73-Year-Old Lifelong Weight Lifting Seniors Have Similar Muscle Mass and Strength Similar to 25-Year-Olds Summary

  • Muscle Fiber Composition: 73-year-old weight lifting seniors who were powerlifters and weightlifters maintained type II muscle fiber distribution similar to 25-younger adults. Consequently, this highlights the benefits of strength training for seniors, particularly in countering aging muscle atrophy. Regarding maximal strength, measured by the leg press 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM), the lifelong older powerlifters demonstrated higher 1RM than older control groups. Moreover, they tended to have higher 1RM than the younger control group, although this difference was not statistically significant, showcasing the effectiveness of powerlifting for seniors.
  • Counteracting Age-Related Changes: The lifelong older powerlifters athletes displayed fewer signs of muscle aging, such as atrophic fibers (shrinking muscle fibers), than other older groups and were similar to the younger adult group. This finding underscores the importance of weight lifting for seniors in maintaining muscle health.
  • Enhanced Functional Capacity: Regular strength training, particularly powerlifting for seniors, is essential for retaining functional capacity as we age, thereby helping to mitigate aging muscle atrophy.

The Benefits of Strength Training for Seniors

aging muscle atrophy benefits of strength training for seniors powerlifting for seniors weight lifting for seniorsEveryone seems to be looking for a magical pill to reverse aging, but the key to maintaining strength and preserving muscle mass in our later years is hidden in our exercise routines. Not just any exercise routine; we are talking about weight lifting for seniors! As we age, our muscles naturally lose mass and strength. (Lexell et al., 1983; Lexell et al., 1988) In particular, we lose type II fibers associated with muscle strength and explosive power. (Nilwik et al., 2013) Interestingly, a process that can be significantly slow down muscle loss by engaging in activities like powerlifting for seniors.

However, recent research suggests that lifelong resistance training might be the secret to preserving muscle mass and strength well into our golden years, as documented by the recent study, “The impact of life-long strength versus endurance training on muscle fiber morphology2 and phenotype composition in older men.” (Tøien et al., 2023) Additionally, there is mounting evidence that strength training may be imperative for maintaining maximal force-generating capacity with advancing age.

Weight lifting for Seniors: Review of the Literature

aging muscle atrophy benefits of strength training for seniors powerlifting for seniors weight lifting for seniorsAlthough the decline in maximal muscle strength with age appears to be inevitable, it may be slowed by physical exercise, particularly through weight lifting for seniors. (Chodzko-Zajko et al., 2009) Furthermore, resistance exercise is crucial in preserving lean muscle mass as individuals age.

Moreover, resistance training has been demonstrated to be more effective in restoring muscle mass, contractile rate of force development, and functional performance than other rehabilitation regimes. (Suetta et al., 2008) Furthermore, systematic reviews and meta-analyses have highlighted the positive influence of resistance training on muscle strength and strength development in older adults. (Guizelini et al., 2018) Thus, resistance exercise is crucial in preserving lean muscle mass as individuals age, offering substantial benefits of strength training for seniors.

Moreover, resistance training is the preferred regimen to increase muscle strength and mass, which are vital for the performance of activities of daily living in various populations, including the elderly and those with chronic diseases. (Levinger et al., 2007) Additionally, physical activity, specifically resistance training and physical fitness, has been underscored in facilitating muscle protein anabolism, increasing energy expenditure, and improving appetite and food intake in elderly individuals at risk of malnutrition. (Volkert, 2011)

Weight Lifting for Seniors: Muscle Differences Between Lifelong Endurance and Strength Athletes

Researchers investigated the muscle characteristics of life-long strength-trained and endurance-trained master athletes compared to recreationally active older individuals and young adult men. Specifically, the strength-trained master athletes were powerlifters; the researchers wanted to examine the benefits of strength training for seniors and its effects on countering aging muscle atrophy.

The study involved 42 men, including strength-trained and endurance-trained master athletes, alongside recreationally active older adults. Both groups of master athletes had trained systematically most of their lives, although they reported some sporadic breaks throughout their careers. They are considered lifelong trained athletes.

