If you’re over 40, you’ve felt it. As we age, our bodies change. Hormone levels drop. Recovery time lengthens. Fat tends to accumulate over our previously toned abdomens. The questions many of us ask as we enter into middle age is, “Am I just going to have to live with the fact that I have less energy, more fat, and less muscle than I did when I was younger?” "What is the best workout program for a 50 year old man?" "What can I do to look and feel my best?"
Today, I want to answer those questions. First, I want you to know that it is possible to stay fit and energetic as we age. In fact, I have found that well into my 50’s I can still build muscle, stay lean, and feel great throughout the day. I am absolutely convinced that you can do the same. All it takes is understanding a few basic principles. And the amount of time and effort it takes will come as quite a pleasant surprise.
What's the best workout program for a 50 year-old man?
Staying fit in your 50’s and beyond takes a balance of proper, exercise, nutrition, hormone levels, and rest. Today want to tackle the topic of exercise. Time and time again I have guys about my age come up to me and ask, “How does my exercise routine need to change now that I’m in my 50s?” “The good news,” I tell them, “is that it really doesn’t need to.” The short answer to the question “What is the best workout for men over 50?” is that there is none. I prescribe workouts not based on age, but on ability and the amount of time that someone has been doing resistance training. As a rule, you can do the same workouts in your fifties that you did in your twenties. (You may need time to build up to this if it has been a while since you worked out).
But, if you want to get maximum gains as you move past 40, there are a handful of critical principles to keep in mind.
Check Your Ego at the Door
It’s something deep inside our very nature as men. As we workout, there is a drive to load up and lift the heaviest weight we can. Our competitive nature pushes us to prove to ourselves how much we can lift. We desire to see improvement every time we workout. Some of it is just primal ego. We want to show we are the strongest guy in the gym.
If you want the best workout you can get over fifty, it’s time to check your ego at the door. Even when I was at my peak of my bodybuilding career, I lifted weights where I could do 15-25 reps per set. If you lift a weight heavier than this, you are not only increasing your risk of injury, but you are also decreasing the effectiveness of your workout. To maximize your gains, your muscle needs to feel “threatened.” This occurs with a sustained intensity for a higher number of reps.
In fact, one of the biggest reasons I see people year after year coming into my gym with no discernible change in their bodies is that they over-train! You don’t need to come into the gym more than three or maybe four times a week. When you do workout, don’t spend more than 45 minutes or so lifting. That is plenty of time to train two or three muscle groups. If you go longer, your body will begin to produce cortisol, which actually breaks down muscle tissue.
As someone over 50, workout in a way that is going to deliver maximum results. Strive for high intensity training with a manageable weight. Focus each movement on working the muscle, not moving the weight. Come in 3-4 times a week for 45 minutes. Don’t over-train! You’ll be amazed at how your body responds.
Always Prepare Properly
How many times have I seen a guys of all ages walk in the gym, go to the bench and just start pressing away like they are going for their personal best. This is just asking for an injury. No matter what your age, always, always, always warm up.
In all of my years of lifting and bodybuilding, I have never had a significant injury in the gym. All my joints still work and feel great. I am convinced that this is because I am absolutely committed to warming up before I start. Before you begin to work a muscle group, exercise it with a very light weight. Do bench presses with just the bar. Lift one tenth of what you normally do on a machine. Do enough reps that your limbs feel loose and the movement is easy.
When your tendons are cold, they are more susceptible to microscopic tears in the sheeting that surrounds them. This is the root cause of injuries that can keep you away from training for weeks or even months. Remember, the best workout is always one in which you don’t damage yourself!
Focus on the Fundamentals
When I think about the question, "What's the best workout program for a 50 year-old man?" the first thing that comes to mind is fundamentals. The key to making muscle gains as you age is to walk into the gym with a plan for exactly what you are going to do. What muscle group or groups are you going to train today? Definitively answer that question. Then stick with fundamental exercises that work that group.
Here’s the problem. Today we are overwhelmed with fad exercises that come and go. With so many movements and exercises flooding the gym, there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of exercises that don’t properly exercise the muscle, much less yield results. For instance, last week I walked into the gym and saw someone doing a flat dumbbell press (laying on a bench and pushing dumbbells upward) with only one arm, rather than two. This isn't just unusual, it's ineffective! The problem with this is that is doesn’t fully contract the pectoral muscles and the benefit of the exercise is lost.
The question to ask is "What exercise is best for the muscles that I am going to work today?" If we take a chest workout for example, there are 15-20 great, proven exercises you can choose from to work that muscle. Flat bench press, incline bench press, dumbbell flies, dumbbell press, flat machine press, incline machine press, cable crossovers, and others are all great examples. Choose two or three. Work your chest. Have fun doing it and go home.
Here’s the great news. Even as you enter into your fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties you can still build muscle and feel great. You can build a great quality of life that allows you to enjoy your family and do the things you want to do. The best workout for men over 50 involves following the simple principles I have laid out here.
So, don’t sit back and let age get the best of you! Work hard to stay trim, build your muscle mass, and stay fit and energetic! No matter what your age, you’ll be rewarded for it.
About Porter Cottrell
Porter Cottrell was inducted to the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness Hall of Fame in 2011. Since his professional bodybuilding days, he has committed himself to helping men over 40 live their lives to the fullest. He is passionate about teaching simple principles that will help guys lose weight, build muscle, and stay vibrant and fit for a lifetime.