Tricks to Gaining Muscle Mass After 50 – 3 Mistakes to Avoid

Full Name Email * email marketing by activecampaign

Can you really get fit after age fifty?

gaining muscle mass after 50

Gaining muscle mass after 50 can be done

I did. And this is how I did it.

First I just asked myself a common sense question.

What are the keys to gaining muscle mass after 50 years old?

And here is what I wrote down.

Fitness simplified (in my mind at least):

  • Eat Well. I mean this really is the main problem. We are all eating like crap and that’s why we’re fat.
  • Move Often. Another hazard of our modern lives. We sit at desks all day. Our version of “hunting and gathering” is to order shit from Amazon for Christ’s sake.
  • Pick Stuff Up. Preferably heavy stuff. And do it regularly.
  • Sleep Soundly. Another casualty of modern living is it’s assault on your sleep. Both quantity and quality. You are not designed for the chronic stress that comes from being over-tired and constantly bombarded by technology chirping at you and demanding action.

That was my my basic list.

  1. Nutrition
  2. exercise (both aerobic and anaerobic)
  3. and manage stress.

Keep it simple is always a good strategy.


The tricks to gaining muscle mass after 50 may be a bit counter intuitive.

Conventional wisdom tells you to moderate your life and take it easy as you age so you don’t get hurt or throw out your back.

But keep in mind, this advice is coming mostly from other old guys with big guts and bad backs.

Just because you find yourself in a state of marginal fitness doesn’t mean you are sentenced to a mediocre finish in life.

Mistake #1 is thinking like an old guy. You have to avoid this like the plague.

Don’t believe you cannot be strong again.

Don’t take advice from guys with big guts, bad backs and skinny arms.

This was my first “aha moment.” I realized I was acting old.

If you want to look old, just act old. Your results are guaranteed.

I had stropped running. I had the “bad back” mind set. I wasn’t lifting anymore because I felt tired. I was whining.

It’s a classic Catch-22.

Are you feeling old because you’re acting old?
Or are you acting old because you’re feeling old?

I’m convinced it’s the former. Old age starts in your head.

If you want to pack on some muscle, start acting like a young guy who wants to impress girls. This is a mental game.

If you want to build muscle mass, you have to lift weights or perform some type of resistance training.

Resistance can be provided using your own body weight by doing any number of exercises like pull ups, push ups, dips, squats and rows.

This is typically a great starting point to get you back into training if you are just getting going again.

But make no mistake, if you want to accelerate gaining muscle mass after 50 years old, you have to lift heavy weights.

The key is to lift heavy things. Remember, heavy is a relative term.

Heavy is basically what you can lift for 3 to 5 reps while maintaining good form. You should probably stay away from the heavy single rep lifts for the most part.

Heavy training can be done using traditional weight lifting workouts or even by lifting heavy rocks and logs and carrying them around.

You can flip truck tires or push weighted sleds around. Car pushes are one of my secret workouts.

Lifting heavy simply means to stress your muscles in a way that causes overload without injury.

This is how muscle mass is built.

Mistake #2 is lifting like an old guy.

Most old guys (and probably you too) who have been out of the gym for a few years have poor core strength.

Core is a general term, and probably not a good one, to describe everything from your hips to mid-back all the way around your trunk. So abs, obliques, back ex-tensors, hip flexors and a bunch of other small muscles are included.

You need a strong core to perform many of the lifts needed for muscle building.

Squatting, overhead pressing, power cleans, dead lifts and kettlebell swings all require a strong core to prevent injury.

Don’t mistake your weak back for an injured back.

You may believe you have a “bad back” because it is sore all the time when in reality you simply have a weak back that is stressed from bad posture, poor ergonomics and years of neglect.

The bad back syndrome is a downward spiral.

  • You don’t think you can do it anymore because of your bad back.
  • You can’t do this and you can’t do that because of the bad back.

I thought like this for years. And I kept getting weaker and feeling older as a result.

You have to break out of this thinking. It’s dragging you down.

Now let me be clear, you may actually have an injured back (a small percentage of us old guys do). It certainly does happen. I am not diagnosing you.

