As a dad over 40 years old, sometimes we wonder aloud, “Should I lift
heavy”. Well here is the answer. Yes, you should lift heavy over 40 years old, and here is why.
As a busy dad, we only have so many hours in a day. It’s a finite
amount. That being so means we have to make the most out of every
minute. Life is short.
What we as older dads over 40 want is to be lean, but have strength and
power. We don’t want some snot nosed millennial bragging about how
strong they are. So we need to get our fast twitch muscles into tip
Your body recruits muscle fibers based on the force demands placed upon
it. If the force demands from an exercise are less, you’ll use more
slow-twitch fibers. The greater the intensity—meaning percentage of
your one-rep max, not just how strenuous an exercise feels—the more
you’ll tap into fast-twitch fibers.
In 2004, researchers found that powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters
had much greater fast-twitch muscle-fiber development than
bodybuilders. It’s at least partially a question of programming. The
traditional bodybuilding program focuses on the 8-12 repetition range
with moderately heavy loads and 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.
Compare this with powerlifters, who train largely in a 1-5 repetition
range with very heavy weights and 3-5 minutes of rest. Studies show
that individuals who neglect training in a heavier range will not program their nervous system to effectively recruit their largest fast-twitch fibers. The existing evidence strongly supports the conclusion that heavy lifting and muscle fatigue largely dictate the recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Exceptions: When you train your core, since that area is more about burning fat, I suggest doing higher reps (10-30).
What You Need to Know
People have two general types of skeletal muscle fibers: slow-twitch (type
I) and fast-twitch (type II). Slow-twitch muscles help enable long-endurance feats such as distance running, while fast-twitch muscles fatigue faster but are used in powerful bursts of movements like sprinting.
Fast-twitch muscles break down into two categories: moderate fast-twitch (type IIa) and fast-twitch (type IIb or IIx).
Moderate fast-twitch muscles are thicker, quicker to contract, and wear out more rapidly than slow-twitch. Fast-twitch, the most powerful and lowest in endurance, are activated when the body nears maximum exertion.
Here’s how it works: During aerobic exercise such as running or swimming, slow-twitch fibers are the first to contract. When the slow-twitch fibers become tired, fast-twitch fibers begin to take over.
There are significant benefits to working to the point of temporary
fatigue—and therefore making sure fast-twitch fibers have been
recruited. For instance, if you’re looking to increase muscle mass,
and improve strength, using fast-twitch fibers is the only way to do
Keep in mind that fast-twitch muscle depletes with age considerably more
than slow-twitch, which is why it is all the more important to engage them with your precious amount of time you have to exercise, being a busy dad.
Everyone can benefit from regular exercise, and there are no age limits.
Through challenging resistance training, older dads will improve the
strength and size of fast twitch muscle fibers and stave off muscle
wasting. Weight training will help older dads increase bone density,
improve posture and body composition, promote joint health and reduce
the risk of falls and fractures.
Use It or Lose It
With aging, you experience a progressive loss of muscle mass, a
condition called sarcopenia. The loss is due to decreases in the
total number of both slow twitch and fast twitch fibers and,
secondarily, to the shrinking of fast twitch fibers. Researchers
Chantal Vella, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. of the University of New
Mexico attribute sarcopenia to physical inactivity, along with the
remodeling of motor units associated with aging, decreased levels of
muscle-building hormones, and a decreased rate of protein synthesis.
They point to inadequate force loads applied to muscles as a primary
underlying factor for sarcopenia.
Go for the Challenge
Performing resistance exercise on a regular basis at intensities
that challenge you can help retain and build your fast-twitch muscle
fibers. Vella and Kravitz assert that resistance training has been
shown to be a powerful tool for preventing and treating sarcopenia
in older men. The Harvard School of Public Health notes that many
older men are intimidated by the idea of weight training due to fear
of injury; they need not be, particularly if a fitness professional
is consulted to assist with program design and execution.
Resistance training can also start making adaptations to your muscles in as little as two weeks.
It has been scientifically shown to prevent and treat muscle loss.
It boosts the neuromuscular system, improves hormone concentrations and protein synthesis rates. Protein synthesis rates are important because they also decrease with age which impacts fast-twitch muscle loss.
Studies show in a two week study of resistance training in adults over 60 produced increases in muscle protein synthesis rates of 182%!
I would use weights no less than 50% of your max lift. In fact, I
would start with a 50% lift, then progressively work up to 75% of my
max each and every time I lifted. You could go back down to 50% for
your last set and just burn out as many reps as you can. I do this
Supplementing with BCAAs Prevents Fast-Twitch Muscle Loss
Finally, as you know, with age, as far as our muscles are concerned, we have
less of everything. Supplementing with amino acids—the building
block of proteins—which make muscles, is a smart solution to help
in the war against fast-twitch muscle loss.
Studies show long-term amino acid supplementation with BCAAs stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older men. IN particular, science recommends higher dosing of leucine, which is the main BCAA. So if you’re going for a
supplement, get the RIGHT one HERE. With unparalleled and high doses of Leucine paired with the other BCAAs, you can fight muscle loss better.
Start now. No matter your age, but expecially with older dads–there’s
no better time to protect your muscles.
On heavy days, which in my opinion should be 80% of the days you lift,
prioritize movements that recruit the most muscle, such as squats/leg
presses, deadlifts, bench presses, hip thrusts, shoulder presses. I would also incorporate things like box jumps, sled pushes or pulls and tire flips (if your gym has these). These exercises will engage your fast twitch muscles giving you more power and strength.
If it helps, remember one of my favorite quotes from Lance Armstrong:
“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day,
or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will
take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” Keep
fighting and pushing, and your body will adapt accordingly.
Now get out there and lift some heavy weight!
- Fry AC. The role of resistance exercise intensity on muscle fibre adaptations. Sports Med. 2004; 34(10): 663-679.
- Gabriel DA, Kamen G, Frost G. Neural adaptations to resistive exercise: mechanisms and recommendations for training practices. Sports Med. 2006; 36(2): 133-49.
- Joy, J.M., Lowery, R.P., & Wilson, J.M. Effects of intra-set rest intervals on muscle activation and power. National Strength and Conditioning Conference; 2013 July 10-13; Las Vegas, NV.