By Jackson A. Thomas
Growing up on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Norman Compton surfed, played football and rugby, and ran in marathons. He has also worked as a Hollywood stuntman for more than 25 years.
Today, at 64 years old, he has maintained an active lifestyle, citing that age is just a number when it comes to working out and staying fit.
“I have a few videos on YouTube on some of the things I still do to stay strong,” Compton says. “As a fitness expert, I have seen and made many of the mistakes people – regardless of experience – make in strength training as they age.”
Lifting weights and other muscle-building activities are taxing on the body when you’re young, and can be counterproductive and even damaging when you’re older if proper care is not taken. It’s important to understand what’s appropriate for your age and how to take care of your body when it doesn’t recover as quickly as it once did.
“As men age, the goals of their workout also change,” says Jeremy Herniman, an athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Thompson Health. “I wouldn’t say there is a certain age when guys should make the transition from building muscle to maintenance. Each person is different, and it all depends what they have going on.”
Training to stay strongAs testosterone levels start to decline after age 35 or so, the body has a more difficult time gaining and maintaining muscle, primarily because of the body’s reduced ability to produce and use testosterone. Strength training can help level the playing field.
“Strength training serves to keep testosterone as elevated as possible in the healthy range, which helps men feel like men – strong, energetic, healthy,” says Sarah Walls, a personal trainer and owner of Strength & Performance Training in Fairfax, Virginia. “Strength training also keeps bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons in good condition as we get into later stages of life.”
The decrease of testosterone doesn’t necessarily mean older men should strive to lose muscle mass. It also doesn’t mean your age should stop you from lifting altogether, says Herniman, who assists older patients with weight training.
“Many of the older people I work with have arthritis,” Herniman says. “As men age, the risks of doing high-impact or plyometric exercises outweigh the benefits.
“This all depends on what a person has going on physically, and that is more important than the age. If someone has arthritis or knee pain, it would be more beneficial to do lower-impact workouts.
“Weight training can take place regardless of the age.”
Be realistic, be successful
Bodies that are still developing can handle more abuse because they’re are not yet breaking down, and they recover more quickly than aging bodies.
“Usually, an older person just wants to work on balance and flexibility, and stay strong,” Herniman says. “An older man may just want to be able to walk through the store without fear of falling or having to use a cane. Both young people and older people can do similar exercises, but the older man would use far less weight and do more repetitions.”
Herniman recommends that strength-training routines for older guys last for no longer than an hour, and he often advises his clients to set realistic goals. If an older man is just starting to lift, he should start with some basic movements.
“An example of this would be a squat,” Herniman says. “I would start with just a bodyweight squat, working on proper form. I would make sure they have proper form before adding weight. This would be effective no matter what the person’s age. If someone has experience and has already mastered good form, then we can move on to weighted squats, deadlifts, etc.
“Obviously, with the older population we don’t need to be loading the bar super heavy. The key is to help someone get stronger while minimizing the risk of injury.”
Herniman adds that if an ambitious older man plans to exercise one hour per day, seven days a week, he will likely find that’s not going to be something he can sustain.
“Some like to do upper-body strength training one day and lower-body another. Some like to mix in balance and agility and maybe some core exercises another day,” he says. “Others like to do a few exercises for each area each day. The best method is whatever helps the client stay motivated to continue.”