Hard Core Training For Guys Over 50


Here is a great question about strength training for guys over 50 that was sent to me yesterday from HulseStrength.com reader, Gene Burke.

Gene writes…

Hey Elliott,

Great site and information. You seem like a pretty straight shooter so I would like to ask for your opinion about which training path to take. I just turned 50 last week. In the 80’s I competed in some bodybuiling & powerlifting meets, then became invloved in the martial arts for many years and got away from lifting.

Here is my question, I am now 50. I will never be a strongman competitor (besides my age I am only 5’11” and run about 225. As I get older I am worrying more about my long term fitness and health. I run from time to time and to be honest it is a chore, but I think it may be better for my health than lifting.

I see all these ex strongman and bodybuilder guys who after they compete shrink down to normal size (ahola, yates, columbo and so on), so I wonder if trying to get down in weight to say 185 – 190 is better for a man as he gets older than trying to build muscle and try to stay at like 220-225 solid.

This issue is driving me nuts…. which way do you feel is the better way to satay healthy in the long run,  lots of aerobics or lots of weight training?

by the way I love to lift…i will just never be in the league of even local strongman shows level strength….

any insight would be great…


My Answer….

Gene, it’s funny that you ask this question today as I had a lengthy conversation with one of my “over 50” Strength Camp members this morning after class about the same topic.

The question arises as to whether or not it makes sense for a man over 50 to be concerned with building more muscle mass and decreasing body fat to the point of being “shredded”.

As is typical, I answered from a holistic paradigm… basically, looking at things in our lives with a broader scope and considering that all elements of life are linked.

So, here is the situation… It is common for men over 50 to notice a decrease in testosterone along with a decrease in the ability to build muscle, burn fat and an over-all drop in male virility.  This is normal and natural.

Yes, we do live in a time and in a country where most of our food and water is polluted by Estrogen inducing substances… such as petroleum based / plastic food containers (Xenoestrogens) and a high amount of pesticides designed to incapacitate the reproductive ability of pests (and subsequently HUMANS too).

BUT, as a natural process of individual human evolution… ie. getting old ;), men begin to produce an increased amount of Aromatase, an enzyme that converts or “aromatizes” testosterone into estrogen.

So you may be asking, “Shit! That sucks… why the hell would that happen?”

Here is my humble (that’s up for debate) opinion…

In traditional tribal societies young men would spend much or their time hunting, fishing, climbing, fighting and foraging for food — testosterone driven stuff.  Women typically were the creators and caretakers of the tribe.  In fact, in many Native American societies the women were the real leaders and decision makers.  Being biologically more in tuned with nature, women were often the tribal counselors as well.

Men viewed women as being more “worthy” then them due to their life-giving capacity. As such men designed rights of passive rituals that would emulate the burden of women in order to show God or Nature that we too would like to become “worthy”.  An example of this type of ritual is the Sun Dance Festival that is performed by Lacota men where they would shed blood, as women do, to honor God.  (My little brother Ellis has done this grueling ritual 4 times and has some SICK scars to show for it)

Men and women are MUCH different than many people today would have you believe.  We are mental, emotional and biological opposites.  BUT traditionally, we compliment each other perfectly (although today this no longer the case, as the line between masculinity and femininity is becoming more and more blurred).

Imagine the Ying-Yang symbol for a moment… the opposing images are of contrasting colors (black and white) but within each there is a single spot which holds the color of the opposite side…. the black side has a spot of white and the white side has a spot of black.  — this means that each side contains the potential of the other.  Black has the potential for being white and white has the potential for becoming black.

The same is true for men and women… although we ARE opposites, we each contain the potential for displaying the characteristics of the other.

In nature there are NO extremes, everything is balanced out perfectly.  There is no day without night, there is no cold without hot, there is no winter without summer.  Also, nature has a tendency to correct severe imbalances by swinging the pendulum heavily in the opposite direction.  For example, most people would agree that the sun produces life on earth… getting some sunshine is a good thing.  But there becomes a point where too much sun can COOK everything on the earth and there fore produce the opposite of life… death!

Well, the same happens with our sex hormones.

When a man lives past a certain age, all of his full masculinity becomes feminine, and a women of this particular age become more masculine… thus balancing the equation.

This is SO obvious, all you have to do it look with a discerning eye!

Women’s bodies become harder, their ambitions shift from life-giving to life-protecting.  And men, our bodies become softer and our ambitions shift from life-protecting (hunting and fighting) to life-nurturing (telling stories and sharing wisdom).

