Research finds older adults really can start building muscle without weights

If you want to develop muscle, you can put down the weights and switch to aerobic exercise instead

Older adults train their bodies on exercise bikes
(Image credit: Getty)

It's no secret that adults eventually begin to lose muscle mass as they age. Of course, lifting weights would seem like an obvious solution for trying to combat this. However, there's more to it than shifting weights, and one underlooked activity for improving muscle growth is aerobic exercise.

You may already own equipment like a set of some of the best adjustable dumbbells or perhaps you have previously learned how to deadlift properly. But if you're muscle mass has dropped over time, this kind of exercise won't feel as easy, and it's important you re-grow your strength sensibly and avoid injury.

Fortunately, all cardio lovers will be happy to hear that a study published in the Exercise and sport sciences reviews (opens in new tab) publication revealed aerobic exercise can help promote muscle growth. 

It's a common myth that aerobic training does very little for muscle mass so the scientists brought together their own knowledge alongside evidence from other research papers to debunk this theory.

Older woman works out on a rowing machine

(Image credit: Getty)

They found that the effectiveness of aerobic exercise for improving muscle growth most likely depends on balancing a sufficient exercise intensity (70-80% heart rate reserve), with duration (around 30-45 minutes) and lastly, frequency (ideally about (4-5 times a week). 

According to the researchers, this formula should help 'to achieve a large number of muscle contractions that places a high-volume, low-load on skeletal muscle compared to traditional hypertrophic resistance exercise programs'.

We asked Christopher Barker (opens in new tab) a qualified personal trainer about using aerobic exercise for muscle growth. Barker who has over eight years of experience in helping individuals clients and groups to stay fit and strong said, "Provided you are eating correctly and doing aerobic exercise that can create enough resistance in your muscles then, yes, you can."

He added, "If you look at sprint cyclists, they tend to have large leg muscles (yes they do weight training alongside their aerobic work but they will be using a lot of resistance on the bikes as well which will contribute)."

Although Barker doesn't class aerobic training as the optimum exercise for muscle hypertrophy he says certain forms of cardio will benefit muscle development more than others. 

"Walking on a treadmill probably won’t build you any legs but something like rowing is a good full-body workout that can contribute to muscle growth". He advises using some of the best rowing machines to assist you in building a stronger and leaner body. 

You should notice the best results from training like this if you pair it with a high protein diet. Adding one of the best protein powders for weight loss to a morning smoothie is an easy way to up your protein intake.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

Jessica is Staff Writer at Fit&Well. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 


When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.