Home Weight Lifting Years of Weight Lifting With Little Muscle Development: Trainer Advice

Years of Weight Lifting With Little Muscle Development: Trainer Advice

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  • To build muscle, you need to lift heavy weights and work hard, personal trainer Harry Smith said.
  • It’s also important to recover well after workouts and fuel your body adequately, with plenty of protein.
  • Building muscle is harder when you’re older, but not impossible.
  • Read more Working It Out here.

Dear Rachel,

I’m a 68-year-old woman and have been weight training for 1.5 years, but I haven’t seen much muscle development. I weight train three days a week and also do 45 minutes of cardio five days a week. Why am I not really seeing any muscle firming? I walk 7,000-10,000 steps a day. My peak heart rate is 160 when working out and resting is 57. So why haven’t I seen more muscle?

— Dismayed

Dear Dismayed,

When it comes to developing muscle and achieving the “toned” look many people strive for, there are lots of factors at play. Yes, how you train is key, but there’s also nutrition, genetics, age, stress, and recovery to consider.

Without more information on the specifics of your training and lifestyle it’s hard to know what exactly could be hindering your progress, but personal trainer and nutritionist Harry Smith explained what you should optimally be doing for muscle and strength gains.

Ensure you’re lifting heavy and hard enough

“Weight training doesn’t grow muscle. Hard weight training does,” Smith told Insider.

He recommends lifting weights close to failure — which means you aim to finish each set when you’ve got fewer than five reps left in the tank.

“Most people severely overestimate how hard they are actually training,” Smith said.

I’m guilty of not pushing myself as hard as I could in the gym, and if you’re the same, having a few sessions with a personal trainer may help you recalibrate and discover what you’re capable of.

As a general rule, muscle-building, or hypertrophy, requires lifting weights in rep ranges of 12-15, personal trainer Luke Worthington previously told Insider.

Smith says the optimal way to train to build muscle is lifting heavy weights with enough intensity — aim for 3-5 sets of each exercise, with at least a minute of rest in between sets.

Do three full-body workouts a week

If you’re lifting weights three times a week, Smith recommends doing full body sessions for the best results, rather than focusing on one muscle group at a time.

“She would do best to focus on compound exercises in her sessions,” Smith said. “These are multi-joint exercises like squats and deadlifts that hit multiple muscles at a time, making her training time more efficient.”

Incorporate machines, like leg presses, to allow you to work up to a higher intensity with stability.

Cardio isn’t necessary for muscular development, Smith said, and you’re doing a fair amount already. 

Of course, it’s important for overall health, but you may be doing more than is necessary — fine if you enjoy it, but you don’t need to if you don’t.

“High volumes of cardiovascular training can definitely negate hypertrophy, as the two types of training create competing adaptations,” Smith said. He recommends dropping one or two cardio sessions to prioritize muscle growth.

Eat plenty of protein

Muscle loss as we age, or sarcopenia, is something we all experience, which makes muscle growth harder the older you are, but it’s certainly not impossible. 

“This can be somewhat mitigated with a slightly higher protein intake than is typically recommended as well as making sure your diet is even more nutrient-dense, and eating enough to at least not


lose weight

,” Smith said.

He recommends keeping an eye on your body weight, and if the number on the scale is continually going down (more than small fluctuations), eat more.

“It’s very possible she may be under-consuming calories and nutrients with the high levels of cardio that she is doing,” Smith said. “If she’s losing weight (and that’s not the goal) that would indicate too few calories.”

A post-workout shake with carbs and protein could help mitigate this.

“Try to have protein every time you eat and try to eat at least three times a day, more is better,” he said. Fill up on fruits and veggies and eat a broad range of carbohydrates too, including grains, legumes, and your favorite treats.

Prioritize recovery

Recovery is undervalued for the role it plays in fitness results, and training increases your sleep demands, Smith said.

Aim for 7-9 hours a night and examine your overall stress levels.

“Everyone needs some form of


meditation

to help with stress relief,” Smith said, adding that this doesn’t need to be sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed, but simply an activity that makes you feel relaxed.

For me, it’s reading, walking, baking, painting my nails, or having a bath. Find what works for you.

Wishing you well,

Rachel

As a senior health reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition-certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.

Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.

Have a question? Ask Rachel at workingitout@insider.com or fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.





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