God creates this shift in Man and Woman just like He created the shift from day to night…  in order that balance may ensue.

The problem is the WE as human beings are often not satisfied with what natures decree.  We think that things should stay the same…. a women of 50 wants to look and act like she is 20, this is ugly — it is against nature!  Also men, as our testosterone naturally drops so does out ability to build muscle, burn fat and get a “hard-on”.

Peace is achieved ONLY through SUBMISSION.  If we are to evolve peacefully and happily we have to accept and LOVE our personal shifts…  Men as becoming more woman-like and women the opposite.

Gene, the men who you describe above who have SHIFTED from being 300 pounds of muscle to 185 recognized and submitted to natures demand for them to become less testosterone driven and thus smaller, leaner, and I’d bet — much wiser.

So, you’re probably still saying… “Elliott, you dork!  This is not what I wanted to know, can you just tell me if I should do more cardio or weight training?”

You should continue to do what you love to do (lift weights)… BUT, and this is a BIG BUT, recognize that the parameters by which you once got results will change.  You will probably need to use lighter weights (and perhaps stretch more)… but this does not mean that your training intensity should change.

Keep training hard and allow your body and mind to evolve as you age.

Submit.  Accept.  Embrace.  And be GRATEFUL for the changes that you are experiencing!

By the way, here is a great workout program for guys over 5o.  It contains a combination of resistance training and cardio.  ==> http://hulsestrength.com/recommends/EDTTraining – It contains a template of one of the EXACT training routines that I use with my Men’s Fitness Strength Camp members.

Although the site may be down (it was hacked and currently being migrated to a new server), you may be interested in trying out my Strength Camp Workout Free DVD ==> http://www.StrengthCampDVD.com

Meet Roger one of the “old dudes” that uses these types of workouts at my gym…

I have fallen so much in love with this idea of “Hybrid Muscle Training”, combining resistance and cardio in the same exercise, that a friend of mine and I are working on a HUGE project that will expose this type of training and its incredible results… stay tuned!

Comments 16

  1. And here I was getting ready to say do whatever you can to preserve as much muscle as possible to fight off sarcopenia and age-induced loss of muscular function/performance………….you gave a far more expansive answer and provided a far more insightful take on things than I ever could have!

  2. Elliot – Great response. As a 45 yr old male and someone who was a college football player it has been tough to see me change physically. I find peace in your answer as I come to grips with nature and what lies ahead. Thanks!

  3. Odd Haugen is to be emulated. Maintaining or striving to increase strength even as we age. Sit on an exerbike and become a woman? I don’t think so.

  4. Post

    @ Jack – STILL you can do your best to maintain muscle by keeping your training intensity high. We continue to do heavy sets with triples and single with our guys over 50 at Strength Camp.

    @ Mike – Nature is ALWAYS smarter than us ;)

    @ Michael – Odd is an inspiration!! I’ve see guys get stronger as they age, in fact there is a 57 year old dude in one of my classes who dead lifted 365 lbs just the other day… more than he has done in his entire life.

  5. Elliott–
    Just checking from a little south of you in Sarasota.
    GOD willing, I’ll be 59 next month & am still training hard 4 or 5 days a week.
    Still loving it!
    Hope all is going well for you and your family.
    Keep up the good work!

  6. Elliott-
    Excellent response, except for the part about submission and that, “God creates this shift in Man and Woman,” and, “we have to accept and LOVE our personal shifts… Men as becoming more woman-like.” Say what?! I’ve never before heard that God intends for men to become woman-like as we age. Where exactly do you find evidence of that in the bible? I’d prefer to stay man-like. We can do things to limit environmental effects as well as naturally increase our testosterone. The way we eat, train, and sleep can affect our gh and testosterone levels. So, no, I would not do lots of aerobics like jogging as I get older only to escalate muscle loss. High intensity interval stuff for aerobic work, and anaerobic resistance training to maximize muscle until the day I die. Well, at least, thats the plan.

  7. Post

    @ Torrey – haha! yea, I feel your pain brother…. and if you’re anything like me, early 30’s, father, gym owner, pro strongman; then news of an ensuing decline in testosterone is just as bad as getting your balls cut off!

    I’ve been called a “man’s man”… I eat liver with hot sauce, love Chuck Norris movies and lift 350 lb stones for a living. I am in no way saying that we are to “become women”, I say just accept our inevitable fate and evolve gracefully… this creates WISDOM and alleviates anxiety.

