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Building Muscle After 50 - The Complete Guide

by Patty Weasler, RN July 26, 2017 0 Comments

Senior couple in gym working out

Whether you’ve been training your whole life or are picking up weights for the first time, strength training is crucial for building muscle after 50. Healthy muscles and a strong core support aging joints to relieve pain and improve your overall quality of life. Getting up and down, performing daily tasks, and living your life become easier. Plus, you decrease your risk of developing conditions like osteoporosis. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to get started. We’re going to talk about how to build muscle after 50, simple exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck, and how to properly fuel your body for workouts. Ready to get stronger and remain independent for years to come? Let’s get started!

Developing an Exercise Plan for Building Muscle After 50

When it comes to getting stronger and building muscle after 50, planning is key. Having your exercise routine laid out before you walk in the gym means you get right down to work—and keep your confidence up by knowing exactly what you’re doing.

As you’re developing your exercise plan, focus on maintaining consistency. Doing a little a lot will lead to huge benefits. You’ll feel better, and life will become easier. Come up with a plan and stick to it to maintain your strength and independence as you age.

To help you get started, we’ve laid out some basics: setting your schedule, deciding when and where to train, and some simple exercises that are perfect to ease you into your new exercise regimen.

Start by piecing together your schedule. You can do this by asking yourself these three questions.

1. How Much Time Should I Devote to Lifting?

We strongly recommend you create a regular routine that involves lifting at least 2 to 3 days per week.

Studies show this is the minimum frequency needed to achieve the benefits of lifting after 50. More days can lead to more benefits, but you need to consider your ability and potential limitations.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services states in their Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

  • Adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should lift at least twice per week and work the major muscle groups each time they lift.
  • Adults 65 and older should follow the same guidelines, but with awareness of their limitations. Modify strength training based on current conditions and ability. Include exercises to improve balance if you are at risk for falls.

2. When Should I Train?

You may hear different opinions about the ideal time to work out, but choose the best time for your life and body. It may be easier for you to work out earlier in the day because you're too tired in the evenings. Conversely, you may be more motivated later in the day. Both morning and evening exercise have their benefits. Getting the workout in is what counts.

Building Muscle in the AM:

  • Daily events are less likely to derail your workout.
  • A calm centeredness sets the tone for your afternoon and evening.
  • When everyone else is waking up, you’ve already been productive!
  • You have more time to reflect or set intentions for the day.

Building Muscle in the PM:

  • An evening workout is a healthy transition from work to home.
  • You will jumpstart your metabolism before dinner.
  • You’re fully awake and alert for your lift.
  • You can reduce stress that has built up during the day.

3. Where Should I Train?

gym equipment The gym is full of equipment you won't have at home—machines, free weights, squat racks, and cardio machines. ( Image Reference)

You’ve got a few options for places to train, and there are advantages to each.

Building Muscle at the Gym:

  • Access to a variety of strength training equipment you aren’t likely to have at home
  • A sauna, hot tub, and pool
  • Meet new people and join classes

Building Muscle at Home:

  • Maintain privacy
  • Work at your own pace
  • Work out on your schedule

Wherever you choose to work out, stick to your goals and your schedule.

Learning Exercises for Building Muscle After 50

Basic lifting movements will form the basis of your workout routine. To get you started, check out these strength training exercises to help you start building muscle after 50.

Free Weights

Free weights include barbells and dumbbells and force your body to work in unison. Multiple muscle groups work together to build functional strength. Benefits of free weights include:

  • Improved functional mobility
  • Strengthened core and stabilizing muscles
  • More options for modification

Remember, free weights can be dangerous when used without proper form. Always have your form assessed by a professional, and never increase weight before you're ready.


  • Have a personal trainer or coach assess your form.
  • Check your form in a mirror.
  • Always find a spotter when necessary.
  • Increase weight by 5% each week to avoid plateaus. If you’re not gaining muscle, you’re probably losing it.

