Elderly Strength Training: 10 Exercises Safe for Seniors

Elderly people working out.

We all want independence. As we get older and our bodies change, we begin to depend on others more and more. It is inevitable that as older adults we will begin to lose muscle mass, and thus strength. However, with a consistent weight training program, this process of muscle loss can be delayed. With strength training, you can maintain bone density and improve your balance, coordination, and mobility. There is also a reduction in the risk of falling, one of the greatest dangers for elderly people. Besides all of these rewarding benefits of muscle strength, you will just feel happier and healthy having the freedom to perform all your favorite daily life activities.

Getting Started

So you’ve decided to make a change in your life and get active! Congratulations! Or perhaps you are a caregiver looking for some tips for your client’s strength program. Either way, before getting started, make sure to talk to a doctor to determine what exercises are best for you or your client. Keep in mind any injuries or illnesses that may affect the ability to strength train. Weightlifting can also be responsible for a temporary increase in blood pressure, especially if you are lifting more weight than is comfortable for you. Keep this in mind when starting. If you do it right, weightlifting will end up having a positive effect on your blood pressure.

A new exercise program goes hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle. This includes a healthy diet full of protein that helps muscles grow stronger. Limit alcohol and smoking to see improved results. And get good rest to allow your muscles to properly relax. It is important that through this process of building muscle that you listen to your body. Every day will be different. You may feel more soreness some days than others. Pay attention to any pains that come up and stop immediately if so. Do not exercise again until you no longer feel the pain. