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Why Everyone Hates This “Fit After 50” Article

If you like fitness and you have a social media account, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen the scorn heaped upon a recent Reader’s Digest article. Apparently, if you’re over 50, you shouldn’t do… pretty much any compound barbell exercises. And no push-ups or pull-ups either.

The article in question, entitled “14 Exercises to Never Do After Age 50,” was published last week but it didn’t really gain steam until it was picked up by a TV news channel.

fit over 50 tv shot

Source: @ropeoverstairs on Instagram.

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Here’s the list:

1) Running stairs
2) Hot yoga
3) High-intensity interval training
4) Spin classes
5) Push-ups
6) Squats with weights
7) Bench press
8) Burpees
9) Pull-ups
10) Crunches
11) Deadlifts
12) Jumping lunges
13) Sprints
14) Leg presses

It wouldn’t be hard to find 50-year-olds (or 70-year-olds) in a functional fitness gym doing all of these movements and enjoying great benefits from them, but probably the most egregious entries here are weighted squats, push-ups, bench presses, and deadlifts. We don’t love the other entries either, but don’t push weight off your chest after 50? Never hold anything during a squat?

The article had more than a few physical therapists and doctors voicing their disagreement.

Fit after 50

Mark Rippetoe wryly commented on someone’s tweet, saying, “Well, after all, he IS a doctor,” and Dr. Layne Norton also suggested the editor may have been a potato.

Physician Dr. Spencer Nadolsky also made a statement:

Uhhh maybe whoever made this doesn’t actually read the literature and/or has never gotten patients to use correct form when lifting weights.

Lifting weights is one of the healthiest activities you can do as you age. Bone health and function and muscle are extremely important for quality and quantity of life. This is just bullshit.

spencer nadolsky

In our very cool interview with him on this exact topic, he expanded on the topic

There have been some really cool studies showing (strength training) could be just as beneficial as aerobic training with regards to blood sugar and blood pressure regulation.

Then there are some things you don’t get with cardio, like bone strength, which is very important as you age and it’s why osteoporosis is such a big deal. Healthy aging includes keeping your bones nice and strong for both women and men.

There are also some benefits that aren’t necessarily quantifiable, like quality of life and functionality as you age. There’s a lot of people who live longer but they just don’t function well. Their quality of life isn’t as good because they’re not strong and mobile.

Certain people, depending on their limitations, should reconsider some of the movements — for plenty of 80-somethings a lat pulldown is a better alternative than a pull-up. But to suggest that nobody from age 50 onward should lift something off of the ground is a bit much.

Plus the article suggests people replace the bench press with rows, even though a) They emphasize totally different muscle groups and b) safely executed bench presses are great for maintaining muscle mass, bone strength, and mobility in the upper body throughout one’s life.

To be fair, it is smart to complement them with rowing movements as well. But to altogether drop bench presses and push-ups as soon as you turn 50 isn’t great advice.

Jake Boly bench press

[Read more: 11 undeniable benefits of the bench press.]

The original article cited experts from Carolina Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates (CONA), until they announced they had nothing to do with the article — the author actually spoke with Carolina Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Center. By the time that information came out, the social media furor had died down some, so we probably won’t hear any follow up from the doctors who were quoted.

Lift weights into old age if you can.

Update: Since this article was published, the Reader’s Digest article’s title has been changed to “14 Exercises You Should Modify If You’re Over 50” and its language has been softened to emphasize that modifications are mostly necessary for people with prior injuries. 

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