I am simply saying that the majority of bad back problems are due to a weak core and not really an injury. If you have any acute pain, you need an expert to analyze your situation.

Don’t use sit ups to work on your core strength.

They don’t work and waste a lot of time. Work your core with stabilization exercises, compound movements and twisting/bending moves.

Overhead pressing, push ups and carrying exercises like farmers walks are core stabilizers.

Squats, dead lifts and kettlebell  swings are compound movements.

Burpees, T push ups and sledgehammer swings are excellent core builders using twisting and bending moves.

Mistake #3 is wasting your time in the gym.

Don’t walk on the treadmill for 30 to 40 minutes. This is a waste of valuable gym time.

Walking is for your rest days. Walk around the block a few times or take an easy run. Get some fresh air. Go hiking. It’s all good. Just don’t do it on your training days.

Did you ever notice that the treadmill walkers or recumbent bike riders never seem to build a better physique?

They looked weak two months ago and still look weak today.

Don’t waste time lifting tiny dumbbells doing curls and ultralight presses. It looks ridiculous and really what is the point? You are not building muscle nor burning any fat.

So stop embarrassing yourself.

I go to a community center gym where a lot of older folks work out.

I see a lot of time wasting going on.

The guys who just sit on the leg curl machine between their pathetic, half-rep sets.

Or the dude who swing curls 15 pound dumbbells for about 20 minutes straight! I’m not kidding. I can do dead lifts and squats and he is still swinging those little dumbbells.

Don’t do this shit. Get serious about your gym time.

The key to gaining muscle mass after 50 is to lift heavy weight using your big muscles.

  • You need to squat, bench, military press, power clean (with an asterisk here) and dead lift.
  • Power cleans are a great exercise but good technique is imperative. And it is not a simple movement.

Make a goal to work up to power cleans but don’t just go there on Day 1.

Focus on the big lifts using perfect form.

Build muscle and get strong by focusing on the basic movements. As always, start slow to ensure you do not get hurt.

This is Rule 1 for “Old Guy Lifting.”

Don’t get hurt. Recovery just takes too long.

But do the big muscle lifts to build a solid physique.

Don’t act like an old guy.


  1. Eat Well. Read the secrets to losing weight fast. You may need to supplement. Read about the best supplements for men here.
  2. Move often. This means active rest days when you’re not lifting. Running, walking, hiking, just moving around.
  3. Lift heavy things. Read here about the 23 Best Ab Workouts You Don’t Know About.
  4. Sleep well. Lower stress. Read some inspirational quotes about strength and life from Jack LaLanne.
    1. Building Muscle after 50

      See our signature muscle building program here.

      Old spartan headshot

      Old Spartan



  1. says

    Very good and to the point article. I myself at 57, understand the work that is involved in all areas nutrition, lifting, recovery etc,.. that is needed to build muscle at any age, but as we age it takes a real concentrated effort to succeed. The importance of working around previous orthopedic injuries as well plays a big part for many of us who have been active our entire lives.

    I work around a total knee replacement and a ruptured bicep tendon ( long head) both play a part in my ability to lift the type of weight I would like but, you learn to improvise. Something is better than nothing!

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  2. Norman says

    ” Avoid thinking like an old guy” Best damned thing I’ve read in years.
    I’ll be here off and on for a while and will let you know my progress Norman B. 56

  3. John says

    i’m 54 years old and i just started back in the gym I’ve noticed that if i do the same work out every other day I’ll make gains but use the 5×5 system

  4. says

    I am 67 years old at 65 I was as strong as I was at 50, in 2012 I had to have by-pass surgery, For the last two years my life has been miserable because I let my musical mass deteriorate. I have to bring my selfasteam back to where it was two years ago and better. I going to start today using your advice Thanks.

  5. Scott says

    Solid truth spoken here. Simple things with a common sense approach is all that is required. I have been bouncing around from endurance sports (running, adventure racing, mountain biking) to strength training for the last 6 years. Now, at age 50, I have a laser focus on strength and muscle mass. I’ve always been on the thin side, but can testify that it is possible to get stronger and add muscle at this age. There are disadvantages to getting older, but that doesn’t mean one must lay down and give up. Get your mind right, eat well, and grind out some solid workouts with HEAVY stuff and you are on uour way. I have basic barbell equipment in garage and have never worked out in a gym. If your goal is to get strong and increase muscle mass, follow the instructions of the author and keep it simple. It WILL work.

