Age is a continuum

Stories like Whitlock and Pearl resonate because we tend to think of strength and age as opposite poles, with a person either weak and old or strong and young. But science shows they are more like a continuum. We are all old and never too old to be stronger or too weak to be better. Winning games gets harder as you get older, but getting strong enough to perform everyday tasks effectively certainly isn’t. Age doesn’t contradict strength, it just limits it vaguely. Elevators can continue to get stronger up to 80. There is no scientific law that says muscles can’t work after a certain age.

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  1. Anyone, including the elderly, can have life

What works for Olympic athletes also works for older adults, like Dustin Jones, a physical therapist at Stronger Life, a gym in Louisville, Kentucky, that focuses on clients ages 55 and older.

Jones helps his older clients with deadlift exercises, lunges, burpees, and barbell squats, which are the foundation of a powerlifting program that can greatly build strength in younger people. Jones’ lift starts with a responsible weight or an empty bar that increases over time.

Known as progressive overload, the process of lifting weights over time is key to forcing and repairing muscle cells, and when combined with proper rest and nutrition, they become bigger and stronger. Training is performed within a responsible weight range and at a pace that takes into account the lifter’s age and athleticism.

How training is the same and different when you are older

Older lifters take longer to get stronger. By age 30, muscle strength begins to decline, and by age 60, the decline becomes more abrupt. Motor neurons and maximal oxygen uptake also tended to decrease. While anyone, at any age, can gain more power, it’s not as easy in older age groups as it is in adolescent boys, who are just alive and maximizing testosterone production.

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But the psychological aspect may be more important. Seniors who come to the gym often come with a negative mindset, including years of discouragement by health and fitness professionals from using their bodies or lifting weights, Jones said.

The biggest problem with people not being strong is that Jones is the negative things that have been said to them from healthcare providers and culture in general for decades that you should take lightly and not understand to stay. When we become inactive and afraid to push our bodies, Jones says we adapt and become weaker and less resilient.

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