 5 reps (sets across) for your work sets on the squat, press and bench.

    That is fine when you are a young man.  It may also be fine if you are an older man but untrained and just starting and therefore, lifting very light weights.

    But once you have increased your strength and are pushing significant weight around, you need to scale back the number of work sets.  I'd suggest just ONE work set.

    If you are going to do some assistance exercises, don't do too many of them and don't go too many sets of them.  Usually the advice is to do 3 to 5 sets of assistance work. 


    Why not just do ONE set?  You get the effect without as much potential for injury.

    The other aspect of volume is the number of repetitions you do.  It seems like doing 3 to 5 repetitions on the squat, bench, deadlift and press is the correct number.  When you do higher reps than this, you quickly lose your wind and your focus.  This is where the strains, pulls and tears come in.  

    With assistance work, you probably need to do higher than 5 reps.  The weight will be too heavy if you can only do 5 reps on an assistance exercised.  I prefer to do about 8 reps to 12 reps on an assistance exercise, with 8 being better. 

    Weight Training Tips for Older Men - Avoid Injury

    In addition to being careful in the gym with the extent of your exercises, number of sets and reps and using great form, you need to be careful with the rest of your life to avoid stresses and strains that impact your weight training and make your overall life suck.

    As you age, you just cannot handle the physical work the way you used to.  Your mind is so much stronger than your body and you will be able to do what you used to temporarily, but you will suffer afterwards.

    Weight Training Tips for Older Men Wrap-Up

    I'm 58 now.  Most people say I look to be in my 40's.  Weight training seems to have an age defying quality.  I certainly feel better than I used to.  I'm enormously stronger than from where I started.  I'm able to do a lot more than I used to also.   I rarely see older men weight training at my gym in any significant way.  I enjoy some compliments from the younger, fitter crowd.

    Think about these weight training tips for older men and reduce your chance of injury and enjoy the effects of weight training.

    › Weight Training Tips 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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