Book Review: Strength Training Past 50, Third Edition

strength training past 50Bailed on the gym (cardio and ab work) this morning because I scratched my cornea (again) yesterday afternoon, and bright lights really bother me right now (don’t worry…corneas heal fast).

So I’ve had a chance to go through the book Strength Training Past 50, 3rd edition by Wayne Westcott and Thomas R. Baechle (I picked up a copy in the New Books section of my local public library the other day). I’m a pretty fast reader, and the elementary nature of the book, plus the plethora of illustrative photos it contains makes it really easy to shoot through. However if you are new to strength training and need to learn the details, you might want to give this a slower read.

To start off with, the front of the book contains a really handy exercise finder chart of exactly what each machine, free weight, alternate equipment exercises work on your body, including whether they’re single or multi-joint.

Chapter 1 gives a good introduction on the different benefits strength training provides for people over 50. This should be your motivation section.

I won’t go into all the reasons you, the person past age 50, should do some form of strength training, but here’s one startling fact: By the time the average person reaches age 50, generally they will have lost 15 pounds of muscle and gained 45 pounds of fat. This is due to the natural (for a sedentary person) attrition of muscle mass plus the reduction in body metabolism as we age, so it’s not that you have to eat all that much more than when you were younger to get to this condition.

Don’t worry. There’s hope.

Here’s the short list of what strength training can do for an older person.

  1. Rebuild muscle
  2. Recharge metabolism
  3. Reduce fat
  4. Reduce resting blood pressure
  5. Improve blood lipid profiles
  6. Enhance postcoronary performance
  7. Resist diabetes
  8. Increase bone density
  9. Decrease physical discomfort
  10. Enhance mental health
  11. Revitalize muscle cells
  12. Reverse physical frailty
  13. Combat cancer
dumbbell flyes
Photo credit:

You’ll have to read the book to get the details, but I’ve covered a few of these topics in previous blog posts.

The next chapter gets the beginner started with an assessment of readiness for strength training, including different exercises you can do which should tell you where you are in terms of physical abilities relative to exercise. I should stress here that consulting with your doctor or other medical professional is a really good idea before starting any workout program.

The book is very accessible for the newbie and covers how to get started, which exercises to begin with, training frequency, exercise sets and loads, rest, and progression.

It then outlines the basics of equipment, with details on different free weights, weight machines, and alternative equipment, including their cost should you desire to put your own home gym together (some of this stuff can be really pricey).

There’s a chapter on the basics of technique including lifting fundamentals. The book offers lots of step-by-step instructions and plenty of photos of older people (no young bodies in skimpy clothing…I was pleased) to illustrate machine exercises “how-tos” for all the common machines in the gym.

The following chapter does the same with free weights,

I paid particular attention to the page on barbell back squat instructions. Very basic. Nowhere near as detailed as Starrett, but this is a book for beginners and each exercise is covered to the same depth with just the essential starter techniques presented. That said, the pages contain pretty much every lift with free weights you could imagine, at least from what I could tell in a brief run through. This part is the core of the book, and also offers the same level of detail for alternative exercises with exercise balls, resistance bands, and body weight.

Afterward, you get into a chapter listing the details of different workout routines, applying all that was presented in the previous chapters for different weights (free, machine, alternative). First is a chapter on basic routines, and then the next is on advanced programs.

The following chapter provides outlines on which workouts help you train for specific sports including running, cycling, tennis, skiing, and golf if you’re so inclined.

eat steak
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The final chapter is on nutrition and confirms (my wife is dubious about this) that people over 50 should increase their protein intake. For folks in their 60s to gain muscle mass, according to the authors, we need to ingest about 1.5 grams per kg of body weight because we don’t process protein (amino acids) as effectively as when we were younger.

They don’t go crazy in their advice. The average recommended protein intake for my age group (60-69), not taking body weight into account, is 90 grams (75 for women in the same age group).

Lots and lots of medical research citations with references pages at the conclusion of the book. This makes sense because the authors, Wayne Westcott and Thomas Baechle, come with rather impressive resumes (click those links to read about their qualifications).

Yes, this is a book on strength training, so I didn’t expect, nor did I find any reference to the role of cardio. That could mean the authors don’t find it necessary, since strength training is supposed to jack up your metabolism, or that it’s just not relevant in a book focused on resistance exercises.

I also found no index, which was disappointing. If I wanted to see if there were pages on a particular detail (cardio, for instance), an index would have been quite convenient.

Bottom line: If you are someone age 50 or older who wants to know why strength training is really important to you and what do to about it but you don’t know where to begin, this book covers everything you’ll need to know to make informed decisions and construct a training program that’s right for you. As you advance, you’ll probably want to consult more detailed and specified resources, but the Westcott and Baechle book will definitely get you started.

The authors do have a short section on selecting a personal trainer if you want to go that way, and there’s plenty of information on either joining a gym or making one at home, so you can either select something “guided” or go completely DIY (do-it-yourself).

My eye is feeling better (see, I told you corneas heal fast), so hopefully by tomorrow, I’ll be ready to hit my next lift day at the gym again. I hate to miss lift days.

With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.

Eleanor Rossevelt


4 thoughts on “Book Review: Strength Training Past 50, Third Edition

  1. Curious . . . do you think they favor isolation or compound movements? Makes me wonder when the cover shows a dude doing concentration curls . . .

    A while ago I bought

    This guy is/was in his 60’s and to my view, has awesome form in the bottom of a squat. But I could not make myself do the exercises. They seemed like I would die from old age before I would ever get stronger. But his wife is probably laughing at how stupid I am.

    My new interim life goal . . . Make.Doctors.Wealthier😄


    1. There are both compound and isolation lifts included in the book. It seems to take a very generalist approach as far as that goes, although the different exercise programs go either way. It’s definitely a book that is aimed at beginners but that can also lead the reader into more advanced workouts.


  2. It sure sounds like it would be a good gift for someone that doesn’t train. Some like my brother.My brother 63
    and has a desk job,I am soon to be 66 and worked as a mechanic and do all sorts of physical jobs . I still work out a few days a week. I have been trying to get my brother into some kind of strength training but all he does is take long walks on the weekend. He is in the vitamin industry, you would think he would be on to this stuff. He lives on the other side of the country or I would have gotten him to train at my house .


    1. Get him the book. If chapter 1 doesn’t motivate him by telling him exactly what’s happened to his body and how strength training can repair that, nothing will. Besides, the ego building benefits of lifting heavy stuff is just awesome. 😉


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