Does Aging Affect Training?

Aging Does Affect Training, but Not in the Way You Think

Dexter Jackson at the 2008 IFBB Championships. Source:LocalFitness
Dexter Jackson at the 2008 IFBB Championships Source:LocalFitness

Lifting weights is becoming more and more popular in today’s society. Although fitness tends to be more popular among the younger generation, fitness is still important to the older generation. We researched the ways aging affects strength.

1. The Cross Sectional Area of Muscle (CSA)

Muscle size is heavily tied with muscle strength. Nonlifters tend to lose muscle mass as they age, primarily fast twitch (type II) fibers. However, studies showed that lifting weights will help retard muscle loss. Bodybuilding also shows that muscle mass can also be accomplished at any age. Dexter Jackson (47 years old) is a Mr. Olympia champion and came second for this year’s Olympia against a much younger lineup. More muscle mass also keeps your metabolic rate high, keeping you from getting fat as you age.

2. Maximal Strength

As humans get older we lose maximal strength(the max amount of weight we can lift). For men, its estimated that you lose about 10 to 20% of your max strength level as you age. However, much like CSA, this can be prevented by lifting as you get older. A look at any Master Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting meet shows that age can be just a number. Many records in powerlifting and weightlifting are set by lifters over 30.

One thing that keeps older people from lifting is the fear that they are too “brittle” and “old” to lift safely. However, a study done by Boston Rehabilitation Center showed that elderly (86-96) who began lifting showed increases in muscle mass and strength. The researchers also stated that strength exercises would help prevent falls, the most common injury for the elderly.

3. Nervous System

As people age there is also a decrease in the infrastructure of the central nervous system(CNS). As study in 1991 stated that there is a 37% decline in spinal cord connections and a 10% decline in nerve conduction speed as one ages. Other studies have pointed out that the loss of CNS structure and muscle fiber connections is due to the lack of proper conditioning from intense exercise.


Our research showed that one does lose strength as they age. They lose CSA, maximal strength, and CNS structure. However, all these losses can be lessened by lifting at both a young age and older age.

The research also surprisingly showed that lifting was not dangerous to the elderly, but could actually diminish their injury rate. On top of this, many powerlifting and weightlifting records are set by lifters over 30 while bodybuilding shows that one can be competitive at any age.

Lifting is not a young people’s game, do not fall into the mentality that you have missed your best years to start lifting. The best time to start weight training is now!

Required Reading:

  1. 50 Athletes over 50: Teach Us to Live Strong, Healthy Life
  2. Powerlifting over 50: Mastering the Skilled for an Empowered Body and Life
  3. When Pride Still Mattered : A life of Vince Lombardi
  4. Find a Way
  5. Supple Leopard


  1. Brooks, G.A. and Fahey, T.A.; Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and its Applications: Macmillan Publishing Co.; New York; 1985; pp 682-693
  2. deVries, H. Physiology of Exercise for Physical Educations and Athletics; Wm. C. Brown Co. Publishers; Dubuque, Iowa; 1966; p. 337
  3. Hakklnen, K. and Hakkinen, A.; Muscle Cross-Sectional Area, Force Production And Relaxation Characteristics In Females At Different Ages; Paper presented at the First World Congress of Biomechanics, August 30 -September 4, 1990; University of California, San Diego.
  4. Lamb, D.R.; Physiology of Exercise: Responses and Adaptations; Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.; New York; 1978; pp 117-118.
  5. McArdle, W.O.; Katch, F.l.; Katch, V.I.; Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance; Lea and F eblger; Philadelphia; 1991 : p 702-703.
  6. Stovas, Jane; 90 Year Olds Increase Strength Dramatically; In, Wrap-Up; The Physician And Sports Medicine; September, 1990; p 26.
  7. Westcott, Wayne; Strength Fitness: Physiological Principles and Training Techniques; Allyn and





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