Why You Have to Lift Weights for the Rest of Your Life if You Want to Be Active as You Age

senior strength training

This is an article we have been wanting to write for a long time. What we will focus on in this article is how to be the healthiest and most active 70, 80, 90 or 100 year-old that you possibly can be.

On essentially a daily basis, we have people presenting who state that as they get older, they’re having more foot pain, but also pain affecting their backs, and hips, and knees, and wondering if their feet are playing a role in those problems.

Is Foot Function Causing Your Back, Knee or Hip Pain?

Sometimes foot function can play a role in pain affecting the back, hips and knees.  We address that in these articles on foot function and back and hip pain, and foot function and knee pain.

However, it’s much more likely that those areas are going to hurt because people invariably get weaker as they get older. We’ll come back to the topic of your feet in a few minutes, but first we need to address some important issues.

You Will Get Weaker as You Age if You Don’t Do Something About It

As we age (or as we decrease activity), we lose muscle mass and muscle strength.  This process is called sarcopenia and as this happens, we get weaker. If you don’t do something to slow this process, the decline is dramatic.

From the age of 30 to 80, it is common for people to lose up to 40% or more of their strength. This makes walking and everyday activities much more difficult.

Dr. Peter Attia is a world-renowned expert on longevity and maintaining health throughout your entire life. His focus is on research that shows how to participate in what he calls the Centenarian Decathlon. Meaning what can you do to be as active as possible in your 80s and 90s and 100s

This short video clip below shows him talking about how much loss of muscle there can be as you age.

Dr. Peter Attia on the importance of preserving strength and muscle mass as we age

You Must Strength Train to be Healthy and Live Longer

There is no way around it. Unless you train for strength you will get weaker. As you get weaker you will be less healthy.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to participate in a strength training program. If you don’t, it is guaranteed you will simply get weaker, weaker, and weaker. As you get weaker, everyday tasks are going to get more and more difficult.

There is also a direct correlation between strength training and decreased all-cause mortality.  If you are strong, there is decreased chance of dying.

A Good Strength Training Program is Simple and Progressive

A good strength training program should provide coaching for proper form. In addition, it should be progressive so that you get stronger and stronger as time goes on.

One program that we like is called Starting Strength. What we appreciate about this program is the fact that it is straightforward, simple, and progressive. It’s something that most people can do for the rest of their lives.

As do all strength training programs, Starting Strength requires proper coaching because proper form is absolutely critical to get the best outcome and also for safety.

Unless you are a very experienced lifter, you shouldn’t do this on your own, at least not at first. As you become more experienced and skilled, this is something you could also do at home with the right equipment.

You Are Never Too Old to Strength Train

In fact, the older you are the more important strength training becomes.

This page from a Starting Strength gym in Beaverton, Oregon gives a really good idea what the program involves, particularly for seniors.  And here is one of their videos showing the experience of a couple of their members.

Strength Training for Seniors

Here is a very good article from a strength coach on how he works with older clients. We like his approach and would suggest looking for a trainer with a similar philosophy. This is the type of coach that you should be looking for.

Finding a Strength Training Coach and/or Gym

If you have a Starting Strength gym in your area we think that is a great place to start.  You can find a list of Starting Strength gyms here.  

Starting Strength gyms, however, are not available everywhere. In fact, there are none in the Seattle area.  There are some great gyms and coaches in Seattle, however, and we have listed some below.

If you can’t find a good coach in your area or you would prefer to work out at home, you may want to try Starting Strength Online.  (Disclosure:  We have no affiliation with and receive no payment from Starting Strength or any of the gyms or coaches listed on this page.)

Seattle Area Gyms That Can Help You Get Strong

Below are some gyms that we have vetted and, at the time we spoke with them, followed an approach based on safe and progressive strengthening.

Seattle Strength and Performance (Queen Anne and Phinney Ridge)

These are a few of their core values from their website:

“Strength training is for everybody: We pride ourselves in creating an inclusive community, one where everyone feels welcome, and where, no matter your age or abilities, we will train you safely and effectively.

Moving better = feeling better: We want everyone to experience the benefit of how movement positively impacts their quality of life.

Smart coaching means personalized to you: Our programming is not one size fits all; we evaluate your needs and abilities and program for you to keep you healthy, moving, and to get the best results possible. The gym takes care of you; not just individuals”.

You can find more of their core values on their website.

