As we age, we start to experience various physical changes, including muscle loss or sarcopenia. 

Sarcopenia is a common condition among older adults, where they experience a gradual loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. This condition can lead to mobility problems and even higher risks of falls, fractures, and other serious health concerns. 

Fortunately, regular exercise, particularly strength training, can help combat muscle loss and improve overall strength and function. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the ultimate guide to strength training against sarcopenia.

What Is Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia is a condition that is characterized by the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. The term “sarcopenia” is derived from the Greek words “sarx” meaning flesh, and “penia,” meaning loss. 

It is a progressive condition prevalent among elderly individuals, and it involves a discernible decline in the quantity and quality of muscle tissue. 

As this condition progresses, the network of muscle fibers that support optimal strength and functionality experiences a decline in size and efficiency. This not only reduces your ability to generate force, it also affects your muscular coordination and endurance, which can impact your overall physical performance.

General Aging Process Starts As Early As 30s

It is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the physiological changes that occur during the ageing process. These changes can start as early as in the 30s, and it is crucial to keep track of them because they can affect our overall health and well-being. 

One of the most significant changes that occur during this phase is the decrease in our aerobic capacity. This means that we become less efficient at using oxygen to produce energy, which can lead to tiredness and fatigue. 

Additionally, as we age, our heart muscles experience changes that can be quite alarming. The stroke volume, which is the amount of blood the heart can pump with each beat, decreases, which can make it harder for the heart to distribute blood throughout the body efficiently. This can result in a decline in heart rate and aerobic capacity, leading to poor health outcomes.

Sarcopenia can start as early as our 30s and tends to progress steadily. It is essential to note that this decline in muscle mass sets the stage for a more pronounced and rapid deterioration as we approach and surpass the age of 50. 

Recognizing these early signs and understanding the nuances of physiological changes during aging can empower individuals to make informed lifestyle choices that positively influence the trajectory of these processes. 

Engaging in physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding harmful habits such as smoking can help slow down the aging process and improve the quality of life in the long run.

How Does Sarcopenia Impact Your Running Performance?

Reduced Ability to Generate Force

When discussing sarcopenia affecting your running, one thing to note is that it can make it harder for your muscles to push you forward. Your muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be, and that can really impact how much force you can generate when running. 

So, you might feel sluggish and not as powerful during your runs.

Increased Effort with Compromised Muscle Mass

During your runs, you may observe that your body finds it increasingly difficult to maintain endurance over time.

This means that you need to exert more effort to keep going, leading to faster fatigue and shorter runs. It’s important to be aware of these changes in your body and adjust your exercise routines accordingly to stay healthy and active.

Impact on Recovery Times

Sarcopenia doesn’t just affect running itself but also influences the time it takes to recover. With reduced muscle mass, the recovery after running takes longer. 

The slower muscle repair and regeneration may lead to prolonged discomfort after exertion, limiting how often and intensely training sessions can happen. This, in the end, hinders the overall progress in training and the potential to reach peak running performance.

Dual Effect: Loss of Performance and Increased Injury Risk

Sarcopenia negatively impacts running performance in two ways: it leads to both a decline in performance and an increased vulnerability to injuries. The decrease in muscle mass and strength results in a reduction in running proficiency. 

At the same time, compromised muscles raise the risk of injuries because the weakened support structure may struggle to absorb and distribute forces effectively. 

This dual effect creates a delicate balance where suboptimal performance and a higher likelihood of injuries together hinder the overall running experience. Targeted interventions are needed to address the multifaceted impact of sarcopenia on runners.

Combined with a near-serious accident in my attic, I have been getting increasingly painful quads during hard running, peaking at the 2023 Boston Marathon.

Since embarking on a very disciplined and consistent strength training regime to complement my running, performance and running discomfort have both improved dramatically.

Similar Physiological Impacts on Males and Females

Sex-specific differences in the aging process are well documented, although there are also some commonalities in how men and women experience the aging process. 

For instance, both men and women experience a decrease in hormone production, which can contribute to a variety of health issues such as decreased bone density and muscle mass, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. 

In addition, both genders may experience a decline in cognitive function, although the rate and nature of decline may differ.

Despite these similarities, there are also distinct differences in how men and women experience the aging process. For instance, women experience menopause, which is marked by a decrease in estrogen production and can lead to a range of symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. 

Men, on the other hand, may experience a decline in testosterone production, which can lead to decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and decreased muscle mass.

Quantifying Muscle and Strength Loss

Research suggests that in our 30s, we start losing about 1 to 3 percent of our muscle mass and strength per decade. This may not sound like a significant loss but can add up over time. 

However, the real twist comes when we reach our 50s, as muscle loss accelerates and reaches up to 5 percent per decade. This means that we lose muscle at a faster rate when we hit the half-century mark. 

It’s like our muscles embark on a bit of a roller coaster ride,  and the speed increases around the 50-year mark, making it even more important to engage in regular exercise and strength training to slow down this loss.

The Impact on Performance and Musculoskeletal Coordination

Now, let’s discuss the real-world impact of these figures. When our muscles decide to take a break, our performance suffers. It’s like attempting to run a race with worn-out sneakers – you can still do it, but it’s not as smooth or efficient. Then there’s the coordination aspect. Muscles do more than enhance our appearance; they contribute to seamless movement. 

Losing them is akin to dancing without your favorite partner – things become a bit unsteady. So, those percentage losses? They’re not just numbers; they’re the behind-the-scenes crew influencing how well we perform on life’s grand stage.

Importance of Addressing Sarcopenia

1. Reversing or Slowing Down the Effects

Addressing sarcopenia head-on can help slow down or even reverse its effects. This means that starting an exercise program, eating a balanced diet, and taking supplements can help prevent muscle loss. 

Moreover, regular physical activity can boost muscle growth and maintain muscle mass. Therefore, if you want to keep your muscles in better shape and not let them dwindle away, tackling sarcopenia is the way to go.

2. Benefits of Running Performance

As already mentioned, sarcopenia can have a significant impact on your running performance.

When you address sarcopenia, you give your muscles a chance to stay strong and function properly. This can translate into better endurance, more power, and even improved mile times. Therefore, by preventing or combating sarcopenia, you can boost your running performance and achieve better results.

3. Reduction of Injury Risk

Did you know that addressing sarcopenia can actually reduce your risk of injury? 

When your muscles are strong and supportive, they are better equipped to handle the demands of physical activity, such as running, without placing excessive stress on your joints and bones. 

Think of it as having a strong foundation that keeps everything in place. By reducing your risk of injury, you can enjoy worry-free runs and other physical activities with greater ease and confidence.

4. Maintaining a Pain-Free and Consistent Running Experience

When sarcopenia is under control, your muscles become less prone to soreness and discomfort after physical activities like running. 

This effect results in a smoother and more consistent running experience, where you can wear your sneakers regularly without worrying about unnecessary post-workout pain. 

This is particularly true of running in Carbon shoes, the muscle pain I described earlier was greatly increased with carbon shoes. The change since doing strength means I can get the advantage the shoes offer without crumbling from the pain in my quads.

Reducing muscle pain and discomfort means having a more enjoyable time on the track or trail.

Making sure you do the correct strength training is important. The good news is we’ve created a free strength training plan for runners that you can download by clicking here.

Now, let’s look at the significance of strength training in combating sarcopenia. 

How To Counteract Sarcopenia With Strength Training 

So, when we talk about counteracting sarcopenia, we mean putting up a strong defence against the natural loss of muscle mass that tends to creep in with age. 

Strength training plays a vital role in this scenario, allowing you to effectively counter muscle loss and sustain strength over an extended period. This, in turn, enables you to maintain a higher level of strength for longer.

Strength training is a highly beneficial exercise that not only provides a quick boost in strength but also offers long-term gains. When you engage in weightlifting or resistance exercises, you’ll notice some short-term gains in muscle strength and endurance.

This is because your muscles become more efficient in handling the resistance that you’re putting them through. Over time, these short-term gains become more significant and build up into a buffer against the inevitable strength loss that typically occurs in your 60s and 70s. 

This means that investing your time and effort in strength training is like investing in your future – you’ll reap the benefits of a strong and healthy body later on. 

So, if you’re looking for a way to improve your overall health and well-being, consider incorporating strength training into your exercise routine.

Minimizing Strength Loss in the 60s and 70s

As we look ahead to the future, it’s crucial to consider the impact of strength training on our bodies. However, the benefits of strength training are not limited to the present moment. 

In fact, it can be immensely helpful in minimizing the loss of strength that typically occurs as we age, particularly in the 60s and 70s. Think of it as building a robust barrier against the natural decline in strength that occurs with advancing age. 

By engaging in regular strength training, you’re effectively holding onto your strength with a firm grip, even as others may experience a significant decline. This approach allows you to age on your own terms, retaining your vitality and physical strength well into your golden years.

How Often Should You Engage In Strength Training? 

Well, there’s no need to go all out every day. The recommendation is to target about three days a week for your strength training sessions. It’s like finding the perfect balance—not too little, not too much. 

However, life can get hectic, and if you can’t manage three days, no problem. Even two days of strength training are much better than none. The key is consistency, not pushing yourself too hard. 

So, whether you’re lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises, make it a regular habit, and your muscles will appreciate it in the long run.

Remember to start slow, focus on proper form, and listen to your body’s needs. With time and dedication, you’ll see the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle.


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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