    • says

      Good stuff Scott. I wheeled rocks around the yard yesterday in the wheelbarrow. Solid workout.

  6. Rodger Mathews says

    After a year of inactivity because of a shattered knee from a motorcycle accident, I realized that I’d lost quite a bit of muscle tone and gained some softness around my waist. I started out this past Spring, doing lots of stretching, the calisthenics I learned in the Army, light to medium resistance with weights or resistance tubes. It didn’t take all that long, and started to see some definition in my muscles.

    Also, I read several internet articles on the subject, and I added two why protein shakes to my daily intake, while moderating my food intake, especially “ground meats” such as hot dogs, sausage, or hamburger. That, plus working out at the local YMCA, have given me more lean muscle.

    And y’know what? When I was walking through a restaurant a few weeks ago, I felt that I was “standing tall.” Even better than the physical appearance, getting into better shape has helped me move on from the trauma of the accident and the loss of “life control” I felt. (Doesn’t hurt that girlfriend loves the “new,” bulkier shoulders and arms! lol)

  7. Johnnie Owens says

    Thinking old!!!!

  8. Stan Goliath says

    Best advice ever. Thanks a lot. Now its time to put it to the test….im ready….52 here I come!

    • says

      Stan having the right attitude may be the most important thing. And you’ve got it brother.

  9. says

    I’m 50 been lifting for years ,high school , college athlete . Don’t feel old don’t act it but definitely going to take your advice and lift a little heavier, I feel like my routine is always the same thing , enjoyed your article . Will be staying in touch! To all the old Spartans out there KEEP HAMMERING!

  10. Ron P. says

    At 61 years young I hit the gym 5 to 6 days a week for at least 1 1/2 hours each time. I DO push ups 3 sets of 100 each. Leg lifts, planks (all 3 sets) speed bag 3 sets for 3 minutes each. Push ups, pull ups and a variety of other excercises. Then I start the weights with heavy benches (9 sets) and 6 sets of dumb bell curls. When I’m good and tired I always cool down with another 3 minutes on the speed bag. Yes – i do have body pain such as aches here and there. God, I’m 61! But I can out work 90% of the guys in the gym one third my age. You’re absolutely right. Age is a mind game. And BTW – I have young gals in their twenties hitting on me – and I score regularly with them. Come on guys – hit the gym and quit worrying about your age.

  11. Dan says

    At age 50 I was diagnosed as Type 2 diabetic. 230 pounds, totally out of shape. Also had fatty liver. Started working out at a UFC gym doing the boxing workouts, also started doing intervals (30/30) on the bike and lifting weights. Less than 5 months later lost 50 pounds and was no longer in the diabetic or even pre-diabetic range. Plus liver is now totally normal.

    I am in better shape now than when I was in my 20s.

    • says

      Dan, that is a powerful story. 50 lbs in 5 months is fantastic. The power of movement. Your body will take care of itself if you give it a chance.

      • Dan says

        Mark, the body’s ability to fix itself is truly incredible. I had definitely fallen into the “I’m getting fat and my joints ache, so what, I’m 50” way of thinking. Big mistake.

        If you stick with a workout routine and eat healthy, you can indeed set things right…or close to right.

  12. Joseph Valentine says

    Over this past winter I decided to give my gym a try. Having been a competitive swimmer my entire life I thought that the pool would keep me fit and young. I would walk equipment thinking who need that? I just swam three miles! Lo and behold despite the rigorous routine I noticed that I was getting soft.

    Within the past four months of hitting the machines very regularly I noticed very nice gain in muscle definition and mass. Not too shabby considering I’m 52 years young. You’re never too old to make gains.

    • says

      Yes very true. Swimming is a unique exercise. The people who do it tend to be naturally good at it and while a good workout, it’s not a muscle building workout. Now i could swim a few laps and get a good pump because it’s pure work for me.

