Here at Strength Ambassadors, we are big advocates for the many benefits of strength training for older adults. In fact, we advocate strength training at any age.
We are excited that the mainstream media is starting to spread the word about how regularly training with weights can combat the loss of muscle strength, muscle mass and bone density associated with ageing.
We welcome people of all ages to our strength classes, but often hear similar concerns from older potential members.
They are attracted by reports of increased independence, reduced risk of osteoporosis, improved sleep, reduced depression and potential reduction in the signs and symptoms of many chronic illnesses. But they are understandably concerned by some widespread misconceptions.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a short list tackling the common myths you might have encountered about strength training for older adults.
“I’m too old to start strength training now”
There is no such thing as “too old” to start training for increased strength. What is most important when starting a strength training program is to work with someone who can help you to find the correct starting level and move you forward at the right pace for you. A good coach will work with you to assess your current capabilities and meet you where you are at right now.
The right starting point looks different to different people, and may bear very little relation to calendar age. As well as variation between people, you may be stronger in one area of your body than another depending on a whole variety of genetic and lifestyle factors.
In strength training we talk a lot about “progressive overload”, or muscles getting stronger over time in response to increasing demands on them. This principle applies at all ages. Bodies are amazing. Placing even a small amount of extra demand on your body over time will result in adaptations to meet that demand. In short, train appropriately and you will get stronger!
“It’s not safe for people my age to be lifting heavy weights”
If we could shout one thing from the rooftops, it would be that there is no one safe weight for somebody to be lifting that can be judged from an external factor such as age or gender. “Heavy” is a completely relative and individual term.
What is an appropriate weight for you to lift is based on one thing only: what weight YOU are able to lift safely. A coach can help you work that out by demonstrating the movements, looking at your form when you lift and giving you tips to help you move in safer and more stable ways.
Some elements of strength are determined by genetics and may vary person to person. By the time we reach older age, there is even more likely to be disparity among our strength levels based on years of having lived a variety of different lifestyles.
Good strength coaches will treat you as a person, not a number, and will support and encourage you to work with weights that are challenging but safe for you. Whilst we love to see our members picking things up, your body is also a weight itself and, with the right guidance, a lot of great strength training can be done without an additional load.
“I won’t be able to do those movements at my age”
Maybe you’ve seen a video or photo of someone lifting weights and getting into a position you don’t think that you could get into. That’s more than okay. Many of our clients struggle with some of the movements at first because they are new and unfamiliar.
With appropriate coaching and training, you can often strengthen your body over time to be able to reach positions you previously didn’t think possible.
For example, we often start new lifters of all ages squatting down to a higher target they can comfortably reach, then gradually reduce it until they can get their backside right down level with their knees.
That said, we all do have different anatomy (joint angles, limb lengths and so on) and movement histories that might make some lifts difficult for us to do properly.
One of the best kept secrets of strength training for older adults is that there are so many different ways to perform the basic movement patterns. If one lift is too challenging, you can still get all the many strength and health benefits of training by performing a slightly different variation that better suits your body. Great strength coaches have the skills and experience to help with finding the right movement for you.
“I have a dodgy [insert body part] so cannot strength train”
It’s a fact of life that as we get older, we’ve had more chance to accumulate those irritating niggles and injuries. Whilst these can be very frustrating, they rarely mean that it is not possible for us to strength train at all.
We would always advise seeking appropriate medical or physiotherapy care for any issues, but once you are cleared for exercise, we usually find that it is possible to work around many less severe issues. To take an easy example, if you have a bad shoulder, you can still get a huge amount of benefit from training the rest of your body. In class, our coaches are always happy to provide alternatives to exercises that are not right for you.
We hope this information clears up a few persistent myths about strength training for older adults and gives you or someone close to you the confidence to have a go at strength training. We love our members’ stories of just how life-changing it can be!
Inspired by strength training for older adults? Check out this fantastic story from the BBC about 71-year-old powerlifter Catherine, who only took up the sport six years ago.