All you have to do is eat well, work out, and lift some weights, right?
As easy as this sounds, it becomes much harder to achieve as men get older.
This is not just a myth. But hopefully, these muscle building workouts for men over 50 can change that for you.
As lean body mass and testosterone levels decrease with age, muscle building becomes more difficult.
However, with the proper plan and goals in mind, someone can be just as fit, if not more so, at age 50 as they were at 25.
What Makes a Great Workout for Men Over 50?
A routine to build muscle needs to include the right types of exercises, and it needs to be done consistently.
It can be confusing reading fitness articles, all with differing opinions on the number of repetitions or sets to do to build muscle mass.
That’s where actual scientific research comes in to truly determine the ultimate strength building plan.
Muscle Building 101
To start, it is important to understand that muscle growth requires resistance training. Muscle contraction is required to stimulate muscle fiber breakdown and rebuilding.
This includes concentric, eccentric, and isometric contraction.
Concentric contraction means that the muscle is shortening against a force, such as in the raising phase of a bicep curl.
Eccentric contraction occurs when the muscle fiber is lengthening against resistance, like when you are then lowering the bicep curl back down.
Isometric contraction occurs when the muscle fiber stays the same length during contraction, as in holding a steady position in the bicep curl at the midpoint.
Each of these types of movements is essential in producing muscle growth.
How Often Should I Workout?
So now that you understand the basic of muscle contraction, how many times a week should you be working out?
Studies have shown that the ideal frequency is likely two or three times a week for each muscle group.
An analysis of a collection of resistance training studies in men has shown that muscle hypertrophy is maximal when working out two or three days a week compared to just one day a week.
Muscle protein synthesis is stimulated after resistance training but then returns back to normal shortly thereafter.
Therefore, to continue with strength gains, at least twice weekly routines for each muscle group is essential, and possibly up to three times weekly.
How Hard Should My Workouts Be?
The next step is determining how many repetitions and sets of each exercise is ideal.
Research on muscle building has shown that there is a dose-response relationship in muscle growth.
That is, the more repetitions and sets you do, there will be a quicker response in muscle gains.
However, this is only true up to a certain point.
Number of Sets
There is a critical point where performing more repetitions of an exercise will not produce any significant gains in muscle growth.
At that point, over-training becomes counterproductive. A good starting point is typically 10-12 sets per muscle group per week.
This can then be adjusted over time as the body adapts.
I will go into an example of a specific routine later, but if you are working out each group twice a week, this would mean 5-6 sets per muscle group on each of those days.
Number of Reps
The number of repetitions within a set is also important.
It has been taught that high reps with low weights are good for toning muscles, while low reps with heavy weights are better for muscle growth and bulk.
This makes sense as heavier weights increase tension on the muscle fibers to stimulate muscle growth.
However, studies have also shown that time under tension is also important to stimulate muscle building for men over 50, as long as the muscles are exercised to the point of fatigue, there can be similar gains regardless of the amount of weight used.
For example, one study showed that those doing 10-12 reps with heavier weights had similar muscle gains as those that did 30-40 reps with lighter weights.
The takeaway here is that as long as you are pushing your muscles to fatigue, you can get by with either variation of high reps-light weights or low reps-heavy weights.
Keep in mind, however, that higher reps will increase the duration of the exercise.
And in trained athletes, heavier weights still seems to have an advantage in strength gains.
Based on my experience, 8-10 repetitions is a good place to begin.
Over time, you can keep the repetitions at this number, and slowly increase weight over several weeks as you see improvements in muscle strength.
In older athletes, lower weight and higher reps may be more beneficial to avoid injury and joint aches while still having the benefit of strength gains.
Muscle Building Workout Routines for Men Over 50
Alright, now you’re at the gym, and you understand the basics of strength training. So let’s dig into a sample routine.
If you’re just starting back into strength and muscle building, I would recommend starting out with a two day a week plan for each muscle group.
This can be broken down in a number of ways.
For example, you could just go twice a week and do a full body workout.
Another example would be to break the workouts into synergistic muscle groups, doing back and biceps twice a week, chest, shoulders, and triceps two other days, and legs twice weekly.
For this plan, you would need to stagger your schedule across the week to ensure adequate rest.
The third plan would be to do upper body twice weekly and lower body twice weekly, for a total of four days in the gym.
You can build muscle and gain strength with any of these plans; it really just needs to be what fits your schedule and your preferences.
For example, an upper/lower body split could look something like this:
Monday: Lower Body
Tuesday: Upper Body
Thursday: Lower Body
Friday: Upper Body
On the other hand, if you prefer to break down your routine into muscle groups, an example of a routine spanning two weeks may look something like this:
Of course, this can be modified based on your schedule. I would recommend always leaving at least 48 hours between each muscle group before strength training that area again. What’s important is using it to fit your schedule so that you can remain consistent.
As I discussed above, for each exercise, I would recommend 8-10 reps per set to begin, with a total of about 5-6 sets for each muscle group on each day.
This would give you a total of 10-12 sets for the week per muscle group.
Now, when I say muscle group, that does not mean “upper body” and “lower body.”
It refers to the specific muscle movers: biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings, and so on.
There are hundreds of different strength and muscle building exercises available. These can be done with free weights, exercise machines, and even just body weight.
Everyone is an individual, and what works for one person may not be appropriate for another based on previous injuries, joint issues, or health conditions.
I will give a sample workout with some basic exercises but keep in mind these can always be modified or swapped out based on your experience.
