Senior Health

1/27/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

When you hear the words “strength training,” clanging barbells, sweaty bodies and bulging muscles probably come to mind. You’re too old for pumping iron, right?

Strength Training for Seniors: You Need It Now More Than Ever

The fact of the matter is after the age of 30, you lose muscle mass at a rate of up to 5 percent per decade. Your biceps start to sag, and your belly turns to jelly. Lifting that container of kitty litter, which used to be relatively easy to heave out of your trunk, becomes a mammoth effort. Your bones also lose density, and both your mobility and balance begin to decline.

Strength training can help slow this decline and even start to reverse it. And those aren’t even the only benefits of strength training for seniors! In a 2019 study from Finland, participants ages 65 to 75 showed improved health markers with reduced inflammation, plus lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels after only weekly strength training sessions for six months.

But You’re Not a Bodybuilder …

The good news is, strength training for seniors isn’t just about pumping iron. In simple terms, it means working out your muscles against an opposing force. Sure, that opposing force can be a barbell or a free weight, but it can also be a resistance band (if you’ve ever been to physical therapy, you’ve probably used one of those!) or just your own body weight.

In fact, fitness professionals say using your own body weight as resistance is the best place to start a strength training program. By launching your regimen with exercises like squats, lunges, wall pushups, and hip bridges, you’ll learn proper form and build a good foundation before incorporating weights into the mix.

How to Begin Resistance Training as You Get Older

Taking the First Steps

Before diving in, always gain the approval of your physician if you have any medical limitations. A fitness trainer can also be very valuable to ensure you’re doing the right exercises as well as doing them properly (if you don’t feel safe going back into a gym or having someone come to your home, many trainers work virtually).

In the beginning of strength training for seniors, it’s important not to overdo it. Start slow and easy, three to four times a week on alternating days. You can gradually ramp up your workout by adding reps, slowing down the tempo of those reps, widening or narrowing your stance or using a single arm or leg to bear your weight.

When you can pretty easily do three sets of 10 to 15 reps using our body weight, you’re probably ready for more resistance, such as a band or free weights. (But before you move to this level, be sure you have proper supervision.) With consistency and diligence, you’ll feel stronger and have better balance and mobility in no time!

Check out these 12 body weight strength training exercises.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide. She also writes for many other local magazines and publications.

Terri L. Jones