    Free Weight Exercise: Back Squat

    senior man back squat Squats have been called the "king of all exercises" because they build functional lower body and core strength. ( Image Reference)

    Step 1: Place the barbell on your lower shoulders. Do not rest it on your neck.

    Step 2: Stand with feet at hip width. Hold a deep breath. Drop your hips, keeping your chest up and eyes forward.

    Step 3: Squat to parallel, if you can do so comfortably.

    Step 4: Exhale and push through your heels. Maintain a strong core and good balance.

    Imagine you are spreading the floor with your knees. If your knees tend to cave, squat with a band around them to practice pressing out with your knees and driving through your heels.

      Weight Machines

      elderly man doing exercise Weight machines are great for targeting specific muscles, but that strength doesn't always translate to free weight exercises or daily life. ( Image Reference)

      Exercise machines are great for beginners. They isolate muscle groups, and because they direct you through the range of motion, they pose less risk of injury than free weights. Benefits include:

      • Focus on one muscle or one muscle group at a time
      • Sit or lie down while performing the exercise
      • Less risk of injury
      • Simple, easy-to-perform movements
      • Easy to change weights

      Keep in mind, weight machines do not develop your core and stabilizing muscles like free weights. The weight you handle on a leg press will not translate to back squats.

      Read each machine's instructions before you use it, or ask for help from gym staff.

      Machine Exercise: Leg Press

      Step 1: Load the plates onto the machine.

      Step 2: Situate yourself in the seat, with your feet flat on the platform and knees bent at a comfortable angle.

      Step 3: Drop the safety catch. (Your feet should not go below the catch while using the machine. Adjust the catch if necessary.)

      Step 4: Extend your legs, without locking your knees. Slowly lower until your knees are at a 90-degree angle.

      Step 5: Exhale and extend your legs. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

      Never allow weights to fall when using machines. Lower slowly and control the weight back to the starting position.

      Bodyweight Exercises

      Bodyweight strength training exercises involve working against the resistance of your own body weight. Bodyweight training has several key benefits:

      • Easy to do anywhere
      • No expensive equipment
      • Modify exercises to increase difficulty
      • Perform in the pool for a low-impact workout
      • Work into a cardio routine


        • Be vigilant about maintaining proper form.
        • Modify as needed. Working against your body weight will not be easy.

        Bodyweight Exercise: Push Up

        senior doing push ups If you can't do a full push up, elevate your hands on a chair or table. Eventually, work up to adding weight to your back. ( Image Reference)

        Step 1: From a plank position, with arms tight to your sides, lower until your nose touches the ground. Keep your back flat and core tight.

        Step 2: Push up to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

        Bodyweight Exercise: Lunge

        Step 1: With one leg forward, drop your back knee toward the ground. Keep your core tight and head up.

        Step 2: Push yourself up. Step forward, and repeat with the opposite leg.

        Cardio for Building Muscle after 50

        Certain cardiovascular exercises have strength training components. For example, climbing stairs develops your quad strength. Benefits of regular cardio include:

        • Increased muscle strength
        • Heart health
        • Improved mood

        To maintain good health, aim for two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity per week.


        Cardio Exercise: Stair Climber Leg Lifts

        Step 1: Climb on a stair climber or a set of stairs.

        Step 2: After each step, extend your lower leg behind you and squeeze your butt.

        Step 3: Repeat with the other leg.

        Cardio Exercise: Stair Climber Crossovers

        Step 1: Climb the stairs laterally, facing sideways.

        Step 2: Cross one leg in front of the other.

        Step 3: Turn to face the other side, and repeat.

        Workouts for Men Over 50

        Some people avoid the gym simply because they’re not sure what to do when they get there. Have you ever faced a gym full of machines and free weights and had no idea where to start? We can fix that! Follow this simple workout routine, and get your work in like a pro.