    I don’t need the bible to tell me that this is a LAW (you can simply look around you to see this truth), although there are several references in the bible about the interplay and evolution of opposites in it – ie. “I Am The ALPHA and OMEGA” , “The First Shall Become The Last”, “The Lion Shall Lay Down with The Lamb”, “The meek shall inherit the earth”, so on and so on…

    We can fight it all we want, but everything I describe above is fact… we will at some point stop producing the amount of testosterone that you and I do now as we evolve. Being at peace with this is being at peace with life and God.

    It is not a bad thing… it just IS.

    There are several things that we can do to avoid the pollution associated with the increase in Estrogen that many of us are suffering from, this includes eating organically (pesticide free) foods and limited exposure to plastic and petroleum based substances.

    Also, periodic liver and colon cleanses to keep these toxins at bay!

    I HATE aerobic training and would eat my running shoes with mustard before advising anyone to give up weight training for aerobics. But I am a big advocate for what I will be talking ALOT about in the future, “Hybrid Training”. 2 of the best examples of hybrid training is STRONGMAN and EDT.


  8. Thanks Elliott! Since, I started watching your videos and reading your stuff, I’ve always liked your logic and take on life. I agree with what you’re saying; however, I’m still in denial.

    By the way, I too am in my 30’s (38), a father, personal trainer and former wrestling, boxing, and bodybuilding state champ.

    I’m positioning myself for the warehouse gym business and taking notes from guys like you. (I got your warehouse gym program). Thanks a bunch!!

  9. Thanks for the insight. I think it’s up to the individual,to continue to lift or start doing cardio. Listen to your body and be honest. Your body will tell you maybe it’s time to slow down. I am not there yet and at 51, just benched 405 for 5. I am still training hard, but do realize the time is coming when I will have to change my style of training and adapt to what I can and cannot do. We all think we are still capable and still got it, but look in the mirror and the grey will tell you everything. Combine both now and the transition should be very easy.


  10. Elliot you hit it right on the head at King joe’s guys fron 40- 80 regularly hit it hard. wish you were up here in Pennsy brother we would love to play at your strength camp . hee are some video’s with some of the old lions still in the Game


  11. Elliot, I remember when I was in my 30s guys in the gym would tell me I should stop trying to get stronger and work on staying “fit”. I told them when I turn 40 I’ll change my focus away from strength. Next month I turn 49 and am still training to get stronger. I know my potential to gain strength is not what it was but I love the feel of heavy weights and I,m proud of how hard I work. Maybe when I turn 60. MAYBE.Keep up the great work.

  12. Hi there, I’m nearly 58 years old and still train heavy and hard core. I deadlift 400 lbs+ for reps and overhaed press 180lbs for reps along with heavy rowing and close grip benching and ride my mountain bike 3 times a week for cardio.Apart from a touch of arthritis pain in my hip I’ve never felt better.Never let age be a barrier, I’ll still be training when I’m collecting my pension. Keep going you oldies, show the youngun’s how to do it.

  13. I am in the best shape of my life and I am 50!

    …an its all about the Strength Training!

    Hi Elliott,

    …I am 50 and have been “hard out” strength training for a couple of years and you have been an enormous inspiration to me.

    I choose strength training first before anything else because of the MEDICINAL EFFECT that is has on me.

    There is every reason for the 50+ man to continue strength training especially if he wants to be healthy.

    I am 50 and in the best shape of me life. Woman dig my body now and I used to be crap.

    Thanks again for the inspiration you have been to me to help me realise the VALUE of strength training.

    I believe once a 50 yr old man has experienced the health increases of S T …he will never go back to whatever else he was doing before the S T.

  14. I will be 58 in a few months and I took up powerlifting about 8 months ago. I love it and I will fight the transition for as long as I can, I never want to stop being the hunter, gatherer….. I can still tell stories while lifting heavy….Have a great day

  15. Im a 45 year old guy skinny guy who has lifted pretty much all my adult life. I have switched to hybrid training several years ago after I developed some arthritis in my shoulder. While I enjoy the weighted hybrid circuits and it has kept the weight off and joints happy II miss being stronger. I am happy where I am , like having low body fat and a six pack, but I wouldn’t mind getting some strength back. Iis it realistic to a 45 year old skinny guy to gain strength without much weight gain and increased risk of injury with power / strength exercises? Or should I continue hybrid circuits and enjoy my current level of fitness?

    Seems like alot of older posters here are ex power athletes with the body frame for it. I’m build more like a runner / swimmer.

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