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Old Fri, Apr-12-24, 02:14
Demi's Avatar
Demi Demi is offline
Posts: 26,968
Plan: Muscle Centric
Stats: 238/153/160 Female 5'10"
Progress: 109%
Location: UK
Default The muscle miracle: can I build enough in my 60s to make it to 100

The muscle miracle: can I build enough in my 60s to make it to 100 – even though I’ve never weight-trained?

To live a long and healthy life, you need plenty of muscle. But we all start losing it in our 50s. Can a 60-year-old man build himself up – and maybe even get a little ripped?

I'm not good with unexpected questions. There’s always a chance I’ll blurt out something crass, irrelevant or just plain dumb. So when I was filling in the forms for some personal training and got to “Whose physique would you like to emulate?” I think I did quite well to choose “Daniel Craig at his peak”. By that of course I meant Craig’s Bond days, when the media would drool over his “enviable six-pack, bulging biceps and washboard stomach”. 007? O-O-heaven, more like! Licence to kill? Licence to thrill!

It was still a load of cobblers. How weird would it be to find yourself with a stranger’s legs and arms and torso? At 60, with hopes of making it to 100, all I really want is more muscle – and not only out of vanity. Bulking up is one of the most important things you can do to future-proof yourself. As the longevity expert Peter Attia puts it, “If you are interested in living a long and healthy life and playing with your great-grandkids someday, then muscle mass should be a priority. Never in the history of human civilisation has a 90-year-old said, ‘I wish I had less muscle.’”

We lose roughly 1% of muscle every year from our mid-50s; by 80, Attia says, the average person will have shed 8kg, or about 18lb. Not only does this make it harder to carry the shopping or open stuck jars; it undermines our balance and weakens our bones, making it more likely both that we will injure ourselves and that we will fail to get over it.

“Old people fall over and then they break something and then they’re really buggered,” is how Peeps Nicol, a 72-year-old powerlifter, sums it up, having discovered the joy of competitive sport at a time when most of her friends were settling into retirement. It’s particularly bad for women, who must contend with not just sarcopenia, the technical term for muscle wastage, but a higher risk of osteoporosis, which makes your bones brittle.

The solution to all this? Resistance training and diet, basically. We’ll get to diet in a minute, but resistance training simply means “moving something that doesn’t want to be moved”, in the words of Simon Lord, a 64-year-old personal trainer who describes his typical client as “a lady in her 50s”. That “thing” could be your own body if you’re doing push-ups, a dumbbell if you’re working through some biceps curls, or a leg extension machine if you’re giving your quads a workout at the gym. So while cardio work like swimming, running or cycling often gives you a chance to get in the flow, switch off and zone out, resistance is all about stopping and starting and, in my limited experience, swearing. Crucially (and frustratingly), if you want to build muscle it’s not enough to plod away at something that’s easily within your capabilities: the last few “reps” – repetitions – of each manoeuvre must be progressively harder, until you can’t push yourself any more. “If you can do more of them,” Lord says, “you haven’t done enough.”

Regulars call this training to failure; the goal is to create “microtears” in your muscle fibre that will increase your bulk as they heal. This isn’t as painful as it sounds: you may feel a little soreness the next day, particularly if you’ve tried something new, but if it’s more than that, you’ve possibly done something wrong.

Like Nietzsche said: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Still, even Nicol admits none of this is immediately appealing. “It’s an effort,” she says, “and people don’t like to make an effort.”

It certainly makes my heart sink. After 15 years of fine-tuning a fitness regime that works for me – learning to love running, finding a high-intensity interval training (Hiit) class that I enjoy, stumbling across a swimming pool where I can count on getting a lane to myself, taking my first baby steps into yoga – the thought of one more thing I absolutely must fit into my week, and that will always be a challenge, does not fill me with joy.

And yet I know I need to do it. Having lost so much weight since my 40s that I can now see my muscles, I worry that I can now see them shrinking.

Fixing this doesn’t have to take over your life, Lord insists. “I think if someone was prepared to spend an hour and a half a week, they would see significant long-term benefits,” he says. And it doesn’t have to be done in big chunks. “You can ‘snack’ your resistance training – breaking it down into sessions of 15, 20 minutes, or even less. You can do squats while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. It doesn’t have to be highly structured to be effective, but you do need to involve all the muscle groups over the weekly cycle. So you’ve got to do legs, you’ve got to do upper body, you’ve got to do arms – and don’t forget the core. The core is critical.”

Runners in particular often neglect this. “They think all they need to worry about is their legs – but the reason people get exhausted when they’re running for a long period of time is that their core gets tired.” Here, at least, I can hold my own: I have a freakishly strong core and it can only get better now I’m doing Cancer Research UK’s 100 Push-ups a Day Challenge, which runs for the whole of April, meaning you have three more weeks to sponsor me. Push-ups are great for your core, especially if you spice things up by sticking your feet on a chair (this is known as an elevated push-up), staggering your hands so one is further forward than the other (a diagonal push-up), or twisting your body as you come up so that one hand leaves the ground and reaches for the sky (a push-up with rotation). And let’s not forget Spider-Man push-ups, pike push-ups, diamond push-ups …

How should you be fuelling all this? “A lot of older people tend towards the ‘beige stuff’,” Lord says. “A lot of cakes and sandwiches. But that’s not really helping. People in their 50s and onwards actually need a higher amount of protein than someone in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Their muscle is naturally breaking down and protein will help replace it. It doesn’t have to be animal proteins – things like pulses are good.” So as well as chicken breast and prawns you could be eating walnuts, or tofu, or Greek yoghurt.