Powerlifting for Seniors and Strength-Trained Master Athletes

The strength-trained master athletes (OS) were powerlifters recruited from powerlifting and weightlifting gyms (average age of 73 ± 4 years). Training characteristics of the powerlifters were that they:

  • Focused mostly on heavy strength training.
  • Performed exercises with few repetitions, typically 5 reps or less.
  • Used heavy exercise loads, more than 80% of one repetition maximum (1RM).
  • Main exercises included squat, deadlift, snatch, clean and jerk, and bench press.
  • Also engaged in sporadic endurance-based activities like swimming, cycling, and walking.

Endurance-trained master athletes

The endurance-trained master athletes (OE) were recruited from Track and Field Clubs (average age of 72 ± 6 years) and participated in endurance events of extended duration (≥ 3000 meters). Half of the OE athletes reported performing general strength exercises in less than 1 session per week. These exercises were typically performed as circuit training focusing on core muscles.

Young and Older Active Controls

The recreationally active control participants (OC) had an average age of 75 ± 6 years. There were also young references (YC) with an average age of 25 ± 4 years.

Results: Strength Training Prevents Aging Muscle Atrophy

Muscle Strength and Rate of Force Development: Strength-trained athletes showed higher muscle strength and force development rates than their endurance-trained and sedentary counterparts, a testament to the benefits of strength training for seniors.

Weight Lifting for Seniors Muscle Fiber Type Composition:

Our muscles comprise of different types of fibers – Type I and Type II. Type I fibers are more endurance-oriented and great for long-distance running or cycling. Type II fibers are about power and strength, like what you’d use for sprinting or heavy lifting. Amazingly, type II fiber proportions were highly similar between life-long strength-trained older adults (≥75 years) and the young reference population (≥25 years).

Old Endurance (OE) Athletes: These older adults were more into endurance activities like long-distance running. They had a higher proportion of Type I fibers, which aligns with the demands of their sports. However, they showed more signs of muscle aging compared to the older powerlifters group.

Muscle Health and Aging:

The study also looked at signs of muscle aging like denervation (loss of nerve supply to the muscle cells) and atrophy (shrinking of muscle fibers). The older strength-train ed men group had healthier Type II fibers with fewer signs of aging than the older endurance group. This suggests that strength training might more effectively preserve muscle health and function as we age.

Practical Applications:

Regular resistance training, such as weight lifting, can have numerous practical applications for seniors. One of the key benefits is that it helps to maintain muscle mass and strength throughout your life, providing various health benefits. Age should never be a barrier to starting or continuing a weight lifting regimen, as it is never too late to reap the health benefits. In addition to improving muscle health, weight lifting can also have positive effects on overall health, including bone density and cardiovascular health. To ensure safety and effectiveness, it is essential to work with a qualified trainer or coach who can provide guidance on proper technique and help prevent injuries. Consistency and progressiveness are crucial when it comes to weight lifting – gradual and consistent progression is key to seeing long-term results.


The study revealed that lifelong weightlifting plays a crucial role in preserving muscle mass and strength as individuals age, making it a necessity in the growing older adult and elderly populations. This finding is significant because maintaining muscle strength has a positive impact on overall health and mobility among older adults. It emphasizes the importance of regular exercise and strength training for adults of all age groups. Incorporating strength training into one’s fitness routine, regardless of age, can yield beneficial outcomes.


Chodzko-Zajko, W. J., Proctor, D. N., Fiatarone Singh, M. A., Minson, C. T., Nigg, C. R., Salem, G. J., & Skinner, J. S. (2009). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and physical activity for older adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 41(7), 1510-1530. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181a0c95c

Guizelini, P. C., Aguiar, R. A. d., Denadai, B. S., & Caputo, F. (2018). Effect of Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Rate of Force Development in Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Experimental Gerontology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2017.11.020

Levinger, I., Goodman, C. A., Hare, D., Jerums, G., & Selig, S. E. (2007). The Effect of Resistance Training on Functional Capacity and Quality of Life in Individuals With High and Low Numbers of Metabolic Risk Factors. Diabetes Care. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc07-0841

