The Perfect Weightlifting Routine for Healthier Aging

It’s easy to poke fun at your gym’s resident “old guy.” His whale noises at the squat rack are the stuff of legend.

But that guy deserves a lot of credit — only a tiny percentage of adults continue to lift into their grey years, even though research suggests it’s exactly what our bodies need. Men lose up to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30

Many adults make the shift to cardio and don’t look back. Some never lifted, and are too intimidated to start. Others assume lifting will just create issues at an advanced age.

But here’s the truth: lifting is an ideal way to build strength, improve mobility, and fortify mental and heart health, all while defending against a litany of common ailments.

The medical community’s been hard at work backing up the benefits of lifting for years. A 2015 study in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found weightlifting twice a week stems the development of lesions in brain matter. A study released by Iowa State University late last year discovered lifting weights for less than just an hour a week may reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke by 40-70 percent. And a study published this year in Finland found that older, first-time lifters gained tangible self-confidence from several months spent in the gym. Researchers left volunteers to their own devices for six months before checking in again, and half the volunteers in the study were still engaged in strength training.

Add all these recent studies to long-held knowledge that resistance training is your best defense against sarcopenia and osteoarthritis, and you’d expect active adults to value the bench press as much as they do the stationary bike. But insecurities relating to injury and intimidation are significant, and without a safe, reliable weightlifting workout to lean on, it can be difficult to get the barbells rolling.

Consider this, though: all those studies listed above featured participants over the age of 60. It is possible to become a confident, capable lifter, even if you’re getting discounts at the local movie theater. The sooner you begin the better, and you just need to go about it the right way. That’s why we rang Don Saladino, Chief Wellness Officer at HALO Sport, an electrolyte-replenishing hydration brand, owner of upscale health club Drive495 and trainer of celebs like Hugh Jackman, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds to offer us some expertise. Don was kind enough to devise us an “entry-level” weightlifting workout, which emphasizes mobility and low-weight/high-rep exercises.

His seven moves, and our 10 crucial dos and don’ts, below.

The Workout
Seven movements: the first three improve mobility, the next four build muscle and burn fat. Perform them all in succession, with rests in between. If you’re having trouble nailing down the movements, check out the corresponding YouTube video for each.

How often: 4x a week
How long: 30-45 minutes

Reach-Backs
Kneel on a mat and look down. Grab the back of your head with one hand. Slowly raise your head and shoulder to the side. Switch sides and repeat. This will help improve rotation in the upper body. Perform two sets of 10 for each side.

Cats and Dogs 
Get on all fours on a mat, with your knees underneath your hips. Alternate arching and rounding out your back. This helps improve thoracic extension in the back while addressing an area that often tightens up from sitting. Perform two sets, 30 seconds each.

Hip Circle
Lay down on a mat and stretch out your legs, one at a time, with a hip circle band. Stretch  a large circle. As hip mobility decreases from a sedentary lifestyle, we can easily develop back and knee pain … which you don’t want to reckon with during a workout. Perform two sets of 10 reps (clockwise and counter-clockwise) on each leg.

Goblet Squat with a Kettlebell
This is an incredibly safe way to train the lower body while placing an emphasis on the core. This exercise improves mobility in the hips and will aid your posture. Start with two to three sets of 5-10 reps.

Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
This will help improve strength in the muscles of your back and in your biceps. The posterior chain (your back side muscles) needs to be strengthened as we age to account for suffering posture. Performing this in a chest-supported position makes the movement safe on the low back for those lacking in lumbar spine control. Perform two to three sets of 10-15 reps.

Push-Ups
You know what to do here. If it’s too difficult for you to do a standard push-up, attempt them while kneeling, or at an incline. Push-ups are more of a total body exercise than most people realize, and work the chest, shoulders, triceps and core. Perform 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps. [Editor’s note: At some point make sure to test your push-up capacity. It’s a handy test of one’s cardiovascular health.]

One-Arm Suitcase Carry
I refer to this as a moving plank. It works the entire body. It is safe and functional for everyday living. It will burn fat, train your core and strengthen your entire body. Perform two to three sets, walking 25-50 yards with each arm.

10 Crucial Dos and Don’ts for Aging or First-Time Lifters

Don’t twist your body when picking up weights. At the least, it can create bad habits and bodily imbalances. At worst, it can strain a muscle or contribute to a hernia.

Do use your entire body to pick up or transport weights, and make sure your legs take most of the load.

Don’t ever perform a set to failure. This isn’t the NFL combine. You’re only going to hurt yourself.

Do focus on “mastering” your weight, and perfecting each set. Consider curling a dumbbell; don’t focus just on curling the weight up, but really emphasize your drop-set, too — that’s the process by which you slowly lower the weight back to its starting point.  

Don’t expect immediate results. Even youngsters guzzling protein powder and grilling chicken breast and rice have to wait months before noticing definition or gains.

Do judge your progress by non-aesthetic means. Focus on how you feel. Does a heavy bag of groceries seem lighter? Is a set of stairs you regularly walk up more manageable? Remember, this isn’t just about changing the way you look, it’s about building a foundation for long-term health.

Don’t freak out about atrophy. Vacations will inevitably pop up — they should happen as you get older — and a week of poolside cervezas is not going to be kind to your progress. But don’t beat yourself up about it. If you want to stay in shape during, take this 20-minute circuit workout on the road.   

Do be careful jumping back into your routine post-any sort of break. Head back to basics for a couple days and trust that you’ll be back up and running soon enough.

Don’t feel like you have to stick to Don Saladino’s workout forever. Learn the tenets of his prescription (mobility-focused, high-reps regimens) and feel free to branch out. Focus on legs for a month, and then your abs.

Do help yourself in the kitchen by repairing your muscles with low-fat, high-protein foods, and make sure to fuel up at work with healthy snacks.

Main image via IMDB