What to Know About Bodybuilding After 50

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 09, 2021
4 min read

If you’re thinking about bodybuilding, now may be a perfect time.

As you age, you lose lean muscle mass. You may have less energy and be less active. Bodybuilding can reverse the process, helping you build muscle mass and have more energy.

Boosting your strength has other health benefits. It helps you build stronger bones, manage your weight, sharpen your thinking, manage conditions like arthritis, diabetes, back pain, and heart disease, and improve your quality of life.

Even if you’ve never done it before, you can start bodybuilding now. “You can get in shape at any age if you live an active lifestyle and are in good health,” says personal trainer Warren Gendel, winner of the Mr. Santa Barbara 1992 NPC bodybuilding contest and owner of Well-Fit by Warren, a company focused on fitness for men over 50.

Bracha Goetz, a children’s author from Baltimore, started at age 60. “I started lifting weights to keep my muscles strong and to prevent osteoporosis, which my mother and older sister had.”

Lifting weights is now part of Goetz’s routine and she feels stronger and healthier. “Our bodies were designed to move, so it’s a pleasure to do, especially to music. Now I actually have stronger muscles than I ever had when I was younger,” she says.

If you’re not active now or if you have a chronic health condition, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide if bodybuilding is right for you.

“Often, women are turned off to bodybuilding because of a common misconception that lifting weights will make you bulk up and look like a certain green Marvel hero,” says Griff Robinson, a NASM-certified personal trainer outside Boston. “But bodybuilding isn’t just for men. Many women enjoy the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of weightlifting.”

If you’re a woman and you don’t want to bulk up, don’t worry, Robinson says. “Unless you’re training like an elite, 22-year-old bodybuilder, you can expect to look fitter and more toned, not beefy and ungainly.”

After you get a green light from your doctor, start with 2-3 weightlifting sessions a week.

“Try to keep your workouts under 30 minutes,” Robinson says. That helps you do higher intensity exercises without overworking your body.

Start with a brief warmup. Try 5-10 minutes of brisk walking or another cardio activity.

Aim for 12-15 repetitions of each exercise. Some people like to do 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions, but experts say one set is fine too. Pick a weight that’s not too easy but not too hard. Your muscles should start to feel tired when you get to the end of each set.

As you get stronger, you’ll see improvements. Your muscle mass will increase, you’ll feel stronger, and you’ll be able to work out longer. When it starts to feel easy, bump up the amount of weight slightly.

Follow these steps for safe and effective bodybuilding workouts after age 50.

Start slow. If you do too much too soon, you’re more likely to get injured. Ease in with light weights and short sessions.

Remember to rest. Add rest days to your bodybuilding routine. Your body needs time to recover from lifting weights. “Take a day off between each training session to rest and recover,” Gendel says.

Use good form. Lifting weights with poor form or technique can lead to injury. If you’re not sure how to do it properly, get a personal trainer to guide you, Gendel says.

Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, stop lifting. Try using a lower weight. Double-check your form and technique. Take a break for a few days. If you still feel pain, talk to your personal trainer or doctor.

Bodybuilding isn’t just about lifting weights.

“If you’re looking to stay in good shape and keep your body strong and healthy, it’s always a good idea to incorporate some cardio, like jogging, into your fitness routine,” Robinson says.

Add bodyweight movements to your routine. Try exercises like push-ups, squats, and sit-ups, Robinson says. They use your own weight to help you build muscle mass and slow bone loss linked to osteoporosis.

Remember to eat well. “You need to have good nutrition to fuel your body for muscle growth,” Gendel says.

Sometimes it’s best to hold off. Take a break from bodybuilding if:

  • You have a cold, the flu, or an infection with a fever.
  • You feel a lot more tired than you usually do.
  • You have swelling or pain in a muscle or joint.
  • You have a symptom that you’re not sure about.
  • You have chest pain.
  • Your heartbeat is irregular, rapid, or fluttery.
  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You have a hernia.