general fitness

How does muscle building change as we age - guest post

Here's the funny thing about the interwebz.

Samantha Oliver, a personal trainer who lives across the pond in Britain, was riding the bus home one day and casually searching the hashtag #catsofinstagram on her phone. 

For those of you who read my site regularly, you're first thought here is "wait a second. You have cats?"

Yes. Sadly, as of yesterday, only one cat, as our 15 year-old yowly, curmudgeonly cat Cosmo passed away. 

Yes, there is a cat in my household. She tries to smother me in my sleep. 

Yes, there is a cat in my household. She tries to smother me in my sleep. 

I've posted about cats exactly twice in my intsagram career, but out of that post came a collaboration with Sam. 

Some people fight wholeheartedly to retain their youth, strength, and aesthetic beauty, and others welcome their old(er) age with positivity, serenity, and grace. However, no matter the category you occupy, one thing is for certain: your muscle-building potential changes drastically as you age, and no, it’s not okay to allow yourself to lose muscle mass.

We aren’t necessarily talking about aesthetics here so much as we are talking pure functionality, health, virility, and quality of life. Muscle is crucial in keeping you fit, able, strong, and healthy, especially as you approach your silver years. Here is how muscle-building changes as you age and what you can do to keep making gains and stay healthy.

The muscle building potential through the decades

And then, puberty struck. Your body began to change, your bones and muscles grew, and your muscle-building potential was through the roof. Fortunately, this continues well into your twenties and even into your thirties if you are genetically gifted.

However, for most people, once you hit that thirty threshold, things begin to change. As you move through your thirties and into your forties, the testosterone levels imperative for muscle growth (among numerous other bodily processes) gradually begin to decrease, making it increasingly difficult to build muscle and preserve a toned physique. This is why at this point proper nutrition and rigorous training becomes essential.

Have you heard of Sarcopenia?

So who, or rather what, is the main culprit orchestrating the demise of your hard-earned physique? Much like arthritis affects your cartilage and osteoporosis affects your bone density, a condition called sarcopenia affects your muscle mass and your muscle-building potential.

This degenerative condition associated with aging increases with time, and there isn’t much you can do about it except work hard at subduing its effects and work even harder towards building new muscle tissue despite its presence. And yes, it is doable.

Building or maintaining muscle mass

Needless to say, losing muscle mass should never be an option, especially as you approach senior status. While preserving an aesthetic physique is always a good way to nurture your confidence and self-esteem, you should mainly focus on building muscle and strength for the purpose of leading a healthy, vibrant, and energetic lifestyle.

Losing muscle mass can lead to numerous conditions down the road, and even injury, especially in the lower region. Hips, knees, shins, and your lower back all need adequate support, which is the primary role of your muscles. Lifting weights and maintaining cardiovascular endurance will also help keep your bones and connective tissue strong and healthy.

Staying safe and tailoring your routine

However, you can’t expect to run the same training program as you did twenty years ago. Not only will you gain less, but you will also risk injuring yourself, perhaps indefinitely. You need to learn to listen to your body and tailor your training routine to fit your goals and your current capabilities. And then go ahead and build up from there.

One of the most important things to remember is to stay safe no matter what. Safety should be your number one priority, so make sure you maintain proper form and wear protective gear and durable weightlifting clothes for support, comfort, and mobility. Remember to up your flexibility and mobility routines as you age as well, in order to decrease the risk of injury.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Finally, you want to use these insights to tailor a healthy lifestyle routine entailing proper sleep, nutrition, and training. These are the essential constituents that form a foundation of a healthy future. Your goal should be to remain strong, vibrant, and most importantly, able to live out your entire life to the fullest. Sticking to regular exercise will help you do just that.

There are some things we can’t change in life no matter how hard we try, such as time itself catching up as we age. However, we can influence the way old age treats us, whether it will be kind or cruel. Be sure to use these powerful insights to pave the road to a lifetime of strength, vibrancy, and health.

Samantha Oliver

Samantha Oliver

Knowledge bomb dropped. Boom.

Samantha has a B.Sc. in nutrition and has spent two years working as a personal trainer. Since then, she has embarked on a mission to conquer the blogosphere. When not in the gym or on the track, you can find her on Twitter, or in a tea shop.

Do you need to join a gym to get in shape?

The other day, a friend of mine shared the following article from the New York Times:

I firmly believe one of the reasons that races like the Tough Mudder are so popular is community, team, and play aspect of it. Also in searching for a portapotty in the middle of rural New Hampshire. That's fun too...

I firmly believe one of the reasons that races like the Tough Mudder are so popular is community, team, and play aspect of it. Also in searching for a portapotty in the middle of rural New Hampshire. That's fun too...

The article, which is certainly worth the read, highlights the efforts of a New York Times reporter to join a gym and try to “get fit.”

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but she ultimately decides that she doesn’t need a gym to get fit. She gets plenty of exercise from playing pick up basketball.

What is this article basically saying? 

Playing like a kid is good for you.

Absolutely! Get out that whoopie cushion and that fake dog poop and...oh you don't have that in your desk drawer? Oh yeah...uh me neither. Nope, not me. 

Playing like a kid IS good for you. (Whoopie cushion too...) There are many benefits of playing sports as an adult to stay in shape. 

