When you hear the word muscle mass, what do you picture? A fit bodybuilder flexing in the mirror? Maybe someone young in a tank top on the beach? It might surprise you to learn there is a lot more to it. 


Muscular hypertrophy describes the process of gaining more muscle tissue. This occurs as the result of subjecting the muscles to mechanical tension via resistance training, which includes body weight, resistance bands or an external weight such as a dumbbell or barbell. 


There is little doubt that muscle mass contributes to strength, power and athleticism – commonly thought to be of importance primarily to sports people. However, for the general population, the importance placed on maintaining or even increasing muscle mass in adulthood and beyond seems to be a lot less. 


Muscle can be described as the currency of ageing – it is a significant predictor of health, wellbeing and function. Most people know and understand that having more muscle translates to more strength and better function, which reduces the incidence of things like falls and requiring walking aids. But there are benefits that extend even beyond this: for example, older adults with more muscle mass have a lower risk of death from any cause. This is more predictive for ill health than obesity in this cohort! 


This is particularly important to know due to a phenomenon known as sarcopenia – an age related, involuntary generalised loss of skeletal muscle that can start as early as in your 40s, which left unchecked can result in a loss of up to 50% of muscle mass by 80 years old. This is due to age related changes in mediating proteins, hormones and infiltration of fat within the muscles themselves which is exacerbated by inactivity. The good news is that resistance exercise has shown to significantly influence this physiological dysfunction to reduce muscle loss, improve muscle quality and even increase muscle mass. 


Here is an example of exercise mediated reduction of sarcopenia – a comparison of MRI scans between a 74 year old sedentary male and an active 70 year old triathlete. This person is a good example that age does not write the whole story – the triathlete probably has more muscle than some people half his age! 


mass contributes to strength, power and athleticism


Muscle is such an important tissue because of its effect on metabolism – processes that effect the entire body. It secretes proteins and other hormones that help with blood sugar levels, inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol to name a few.  

Despite the strong link between health, longevity and muscle mass, many misconceptions act as a barrier to participation in muscle building, particularly amongst older adults. Here are a few common misconceptions about building muscle – do you hold any of these beliefs? 

You have to train every day to see any changes
  • In reality, one may only need to train twice a week to see increases in muscle mass. For people new to the gym or training, only one session per week may even be enough to see change. For people who participate in bodybuilding, going to the gym more often may be more optimal, however there certainly is a ceiling beyond which we might see detrimental change. 
Resistance training will make me look too bulky
  • Muscle building is a slow process – no one accidentally gets bulging biceps overnight. Additionally, muscle mass can increase without seeing too much on the surface – for example, you might improve your muscle quality via reducing fatty infiltration, meaning you can make substantial gains without necessarily impacting your overall physique. That being said, program design is very flexible and can influence which muscles are primarily trained, and therefore which ones will or will not be prone to gaining size. 
Gaining muscle is too time consuming
  • Similar to the point about training frequency, building muscle does not require multiple hours in the gym per day. Sessions may only need to be 10-45 minutes, depending on other factors such as training frequency, target muscle groups and previous exercise experience. 
I am too old to build muscle
  • Building muscle IS harder as we get older, however that does not mean that it cannot be done with proper training. At the very least, resistance training can maintain muscle mass that is otherwise lost gradually with aging. Again, training can help improve muscle quality and metabolic health, meaning that the act of training itself is still very beneficial. 
Resistance training is unsafe for elderly adults
  • Any exercise program should be properly designed following a good assessment of an individual and their current level of capacity. If the starting point is appropriate, resistance training can be performed very safely, with a plenitude of benefits to the entire body. That being said, it might be helpful to consider what the risks are of NOT resistance training. Not participating in resistance training of some sort results in faster age-related muscle loss, reduced bony density, increased fragility and increased risk of mortality.  


Muscle is a very important tissue not just for strength and power, but also for our overall health. Particularly as we get older, increasing or maintaining how much muscle mass we have is vital to our health and wellbeing. 

Some people may have injuries or other physical limitations that limit their capacity for participation in physical activity. In this case, consultation with a health professional can be invaluable to ensure a safe and tailored progression into a program and strategic exercise selection to get the most value out of training.


At CSSM, we have a fully equipped gym where we can guide and provide an appropriate strengthening plan. 

Look out for my next blog which will address the mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy (building muscle tissue) and some practical takeaways for all ages. 


About the author

Hugh Feary Physiotherapist Camberwell

CSSM’s Hugh Feary enjoys the problemsolving aspect of being a physio. He loves the challenge of appropriately integrating clients back into sport as fast as possible while minimising the risk of re-injury. Spending a lot of time strength training in the gym, Hugh enjoys helping others hit their stride in the gym whether it be an advanced lifter or someone starting for the first time



Srikanthan P, Karlamangla AS. Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in older adults. Am J Med. 2014 Jun;127(6):547-53. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.02.007. Epub 2014 Feb 18. PMID: 24561114; PMCID: PMC4035379. 

Walston JD. Sarcopenia in older adults. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2012 Nov;24(6):623-7. doi: 10.1097/BOR.0b013e328358d59b. PMID: 22955023; PMCID: PMC4066461.