  13. DAVE A says

    at 58 I have been in and out of gyms (mainly out) most of my life with one thing or another becoming an excuse to stop the regular flow of training well that was up to when I was 41 and 90 kg of solid muscle….and a big excuse stepped in for 15 years…..

    until one day I looked in the mirror two years back at what I had become…..1.85m @100kg….hey only 10 kg more…..but reality was I lost at least 5kg of muscle so the result was a 15 kg fat gain…..looking like evenly spread play doh on my chest arms middle and legs… never looked too bad as I never had a typical middle age belly and skinny arms legs….I was kind of even all over…but it felt weak and soft and something had to be done.

    I wont go into the work out details but as the author says…..don’t think like an old man when you go at it….go as hard and fast and heavy as you can for an hour to ninety mins each session….no talking and walking round the gym gassing on the cell phone……you are doing a job of work

    However what I would recommend is a full medical to check the state of your heart and blood before you go bonkers….in my case I was set go and by some miracle still had the pump to drive the system….then get ready….but take it easy the first couple of weeks

    firstly because of the recovery pain you WILL feel after hitting your muscles with exercises you may not have done in years or ever….which will result in you not being able to get out of a chair because you will be so stiff…not the next day much…..but the day after will burrrrrrrn…..cuz we are not 20 or 30 something that’s over it in a couple of days…..that initial muscle soreness will take you a week to get out the system …..especially on your first serious leg day….hahaha….enjoy!

    But that soreness is a great way to put people off almost as soon as they start…..YOU MUST OVERCOME THAT PAIN INDUCED PSYCHOLOGICAL BARRIER

    And continue to overcome it for about 6 months until the gym is an addiction you cant quit……only then will you take your renewed strength fitness and virility with you to the 60’s 70’s and beyond

    Im back to 90kg but the muscle mass isn’t quite there yet even tho Im told by people a third of my age that I look hard-core ….if I drop 5kg I will be lean and mean….but the plan is to get to bigger than I ever was….95kg is my goal ….skin muscle and bone….and I will do it….

    mental focus….you are not old….its just a number….become a an addict

    rest… biggest problem but you must sleep well or the results are reduced

    diet….protein protein and more protein….of course good carbs and useful supplements…eat often

    training….physique follows form….don’t cheat it….be safe lifting….lift heavy and light….chop and change your routine to shock the system when it gets lazy and used to same ole set

    Credit to Mark Fickler for this valuable info.

    • says

      Dave, great stuff here. Yes I find the rest phase to be the most important difference from my younger days. I can easily over-train now if I don’t watch it. The other thing I do now (that is different from 30 years ago) is to train primarily with compound movements. This simply gets the work done efficiently. I don’t do a lot of single joint exercises like focused arm work, for example. I have limited time so focus on strength, full range of motion movement and fitness over “having big arms” which seemed more important when I was 20.

  14. Jeff S says

    I let my weight creep up over the past 6 years or so by eating like crap and behaving like I already had one foot in the grave. However, I’m father to a 3 year old (yes, at 50 years old) little girl and decided I needed and wanted to be around for a while!

    So I started at 5’7 @ 220 lbs with a 40″ waist and 165/105 blood pressure. I was thinking old, feeling old, acting old. My hips ached, I got winded walking up stairs, my sleep was poor. I needed to change. I bought a wearable calorie tracker, and started walking, eating clean and logging everything I ate, and the weight started coming off.

    After about 3 weeks of this, I came to a realization that the author alludes to – I wanted to look good – I believed, that at 50, I could still have a physique that would “impress the girls” and I started lifting. I’m using machines and lifting heavy to total muscle failure in a modified “SuperSlow” technique, so I don’t spend much total time in the gym, but the gains have been impressive – my lifts have improved 60-100% in 9 weeks. I’ve never had biceps like I have now, watching the muscles move under my skin when I’m getting ready for work in the morning is fascinating, and my wife has commented on how sexy it is.

    A little over 3 months, 45 lbs of weight loss with 10-15 to go before I start eating to gain muscle, with a noticeable increase in muscle mass and definition. The biggest tell-tale of all is my blood pressure has dropped to 126/78, which, when I checked it this past weekend, nearly brought me to tears.

