While everyone can benefit from lifting weights, older adults can reap even more benefits if they work toward a stronger, healthier body. Having a strong body helps you avoid injuries, falls, pain, and other issues associated with getting older.
For example, you will gradually lose muscle mass as you age if you don’t do anything to maintain it. When you keep or gain more muscle, you may actually live longer and you’ll certainly have a better quality of life.
This total body workout is a great way for older adults to get started with strength training. The exercises focus on building total-body strength with an emphasis on improving balance, stability, and flexibility.
Why You Need Strength Training
Strength training can help improve overall health and longevity. It is one of the best ways to keep your muscles strong and can preserve independence and energy as you age. Its benefits include:
- Build and maintain strength
- Maintain bone density
- Improve balance and coordination
- Improve mobility
- Reduces risk of falls
- Maintain ability to perform everyday activities
Strength training also requires minimal time commitment, making it a great option to fit into your schedule.
The key to starting weight training, if you’re new to it or it’s been a long time, is to gradually ease into lifting weights. Lifting weights can cause soreness, which is normal, but it shouldn’t cause too much pain or discomfort.
See your healthcare provider before trying this workout if you have any pain, injuries or other health conditions. Take your time with the moves and only add weights or resistance when you feel comfortable with the exercises.
Various weighted dumbbells, resistance bands, a medicine ball, a chair, and a step or staircase.
- Begin with a 5- to 10-minute warm-up of light cardio, such as walking in place.
- When you first start, perform each exercise for one set, using no weight or light weights. Weights are suggested for each exercise, but choose your weight according to your fitness level and goals. Focus on your form before adding weight.
- To progress, add a set each week until you’re doing a total of three sets of each exercise with 30 seconds of rest in between each set.
- Do this workout one or two nonconsecutive days a week, taking at least one day of rest between workouts.
- If you do feel very sore, give yourself extra rest days as needed and back off during the next workout.
A squat is a movement we do all day, getting up and down from chairs, in and out of cars, and more. Practicing this move with good form will help you build strength in the hips, glutes, and thighs.
- Stand in front of a chair with feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Bend the knees. Send the hips back and the arms straight out in front of you to balance.
- Sit all the way down. As soon as you make contact with the chair, stand back up.
- Try to stand up without rocking back or using momentum. Instead, put the weight on your heels and push into the floor to stand up.
- Perform 12 reps.
- Easier: Place your hands on your thighs for support, or position your chair next to a rail if you need more support in standing up.
- Harder: Hold weights in your hands for added intensity.
Knee Lift With Med Ball
This move is great for working on upper body endurance as well as balance and stability.
- Hold a light weight or medicine ball (2 to 5 pounds) in both hands, straight up over your head.
- Lift the right knee up to waist level while bringing the arms down, touching the weight or the ball to the knee.
- Lower the right knee and take the ball all the way back up overhead.
- Now lift the left knee to hip level, bringing the ball down to the knee.
- Return to start and repeat, alternating sides.
- Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.
If you have back or knee problems, you may want to avoid the upper body portion of the move and just do the knee lifts.
- Easier: Use no weight, or hold the weight at chest level as you lift the knees.
- Harder: Speed the movement up, while still maintaining control of the weight and your body. Lift the knees as high as you can.
Side Leg Lift
This move improves your balance as well as strengthening both legs. The standing leg has to use more stabilizer muscles to keep you balanced, while you build strength in the hips and glutes with the lifting leg.
- Stand sideways to a chair or wall for support and wrap a resistance band around your ankles (optional). Or you can use light ankle weights (1 to 5 pounds).
- Shift the weight into the right leg and lift the left leg out to the side, foot flexed and hips, knees and feet in alignment and feet parallel.
- Try to lift the leg without tilting at the torso. Hold the torso upright as you lift the leg a few inches off the ground.
- Lower back down. Do 12 reps on each leg.
Lat Pull With Band
This move strengthens the lat muscles on either side of the back. You use these muscles for pulling movements like opening doors or picking things up.
- Stand or sit, holding a resistance band over your head with both hands. Your hands should be wider than shoulder-width so that there is tension on the band. You may need to adjust your hands to change the tension. Make sure your back is flat and your abs are engaged.
- Keep the left hand in place and contract the muscles on the right side of your back to pull the elbow down towards the rib cage.
- Press back up. Do 12 reps on the right side.
- Switch sides and do 12 reps on the left side.
This exercise strengthens your biceps, muscles that you use every day when you carry things, open doors, or pick things up.
- Stand with feet about hip-width apart and hold dumbbells in each hand (5 to 8 pounds for women, 8 to 15 pounds for men). Alternatively, you can use a kettlebell as shown.
- With your palms facing out, contract the biceps and curl the weight up towards your shoulder. Try not to move the elbow as you curl the weights up.
- Lower the weight back down, but keep a slight bend in the elbow at the bottom. Don’t swing the weight. Keep the elbows static as you curl the weights.
- Do 12 reps.
The triceps work hard every time you do any kind of pushing movement, so you want both sides of the arm to be strong and balanced.
- Sit or stand, holding a medicine ball or a weight in both hands (4 to 10 pounds for women, 8 to 15 pounds for men).
- Take the weight straight up overhead, with your arms straight and next to the ears.
- Slowly bend your elbows, taking the weight back behind the head until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle.
- Squeeze the arms to pull the weight back to start without locking the elbows.
