I’m just starting to get there myself (I’m “only” 40) but I’ve trained with some really inspiring older lifters.
A pair of olympic lifters were 67 and 69 when I trained with them. At a bodyweight of 77kg one was world champion in his age group, snatching 92.5kg and clean & jerking 125kg. The other one was snatching 80kg and cleaning 100kg for sets of 5.
The later one is now 83 years of age and still competes! At 82 he front squatted 110kg, snatched 67kg and clean & jerked 85kg.
One of my former clients is 67 and still competes in Firefit events. At 64 he was still improving his deadlift PR and he has the cardio of a locomotive!
I also trained a female (she was 54 at the time, 58 now) and at at body weight of 123lbs she deadlifted 315 and benched 175 (with a pause).But more impressive is that the first time she deadlifted 315 she did 20kg of cross-country skiing in the morning THEN came to the gym!
If I look at those older trainees I’ve been around, even though they all had different training styles, I can see many commonalities.
They never stopped training hard. Yes they had to adjust volume and frequency at one point (but not as much as you might think), and maybe they stopped doing at much 1RM work, but they still kept trying to improve. I hate to be that guy… the guy who says that its all in your head. But a lot of it is. I think that a lot of people “lose it” when they get older not necessarily because aging degrades their body, but rather because their priorities change: training stops bring a priority, they might spend weeks of months without training and when they get back they try to get back to their original level too quickly. Or they think to themselves “I’m getting old, I can’t push as hard as I used to” and by not training as hard, you lose your capacities and you slowly become weaker and less muscular because of your lack of efforts, not because the body loses it by itself.
They tend to have either less stress in their life or have a personality that deals really well with stress. Chronic stress can make it a lot harder to build muscle (and easier to lose it as you are getting older), it can lead to lower testosterone levels and increase the risk on injuries (being overly stress tightens up the flexor muscles, making you more likely to get injured).
Their training was not static. If I look at Marcel (the weightlifter who is still competing at 83) when we were training together he would do his olympic lifting workout in the morning then he would do sprints or agility drills in the afternoon. Sometimes he would replace one of these two workouts with bodybuilding work.
I trained Jack (my fireman who is still competing at 67) pretty much like I am training Crossfit athletes now (so I pretty much invented Crossfit ). We would do one strength lift, then one assistance exercise and then a circuit. The circuit was either heavy (strongman medley) or light (more conditioning than strength) and it would change every workout. He never did the same workout twice. And when I stopped training him he started doing Crossfit.
Andrée (the female lifter) did cross-country skiing, cycling, hiking and in the gym we would do phases of bodybuilding, phases of powerlifting and phases of conditioning work (circuits).
Then can look at Dr,Tim Hall (the jacked older dude in some of T-nation’s videos and pics) and looked amazing at 55 when I worked with him (must be 60 now). Tim did a lot of bdybuilding work, but also lots of circuit work (battle ropes, prowler, sled pulling, KB, etc.) as well as jogging and sprinting.
Another friend of mine is a former powerlifter who had a 600lbs bench press. He is in his lat 50s now and his workout changes every day. He does have some traditional bodybuilding work 2-3 times a week and does 2-3 circuit sessions. Either strongman sessions (circuits of log press, farmer’s walk, tire flip, yoke… not super heavy) or conditioning (prowler pushing, TRX, battle rop,thrusters). The guy is in solid shape. In fact, last year he did 14 hours of prowler to raise 30 000$ for a kid charity. They were 3 guys and did a total of 30kg of prowler (10kg each). This year for the same charity he and his partners did 18 hours of circuit training!
It is my belief that having a lot of movement and demand variety in your training is one of the best ways to minimize the risk of injuries and keep the body functional.
Despite training hard they minimized injuries. Maybe they had a predisposition for not getting injured (having the ACTN3 RR gene decreases the risk of muscle/tendon injuries) or they were better as listening to their body. But they don’t have serious aches and pains. To me it is in part due to training hard but not “too hard”… they never missed lifts in training and always used proper form. They were patient with their progression. I also think that the wide range of exercises allowed them to be more balanced, reducing the risk of injuries.
They were lean. The two weightlifters were 77kg (170lbs) on 5’8" with plenty of veins and decent definition, I would say 10-11% body fat. Dr.Tim Hall was an anatomy chart (we can also mention Tim Patterson, Biotest’s CEO who must have negative body fat and could do a front lever on the rings the first time he tried it!), Jack the fireman was the same size as the weightlifers (oddly enough, the EXACT same size) with striated delts and super defined arms and legs. Andrée was always 4 weeks away from being able to step on a bodybuilding stage. I don’t think it’s the low body fat itself that was the key but that the low body fat was a sign that they didn’t overeat (I believe that consuming a large caloric surplus can speed up aging and creates a lot of inflammation) and made good overall food choices.I think that a lot of lifters cut their careers short by trying to get big and strong too fast by chronically overeating. On the flip side, caloric restriction has been shown to be one of the few things that can slow down aging (by decreasing mTOR activation and maybe increasing tolemere length). This is why I personally began fasting twice a week.
They train to keep or improve their physical capacities. And I’m not just talking about lifting strength. They ran, did cross-country skiing, jumped, swam, cycled, sprinted, etc. It is my belief that if you do what is necessary to maintain physical capacities (of course you will lose some of it as you are getting a lot holder) then you will slow down aging.