It’s no secret that the effects of age affect performance, so how do you train for size and strength in your later years?
Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology and cofounder of Renaissance Periodization, breaks down what can you expect from your training based on your age.
The easiest way to understand this topic is to break down age groups. These are:
Please bear in mind that this is a sliding scale, based on your fitness habits and sporting history, the messages you can take home if you sit towards the end of each age group might still be the ones given out to the age group above or below you.
How to train for size and strength at the different levels of human age
15-30 years old
You can expect your best responses to both size and strength training in this age group, explains Dr Israetel.
There are only few differences in results within this age range, but generally, these are the ages where you can make your most absolute gains.
People in the 15- to 30-year-old age range usually recover pretty quickly from joint stress and so are able to repeat hard sessions back-to-back.
“Even if you get hurt, it’s not the end of the world,” says Dr Israetel. The process to return to training from an injury is generally uncomplicated. “This is the best time in your life to accept [the risk of injury],” he continues, which simply means it’s the best time to train as hard as you want.
If you want to reach your absolute athletic peak, starting training early in this age range will give you the biggest change of success.
The best training to do in this age range, if you want to be the biggest and strongest you’ll ever be, is to focus on the construction of basic mass and strength and place less emphasis on details of strength and physique.
30-40 years old
If you’re aged between 30 and 40 years old, you can expect good responses to size and strength training.
“Once you get closer to 40, most people start to see a lowering of responses,” says Dr Israetel. “It doesn’t mean you get worse; it means you get better noticeably slower.”
Gaining muscle is still completely possible, the process will just be slower than it was when you were younger.
If you start weight training towards the end of this age rage, it is less likely that you’ll reach your lifetime’s peak compared to if you started training in your late teens.
However, if you did start lifting in the 15 to 30 age range, then it is towards the end of their 30s that most people hit their absolute peak of strength and size. Some people reach it at the start of their 40s.
“This is where your lifetime best is happening.” – Dr Israetel
In this age range, joint stress recovery is also “decent,” meaning if you get hurt, you can recover but the journey might be lengthy and recovery might not always be complete.
40-60 years old
On average, the 40- to 60-year-old age range is where you’ll see significantly lower responses to size and strength training than you did in previous years.
“Generally speaking, you just won’t see nearly as good a good growth rates as you did when you were younger,” says Dr Israetel. However, if you started lifting in your 40s, you can still see some pretty decent gains in strength and size.
It is a big misconception to think that you can’t make strength and mass gains in your 40s, 50s or 60s. If you started training at 45 for example, you’ll consistently make gains for the next five to 10 years.
“If you start late, you can still have awesome progress.” -Dr Israetel
If you started lifting in the 30 to 40 range, you’ll peak in the 40 to 50 age range. If you started lifting before, there’s still a chance you might peak in your early 40s and after that, when you get into your 50s and 60s, you might be able to hold that size and strength and/or reduce it slowly.
Recovering from joint stress usually takes much longer time in this age range, which means heavy sessions should be less frequent. Instead of hard sessions, your training should gravitate towards a higher total volume of lighter, more frequent sessions.
“If you get hurt, there are potentially much more complicated avenues of recovery from those injuries that you sustain, so you want to make sure – if you’re aged 40 to 50 and you’re training with weights and you want your best results – that injury avoidance is huge in your training,” says Dr Israetel.
This means you might not train as effectively as you used to but the trade off is longevity.
60+ years old
At 60+ years-old you will see the slowest responses to size and strength training. “You just don’t see the same absolute relative responses from people,” says Dr Israetel.
There are big differences within this range as well; the responses to training between the ages of 60 to 75 are much higher than what you can expect aged 75+.
Recovering from joint stress takes much longer, which means heavy sessions should be planned less frequently, with most of your training happening on the light side (think 10 to 30 reps as opposed to lower rep ranges).
“There is a lot of potential for complicated recovery from injury,” says Dr Israetel. “You want to make sure that injury avoidance is huge in your training.”
The aim of your training will probably shift from gaining muscle and strength to sustainability. Lifting weights becomes less about recreation and more about sustaining a healthy way of life.
If you started training in this age range, you will see the most life-altering changes.
“Older people absolutely should be lifting weights in almost every circumstance because for them, that alteration is huge,” says Dr Israetel.
If you started training in the 40-60 rage, you might peak as you reach your late 60s, but your size and strength will ultimately begin to reduce.
“It’s a huge dividend, it’s still awesome to keep lifting weights [in this rage] and the matter of fact, relatively speaking, it’s much more awesome to lift weights in this range than in any other time,” Dr Israetel concludes.
What to expect from your training as you age?
You are very unlikely to reach your ultimate genetic potential if you start lifting after the age of 30, and the later you start weight training after age 30 you become less and less likely to reach that maximum potential.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t see incredible results in size and strength. You can still get big and strong, especially, you can get way bigger and stronger than you would have ever been without strength training.
If you want to get bigger and stronger, training in your youth should prioritise results, while training later in life should prioritise longevity.
Remember that size and strength are relative. Even if you get “smaller and weaker” later in life, your numbers might still be incredible compared to the rest of the population at your age, and your performance enough to live your life to its fullest until your last day.
Quality of life tends to decrease as we age, and the most positive note about strength training later in life is that it can massively slow down the ageing process. It can help you continue to live your life independently.