Bodybuilding after 60 may sound like an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp” or “dull roar.”
After all, countless research has found that we lose muscle mass and muscle strength beginning around the age of 30, so by the time you are 60 years old, the concept of bodybuilding over 60 may seem entirely untenable.
However, even if you are over age 60, it does not mean that you can’t improve your physique. So, can you build muscle after 60 years of age?
In this guide, we will discuss if you can build muscle in your 60s, how aging affects muscle mass and strength, the benefits of building muscle after 60, and the best tips for building muscle in your 60s, whether you want to do bodybuilding as a senior or just look and feel your best.
We will cover:
- Can You Build Muscle After 60?
- Will Building Muscle After 60 Help Me Stay Fit?
- How to Build Muscle After 60
Let’s jump in!
Can You Build Muscle After 60?
Peak physical prime is generally considered to be between age 20 and 30 for most adults, after which the aging process starts to slowly cause a decline in various physical attributes, including bone density, muscle mass, muscle quality, and muscle strength.
According to some research, the rate of muscle loss and muscle strength for middle-aged adults is about 9 to 20% per decade.
For one, adults tend to become less active and may engage in less vigorous strength training programs or exercise routines.
The cliche, “use it or lose it, “ may feel tired, but there is truth to these words: you will lose muscle strength and muscle mass after 40 if you are not consistently working hard to maintain or build muscle in your 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Furthermore, besides the behavioral or lifestyle changes that can cause us to become weaker and lose lean body mass as we age, there are also physiological or biological aging processes that make it harder to build muscle or maintain muscle strength, muscle mass, and bone density in your 60s that you acquired in your younger years.
For example, beginning in our 30s but certainly accelerating after 50 and 60, there is a decline in the production of the key muscle-building hormones such as growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, and testosterone for both men and women.
These anabolic hormones are key in building muscle, recovering from workouts, and supporting lean body mass.
The good news is that although the loss of muscle strength and size was once considered an inevitable part of getting older, research has demonstrated that it is indeed possible to build muscle after 60 and increase strength after 60.
In particular, consistent strength training in your 60s and beyond has been shown to not only slow the losses of muscle mass, strength, and bone density but also potentially even reverse them.
This means that building muscle in your 60s is not just a pipe dream but a realistic goal so long as you are committed to implementing the best strategies for how to build muscle after 60 years of age.
For example, one study examined the effects of a 10-week strength training program on 100 adults with a mean age of 87 (range 72-98 years).
In this group of seniors, muscle strength increased by an average of 113% compared to 3% in the non-exercising control group.
Seniors who did the strength training program saw an average increase in cross-sectional quad muscle area by nearly 3% while it declined by 2% in non-exercisers, indicating that it was possible to build muscle after 60 and even after 80 years of age!
Ultimately, while you may need to work harder to build muscle after 60, bodybuilding for 60-year-olds is absolutely possible and can improve functional independence, increase strength, lean body mass, and metabolic rate.
Will Building Muscle After 60 Help Me Stay Fit?
Equally exciting is the fact that there is also evidence suggesting that strength training can reduce signs of aging at the cellular level.
There is an ever-growing body of research demonstrating how aging actually occurs at the cellular level with various markers of the aging process, such as shortened telomeres, which are the ends of chromosomes, as well as mitochondrial dysfunction.
In some cases, your biological age, which refers to the relative age of yourselves based on these various cellular signs of aging, can belie your chronological age.
If you can lower your biological age, you are essentially living in a younger body than your chronological age would dictate, pointing to increased longevity as well as improved functional independence as you get older.
Studies investigating the effects of strength training for older adults have found that even though seniors show signs of mitochondrial impairment and muscle weakness, these losses can be partially reversed at the transcriptome level of the genes with resistance exercise training.
These genetic reversals lead to functional improvements in strength.
For example, in this above-referenced study, the older adults were 59% weaker than the young adults at baseline, but after six months of resistance training, the strength deficit was decreased to only 38%.
