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Muscle building as we age – A decade by decade strategy

Muscle building as we age – A decade by decade strategy

I finished this article and had to go back to write this bit. This is so bloody important. Your cardio is obviously extremely important but as a lifelong gym boy I am a little biased towards lifting weights. However as I finished this I realised that EVERYONE needs to understand what will happen over the years. Not just to you but your parents and your kids. Push this in front of everyone’s eyes and make them understand. Each decade offers its unique challenges and rewards, and understanding these can transform your fitness journey. 

 

Being strong is important and like many things it never becomes less important. In fact maybe it becomes more important to be strong as we age. For instance if you are a weak 30 year old woman and you trip over a curb landing hard on your side the likelihood of you being badly injured is extremely low. You might get a nasty bruise and feel like an idiot but it’s not going to change your life. However if a weak 80 year old woman falls badly landing hard on her side she could very likely end up with a life altering fracture. Statistics are actually pretty horrific for the average elderly person after a hip fracture for instance:

“One in three adults aged 50 and over dies within 12 months (1)  of suffering a hip fracture. Older adults have a five-to-eight times higher risk of dying within the first three months of a hip fracture (2) compared to those without a hip fracture. This increased risk of death remains for almost ten years.”(3)

Being stronger than average makes your bones stronger and less likely to break on top of the fact that a well trained individual will have better balance, core strength and body awareness to stop them falling in the first place:

“During weight-bearing activity, the muscles and tendons apply tension to the bones, which stimulates the bones to produce more bone tissue. As a result, bones become stronger and more dense and the risk of osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures decreases.” (The Orthopedic and sports medicine institute, Texas)

One of the statistics that renowned longevity expert, Peter Attia, constantly talks about is that your level of strength and muscle is the second largest contributor to how long and how well that you live in old age. In fact if you are in the top 25% for strength in your age group you are 300% less likely to die at any given time!!!! This statistic blows my mind as there is no drug or man made thing that can yield benefits even close to benefits like this. LIFT WEIGHTS!!!

Here’s your decade-by-decade guide to building muscle, peppered with actionable tips for every age group. I will be expanding more on the “how” to build in other articles but for now just flick your eyes over some targets to aim for:

Age 20-30: Peak Performance

Age 20-30: Peak Performance

Your 20s are primed for muscle growth. Men can anticipate 9-11 kg in their first year of rigorous training, while women can hope for around 4.5-5.5 kg. Beginners? You might see gains of about 2.3-3.2 kg for men and 1.1-1.6 kg for women in just 12 weeks. Yet, muscle loss could reach 0.5-1% per annum without resistance training. 

Conclusion – if you train now you can build a load of muscle. 1kg of muscle can increase your metabolism by up to 100 cals a day! See why 20 year olds are so damn lean???

Age 30-40: Slow and steady gains

Age 30-40: Slow and steady gains

In the 30s, gains remain promising. Men can expect about 4.5-5.5 kg annually, and women half that. For newcomers, the first 12 weeks could yield 1.1-1.4 kg for men and 0.6-0.7 kg for women. However, ditching your fitness routine could lead to a 1-2% muscle decrease each year.

Conclusion – I’m using averages here but we have had people over 30 add over 5kg in a year! Still though if you’re in your 30’s things are still looking pretty easy right now. Don’t you dare say you’re old!!

Age 40-50: Still going strong but stay consistent

Age 40-50: Still going strong but stay consistent

Despite challenges, the 40s still offer decent gains. Men can target 2.3-2.7 kg annually, with women going for half. New trainees might aim for 0.5-0.7 kg for men and 0.2-0.3 kg for women over 12 weeks. Without training, expect a muscle dip of 2-3% each year.

Conclusion – Ok, so things are slowing now. Again we tend to see people put on a lot more than this but compared to your 20’s it is a lot harder. I write this as a 42 year old man and it absolutely is harder to gain muscle. BUT remember that not losing muscle is now becoming important. For context here I have around 40kg of muscle on my body which is classed as high, but if I now started to lose 3% a year every year, by the time I hit 50 I would be very under muscled and on the path to becoming frail…….ohhh the shame of it!!!

Age 50-60: Hard gains

Age 50-60: Hard gains

Though modest, the 50s still allow for gains. Men might achieve around 1.1-1.4 kg annually, with women aiming for half. For beginners, gains could be around 0.2-0.3 kg for men and slightly less for women over 12 weeks. Neglect training, and you might face a 3-4% muscle reduction due to sarcopenia, which is the medical term for muscle loss. 

Conclusion – Personally I’d class Sarcopenia as a medical condition because of the effects. Now there is 30% more potential muscle loss than the last decade. Again 1kg does not sound like a lot of muscle to gain in a year but 10kg in decade for men or 5kg for women will catapult you into the top 25% of strength and muscle. Remember that if you are in the top 25% you are 300% less likely to die of all the usual stuff!

Age 60-70: Maintenance is golden

Age 60-70: Maintenance is golden

The 60s stress muscle maintenance. Men can anticipate gains around 0.5-0.9 kg annually, with women less than 0.5 kg. Starting out? Expect modest gains of about 0.1-0.2 kg for men and less for women over 12 weeks. However, a sedentary life could lead to a 4-5% muscle reduction each year.

Conclusion – If you have built up muscle mass already by this stage then you are a millionaire in terms of your health. Hold on to it you magnificent bastard! So much more impressive than a 20 year old instagram influencer! F%$k those guys! However if you are just about to start out you can reverse muscle loss by 5% every year and still increase your strength.

Age 70-80: A Legacy of Strength

Age 70-80: A Legacy of Strength

In the 70s, muscle conservation becomes crucial. Men might see annual growth ebbing to less than 0.5 kg, with women even less. Without exercise, muscle reduction might peak at 5-6% annually.

Conclusion – You are not done yet. Yes 0.5-0.25kg of muscle a year seems like nothing but not losing mass at 6% a year is absolutely vital. By continuing to train you are potentially saving 10’s of kilos of precious muscle and keeping your bones/joints strong. I have seen people in their 70’s and beyond who are stronger than some 20 year olds I know. Why can’t that be you?

Age 80 and Beyond: The Golden Warrior

Age 80 and Beyond: The Golden Warrior

Past 80, the focus shifts more towards strength retention and overall well-being rather than measurable gains. Yet, without consistent effort, one might witness a 6-7% decline in muscle each year.

Conclusion – You won’t really improve your mass but staving off declines yields incredible benefits. In fact just conserving muscle will get you into the coveted top 25% of muscle mass crew. You still go to the gym and you don’t write yourself off here. Just keep it up and enjoy doing what people say you shouldn’t be able to do.

No matter your age or starting point, the journey of muscle growth and maintenance is a rewarding one. Every kilogram earned or retained is a testament to your dedication and perseverance. Celebrate each achievement and keep pushing forward. Your body’s narrative, told in kilograms or experiences, will always be worth the effort. Here’s to a lifelong commitment to fitness!

Further reading

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28093824/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20231569/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19421703/

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