Lexell, J., Henriksson-Larsén, K., Winblad, B., & Sjöström, M. (1983). Distribution of different fiber types in human skeletal muscles: effects of aging studied in whole muscle cross sections. Muscle Nerve, 6(8), 588-595. https://doi.org/10.1002/mus.880060809

Lexell, J., Taylor, C. C., & Sjöström, M. (1988). What is the cause of the ageing atrophy? Total number, size and proportion of different fiber types studied in whole vastus lateralis muscle from 15- to 83-year-old men. J Neurol Sci, 84(2-3), 275-294. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-510x(88)90132-3


Nilwik, R., Snijders, T., Leenders, M., Groen, B. B., van Kranenburg, J., Verdijk, L. B., & van Loon, L. J. (2013). The decline in skeletal muscle mass with aging is mainly attributed to a reduction in type II muscle fiber size. Exp Gerontol, 48(5), 492-498. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2013.02.012

Suetta, C., Andersen, J. L., Dalgas, U., Berget, J., Koskinen, S., Aagaard, P., Magnusson, S. P., & Kjær, M. (2008). Resistance Training Induces Qualitative Changes in Muscle Morphology, Muscle Architecture, and Muscle Function in Elderly Postoperative Patients. Journal of Applied Physiology. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01354.2007

Tøien, T., Nielsen, J. L., Berg, O. K., Brobakken, M. F., Nyberg, S. K., Espedal, L., Malmo, T., Frandsen, U., Aaagard, P., & Wang, E. (2023). The impact of life-long strength versus endurance training on muscle fiber morphology2 and phenotype composition in older men. J Appl Physiol (1985). https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00208.2023

Volkert, D. (2011). The Role of Nutrition in the Prevention of Sarcopenia. Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10354-011-0910-x

Additional Information

The study found that lifelong weight lifting seniors at 73 years old have muscle mass and strength similar to 25-year-olds, highlighting the importance of regular strength training for older Americans. This emphasizes the importance of regular weight lifting for seniors in counteracting age-related changes and maintaining muscle health.

Strength-trained master athletes and endurance-trained master athletes showcased better muscle fiber type composition compared to controls. The findings suggest that regular weight lifting for seniors can have significant long-term benefits, helping them maintain muscle mass, strength, and overall health. If you’re a senior looking to improve your muscle health and quality of life, incorporating weight lifting for seniors into your routine may be beneficial. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or fitness trainer before starting any new exercise program.

Weight Lifting for Seniors

The Mayo Clinic, National Institute on Aging, and American College of Sports Medicine all recommend weight lifting for seniors. This type of exercise has been shown to improve muscle strength, increase lean muscle mass, promote bone health, and prevent bone loss in older populations. Research has also demonstrated that weight lifting for seniors can help older men and obese older adults reduce body fat, increase muscle power, and improve physical function.

Additionally, weight lifting for seniors has been found to decrease the risk of fractures, heart attacks, and hip fractures, which are leading causes of death in older adults. The benefits of exercise training for seniors, including weight lifting for seniors, have been widely documented in scientific literature.

Consistency in strength training helps combat age-related muscle loss and enhances overall well-being. By engaging in various types of exercises, including aerobic exercises and strength training, older people can improve their muscle health. This is particularly important as muscle loss is a common occurrence due to factors like decreased physical activity and hormonal changes associated with aging.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends strength training activities at least twice a week to promote muscle growth and preserve bone mass. Seniors who focus on building muscle using their own body weight or lifting heavy objects experience reduced risks of health conditions and improved quality of life. Additionally, participating in activities like tai chi and strength training exercises can help counteract the pull of gravity, increasing bone density and reducing the risk of falls. Overall, the study highlights that it’s never too late to start incorporating strength training into your fitness regimen as a means to maintain and improve muscle tissue health in older age.

What types of exercises for Weight Lifting for Seniors?

For seniors engaging in weight lifting, focus on exercises that target the major muscle groups, including squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, and shoulder presses. These compound movements help build strength and improve overall muscle mass for seniors.

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