- Do 12 reps, keeping the back straight and the abs in.
This move strengthens the abs as well as the lower back and glutes. If your knees hurt or you can’t kneel, try the move lying flat on the floor.
- Begin on your hands and knees with your back straight and the abs pulled in.
- Lift the right arm up until it is level with the body and, at the same time, lift the left leg up and straighten it until it is parallel to the floor.
- Hold for several seconds, lower and repeat on the other side, this time lifting the left arm and right leg.
- Continue alternating sides for 12 reps.
- Easier: Lift the arms and legs separately.
- Harder: Add ankle weights and/or hold a small weight in your hand while lifting the arm.
This move is great for the core as well as for balance and stability.
- Sit in a chair and place a ball in front of both feet. This can be any kind of small ball or even a large book or some other object if you don’t have a ball.
- Sit straight up. Try not to rest against the back of the chair. Keep your back straight and your abs contracted.
- Place your hands behind your head (optional). Lift your right foot and tap the top of the ball.
- Take it back down to the floor. Switch sides and do the same with your left foot.
- Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds, alternating each foot for all repetitions.
This exercise strengthens the muscles that support the knee. If you have knee problems or this bothers you, you might want to skip this exercise.
- You can do this exercise on a staircase with rails, or on a workout step if you have one.
- If you’re on a staircase, stand at the bottom step and step up with your right foot. Bring your left foot up onto the stair next to your right and then step it back down on the floor (hold onto a rail if you need to).
- Keep your right foot on the step the entire time as you step up and down with the left foot.
- Do 12 reps on that foot and then switch, keeping your left foot on the step as you step up with the right leg.
- Do 1 set of 12 reps on each leg.
This move works the back of the legs, muscles that also support the knees. You can also use ankle weights instead of a resistance band.
- Stand in front of a chair and hold onto it for balance if you need to.
- Loop a resistance band around your ankles (optional), keeping it looped under the standing foot.
- Bend your right knee, bringing your foot up behind you, kind of like you’re kicking your own butt.
- Keep the right knee pointing towards the floor and right next to your left knee.
- Slowly lower back down. Do 12 reps on each leg.
Push-ups work the upper body and this version allows you to gradually ease into push-ups using a wall rather than doing them on the floor.
- Stand a few feet away from a wall or stair rail and tilt slightly forward, back flat and abs in.
- Place the hands on the wall at chest level, wider than the shoulders.
- Pull the abs in. Keeping the back straight, bend elbows and lower body towards the wall until elbows are at 90-degree angles.
- Push back to start and repeat.
- The farther away from the wall you are, the harder the exercise. Make sure you don’t sag in the middle. Keep the abs tight and the back flat.
- Do 12 reps.
Chest Squeeze With Med Ball
This exercise strengthens the upper body, including the chest and arms.
- Sit on a chair, back straight and abs in.
- Hold a medicine ball or weight (4 to 6 pounds) at chest level.
- Hold the weight so that the elbows are bent and out to the sides and you’re putting even tension on the ball with both hands, squeezing the chest.
- Holding that tension, slowly push the ball straight out in front of you at chest level until the elbows are straight.
- Continue keeping tension on the ball. It should feel harder the farther out you go.
- Bend the elbows and pull the ball back to your chest.
- Do 12 reps.
This exercise works the shoulder muscles that you use every time you lift something or put something up on a shelf.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold weights in both hands at your sides (3 to 8 pounds for women, 5 to 12 pounds for men).
- Keeping a slight bend in the elbows and the wrists straight, lift the arms up to the sides.
- Stop at shoulder level with palms facing the floor.
- Lower back down. Do 12 reps.
Seated rotations work all of the muscles of the torso, including the abs and back.
- Sit tall on a chair and hold a medicine ball or weight (5 to 8 pounds for women, 8 to 15 pounds for men).
- Hold the weight at chest level, with shoulders relaxed and elbows out to the sides.
- Keeping the hips and knees facing forward, rotate the torso to the right as far as you comfortably can.
- Focus on squeezing the muscles around your waist.
- Rotate back to center and then to the left, keeping the movement slow and controlled.
- Continue alternating sides for 12 reps. One rep is a twist to both the right and left.
Safety Tips and Precautions
If you have any health conditions, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before you begin strength training so that you are aware of any individual precautions.
Start slow and give yourself plenty of breaks between exercises. Remember to breathe throughout the moves and back off if you experience any pain.
There are also some times when it’s important to take a break and check in with your healthcare provider before continuing with strength training. This includes:
- You feel ill and/or have a cold, flu, or infection with a fever
- You have a swollen or painful muscle or joint
- You experience significantly more fatigue than usual
- You feel dizzy or struggle to maintain your balance
As long as you communicate with your healthcare provider and take a break if something feels off, you should be able to use strength training to improve your health and reap its many benefits as you age.
Santanasto AJ, Goodpaster BH, Kritchevsky SB, et al. Body composition remodeling and mortality: The Health, Aging and Body Composition Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017;72(4):513-519. doi:10.1093/gerona/glw163
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Growing stronger: strength training for older adults.
Fetters KA. Everything you need to know about strength training. Silver Sneakers Fitness Program.
Orr R, Raymond J, Singh MF. Efficacy of progressive resistance training on balance performance in older adults. Sports Med. 2008;38(4):317-343. doi:10.2165/00007256-200838040-00004
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