Powerlifting is a unique sport because age is not a barrier for progress and entering a competition over the age of 50 is encouraged!
How do you start powerlifting and getting stronger at 50? Much like a younger lifter, a person in their 50s is able to start powerlifting by learning the proper squat, bench press and deadlift form, structuring their training with a focus on the 3 main lifts and choosing accessory exercises to improve any weaknesses in strength or mobility.
While the advice for an older lifter starting out isn’t much different than that of someone in their 20s, it should be noted that some extra attention should be paid to recovery as you age, ensuring you are taking enough days off, sleeping, eating and hydrating adequately.
All things considered, someone over the age of 50 should be encouraged to start building strength because of its many ageing related benefits.
In this article, we will go through:
- Whether you can get stronger after 50
- The benefits of powerlifting over 50
- How to get started with powerlifting
- How strong you need to be to compete
- Some examples of elite powerlifters over 50
- A sample powerlifting routine
Can You Get Stronger After 50?
It is never too late to focus on strength and you absolutely can get stronger even after the age of 50 especially if you are brand new to the sport.
There are two pervasive myths when it comes to lifting weights in middle age and they include:
- It’s not possible to gain muscle and strength after the age of 30
- Lifting weights will hurt your body
Gone are the days of believing older bodies can’t get stronger and build muscle. With the right frequency and intensity of training, your muscles will respond and display progress over time especially if you are new to the sport. A novice is a novice even if they are a little older.
A 2018 study among untrained young and middle aged men found that they recovered in a similar manner after the exact same high-volume exercise protocol.
Although the long term effects on recovery haven’t been studied yet between middle age and young lifters, however that can always be managed through sleep, nutrition, rest and adjusting training volume as necessary.
One difference that was observed in a 2011 study did find some evidence to suggest that consistency of training is extra important in older adults because they need the frequent stimulus to keep the muscle and adaptations they have built.
While a 22-year old can skip the gym for a couple of weeks and not notice a significant difference, the same may not be said for a 52-year old.
As for the second myth that powerlifting will not destroy your body, if you work within your limits, it should not be feared. Therefore, put the effort into learning the proper form and avoid overshooting the weight you should be lifting and you will see great long term rewards.
With all this in mind, if you’re dedicated to putting in the time and effort, you should walk into powerlifting with great confidence that strength and muscle gains can and will be made because it’s honestly never too late to start.
Benefits of Powerlifting Over 50
Powerlifting is a fun and motivating way to improve your long-term physical and mental health especially as someone in their 50s and older.
Chronic Disease Risk
While strength is the main focus of lifting heavy weights, the effects it will have on your overall body composition and chronic illness management can’t be ignored.
In a study of middle-aged women observed that those who spent more time doing resistance exercises had lower body fat percentage and higher muscle mass overall. This shift in body composition can have significant positive effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk and type 2 diabetes risk and management.
The benefit of powerlifting is that it’s not about focusing on shrinking yourself down and losing weight, but rather it is just the mere outcome of training your body to get stronger and build muscle.
Improve Bone Density
According to 2010 USA census data, Osteoporosis was found in 10.2 million adults with an additional 43.4 million adults reported low bone mass. While losing bone density can be seen as a sign of ageing, it can actually be prevented through progressive weight training like powerlifting.
Women should be especially cognizant of the effects of bone loss as a rapid decline is seen throughout the perimenopausal years. And even if you don’t develop osteoporosis, bone density is important when it comes to independence in older adulthood and is a risk factor for breaking your hip after a fall in older age.
Increase Muscle Mass
Muscle loss, or sarcopenia, is another predictable sign of aging that slowly starts at age 30 and then accelerates after age 60. Unfortunately, there is truth to the saying of “use it or lose it.”
Our 21st-century sedentary lives are leaving our muscles with no purpose, eventually forcing them to start shrinking as you age. Progressive muscle loss leaves our bodies frail and dependent on others for daily tasks.
A 2017 study investigated and found a relationship between whether someone exercised regularly in middle age and the presence of locomotive syndrome, or reduced mobility, in older age.
With powerlifting, you not only use a couple muscles you are engaging nearly your entire body with compound movements like the squat and the deadlift in particular. It can easily be seen as the most efficient way to get activation throughout the muscles in your body to help battle age-related sarcopenia.
Improve Mental Health
While the physical benefits of powerlifting will often be visible, the mental health benefits are incredibly powerful. Anecdotally, just talking to other powerlifters most will report that the sport helps them cope with life’s ups and downs and is a healthy outlet.
As we age, it’s increasingly more important to set goals for ourselves and work toward achieving them. This may be especially true if you plan on retiring soon and even still important if that’s still more than a decade away.
Powerlifting allows us to press pause and spend quality time with ourselves each week while also building confidence by proving that an ageing body is not a weak body.
How To Start Powerlifting At 50?
To start powerlifting at 50 you need to first ensure you have basic proficiency in the 3 main lifts, start focusing your training on gaining strength in those 3 lifts, prioritize proper recovery and overall mobility and fitness.
Build or maintain a good level of fitness
A good powerlifter is someone who has first built up a resilient base level of fitness that’s ready to focus on building strength.
