Men and women over 50 can get similar relative benefits from strength training, a new study by UNSW Sydney shows.
While men are likely to gain more absolute muscle size, the gains relative to body size are the same as women.
The results, recently published in Sports Medicine, consolidated the results of 30 different strength training studies involving over 1,400 participants. This article specifically compared the results of men and women aged 50 and over.
Historically, people have tended to believe that men are more accustomed to weight training than women.
The differences we found mainly relate to how we look at the data – that is, absolute or relative. ‘Absolute’ looks at total gains, while ‘Relative’ is a percentage based on your height. “
Dr. Amanda (Mandy) Hagstrom, Lecturer in Exercise Science, Senior Author of UNSW Medicine & Health and Study
The paper is the first systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate whether older men and women achieve different results in strength training. The results complement previous research on differences in younger adults (18-50), which indicated that men and women can achieve similar relative muscle size gains.
The researchers compared muscle mass and strength gains in 651 older men and 759 older women in the 30 studies. The participants were between 50 and 90 years old, with most of them having no experience in strength training.
While 50 is not normally considered an “older adult,” it was chosen as the threshold for this study because the potential for hormonal changes during menopause can affect strength training results.
“We didn’t find any gender differences in changes in relative muscle size or upper body strength in older adults,” says Dr. Hagstrom.
“It is important for coaches to understand that women benefit as much as men in terms of relative improvement from baseline.”
Gender-specific training tips
Older men tended to build bigger muscles when looking at absolute gains, the researchers found. They were also more likely to see greater absolute improvements in upper and lower body strength.
When it comes to the relatively lower physical strength, older women recorded the greatest increases.
“Our study highlights the possibility that we should program differently for older men and women to maximize their exercise benefits,” says Dr. Hagstrom.
The team under-analyzed the literature to determine which strength training techniques produced the best results for each gender.
“Older men could benefit from higher-intensity programs to improve their absolute upper and lower body strength,” says Dr. Hagstrom.
“Older women, however, could benefit from a higher total exercise volume – that is, more weekly repetitions – to increase their relative and absolute lower physical strength.”
Longer periods of exercise can also help increase relative and absolute muscle size (for older men) or absolute upper body strength (for older women).
“Changes to training plans should be made safely and with professional advice,” says Dr. Hagstrom.
Strengthening future health
Feeling stronger and having bigger muscles aren’t the only benefits of weight training.
Weight training can offer other health benefits, such as: B. Increase in endurance, balance, flexibility and bone density of a person. It has also been shown to improve sleep and wellbeing, and reduce the risk of injury.
“Strength training is very important and healthy – especially for older people,” says Dr. Hagstrom.
“It can help prevent and treat many age-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.”
Dr. Hagstrom hopes her future research can identify more best practice recipes for strength training exercises.
“Learning more about strength training and its benefits can improve overall health outcomes for Australia’s aging population,” she says.
University of New South Wales
Jones, MD, et al. (2020) Gender Differences in Adjustments in Muscle Strength and Size After Strength Training in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine. doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01388-4.