    So, I can only second everything the author wrote. It’s definitely worked wonders for me.

  15. Randy R. says

    I turn 50 in 12 days. I have never had definition in my life. The other day a friend told me it was too late to build muscle for me unless I take steroids. Well I’m not planning on taking those but am going to continue this workout regime and hope I can get a new look. I’m starting at the very bottom. My first issue is there are some machines that are hard to do for instance yesterday on the incline bench (machine) I could barely do 20 pounds (4 sets of 10) due to me not being very limber to bring my arms that far back. I am very motivated to do this though and your article really pumped me up! Thanks!

    • says

      Randy, good for you. First, your friend doesn’t know shit so don’t listen to him. Read this post about muscle loss and aging. A lot of machines are hard to get your body aligned right and some can even do damage. Bodyweight stuff might be a good option for you to get started. Check out this free training. I go into “bad machine exercises” and give a lot of other options.

  16. Samal Yoder says

    Age is a matter of attitude. Yes we get old, but we don’t have to act old. Just turned 65. Feel as fit as I was in my 20’s. Cured myself of type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver as another poster did. Reached the point of having to inject insulin twice daily. Just decided enough is enough. No more treating the symptoms, get rid of the disease. So started exercising. Did not have a whole lot of barbells & dumbbells so just want outside and started lifting anything heavy I coud find. Doing curls with spare tires, lifting and throwing boulders in quarry next to my property. Lots of chopping trees down, sawing them up into firewood, splitting them into kindling. Oh yes, lifting the trees and doing squats with them before cutting them up. Lost 80 lbs in 3 months. Want from size 50 pants to size 38, 3xl shirts to large, 280 lbs to 238, waist size want from 55″ to 38″.
    It’s not about the scales guys it’s about the body composition, the lean body mass to body fat ratio.

    • says

      Great story. Love the old school approach. It all works. Yes you are right, lean body mass is the key measurement.

  17. Dreas says

    Ha Ha Ha! “If you think you’re an old guy, you become that old guy.” I’m signing up!

  18. Marvin says

    I am 80 years young. I workout at Golds GYM with various maximum weights on 15 machines with all muscle groups. I do 15 reps on each machine every other day. This approximates 600 reps a week.I also do a floor routine involving knee movement and back stretches.
    I have a large inoperable non organ encompassing hernia from my diaphragm to my pelvic
    arch NOT as a result from exercising. So, I have to eliminate crunches
    and buy comfortable well tailored good looking clothing. I have 1&1/2 knee replacement and a
    small operable back issue over 15 years old with no adverse affects. Just can’t play football with my Grand-kids.

    • says

      You’re my hero Marvin. Grand kids are happy playing any game. Keep it going.

  19. james says

    I can confirm that your principles work. I started lifting heavy at 50. I eat my macros and lost a pound a month for 2 years while making big muscle gains. I lift heavy. Since I have actual back disk issues I avoid dead lifts and squats and anything over head, that hasn’t limited my gains. I lift 3 days per week, everything 3 sets,5-7 reps, heavy.lots of protein. Good form, heavy. I now look and feel great. I only spend 40 minutes in the gym by not sitting and resting at the same station but keep movingnon to the next station, almost like HIIT. That way, it is very aerobic and doesn’t take a lot of time to get in 3 sets of all exercises. I’m proof that lifting smart and heavy over 50 can result in great gains. Thanks for the confirmation if what I already know works. No flapping your and and legs around with light weights. THANKS!

    • says

      Exactly James. Heavy (which is a relative thing) works. And it’s the opposite of what most old guys do.

  20. Barry says

    Lmao – omg, what a great sense of humor, loved it. All right on target.
    55, lifting heavy, feeling strong.
    Best shape of my life at 49, almost back there. Have a vision, believe it can be done, no excuses, make it happen.