The regimen below is broken down by muscle groups.
However, you could always combine the back/bicep days with the tricep/chest/shoulder days if you prefer to an upper body/lower body regimen.
Working the back and biceps together allows synergistic muscle groups to be trained in one day.
For example, while the large back muscles-the latissimus dorsi-are primarily engaged in a pull-up, the biceps assist in this motion. This is true for many back and biceps exercises.
Back – Pull-Ups: 3 sets of 4-5 reps. If you cannot do an unassisted pull-up, that’s ok!
Start with assisted pull-ups with a band or machine that allows you to rest your legs and adjust the assistance.
If you have a training partner, they can hold your legs as well to assist.
You can also start with lower reps as I have noted here, and work your way up to 8-10 reps as strength increases.
Back – Lat Pull Down: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Biceps – Bicep Dumbbell curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Biceps – Bicep Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Tuesday: Lower Body (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes and Calves)
With lower body exercises, many of the same muscles are used together to perform the motion, although one muscle group is typically the primary mover.
For example, squats are a great exercise for the hamstrings, however, the quadriceps are the main muscle group in this exercise.
With the lower body, we are still aiming to hit each muscle group at about the same frequency for the week.
Squats: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Alternating Lunges: 2 sets of 8-10 reps each side
Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets toes forward, 3 sets toes pointing out 8-10 reps
Bulgarian Split Lunges: 2 sets of 8-10 reps each leg
Glute Bridge: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Again, these muscle groups tend to work together in many movements.
While the bench press mainly works the chest muscles, the triceps also assist in this motion.
Chest – Standard bench press (or bench press machine): 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Chest – Dumbbell (or machine) flys: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Tricep – Triceps Kickbacks: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Triceps – Tricep Cable Pulls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Shoulders – Overhead Seated Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Shoulders – Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Back – Seated Rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Back – Bent Over Barbell Rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Biceps – Incline Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Biceps – Preacher Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Sunday: Lower Body
Leg Press: 3 sets 8-10 reps
Seated calf raises: 3 sets toes forward, 3 sets toes pointed in 8-10 reps
Romanian Dead Lifts: 3 sets 8-10 reps
Leg curls: 2 sets 8-10 reps
Leg extensions: 2 sets 8-10 reps
Chest – Incline Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Chest/Triceps – Dips: 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Shoulders – Arnold Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Shoulders – Shrugs: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Triceps – Skull Crushers: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Triceps – Overhead Tricep extensions: 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Back – Single Arm Dumbbell Rows: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Back – Close Grip Lat Pulldowns: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Biceps – Dumbbell Wide Angle Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Biceps – Supinated Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Thursday: Lower Body
Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Reverse Lunges: 3 sets of 8-10 reps for each leg
Curtsy Lunges: 2 sets of 8-10 reps for each leg
Standing calf raises on elevated surface: 3 sets toes forward, 3 sets toes pointed out, 8-10 reps
Sumo Squats: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Chest – Standard Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Chest – Decline Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Triceps – Triceps Dips on Bench: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Triceps – Single Arm Tricep Extensions: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Shoulders – Front raises: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Shoulders – Standing Barbell Military Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
This sample routine is over two weeks to show how these exercises can be staggered and to illustrate the different variety of exercises that can be used to obtain muscle growth.
Once you finish the second week, you can cycle back through to the beginning.
This routine isn’t set in stone, but rather a template to help with your quest for muscle building and growth.
I have not discussed core exercises yet. Working your core will also need to be incorporated into a fitness routine for overall muscle building, but that is a topic for a different day.
How Much Weight Should I Use?
Start with a weight that allows you to complete the full number of reps.
If you find that you are finishing 10 reps with minimal fatigue, you will need to increase the weight.
On the other hand, if you are struggling to get to 8 reps, it’s time to swallow your pride and drop down to a lower weight.
Over time, you will find that it will become easier to finish your sets.
At that point, it is time to challenge yourself with a higher weight.
This is known as progressive overload. You may start with doing 15-pound bicep curls during your first few weeks, moving from 8 to 10 reps.
Once that 10 reps becomes easier, it is time to move up to 17.5 or 20 pounds and try to achieve 6-8 reps. You would then stay at that weight until 10 reps is easier to achieve.
From this, you progressively and slowly increase your weight based on your progress.
How Much Should I Rest?
The final question that I often get is how much to rest between sets. Studies have been a bit conflicting regarding the ideal rest period.
It appears that longer rest, about 2-3 minutes, is better for muscle growth than rest periods of 60 seconds or less.
Also, short rest periods may potentially blunt post-exercise muscle synthesis.
However, other studies have shown no difference in shorter versus longer rest in regards to muscle growth.
In my opinion, in order to avoid injury and give your best effort in each set, I advocate for about a two minute rest period between sets.
This will allow muscle ATP to regenerate so that you can perform the next set at a higher level.
When Should I Start?
Stop wasting time and click to link below to get started today.
While it may seem that building muscle becomes harder as we age, this does not mean you can’t put together a strength building plan that allows you to achieve your goals.
It all comes down to having a plan, training hard, and being consistent and dedicated to your training.
Before you know it, you will have the muscle and strength gains you set out to achieve.
Your new friend & health coach,
Holly has a strong interest and passion for health and wellness. She is a board certified physician specializing in internal medicine and nephrology with a bachelor's degree in dietetics.
A NASM certified personal trainer with a performance enhancement specialization, Holly also loves to enjoy long distance running, competing in Ironman triathlons.