1. You move in different planes of motion

The sagittal plane is where most of us spend our time. We’re walking forward, and in the gym we’re squatting, deadlifting (I hope) and curling in the squat rack. Don’t curl in the squat rack. The frontal plane is moving side to side, a lateral lunge for example, and the transverse plane is rotational movement, such as a golf or a softball swing. 

Very few of us move in different planes of motion as an adult, even that biologically, that’s what we are designed to do. Playing defense in basketball and swinging a racquet or golf club keeps us moving in ways that we are designed to move. 

2. You’ll forget that you’re exercising

Hahahaha...I know what you're thinking. Kim, I forget my name half the time but I could NEVER forget that I'm exercising. But you know what I mean. When the focus is on scoring a bucket instead of watching the minutes drag by on the treadmill the time goes faster. 

Playing volleyball, basketball, racquetball or squash is a great way to think about something else while still getting in a good cardiovascular workout. 

3. It’s fun

Remember fun? I hope you don't just remember fun, but that you've had some today. And yesterday. And every day. 

I make videos on a weekly basis promoting the fun of exercise, but let’s be honest, it’s not fun for everyone. Some people just flat out hate to exercise so turning the workout into a game can make the time go by much faster while also providing a good outlet for stress.  

Dodgeball anyone? 

One caveat

I just wanted to use that word.

I completely agree with the author that there are some fun and creative ways to get a good workout in without dropping 50 bucks a pop on a barre or spin class.** But I believe strength training is essential to any workout routine, especially if you’re a recreational athlete playing tennis or pickleball. 

Strength training is going to help you build more muscle and better bone density and those benefits alone will help you not only perform better in that noon-time pick-up game, but also stay healthy in the process. 

The worst feeling as an adult is when you sprint down the first base line in a beer league softball game only to pull a hamstring. It makes you feel old. Our muscles get more like beef jerky and less like a prime cut of steak as we age (analogy courtesy of Mike Boyle). Our muscles also get short as we age - for example if you sit all of the time, your quad (front of your upper leg) muscles are going to be short while your hamstrings (back of your upper leg) are going to get longer. Those shortened and tight muscles that you didn't have as a 16-year old are going to make it harder to move your joints through a full range of motion.

In other words, blah, blah, blah, beer league softball just broke me. Which brings me to my last point.  

For the love of all things holy, warm up 

Regardless of what you decide to do for a workout, warm up. Please? Please?

At a minimum, do your foam rolling or throw a tiger stick in your gym bag. Doing a couple of arm circles and side bends aren’t sufficient to get your muscles warmed up to go from 0-60 out on the basketball court. 

Just to help you out, here's an introduction to foam rolling.

Thoughts? Questions? Ready to get your own workout program? Comment below or shoot me an email at

Even if it's just to say hi. Or tell me a joke, I love jokes. 

This one word needs to go.

My high school math teacher was quirky. 

Actually, quirky doesn’t even begin to describe Mr. Solomon. He lived for the precision of Algebra and Trigonometry, pinched the bridge of his nose when we exasperated him (which was daily), and carried his love of details over to our homework and class structure.


I once got a negative two on a test because, in addition to not knowing anything about Trig, I also did the heading wrong. We were graded on our headings. 


Mr. Solomon had any number of pet peeves about math and life, and among the highest on his list was the use of the word "just."

He taught his class by demonstrating some trigonometry theorem crap, and then assigning us problems related to said ridiculous theorem. The next day we came in as a class and put all of the problems on the board and then took turns explaining how we solved those problems. We were required to use a pointer stick, because our fingers weren't precise enough.

One day, I took my turn with the pointer stick and tried to explain the problem on the board. 

Me: “Then you just take the five and...”

Mr. Solomon. "You what????"

Me: " just take the five..."

Mr. Solomon. "You don't just do anything!!!"

He said it with flair and disgust and I was mortified as the attention of the class was focused on me and my mistake. Then I completely forgot what I was saying because I didn't really understand trig in the first place. What I've never forgotten, though, is the use of the word "just." 

And if Mr. Solomon were still alive, he'd be shocked to know that the more I coach, the more I've come to agree with him on using the word "just."

Almost every day I have some version of the following conversation with a client.

Me: How can we be helpful with your nutrition goals?

Client: I know what I need to do. I just need to do a better job. 

The word ends the conversation. “Thanks coach, but there’s nothing you can do, it’s all on me. I’m going to go home and struggle my way through another night of eating and hope for the best.” 

No. No. No. No. And as a coach, I won’t let that slide anymore.

"Just" minimizes what you are trying to do. You are trying to change your behavior. Do you know how hard that is?  

You heard it here first. If you tell me you just need to do a better job, I will not let that slide.

First of all, you’re going to take the word “just” out of the sentence. 

"I need to do a better job."

Ok. With what, specifically? Choose just one behavior. Get specific. 

"I will not have a snack tonight after dinner." 

Let someone else help to hold you accountable. Did you have a snack last night after dinner? No? Great. Let’s build on that. Yes? Ok, let’s talk about that.

Whatever the goal and whatever the circumstance, let's find a way to work at it.

Because I don't just want to help you hit your goals.

I want to help you hit your goals. Period. 

What are your goals? What are your struggles? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below, or email me at