I could definitely manage the odd “resistance snack”. I’ve fitted a pull-up bar in the hall at home and try to do at least a few reps on the way to my morning coffee. But when I meet my personal trainer I begin to wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Not only have I set myself up for comparisons with Daniel Craig (there can only be one winner and it won’t be me), but because I am so conscious of all the time I’ve wasted, I’ve signed up for three months of intensive training. And my work ethic hasn’t quite caught up.

At the Ultimate Performance gym in St Paul’s, central London, Lewis reminds me about the questionnaire I filled in. Asked how much effort I was willing to put into transforming my body, I apparently answered 7 out of 10. Look, I’m a busy man and it’s not as if I spend all day twiddling my thumbs. I’m worried that the more time I spend moving things that don’t want to move, the less I’ll have for running, or Hiit, or whatever. Lewis is so underwhelmed – “You might fall in love with weight training!” – that I swiftly raise that 7 to 9. It still feels as if I’m letting him down.

I understand why once he’s finished measuring my body fat (20%, he reckons, versus Craig’s 10%), then weighing and photographing me so he can document my progress from Before to After. We move out of the assessment room into the gym and I begin practising moves like the weighted split squat, where one leg goes in front of you, the other reaches out behind you, and you must dip down to the floor then back up again – again and again, while holding some painfully heavy dumbbells. The next hour of resistance training is one of the most exhausting of my life. After Lewis has me push a weighted sled from one end of the gym to the other as fast as I possibly can, then back again, I come that close to passing out.

Then I get my homework: three weekly sessions that include not just the squats, bench presses, shoulder presses, abdominal crunches, biceps curls, lat pulldowns and leg curls that I’m already dreading, but 90 more push-ups. And, by telling me to slow down and pause at the bottom, Lewis has found a way to make even push-ups more difficult … I mean effective. There’s also a meal plan that cuts out almost all the carbs I love so much and ramps up the protein. On the first day I whinge my way through a mountain of hard-boiled eggs, smoked mackerel, prawns and chicken breasts and not a single cake, biscuit or bun. I would kill for a Hob Nob.

But I’m being a wuss. I can probably survive 12 weeks of this. God willing, I’ll report back in July. As Craig himself put it in Casino Royale, I won’t consider myself to be in trouble until I start weeping blood.

Bodyweight for beginners

If you’re new to resistance work, these bodyweight exercises from Simon Lord will give you a good all-round workout. Start by doing 12 of everything (or six a side for the single-leg exercises). If you struggle to visualise the exercises, or you’re struggling with the detail, YouTube is bursting with helpful videos.

Stand with your legs comfortably but not wide apart and your weight predominantly on your heels. Sit back on to them so your backside drops towards the floor, keeping your head up and your back straight, rather than bending forward.

Start with both feet together, then take a big step forward. Allow the front leg to bend at the knee but keep the back leg straighter, with the heel lifting off the ground. Sink lower, until the rear knee almost touches the ground. Again, keep your head up and your back straight.

Good mornings
Stand with your feet together, lift your arms and put your hands behind your head. Bend forward from your hips, as if taking a deep bow.

Calf raises
Feet together, weight on your toes, lift your heels.

Single-leg knee holds
Balancing on one leg, lift the other knee as high as it can go, then grasp it with both hands and hold for a count of 10.

Side leg raises
Lying on your side, support your head with your lower hand and raise your upper leg. To make this harder, anchor a resistance band with your lower leg, and pull against it with the upper.

Straight-leg raises on the back
Lie on your back, engage your core muscles and raise first one leg and then the other, keeping them straight.

Straight-leg pushaways
Start in a “table-top” position (all fours, with your shoulders above your hands and your hips above your knees), then extend one leg straight out behind you so it’s parallel to the floor with your toe just skimming above it.

The same as a straight-leg pushaway, except that as you extend your leg behind you, your extend the opposite arm in front of you.

Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched out in front of you, then lift everything you can until just your stomach is resting on the ground. Alternatively, raise one arm and the opposite leg, then swap sides.

Pelvic bridges
Lie on your back with your knees bent so the soles of your feet are on the ground. Lift your pelvis until your shoulder, hip and knee all form a straight line. To make this harder, lift one leg off the floor.

Wide-arm arabesques
From an upright position, put your arms out wide, lift one foot and bend forward at the pelvis, so your back and raised leg form a straight line.

From a standing position, squat down so your hands are on the ground, in front of and a little wider than your feet. Keep your arms straight and step your feet back until your legs and torso are stretched out in a straight line (or plank) and your weight is resting on your hands and toes. Engage your core so your tummy doesn’t sag. For a high plank, keep your arms extended. For a low plank, bend your elbows until your forearms are stretched out on the ground in front of you.

Side planks
From a high plank, bend one elbow until that forearm is on the ground. Using it to support and stabilise you, twist the rest of your body through 90 degrees, keeping your spine as straight as possible and trying not to let your lower hip sag. The goal is for nothing to touch the ground except that one forearm and the outside edge of your lower foot. The other foot should be stacked on top of it.

Starting from a high plank, splay your elbows a little and slowly lower your body until it’s almost touching the ground, then lift it up again. Try to keep your core engaged and resist either sagging or lifting your bum too high. It may help to think of this as a moving plank.

To make push-ups easier, kneel rather than balance on your toes, or push against something higher than the ground – a table or a sofa, say.

Sit on the floor, raise your legs – keeping them either straight (harder) or bent (easier) – and lean back. Hold that for a count of five to 10.

Shoulder taps
From a high plank position, lift one hand and tap the opposite shoulder, trying not to rotate your torso as you do so. Repeat on the other side.
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