        General Warm Up:

        • 5 to 10 minutes on treadmill
        • Stretch the chest, legs, core, and back

          Muscle Warm Up:

          • 1 x 20 bodyweight squats
          • 1 x 20 wall pushups

          Muscle Building Set

          • 3 x 8 bodyweight push ups
          • 3 x 8 dumbbell squats or back squats
          • 3 x 8 lat pulldowns

          Cool Down:

          • 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio
          • Stretch and foam roll

          Rest 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets. Select a weight that is about 75% of the maximum you can lift. Never attempt to lift your max weight for reps.

          Workouts for Women Over 50

          Ladies, have you ever walked in the gym and headed straight for the cardio machines? Maybe you watch the gym-goers out on the floor and think you’d like to try more strength training, but you don’t know where to start. Dive in and give it a go! The following workout routine is a fantastic starting point.

          General Warm Up:

          • 5 to 10 minutes of cardio
          • Stretch arms, back, butt, quads, and calves

          Muscle Warm Up:

          • 1 x 15 each stationary lunges or reverse lunges
          • 1 x 15 dumbbell bicep curls

          Muscle Building Set:

          • 3 x 10 bicep curls
          • 3 x 10 seated rows
          • 3 x 10 plyo box step ups

          Cool Down:

          • 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio
          • Stretch and foam roll

          Rest 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets. Select a weight that is about 75% of the maximum you can lift. Never attempt to lift your max weight for reps.

          Proper Nutrition for Building Muscle after 50

          healthy foods Proper nutrition is key for building muscle. Eat all the necessary nutrients and plenty of protein. ( Image Reference)

          Eating the right amount of calories, eating plenty of protein, and getting all the nutrients and vitamins we need are key to building muscle after 50.

          Consuming a Healthy Amount of Calories

          Building muscle to compensate for natural, age-related muscle loss, requires an increased caloric intake to allow muscles to repair and grow. Speak with your doctor to determine your unique needs, but here are general guidelines.

          Women Over 50

          • Inactive: 1,600 calories
          • Muscle Building: 1,800 to 2,200 calories

          Men Over 50

          • Inactive: 2,000 calories
          • Muscle Building: 2,200 to 2,800 calories

          Protein for Building Muscle After 50

          Protein is essential for building muscle, and protein intake should increase with age. If you are building muscle, plan to eat more than the recommended amount of protein. Ask your doctor or dietitian for an individual recommendation, but the following amounts are standard.

          • Over Age 50: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight
          • Over Age 65: 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight


          Supplement your protein intake with clean protein bars and powders.

              Carbohydrates for Building Muscle After 50

              Carbs give you energy and fuel your workout. Focus on whole grains and complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber. You will feel less hungry throughout the day and be healthier overall.

              • About 45& to 65% of your total caloric intake should be carbohydrates.
              • At least half your carbs should be whole grains.
              • A single serving of carbs could be one slice of whole-grain bread, a third cup of whole-grain pasta, or a medium-sized fruit.

              Nutrients & Supplements for Building Muscle After 50

              Several nutrients play an important part in building muscle. Work these into your regular diet.

              • Calcium and Vitamin D aid in muscle contraction. They are found in yogurt, cheese, milk, and almonds.
              • Iron aids in the transport of oxygen to the muscles. It is found in iron-fortified cereal, beans, and red meat.
              • Vitamin C protects against oxidative stress, which can be induced by exercise. It is found in oranges, broccoli, and green peppers.
              • Ginger relieves pain and muscle soreness.

              Tips for Building Muscle After 50

              1. Build a Support Team

              group of senior lifting dumbbells

              ( Image Reference)

              You’re more likely to stick to your goals and your strength-training schedule if you connect with a friend or a group. Find a training partner, or take a class at the gym. You’re sure to meet new people and develop a strong support system.

              2. Set Goals & Sign Up for Races

              You should set short- and long-term goals. A good short-term goal might be lifting three days per week for a month. A long-term goal might be to increase your bench press or complete an endurance race.

