Avoiding Muscle Loss with Age: Celebrity Trainer Steve Zim Shares his Secret

Muscle Loss After 50 Can be Avoided with Strength Training

As far as celebrity fitness trainer Steve Zim is concerned, building up your muscles as you grow older—building up your strength—is the most important thing you can do for yourself, whether or not your job is to be in front of a camera. His reason is a familiar one to StrongPath.com readers: sarcopenia. “After the age of 30, we lose about one percent of muscle a year. If we lose muscle, we lose these things that we took for granted when we were younger.”

Zim has been training clients at his A Tighter U studio in Culver City, California, since 1988. Many famous names, including actors and professional athletes, have passed through his doors. He put medal-winning U.S. skater Adam Rippon through a grueling weight and medicine ball workout for months to build up his ab muscles ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic. Actors Jessica Biel and Ashley Judd, and boxer Laila Ali, have worked out with him and praise his training regime on his website.  Other reported clients include Christian Bale and Michael Keaton.

But the majority of his clientele are people of all ages—his oldest client is 95—from the neighborhood. These aren’t superstars trying to get a six-pack for an action hero movie, but men and women want to get stronger as they get older in order to continue living their lives to their fullest. StrongPath met with Zim at his gym to talk about the important role strength training plays in helping older adults maintain their health, flexibility, mobility, and independence.

Three Hours of Exercise Can Change Your Entire Life

“If we allow the muscle to deteriorate, we lose our ability to get up out of a chair by ourselves. We lose the ability to go upstairs. We need help with this and help with that. It starts to limit your life,” he told us. “I don’t want you to have a curve over your life, where you go up, then you crescendo in your 50s, and then you just wait as you go down. I’d rather you go up, stay up.”

To help you stay at the peak of good health and strength and avoid muscle loss with age, Zim recommended that you lift weights and do resistance training at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes each session. He said that kind of dedicated effort will result in immediate changes to your body. “People need to see change. You can see appearance change within two weeks. That’s three hours of your life over a two-week period; you can change your entire life.”

Make Strength Training an Appointment and It Will Become a Habit

“Would you rather spend your time and money now, exercising, getting yourself into shape, and then not spend it in the hospital on stuff that you could avoid?” Zim asked. “You could avoid heart attacks, you could avoid falls, if you fall you can maybe not get as hurt. You want to put your time and effort in now and it pays off tenfold.”

Getting started does take commitment. He suggested two strategies to make certain you get to the gym—set a schedule and, if you need one, get a trainer. “It’s your health. Your business is your body.   How do we best manage that? Schedule your appointments.” Don’t make excuses, Zim said, you can also find time to work in your workout. “For the people that don’t make the excuses, getting a minimum of three times a week, they benefit unbelievably.”

“If you want to use a trainer, make sure you get a certified trainer that understands your goals.  You’ve got to be very clear if you get a young trainer, you are not 20 years old. You need to tell them, ‘do not train me like you train you. You need to take me from where I am.’” Zim said that hiring a trainer closer to your age has its benefits. “An older trainer might be your better bet because they’ll know, ‘Yeah if I do this too much, my shoulder’s going to hurt tomorrow. If I do that too much.'”

The Right Exercises for Older Adults

Zim told us that when he or one of his trainers works with anyone who is not an athlete, he limits the amount of strength training exercises that require the client to push overhead. “You don’t need to push overhead to help your shoulders or your back. That’s a big no-no. If you’re younger or you’re an athlete and you need it for your sport, yes. But, nothing great comes from pushing weights up over your head.”

He shared his strategy for making your legs stronger, to increase mobility and flexibility “When people think of leg exercises, it’s not your legs, it’s your butt. It’s your glutes, that piece of muscle that you take for granted is the most important part of your lower body, to me.”

The reason, Zim explained, is if your glutes are strong it takes pressure off your knees. “When you step, if you don’t have glutes, every time you step you bang your knee into your hip. But, when you step and you happen to have a butt, then that’s kind of like your shock absorber of your entire leg. When you’re seated, if you try to get up through your legs it’s very hard. But, if you push through your heels and up through the glutes, you go right up.”

He also makes certain his older clients exercise their calves, otherwise they become “little tight balls. Then they can’t move their ankle around so much and the ankle rolls. We’ve got to make sure that when we do our calves we stretch them out and really get a nice long stretch on them. This way we extend the tendons, the Achilles, and we make the calf nice and long and then that also builds up flexibility in the ankle,” added Zim.

Interestingly, he always saves the ab workout for the end of the training session. “Understand that your abdominal area is the only thing that protects your spine. If you work your abs at the beginning or the middle, you’re leaving your spine susceptible to injury. You may not notice it when you’re doing it, but the next day you’re very stiff in your back because you might have tweaked something during the workout.”

Success Breeds Success: Avoiding Muscle Loss After 50

“Would you rather spend your time and money now exercising, getting yourself into shape and then not spend it in the hospital on stuff that you could avoid?,” Zim asked. “You could avoid heart attacks. You could avoid falls. If you fall, you can maybe not get as hurt. You want to put your time and effort in now and it pays off tenfold.”

He offered this final bit of advice for older adults who haven’t yet added strength training to their lives.

“Anything you do creates a pattern. Get to wherever there are some weights. Make it a regular part of your day like you would getting up and brushing your teeth. Don’t make excuses not to go because later on in your life, you will wish you didn’t make those excuses and that’s a guarantee.”

You can learn more about Steve Zim, his fitness philosophy, and his nutrition plan at his website: ATighterU.com

You can also buy his new nutrition book, Superhero Nutrition, on Amazon.

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