Age-related muscle loss is an unfortunate part of life. As we get older, our muscle mass declines through a process called sarcopenia (Larsson, 2019). Although reduced muscle protein synthesis and an increase in chronic inflammation from age, nutrition and lifestyle choices are major drivers behind age-related muscle loss, reduced physical activity and tension (load) placed on the muscle are known to accelerate the process. In lay speak, this means we need to add load to our muscles—via resistance training—even as we age
. This is a problem for everyone but especially for women as the muscle mass of a woman’s lower body accounts for a greater proportion of whole body muscle compared to a man’s. In women, 57% of their muscle is in the lower body while the upper body contributes to just 37% of total body muscle mass (Janssen, 2000). On average, men have 40% more muscle mass in their upper body but only 30% more muscle in the lower body. But here’s the kicker: in both men and women, the rate of age-related muscle loss is much faster for the lower body compared to the upper body.
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Adding load to the upper body is quite easy and accessible through various pressing and pulling exercises with body weight and/or weights (push-ups, bench press, pull-ups, rows, etc.). Adding load to your lower body as you age can be more challenging but as effective as the barbell back squat and deadlift can be. Many people worry about aggravating their sore backs, achy knees, hips and so on; but as mentioned above, leg strength is essential. The barbell hip thrust, a move developed by Bret Contreras, has been shown to activate the largest muscles of the lower body—the glutes—to a significantly greater degree than even the back squat during 10 repetition comparison studies (Contreras, 2015). For more details on this exercise and its associated variations, the book Glute Lab: The Art and Science of Strength and Physique Training by Contreras is a great read.
Hip thrusts can be performed on couches, benches and the like, but I’ve found that elevating your feet on a platform to allow for greater elongation of the leg muscles through the rep ranges lead to better activation of the muscle—more pump and hypertrophy.
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