              3. Stay Consistent & Start Today

              Slow and steady wins the race. Follow the schedule you set and you will see results over time. Start making strides today.

              4. Self-Care

              Building muscle is great, but only if you are taking care of yourself while you do it. Remember to get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, and eat a balanced diet. Always stretch and warm up before you exercise, and remember to cool down after each workout.

              Benefits of Building Muscle After 50

              You may be getting older, but don’t underestimate the powerful and resilient nature of the human body. Research shows that it is absolutely possible for older adults to gain muscle. This goes beyond simply combating muscle loss!

              • Better Balance & Decreased Risk of Falls

              Several research studies show that exercise can reduce the risk of falls by nearly 20%. Falls are a primary cause of chronic pain, functional impairment, disability, and death in older adults.

              • Improved Functional Mobility

              Lifting weights will increase your walking speed and make daily life easier. Plus, it'll be much easier to get out of a chair!

              • Independence as You Age

              With better balance and improved functional mobility comes independence. You won't need to rely on your kids or a neighbor.

              • Decreased Risk of Disease

              An overwhelming amount of research indicates that exercise prevents disease. Lifting weights reduces the risk of osteoporosis and prevents bone loss. It also improves symptoms related to heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Lifting can even reduce pain in osteoarthritis patients.

              • Improved Mood & Wellbeing

              Lifting is one the best and most natural ways to get a mood boost! It can even lead to better sleep!

              • Weight Loss

              Strength training ignites your metabolism, which leaves your body ready to burn food like a roaring furnace! And those with low body fat percentages have higher metabolic rates.

              3 Common Mistakes When Building Muscle After 50

              It’s easy to do too much too soon. Here are common mistakes to avoid so you stay safe and enjoy your workout.

              1. Skipping the Warm Up

              It's important to prepare your muscles for the movements they're about to perform. Always do a bodyweight or light-weight warm up before jumping into your lift to prepare your neuromuscular system.

              2. Starting Too Heavy

              Give your body plenty of time to prepare for heavier loads by developing balance and muscular endurance. When you're first starting out, lift lighter weights for higher reps and focus on developing core strength and perfect form.

              3. Improper Form

              All movements should be fluid. Lift and lower weights in a slow and controlled motion, and never lock your joints. Try working with a personal trainer to learn proper form from the get-go.

              Start Building Muscle After 50!

              Muscle loss won’t go away. It will continue every decade until you end up in pain. Why not carve out a new trajectory for yourself? Building muscle will reduce your risk of falls and help you live longer with more independence. Your future self will thank you. Use the exercises we’ve laid out and add your own. Most importantly, stick to your schedule and your goals, and always fuel your body with healthy, muscle-building food.





              Sherrington, C. et al. (2008). Effective Exercise for the Prevention of Fall: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 56(12), 2234-2243.

              Liu, C. J. & Latham, N. K. (2009). Progressive resistance strength training for improving physical function in older adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

              Kannus, P. et al. (2005). Prevention of falls and consequent injuries in elderly people. The Lancet, 366 (9500), 1885-1893.

              Seguin, R. & Neson, M. E. (2003). The benefits of strength training for older adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 25(3), 141-149.

              Brown, A. B., McCartney, N. & Sale, D.G. (1990). Positive adaptations to weight-lifting training in the elderly. Journal of Applied Physiology, 69 (5) 1725-1733.

              Hurley, B.F. & Rot h, S.M. Sports Med (2000) 30: 249.

              Zuti, W.B. & Golding, L.A. Effect of Diet and Exercise on Weight Loss and Body Composition of Adult Women. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 4 (1): 49-53, 1976.

              Esmarck, B., Andersen, J. L., Olsen, S., Richter, E. A., Mizuno, M. and Kjær, M. (2001), Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. The Journal of Physiology, 535: 301–311. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7793.2001.00301.x

              Patty Weasler, RN
              Patty Weasler, RN

              Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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