This may not be important to state if you are already someone who is active and has experience lifting weights or going to the gym on a weekly basis; however, if this isn’t the case you will want to prioritize first building up your baseline fitness level or general physical preparedness (GPP).
It’s important to have your muscles used to resistance exercise and have your heart be in good conditioning before taking strength building seriously. It will not only give you an advantage for when you do start but will also mitigate issues relating to your overall mobility and recoverability.
Try to spend anywhere from 6-12 weeks just building the habit of going to the gym and exercising with both cardio and weights.
If you are already in good physical form, skip to the next step!
To help guide you during this time, consider some of the articles we have on exercises that are useful for powerlifters:
- 22 Exercises To Improve Squat Depth (That Actually Work)
- The 9 Best Ab Exercises for Powerlifters
- 9 Squat Exercises to Improve Strength and Technique
- 18 Exercises to Improve Deadlift Strength
- How To Increase Ankle Mobility For Squats: 13 Exercises
Practice proper squat, bench, and deadlift form
The biggest learning curve that you will come across in powerlifting is learning in the proper form for the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
However, remember that even intermediate and advanced lifters continue to make changes and improvements in their own execution so don’t be too overwhelmed if you’re having trouble doing everything perfectly.
Form is important for injury risk management because it’s not the movement that will injure you, but rather the movement is done incorrectly. It is also important because powerlifting as a sport has rules you have to follow.
For the squat you’ll need to learn to comfortably reach the proper depth, where your hip crease sinks lower than the top of your knee cap.
For the bench press it will be about learning how to gain power through your legs and how to position yourself on the bench.
Finally, the deadlift will come with the challenge of keeping your back at the proper angle and the proper start position depending on your size, proportions, and the style of deadlift you choose to focus on.
To help you break down the form and start thinking about the right cues, check out these articles here:
- 9 Squat Cues To Improve Technique (And 1 You Should Not Do)
- 13 Bench Press Cues For Max Strength (With Pictures)
- Top 10 Deadlift Cues For Stronger Pulls (With Pictures)
Create strength-focused workouts
Strength workouts have 3 distinct parts to them: the warm-up, the main lifts, and the accessory exercises.
Warm-ups should be focused on increasing your internal body temperature, mobilizing and stretching your joints, activating the relevant muscles for the lift you’re preparing for and then a progressive warm up with the barbell itself.
You can learn more about the details of a good warm-up with our step-by-step guide.
The main lifts are typically a squat, a bench or a deadlift. Each individual session typically has 1-2 main lifts and they always come at the beginning, right after the warm up. This is your time to really focus as they will be your heaviest lifts of the day. With your main lifts the reps will typically be under 6 with more focus being paid to good execution and harnessing your strength.
Accessories movements are the 2-6 other exercises you add into your program after the main lifts are done and they can consist of both compound and isolation exercises and any kind of variations to help build muscle, maintain your fitness and/or support your strength.
Typically you want a good mix of upper and lower body accessories throughout the week, but your personal strengths and weaknesses should also be considered. For example, if you are finding your triceps are limiting you in your bench press, adding more tricep exercises and close grip bench variations may be a good strategy!
In addition, consider doing exercises that use muscles that may not be a focus in the squat, bench and deadlift to keep all your joints and muscles as healthy as possible.An example for this would be choosing overhead strict pressing to work the shoulder joint in a way that’s different than the usual horizontal pressing with bench.
Recover and reflect
A good recovery is the key to a good training day and this is even more important as you age. You will want to reflect after your sessions as well as your weeks and months and see if you are continuing being beat down or coming out stronger and better.
Several important pieces of recovery include good sleep, good nutrition, good hydration, adequate rest between sessions.
If you are finding you are not recovering, are constantly tired and achy and are not improving it may be a good idea to take a step back and reflect on whether you should adjust your training to be better in line with the demands of your life outside the gym.
In addition, as we age it’s increasingly important to stay mobile and keep up our cardiovascular health. Your off days from the gym should still include activity but something like walking, light yoga or mobility work in order to keep up your overall health as well as prevent your body from stiffening up.
While this is important for all lifters to do, the older we get, the less forgiving the body becomes and so finding the sweet spot of challenging but manageable is increasingly important.
How Strong Do You Need To Be To Compete In Powerlifting At 50?
There is no magic number that indicates you are ready to sign up for a powerlifting competition and your first meet should be treated like a learning experience.
Powerlifting competitions are really competitions of you vs. you, especially as a novice or beginner. This is an opportunity to learn the commands, how to time your warm-up, perfect your nutrition and manage any anxieties you may have about stepping on the platform.
It would be recommended to have at least several months of training experience just so you go in confident and are able to put up some numbers that have at least somewhat improved since your first week into training.
If you’re curious about what some novice milestones are so you can track your progress over time, here are some to keep in mind. Remember the numbers will vary based on bodyweight, experience and gender.
- Novice men can expect a 72kg-111kg squat, 54kg-83kg bench press and an 82kg-127kg deadlift after the first several months of lifting.
