I’ve regularly witnessed something that could be quite humorous if it weren’t a mini tragedy by my own standards of expectant bodybuilding results and efficient use of time and effort. It takes place in an almost ritualistic manner in the gym where I train. Imagine, for a moment, a sixty-something year-old guy being trained by a guy who’s about thirty-something. There’s nothing wrong with that – right? But now, picture the older man doing set after set of forced reps, negatives, and drop sets – all the while grunting and groaning – as his ignoramus “trainer” looks on with the proud expression that says “this is my best trainee.” Even worse, imagine this happening on a weekly rotation.
Why do I refer to the trainer as an ignoramus? Because regardless of the goals (assuming there are any), he’s overtraining the older guy to a degree that would make it evident even if the older man were twenty-five. It’s no wonder the older guy’s musculature resembles that of someone who’s been in zero gravity for the last two years. I’m not one to mince words: He actually appears like he’s been in zero gravity and chasing down boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts with cases of beer.
So is there an age limit for building muscle?
Well, there definitely is if we train like ignoramuses. When I hear the question of whether there’s an “age limit for building muscle”, the first thing I want to convey to the questioner is that a “no pain/no gain” philosophy applied without constraint can slam a muscle building limit on someone at any age. This is something I know from painful experience. It was during the time when my ‘before picture’ (of my before and after pics) was taken that I was actually training with extreme intensity – performing sets in a similar manner as the sixty-something year-old trainee I’ve mentioned above.
If overtraining is the culprit that nips progress in the bud of many bodybuilders under forty, imagine the prevalence and insidious effect of this progress-stalling practice among those in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. Age slows down the body’s recuperative processes. Recuperation between workouts is half the basic formula in effective muscle building. For those in this age group, the downward spiral in strength and muscle mass through continued catabolism of unrepaired tissue can be staggering. It makes the dichotomy between wasted time/effort in the gym and what I’d call “training just to build character” a disturbing reality. And it’s probably the biggest reason for middle-aged and seasoned citizen trainees mistakenly concluding that there’s an age limit for building muscle.
Defying the Notion of an Age Limit for Building Muscle
Forget about some study you might have seen cited in which a group of older people were compared with a group of younger people in a sixteen-week weight training protocol… “blah, blah, blah” – and the older people only gained as much muscle as the younger people who were sedentary… blah, blah, blah…on and on. These studies make little sense from a methodological standpoint. The reason is that they don’t account for the biggest distinction needing recognition between effective muscle-building for older people as compared with younger people: the need for increased inter-workout recuperation time. The researchers put all study participants on the same schedule. Then they prematurely conclude that those beyond the age of sixty have reached some kind of “limit for building muscle” because they didn’t gain strength and size like the twenty-something year-olds.
Let me get right to my point. The older you are, the more rest time between workouts you’re likely to need in order to make continual progress in muscle size and strength – period. If you’re thirty, you’ll likely need more time than when you were twenty. When you’re forty, you’ll likely need more time than at thirty – and on and on.
Does this mean the muscle gains come a bit more slowly? Sure, but when you get the formula right, they come faster than those of about 99% of middle-aged and beyond bodybuilders at your gym who aren’t making any progress despite their best efforts.
… And when those gym members ask you why your body doesn’t recognize an ‘age limit for building muscle’, tell them you’ve customized your workout to defy all that nonsense.