How to Build Muscle After 60
The process of building muscle after 60 isn’t inherently all that much different from the steps for how to build muscle for younger adults.
However, the caveat is that it takes more of a concerted, consistent, and disciplined effort devoted to all of the steps for how to build muscle over 60 due to the biological factors stacked against you that make building muscle for older adults more challenging.
In other words, while you can build muscle in your 60s, it is a little more of an uphill battle.
Your hormonal profile and other factors of aging mean that you not only need to just counteract the normal rate of strength and muscle loss with age but do enough to supersede these natural processes so that you actually build muscle rather than just halt muscle loss.
In your 20s and possibly even your 30s, you may have been able to work out more sporadically and still build muscle.
However, if you are trying to build muscle in your 60s, you need to work out consistently and purposely with the best strength training workouts for over 60-year-olds while dialing in your diet for muscle growth.
Here are some tips for how to build muscle after 60:
#1: Take Enough Rest
When you are working on how to build muscle in your 60s, one of the most important things you can do is be consistent with your strength training workouts but take enough rest to support recovery and effective muscle growth.
Make sure that you are taking at least 24 to 48 hours of rest in between workout sessions where you target the same muscle groups to allow for adequate recovery.
Workout recovery is slower as we age, and if you lift heavy with the same muscle groups too often, you will continually break down your muscle tissue without allowing ample time for the reparative process—muscle protein synthesis—to occur.
This will compromise your ability to build muscle mass and can increase the risk of injury.
That said, although body parts split routines can be a beneficial way of training more frequently without using the same muscle groups every day, some research indicates that doing three full body strength training workouts per week was more effective at building muscle than body part splits.
However, the study group did consist of younger men, so it is not clear whether the same principles would necessarily hold true for building over 60.
Interestingly, in the study, the full-body workouts included only one exercise per muscle group, meaning you don’t necessarily have to spend hours in the gym to see good results.
#2: Lift Enough Weight
Many seniors feel like they have to lift lighter weights.
Although studies suggest that lightweight for high reps can be an effective way to increase strength for novice weightlifters if you have been strength training for most of your adult life, don’t be afraid to lift heavy weights that align with the strength continuum recommendations for hypertrophy:
- 8 to 12 reps per set with 65 to 85% of your 1RM.
You should be reaching fatigue by the end of the set while still maintaining good form.
#3: Use Progressive Overload
At least every 2 to 4 weeks, if not sooner, you should progress the weights you use in your bodybuilding for 60-year-olds workouts to apply the principles of progressive overload.
Doing so will help ensure that you continue to get stronger and build muscle as your muscles adapt to the weights that you are using.
#4: Perform Compound Exercises
If you want to build muscle in your 60s, it’s essential to focus on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, bench presses, rows, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, etc.
These exercises improve functional strength and support hypertrophy by boosting testosterone production; as such, compound exercises should make up the bulk of your hypertrophy training.
#5: Use Free Weights
As long as your balance and coordination are okay and you feel confident in your form, lifting free weights such as dumbbells and barbells has been shown to increase anabolic hormone levels more than using weight machines.
#6: Work On Your Diet
Getting enough protein in your diet is essential for building muscle after 60.
Evidence suggests that eating at least 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight at each meal—aiming for a total of 1.6 – 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight for the day—is recommended for building muscle while doing workouts geared towards bodybuilding after 60.
This protein needs to be spread out throughout the day in doses of 25-30 grams to maximize protein utilization for muscle growth.
Carbohydrates are also important for muscle growth and are your muscles’ preferred fuel source during high-intensity exercise, such as strength training workouts.
Studies suggest that drinking a sports beverage with carbs during your workout can help support muscle protein synthesis, which is a good tip for how to build muscle after 60.
#7: Try Supplements
Taking certain supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), protein powders, and creatine, may also help you build muscle after 60, as these supplements can accelerate the rate of muscle growth.
Check out our guide to natural ways to boost testosterone here.
Overall, building muscle after 60 is a great way to keep your body young, spry, and fit, and combat the aging process.