- Novice women can expect a 47kg-74kg squat, 32kg-52kg bench press and a 56kg-88kg deadlift after the first several months of starting to lift.
If you’re not keen on signing up for a formal powerlifting meet you can always just test your strength along the way with a mock meet. It may even be a good idea to do a mock meet before you sign up for a real meet just to get a sense of what to expect in terms of your performance.
In powerlifting, it’s important to note that you compete with others within your age category after the age of 40, therefore as a 50-59 year old you are a Master 2 lifter, and as a 60-69 year old you are a Master 3 lifter, and so on. This ensures the playing field is level and you won’t be up against anyone 30 years younger than you.
If down the line you do have dreams of making it to the national competition within your country, you’ll need to find the qualifying standards in the federation and country you reside. For example, in the USAPL, as a master 3 lifter you just need to total at least 75kg to make it to nationals, whereas in Canada there are more specific standards based on gender and body weight.
Overall, competitions should be seen as fun and exciting opportunities to stay motivated to train and to see how strong you are capable of becoming. No one should feel discouraged from trying it out regardless of their current strength level!
For more tips and information on attending your first powerlifting meet, check out the following articles:
- How To Start Powerlifting
- What You Should Bring To A Powerlifting Meet
- How Powerlifting Meets Work
- Competition Gear For Powerlifting
- How To Pick Your Attempts In Powerlifting
- How Powerlifting Is Scored
- What To Eat During A Powerlifting Meet
- How To Pick Your Weight Class For Powerlifting
- 55 Powerlifting Mistakes To Avoid
- How To Find Powerlifting Meets
Examples of Elite Powerlifters Competing Over 50
While other sports see their athletes retiring in their 30s, in powerlifting we have many still competing and earning medals even at the international level past the age of 50.
While the 3 lifters outlined below started lifting and competing before the age of 50, all 3 didn’t start competing until they were in their 40s! These are incredibly talented and dedicated athletes all of whom continue to move weights despite what society tells us to expect from someone their age.
Helene Faccio is a Masters 3 powerlifter from Australia who started lifting less than a decade ago at the age of 45. Her last competition was in 2019 at the age of 51 where she totalled 412.5kg/909.4lbs at a body weight of 123lbs.
She is a mom and hairdresser by day and continues to lift consistently into her mid-50s and is a great example of it never being too late to start.
Leon is a Canadian powerlifting Masters-level champion who started competing in powerlifting in 2012 at the age of 45. He has been to several national and international level competitions for both bench-only and full power competitions. He holds the Masters 1 and 2 world record bench press in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) and is a truly inspiring athlete.
Cindy Tilton is a powerlifter who competes in the USAPL and won the Master 2 national championship back in 2019. She was also an IPF world bench press champion in 2018 and has recently hit a 131.5kg/289.9lbs bench in competition in December 2020 at the age of 50.
Cindy started competing in 2014 and continues to be very involved in the sport and make great progress with no signs of stopping.
Powerlifting Routine For Over 50
To help get you started on your journey, I’ve put together a basic routine that ensures you hit all the main movements and some important muscle groups to help you build strength.
While there are many ways to approach powerlifting training, the following workouts can be used as a starting point to get you acquainted with the structure and intensity. It’s important to remember that in powerlifting your workouts should not leave you feeling completely exhausted afterward, instead it’s all about slow increases in intensity over time.
With that said, try taking this program and then on weeks where the weight feels lighter than last week, add an extra 2.5-5lbs to the bar. As a novice or beginner, you will find you’ll be able to do this very regularly.
Tip: Write in a training journal where you document the exercises and weights you’re using as well as notes about how heavy it felt and any other comments to keep in mind for the following week to help keep you progressing and recovering well.
Powerlifting For Over 50 Workout #1 – Squat Focus
- Squat – 3×5 @65-75% of 1 Rep Max
- Strict Press – 3×5-7
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts – 3×8-12 (each leg)
- Weighted lunges – 3×10-12 (each leg)
- Weighted Plank – 3×20-30s
Powerlifting For Over 50 Workout #2 – Bench Press Focus
- Bench press – 3×5 @65-75% of 1 Rep Max
- Incline Dumbbell Press – 3×8-10
- Tricep Extensions – 3×10-12
- Cable Chest Flys – 3×15
- Reverse Flys 3×20
- Side Plank – 4×15-30s
Powerlifting for Over 50 Workout #3 – Deadlift Focus
- Deadlift (conventional or sumo) – 3×5 @65-75% of 1 Rep Max
- Pendlay Row – 3×6-8
- Bulgarian Split Squats 3×8-12
- Lat Pulldown 3×12-15
- Glute Ham Raises 3xfailure
In short, unless you have physical limitations, powerlifting and getting stronger in general is both possible and encouraged for those over 50. It will not only slow down the ageing process and make you feel young again, but also maybe even earn you bragging rights among your family and friends.
Powerlifting offers you tangible and objective goals that will motivate you to keep using your muscles, staying mobile and strong and ultimately remain independent for as long as possible; therefore, don’t let fear and hesitation stop you from seeing what you’re actually made of.
Check out my other articles on Master Powerlifting:
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.