A Research-Backed Guide to Weight Training

Weight training is essential to maintaining muscle mass, function in old age
BY Mat Lecompte TIMEAugust 30, 2022 PRINT

Old-fashioned resistance training, such as lifting heavy weights repeatedly until you can’t, is the best way for older adults to slow, or even reverse, age-related muscle loss.

Sarcopenia, the medical term for muscle loss, can boost the risk for falls and frailty. Resistance training (also called weight training) can be a huge help. It consists of doing upper- and lower-body exercises using free weights, machines, resistance bands, or even body weight.

Ultimately, the goal is to stress your muscles enough to feel a difference but not overdo it to where you risk injury. You also want to train with the goal of continuous improvement, and not to plateau.

The main challenge is to find the sweet spot between doing too little or too much.

So, how do you get to that sweet spot? The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has published some evidence-based guidelines to follow.

Type: One or two multi-joint exercises per major muscle group were identified as being the most beneficial. There are six main muscle groups: chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs, and calves.

Multi-joint exercises are movements that engage more than one joint, such as the elbow and shoulder, knee and ankle, etc. They differ from single-joint movements, such as a bicep curl. Multi-joint movements allow you to move heavier weights, to increase muscle faster.

Weight: It’s recommended that older adults aim to exercise within 70 to 85 percent of their one-rep maximum weight. Because learning your one-rep max can be difficult and dangerous, pick weights with which you can do 10 repetitions with good form. You want to be struggling for the final rep or two, and leave no more than a rep or two in reserve.

Reps (repetitions): Guidelines have found that anywhere from six to 12 reps per exercise are beneficial. Start with doing 10 reps because it’s easy to remember, and as you progress, aim for heavier weights at six to eight reps.

Frequency: Doing two or three workouts per week produces the most muscle size and strength. Start with two workouts per week, spread out by a few days, and then add another as you progress.

It can take some time to start noticing the changes. If you’re not seeing more muscle or feeling stronger after eight weeks, you aren’t exercising hard enough and need to mix up your routine by adding weight or increasing the number of exercises.

Mat Lecompte is a health and wellness reporter for Bel Marra Health, which first published this article.

Mat Lecompte
Starting as a journalist over 10 years ago, Mat has not only honed his belief system and approach with practical experience, but he has also worked closely with nutritionists, dieticians, athletes, and fitness professionals. He embraces natural healing methods and believes that diet, exercise and willpower are the foundation of a healthy, happy, and drug-free existence.
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