Ask The Trainer #169 – Gaining Muscle Later in Life

Ask The Trainer #169 - Gaining Muscle Later in Life


I am 67 years old and have been weight training for 7 years, with no results.  My Testosterone count was very low, so now I am on shots, 1 X a week.  I also take pre-workout supplements, protein drink, creatine, glutamine.  I can lift heavy weights, but I’m not showing any results.  What am I doing wrong??



Hi Peter. I appreciate your question. I think most of us would concur that training hard for 7 years without realizing any appreciable results would be very frustrating.

Testosterone levels certainly play a significant role in our ability to increase the amount of muscle mass we possess. It also has a profound impact on our metabolic rate, red blood cell production, bone density, libido, and mood. When our testosterone levels are insufficient, all these benefits will be reduced.

If you recently began testosterone replacement therapy, then you’re probably not going to see much in terms of muscle mass or strength increases within the first few weeks of therapy.

Most studies I’ve looked at suggest improvements in libido, energy, and mood, will generally show within 3-6 weeks. Whereas, it takes about 12-16 weeks of therapy to see notable changes in muscle mass and strength. They then stabilize within 6-12 months of treatment. In other words, you may not have been on testosterone therapy long enough to realize the full benefits.

Better Late Than Never

I applaud you for striving to tackle your fitness goals at the age of 67. I’ve met some people who lost all hope of getting in better shape after turning 30!

They somehow believe their self-imposed limitation was actually legit. Of course, we know better than that.

Being well connected in the fitness community, I’m constantly reminded of this. Age is a nominal factor when it comes to building a lean, muscular physique.

I’ve met people well into their 60’s and even 70’s who could put a lot of 20 or 30-year-olds to shame!

It’s tough for me to offer you any specific advice because I don’t know what your exercise or nutritional regimens look like.

Age-Appropriate Training

At this point, I can only speculate where you might be going wrong. Even so, I will say the biggest mistake I see mature adults making attempting to follow the same workouts and/or nutritional regimens promoted by much younger trainers.

This isn’t to say you can’t look just as good as a lot of younger trainees. You just have to play by a different set of rules to obtain quality results.

As we age, not only do our testosterone decline, but the rest of the beneficial hormones in our bodies decline as well. This hinders your ability to recover from workouts. It’s especially true if you’re lifting heavier weights.

I know I probably sound like a broken record when I make this point. If your muscles can’t recover, they can’t grow. When you’re a senior trainee, you’re going to naturally have higher levels of inflammation in your body.

Moreover, you also have reduced nerve conductivity. This means when you engage in resistance training, the microscopic stress to your muscles, tendons, and the central nervous system are amplified.

The way to compensate for these challenges is by strictly limiting the volume and frequency of your weight training sessions. A 67-year-old trainee will not be able to get away with performing as many sets per workout or doing as many weight training workouts per week as, say, a 27-year-old.

Key Training Guidelines

Again, I have no idea what your workouts or your diet look like. So it’s tough for me to say specifically what changes you should be making. However, I will offer a few general guidelines I think will help point you in the right direction.

  1. Limit your weight training sessions to no more than 3 times per week. Any more than this will greatly increase the likelihood you’ll overtrain.
  2. Limit your weight training sessions to roughly 30-45 minutes of intense training. Remember, intense training also means you won’t be able to train as long if you want to avoid overtraining.
  3. Perform primarily compound or multi-joint exercises. Senior trainees are more susceptible to overtraining. So, it’s counter-productive to do lots of isolation exercises. Forget doing loads of concentration curls, triceps extensions, wrist curls, leg extensions, etc. Instead, mostly do exercises like chest presses, dips, squats, rows, and other compound exercises. NOTE: If free weight exercises aggravate your low back or joints, most gyms offer a variety of machines that make suitable alternatives to free weight movements such as freestyle squats, bench press, and barbell rows. Additionally, many gyms have assisted dip and pull-up machines that are wonderful for individuals unable to perform bodyweight dips and pull-ups.
  4. Keep your body moving on your non-lifting days. That doesn’t mean you need to do anything crazy like run a marathon. In fact, doing too much aerobic activity on your off days will raise your cortisol levels and work against your body’s muscle building and fat burning processes. Instead, try less stressful activities like a nice walk or bike ride. I even know people who get plenty of activity just by doing yard work. P.S. Riding lawn mowers don’t count. The point is you don’t have to abuse yourself. Just make it a priority to engage in some physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day.
  5. If your goal is to get leaner to reveal more muscle definition, focus on cutting your calories back a bit. The bodies of senior trainees aren’t as efficient at utilizing food as fuel. Therefore, you don’t need to consume as many calories as individuals who are younger. Just to keep things simple, I suggest reducing the portion sizes of your meals by approximately 1/3. Except for the veggies. Vegetables are loaded with chemicals known as phytonutrients that offer many health benefits like decreasing systemic inflammation, supporting healthy blood sugar levels, and maintaining a strong immune system.
  6. Take measures to decrease inflammation. It causes more physical pain and increases your chances of falling victim to a myriad of degenerative diseases. It also works against your body’s ability to build muscle. Supplements like fish oil, turmeric, vitamin C, boron, and resveratrol, have all been proven to help keep inflammation at bay.

Even though I couldn’t give you very specific advice, I hope some of this information will help bring a little more clarity to your concerns.

I wish you all the best of success with your health and training endeavors!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,

Chad Shaw

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