In my book, Muscle Up, I wrote extensively on how strength training, aka weightlifting or resistance training, is one of the most important things you can do to be healthy and prevent aging. Getting people to take up weight training was my main motivation for writing the book, since unfortunately hardly anyone does it. One reason (among many) they don’t do it is because they believe it’s difficult, results too hard to attain, or it takes a lot of time. Let’s explore that and see how you can build muscle at any age.
My results in one hour weekly training
Here’s a photo taken on 1/6/18 that I recently posted on Twitter. I’m 5’10”, 160 pounds, and am 62 years and 10 months old.
Here’s another photo taken two weeks later (in a new shirt).
I’ve been lifting weights for about 7.5 years now, although most of the muscle I put on was in my first year of training. I’ve been using a high-intensity style of training for under two years.
People ask me a lot about what I do to get this way, and while I’m proud of the way I look, I consider myself totally average physically. I’m not a talented athlete and have never played team sports, having spent most of my life reading. I merely train with consistency and have my diet dialed in.
I train a total of just over 1 hour a week, using 2 approximately 35-minute sessions. I emphasize this point because many people are under the impression that building muscle requires long hours in the gym, and it does not. However, there are a few keys to making 1 hour a week training work.
- Work out with intensity. The gym isn’t for socializing or fooling around. Go into the gym with the intention of crushing your workout, then do so.
- No rest between sets/exercises. Pause only to break down or set up equipment, or if need be, to catch your breath. Quickly move to the next set/exercise. This is great for cardiovascular conditioning too.
- No looking at your phone. Or the TVs on the wall.
The fitness industry – magazines, gyms, trainers – have a vested interest in promoting the idea that you need to be in the gym constantly to be in shape. But you do not, if – and it’s a big if – you know what you’re doing.
The only “muscle-building” supplements I take are 25 grams of whey and 5 grams of creatine right after my workout. So, only twice a week. Even these may be superfluous but I use them as insurance since I don’t want to leave any gains on the table. (My whey of choice.)
Almost the only other exercise I do is walking a couple miles on off-gym days, and I do that consistently.
Here’s what I used to look like (left):
Before and after – 9 years ago vs today. pic.twitter.com/enIzynDykk
— P. D. Mangan ???????? (@Mangan150) June 12, 2017
Diet is extremely important for both leanness and muscularity.
I eat what I’d describe as a low-carbohydrate paleo diet. At my meals, I emphasize meat or eggs, and eat one or the other at every meal. In my opinion, healthy diets should be based this way.
I also eat dairy: cheese, full-fat plain yogurt, and cream, but not milk, which contains lactose and reliably gives me acne. I also eat vegetables, mainly things like onions or mushrooms that go with meat, but I hardly eat any fruit. I drink coffee, tea, and wine, and the occasional cocktail.
With the exception of a rare cheat, I don’t consume grains, soy, seed oils, or sugar. Basically no processed food at all. No bread or pasta, no desserts (except occasional dark chocolate), no breakfast cereal or bagels, etc.
The important part about diet is to have it dialed in. I don’t have garbage food in my house, and rarely eat outside it. If I do, I make every effort to eat healthy.
Building muscle and staying lean is easy
Staying fit and lean and building muscle is easy.
The key is to have your routine ON LOCK.
If you have your diet down, don’t eat anything else. No cheating. Don’t have crap food in your house, and refuse to touch it outside it.
Gym sessions are twice a week, about 30 minutes at a time. Everyone has time for that. If you say you don’t, then cut back on TV or internet surfing. If your day is too busy, get up half an hour early twice a week and go to the gym in the early morning.
Being fit is a lifestyle. You can’t hope to “go on a diet”, lose some weight, and then return to your former ways. That’s a recipe for failure.
And, while any exercise is better than none, to be fit you need to exercise consistently. Not necessarily a lot, but you must do it regularly.
Following these simple rules can help build muscle at any age. If you’re getting older, you need never worry about weakness and frailty. If you’re younger, you’re building a solid foundation both for the present and for your older age.