    • says

      Hmmm, I missed this somehow. I think the vision is the most important thing. Good stuff

  21. Mike B says

    This is great advice Mark is giving. The way to stimulate your Testosterone levels & bring them up naturally is to lift heavy & eat properly. What I have found to be the biggest criteria for gaining Mass over 50 is to not worry about rushing back into the gym after your last workout as you can easily overtrain & lose muscle. So I have taken bits & pieces from top bodybuilders over the years like Mike Mentzer who used a 1-2 set to failure system as well as more days in between recovery scenario. Keep the main lifts going as heavy & safe as possible, don’t skip workouts, eat very clean (lean proteins, and not after 8pm if possible). I have found ZMA to be a great sleeping aid that can promote better sleep & enhanced recovery.

    • says

      Good stuff Mike. I concur on the rest phase. I can’t do near the volume I used to do. Some days I’m just too tired and I’ll skip lifting and maybe just do some pushups or body weight squats.

  22. Gordon Paulsen says

    Hi Mark

    I’m 56 and have been doing weight training on and off for the past four of five years but not really pushing myself for any length of time.
    I am dieting to lose the fat i have put on over the past few years from eating crap. I am 5’10” and weigh 82kg’s after losing about eight kg’s in the last year. I’m am still looking fat so how low should I go before I can see some muscle under there!

    My body fat % is about 24%. What should I be aiming for?

    • says

      24% of 82 kg is roughly 20 kg fat (62 kg LBM (lean body mass)). There’s a lot of “it depends” it that question. If you want your abs to show, you likely have a long way to go (like getting 10% BF or less). But you can look muscular in your shoulders, back, chest and legs a lot sooner depending on your natural build. Body fat is the metric that matters when you want to look fitter and more muscular. I’d strength train 3 to 4 times a week; eat better quality foods (real food); get protein at every meal; add some active rest on your off days like walking and biking and keep at it. This is a lifestyle, not an event. In 6 months you’ll be looking muscular.

  23. Steven Ritnour says

    At 55 I was 270 with a 44 inch waist and a resting heart rate of 85 and at 57 I’m a svelte 192 with a 32 inch waist and a resting heart rate of 60 bpm…….Winning because I think I’m 37….lol……All I did was change everything about what and when I ate. After losing the initial 50 lbs I joined the local YMCA and show up 5 or 6 times a week. For the first time in my life I’m benching more than I’m weigh…….I’ve been hindered with a small tear in my labrum so there are many movements I cannot do especially with free weights, but that will not stop me.

  24. Tom Temen says

    Solid advice. I am about to turn 51yrs old. I have had two shoulder surgeries in the past three yrs. No tears just frozen shoulders. I have people at work thinking I am on the juice. I have been active my entire life but my recent gains have people I work with amazed. Benching 315, squatting about 350 for reps. They have asked what my secret is and I say Recovery. We are older and we dont recover like we used to. I work each body part once a week. I do blast the hell out of it that once a week but then it has time to recover the entire week. This has worked for me along with some supplements, mostly whey protein.

    • says

      Tom is a beast. It’s been a long time since I benched in the 3’s but I have a goal of getting 315 this year. Plus a 2X bodyweight deadlift. Just takes time and effort

  25. says

    Thanks Mark for the great advise. I’m thinking about complete heavy weight workouts without using treadmill cardio every other day. I’m 49 and have been working out for 6 months with little results. Cutting out cardio and concentrating on heavy lifting can be a good move. I’m open for any advice. Thanks

    • says

      Gotta lift but gotta recover too. I mix it up between “heavy” and “lighter” days. Quotes cause it’s all relative.

  26. David watts says

    Good article which gets it right. However, the essential points raised are also relevant to all age groups. I have always generated my best results by doing high volume sets of 6 reps with as much weight as I can possibly handle in reasonable form. I’m now almost 59 and train exacly the same way as I did in my 20’s (though with less intensity). I’m not quite as strong or muscular but not far off. In any case, tue age is biological not chronological. Example – two guys age 60, one has genetic potential to live to age 100, the other to age 75… are they the same age?

    • says

      I’m like you, still a lifter. But many guys stop lifting altogether and get into bike riding or walking. It’s all good but only resistance training maintains muscle which is really the culprit in aging (sarcopenia)

  27. says

    I really like to lift weights. But have not been active in several years. I feel empowered by this article to get back at it. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *