7 Exercises to Prevent Muscle Loss

Muscle loss is sometimes unavoidable, but it is worth knowing how to combat it. Muscle loss occurs with weight loss, a lack of protein in the diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and aging. However, resistance exercise and a proper diet can combat much if not all muscle loss in most cases.

Preventing muscle loss is dependent on sending frequent messages to the muscles that they are needed. The key is to be consistent with your resistance training efforts. Keep reading to find out the best exercises to do to prevent muscle loss, as well as the importance of building and keeping ahold of the muscle you have.

Muscle Plays a Crucial Role for Health

Having a healthy amount of muscle mass is directly associated with healthier, more independent aging, disease prevention, healthy body weight, and reduced all-cause mortality. Low muscle mass is connected to poorer outcomes in many health situations, such as post-operative recovery, reduced physical functioning, and reduced quality of life.

Muscle loss typically occurs with aging, which is especially true if you are sedentary. In fact, once you reach age 30, your muscle mass tends to decline from then on. Much of the muscle loss seen with age can be avoided by participating in physical activity, especially the kind that helps build and maintain muscle and strength like resistance training.

Another cause of muscle loss is a calorie deficit, especially if you do not consume enough protein to prevent this loss.

For instance, if you have spent time building muscle, you have likely also gained some body fat. Because muscle gain typically requires a calorie surplus (eating more than you need to maintain your weight), you will inevitably also gain some body fat as not all the surplus calories are used to build muscle.

If you want to reduce body fat accumulated during the muscle-building phase (often called a bulking phase), you will need to reduce calories under maintenance level. This is often referred to as a cutting phase, but it is a period of weight loss in simple terms.

Muscle loss is highly likely during weight loss, whether for a bulking and cutting cycle or any other reason. It is vital during this period to perform resistance training. Below are the best exercises for preventing muscle loss, no matter your purpose.

Training Tip

Make resistance training workouts more time-efficient by prioritizing bilateral, multijoint movements (compound lifts) through a full range of motion with about four weekly sets per muscle group using a 6 to 15 rep maximum loading range.

1

Deadlifts

Deadlifts are crucial for healthy aging, building muscle, and increasing strength. The hinge pattern in weight lifting is a fundamental movement pattern that carries over to daily life. Bending to pick things up safely is key to preventing back injuries and functioning well.

This compound, multi-joint, multi-muscle movement is excellent for preventing muscle loss because it targets many muscles at once, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and back. Each variation will emphasize some of these muscles more than others.

There are several types of deadlifts you can try. Choose the type you feel most comfortable with. However, it is wise to work in a few variations to get the most out of the hinge pattern.

2

Squats

Squats are another fundamental movement pattern that everyone should be able to do. Performing this exercise does not mean you necessarily have to lift heavy weights or use a barbell, but being able to squat is key to functional movement and is considered a primal human position.

The squat effectively prevents muscle loss because it activates muscles through much of the body, including the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and core (back and abdominal muscles), including the deep core stabilizing muscles.

Lower body resistance training is imperative for preventing muscle loss. And, the squat is the ultimate lower body movement.

Squat Variations

3

Bench Press

Another of the main compound lifts is the bench press. This exercise focuses on the upper body.

Bench press variations mostly target the chest muscles (pectorals). But, they also will activate the shoulders and triceps.

4

Shoulder Press

Healthy, strong shoulders are vital for a functional body. The shoulders are one of the most injury-prone areas of the body due to their high mobility and lack of structural support. Shoulders are also used for many human movements, controlling everything you do with your arms and hands.

For these reasons, preventing muscle loss in your shoulders is crucial for injury prevention and healthy functioning. The shoulder muscles are also known as the deltoids, and consist of the anterior (front), posterior (rear), and lateral (side) deltoids.

These muscles assist in moving your arms to the front, back and sides, supporting the ligaments and other structures supporting the shoulder joint—so building and preserving muscle in this area is important. The shoulder press is an excellent choice for working the shoulders because it can activate all the muscles of the shoulder.

It is a good idea to add some other shoulder exercises into your programming as well that can target the various areas of the shoulder muscle and keep the ligaments strong in all planes of motion. Try lateral raises, front raises, upright rows, and Turkish get-ups.

5

Rows

While the traditional deadlift helps build and maintain muscle mainly in the lower back, the row is a compound exercise that does the same for the upper and mid-back muscles. Losing muscle in your back can contribute to poor posture, injury, and pain.

There are several types of rowing exercises you can try. This exercise can be done with a loaded barbell, dumbbells, cables, or resistance bands as long as you keep the weight challenging and progressing, it can prevent muscle loss.

6

Lunges

Lunges and other unilateral lower body movements are excellent for building and maintaining muscle in your legs, glutes, and even your core as it works to stabilize you. Most of the actions you take with your legs are unilateral, such as climbing stairs, walking, and stepping over objects. Preventing loss in the stabilizing muscles of the lower body is vital for healthy aging.

Single leg movements work the muscles that can suffer when you sit a lot during the day. These muscles can tighten and weaken from inactivity, leading to muscle loss and dysfunction. Lunges help build and keep muscle in the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Lunge Variations

Other unilateral lower body exercises to try include step-ups, Bulgarian split squats, single-leg leg press, and curtsy lunges.

7

Loaded Carries

Loaded carries use a heavier weight, usually a kettlebell or dumbbell, that is held in your hands or on your shoulders in various ways while you walk. They are highly effective for building and preserving the muscles in your biceps, triceps, forearms, shoulders, upper back, trapezius, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lower back, obliques, transverse abdominis, and rectus abdominis.

Essentially, they are a full-body functional exercise that provides carry-over in other aspects of functional daily life, including grip strength and shoulder stability. Loaded carries preserve the muscles of the core that help you stabilize and balance, preventing injuries, back pain, and falls.

Other Loaded Carries

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

There are some medical conditions that can cause muscle loss or muscle wasting. If you notice muscle loss that seems beyond what is normal, contact a healthcare provider for evaluation. You also should talk to a healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise regimen. They can help you determine what is right for you.

A Word From Verywell

Although some muscle loss is normal with aging, there are things you can do to preserve your muscle tone and strength. The key is to engage in consistent resistance training and other strength-building exercises.

Whether you are completely sedentary or fairly active, taking steps to prevent muscle loss is a good strategy that will benefit you in the long run. Having muscle provides a number of benefits including everything from good posture to recovery from illnesses and surgeries.

If you are interested in doing more to prevent muscle loss, talk to a healthcare provider to determine what is right for you. You also may want to speak with a certified personal trainer who can help you set goals and put together a plan.

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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.