Eastside Strength & Conditioning  (Bellevue)

From their website: “Eastside Strength & Conditioning was established in 2005 with the goal of improving strength and physical capacity for everyone. We offer experienced instruction for all ability levels and ages, and our training methods are applicable to everyone, from teens to seniors, from dedicated athletes to beginners at exercise. ESC is a small, very personal, serious-about-training but somewhat informal environment. We will meet you where you are and support you along the way“.

Fulcrum Training Hall (Redmond)

From their website:  “Fulcrum coaches believe strength is essential to independence as we age. We focus on barbell strength training programs designed to increase flexibility and preserve and improve the quality of connective tissues. Our priority is to enable you to continue your current activities for years to come—or regain the ability to do activities ranging from everyday movements to adventures in the outdoors. We feel it’s never too late to start building strength and cardiovascular capacity—even if you have never touched a weight in your life or have limited mobility and functionality”.

Their prices are available here.

Physio Coaching by MoveMend (Eastlake)

This is a really interesting concept where you have physical therapists providing your strength training coaching.  Coaching by physical therapists ensures you will have safe exercise technique that takes into account any injuries or areas of weakness that you are dealing with.

The service is offered by physical therapists who have experience and certifications in coaching and training beyond traditional physical therapy. This is a particularly attractive offering for someone who is has struggled with injury.

You have three options for working with them:

  • In-person
  • Virtual
  • Hybrid In-person and Virtual

Because you are training with physical therapists the cost is higher than with a personal trainer.

We think the hybrid model is the best way to use Physio Coaching™  for most people due to the high cost of in-person ($145 per session) and the ability to pretty easily get to their Eastlake location monthly, when it may be difficult on a more regular basis.

Their hybrid coaching model utilizes both a monthly in-person session and their smartphone app for workout guidance and communication. The cost is $349 per month.

Strength coaching begins with an in-depth in-person assessment, followed by the development of a detailed custom workout program delivered through their smartphone app. Once a month, their Hybrid clients return for an in-person reassessment, program review, and Physio Coach™ led workout.

Starting Strength Online

If you can’t find a good coach in your area or you would prefer to work out at home, you may want to try Starting Strength Online if you have equipment available at home or at your current gym.

Let Us Know of Other Good Gyms

We are actively looking for more trainers and gyms throughout the Puget Sound area to add to this list. If you know of anyone please let us know.  If you are a strength coach and think you would be a good fit for our patients please let us know.  

What if You Are Injured or Prone to Falls?

If you are injured or very weak we may start treatment by referring you to physical therapy for an initial assessment and strengthening program.  After you graduate from physical therapy you would move on to a long term strengthening program using one of the strength coaching programs listed above or a coach of your choice.

If you are already prone to falls we may refer you to the Fall Prevention Clinic at Harborview Medical Center.

Masterclass on Exercising for Active and Healthy Longevity

Finally, if you want to learn more about how much exercise can do to improve your life and allow you to live both a longer, healthier and much more active life, here’s a two-hour review on Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast where he’s pulled together a variety of clips from his many podcasts about exercise to help listeners understand the very best ways to exercise in order to provide a longer lifespan and health span (health span is living longer without illness or infirmity).

This episode will also help you identify which other episodes you might want to listen to in order to make sure you’re doing everything you can to live an active and healthy life.

Essentially, this is a great lesson on how to optimize for and how to train today to prepare for a good life at age 100.

He explains the importance of strength and stability and why deadlifting is an important tool to consider for longevity. Additionally, he discusses the type of aerobic exercise you should be doing in order to live your best life. You’ll even learn what his current exercise routine is.

You can listen to this episode as a podcast here or on any podcast player. We recommend listening to the podcast while walking or running, or watching the video while on the treadmill or elliptical machine.

Podcast of this episode on iTunes

You can learn more about his thoughts on the Centenarian Decathlon here.

Can Strength Training Help Treat Your Foot Pain?

Absolutely. Here is a good example of how weakness in your hip region can cause foot pain. This is only an example and can apply to a number of different foot and ankle conditions.

A common problem we treat is posterior tibial tendinopathy.  The posterior tibialis is one of the muscles that supinates, or rolls your foot out, at the end of each step.

But the posterior tibialis does not work alone at supinating your foot. A number of other muscles work along with it to do so. This includes the gluteal muscles in your buttocks.  If your glutes are weak then your posterior tibialis has to work harder to propel you forward.  And unless you’re lifting weights to train your glutes, they almost certainly are weak.

This is just one example of many where improving your strength at your hip level can help relieve foot pain.

Shoes for Strength Training

One of the best investments you can make if you are starting a strengthening training program is in a good pair of weightlifting shoes.  Weightlifting shoes are unique to this activity and provide a lot of protection. They protect your feet, allow you to get into the proper position for different lifts and help keep you stable while you are lifting.

Specialty shoes for weight-lifting have been around for a long time. Lifting shoes do not compress like most athletic shoes. Their base is hard – often plastic.  This is critical to be able to do a lift correctly and do the lift with the same movement every time.

In addition, most have an elevated hard plastic heel, a very solid base, straps across the midfoot and a flat sole

Along with increasing stability, these features help increase the range of motion available at the ankle, maintain better body posture and provides the lifter with a lot more stability and, most importantly, improved safety.

Here are some of the benefits of an elevated heel if you are doing any heavy lifting:

  1. Decreased risk of back injury

A 2006 study showed that having the foot in a with the heel above the level of the toes helps in activation of the quadriceps muscles that extend the knee1, 4. This allows the lifter to apply more power as they reach full extension through the lower extremity in some lifts. In addition, other studies have shown that the increased heel height can decrease compression forces on the spine.2, 4

  1. Improved motion at the ankle joint by reducing tension on the Achilles tendon

A 2012 study showed that with an elevated heel we are able to more effectively dorsiflex at the ankle (foot pointed down), which allows us to bring our shins into a more vertical position. This allows us to sit into a squat easier and deeper, keep the chest up, the trunk straight and the spine in neutral position.2 Those trying these lifts in a zero drop shoe are much more likely to lift their heels and have poor form.

This article is a great explanation of why lifting shoes are important.  The article refers to shoes for CrossFit, but the concepts are exactly the same.

Lifting Shoe Suggestions for Beginning Weight-lifters

The products that are recommended on the pages linked below are those that we recommend to our patients and they are also affiliate links so we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you if your order from the link.

There are a lot of good weight-lifting shoes. As long as they have the features listed above any of them should do fine as long as they fit your foot.

One of our favorites is the Adidas PowerLift.  It’s a great all-around lifting shoe at an affordable price.  If you wear custom or prefabricated orthotics (see below) be sure to try them on with your orthotics.

Men’s Adidas PowerLift

Women’s Adidas PowerLift

Orthotics for Strength Training

Some people will benefit from the use of either prefabricated orthotics or custom orthotics when they lift weights.

If your foot or ankle tends to be unstable then orthotics can be helpful in providing more stability to the foot allowing the lifter to focus on their form.

The person who benefits most from orthotic use is that person who has a very pronated or flat foot. In this foot type heels roll in and arches flatten when the person stands. This causes instability in the foot, but it also causes the leg to rotate in and makes it harder for the lifter to keep their knee in the correct position while lifting.

For those people we do recommend appropriate orthotics in their weightlifting shoes. One of our favorite prefabricated orthotics is the FootChair prefabricated orthotic with adjustable Arch height. This unique orthotic has an adjustable arch so it fits many people comfortably.

You can find all of our current prefabricated orthotic recommendations here.

For some people, a prefabricated orthotic does not provide enough support. These lifters will benefit from a custom orthotic which can provide more support.

If you’re in the Seattle area and would like an evaluation to see if you would benefit from orthotics you can make an appointment here.

References: Weightlifting Shoes

  1. Kongsgaard M, et.al. Decline eccentric squats increases patellar tendon loading compared to standard eccentric squats.Clin Biomech. 2006.
  2. Sato K, Fortenbaugh D, Hydock DS. Kinematic changes using weightlifing shoes on barbell back squat.J Strength Conditioning Res. 2012.
  3. Bourget D, et.al. Influence of shoes increasing dorsiflexion and decreasing metatarsus flexion on lower limb muscular activity during fitness exercises, walking and running.JStrength Conditioning Res. 2008.
  4. Niehaus, S. Are Your Crossfit Patients Wearing Proper Weightlifting Shoes. Podiatry Today Blog, 2015

DISCLAIMER

The Foot and Ankle Center list of gyms and strength coaches is intended for personal use only and is designed to help you find a gym or strength coach in your area who, to the best of our knowledge, follows an evidence-based approach to safe and progressive strengthening. The inclusion of a gym and/or coach is not and does not imply Foot and Ankle Center of Washington referral, endorsement or recommendation, nor does the omission of any individual indicate Foot and Ankle Center of Washington disapproval.

Although we undertake reasonable efforts to ensure the information regarding listed gyms and coaches is accurate, Foot and Ankle Center of Washington does not guarantee the accuracy of this information.

Foot and Ankle Center of Washington, Lawrence Huppin, DPM or Douglas Hale, DPM shall not be liable to you or others for any decision made, or action taken by you in reliance on the information obtained from this site.

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