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Strength Over Fifty: How the Deadlift Makes Older People Stronger

I have spent years finding ways to fight the muscle loss and diminished energy of aging. These articles tell you what I have learned.

The Deadlift

The Deadlift

What Is the Deadlift?

Simply put, the deadlift is a weightlifting exercise in which you pick a weight up off of the floor and put it back down again. It is a very controlled and effective exercise. When you start very light and focus on form, it is as safe as any other resistance exercise. In fact, deadlifts are recommended for some people in rehab for back injuries.

Proper Deadlift Technique

Proper Deadlift Technique

How To Safely Do a Deadlift

There are several varieties of deadlift. The most common one you will see uses a straight barbell that you lift off of the ground. You may prefer to use two dumbbells. Either way, start with very light weights, or even none at all. Begin with the weight on the floor outside of your feet. Crouch down, bending from the hips. Keep your back in line – not curved – and your shoulders straight. Grab the weight and stand up, maintaining perfect form. Then reverse the motion and put the weight back where it started. That's the deadlift.

Deadlift Using Dumbbells

Deadlift Using Dumbbells

Deadlift Using a Barbell

Deadlift Using a Barbell

Check With Your Health Care Professional Before Starting Any Fitness Regimen

Before you start any kind of weightlifting regimen, or add new lifts to an existing workout, talk to a health care professional. I am not a health care professional – just a man who is nearly 60 and does deadlifts about twice a week. If you have serious back or joint issues, the deadlift is probably not for you. If you do decide to start, GO SLOW and do the movement with very light weights (or no weights at all). This is true for the deadlift, and any other weight training that you may decide to do.

The Deadlift and Functional Strength

Of course, you can see that this movement is one that we do throughout the day, whether it's picking up something you dropped on the floor, hoisting a grandchild, or picking up a bag of potting soil. Being able to pick something up off of the floor safely and with strength is an essential part of being mobile and independent.

This is the essence of exercising to build "Functional Strength"—the strength that helps us function in our day-to-day lives.

We need functional strangth to pick up everything from groceries to grandchildren!

We need functional strangth to pick up everything from groceries to grandchildren!

A Functional Move for Functional Strength

You can see that this movement is one that you do throughout the day, whether it's picking up something you dropped on the floor, hoisting a grandchild, or picking up a bag of potting soil.

over-50-lift-weights-deadlift

Why Should You Consider Adding the Deadlift to Your Workout?

If you decide to start resistance training -- that is, working out with weights of some kind -- then it's just common sense that your regimen should include movements that you actually do throughout the day. Do us older adults do chin-ups in the course of a normal day? No, probably not. So why include them in a resistance training workout?

Instead, consider adding practical weightlifting exercises like the deadlift. The deadlift is a very simple exercise -- all you do is pick a weight up off of the floor. It has a very specific form that protects and strengthens you back and core muscles. And the best part is, you can start with the lightest weights you want!

Are You Too Old for the Deadlift?

Probably not—although be sure to check in with a health care professional before you begin lifting any weights at all.

For inspiration, here are a couple of videos of older people getting under some serious iron . . .

Not to Be Outdone, This 89-Year-Old Lifts 405 Pounds! (Note His Perfect Form)

Weightlifting for Older Adults

It's becoming more and more accepted that older people like you and me should take lifting weights seriously. Having good strong muscles, even as an older person, is now known to protect you from all kinds of harm, including falls, broken bones, and mobility issues.

A recent article in the New York Times, "Why Lifting Weights Can Be So Potent for Aging Well," perfectly describes the reality that I myself have experienced as an older person who started lifting weights:

"Weight training by older people may build not only strength and muscle mass but also motivation and confidence, potentially spurring them to continue exercising, according to an interesting new study of the emotional impacts of lifting weights.

Why I Lift Weights

I have never been athletic; I'm not naturally muscular; I have my share of physical limitations, including a torn ACL in my left knee. I'm not one of those freaky-deaky 70-something muscle men who you may find with the right (or wrong) Google search. I have never taken steroids, growth hormones, or any of that junk; I enjoy a nice scotch at the end of a long work day.

But a few years ago I noticed something – I felt bad. My shoulders ached, it was tough getting out of a chair, I wasn't sleeping very well. I was also starting to gain weight: about 15 extra pounds, all around the middle (okay, some under my chin also). I was only a few years past 50, and I was starting to look and feel like an old man.

So I did something about it. Nothing big – just a slow, incremental build-up, based on the way I was feeling. I lifted my first weights about 6 months into my "new regime," very light at first, then heavier and heavier as I got stronger. I also started looking better. Different. My wife noticed it, but more importantly I noticed it.

Now, several years down the line, moving and lifting and eating right are a way of life for me. I deadlift 280, I'm at about 14% body fat, and I sleep like a baby. Most of all, I FEEL GOOD. Going out into the world every day knowing that I take care of myself and can do almost anything I could do when I was in my 20's is a priceless gift.

I hope my articles here encourage you to start along your own path!

This trap bar is made by Hulk Fit, and is affordable on Amazon

This trap bar is made by Hulk Fit, and is affordable on Amazon

My Deadlift Secret: The Trap Bar

A trap bar is an alternate way of performing the deadlift that makes the exercise a bit safer and more stable. It's basically a hexagon that you stand inside, with handles to grab and lift. Weight can be added to either end, like a regular barbell.

I always use a trap bar when I do deadlifts. Always. It gives me a little leverage off the ground, and feels more natural on my back.

Staying strong past the age of 50 takes dedication and determination – but it's worth it!

Staying strong past the age of 50 takes dedication and determination – but it's worth it!

Resources

The following sources were used for this guide:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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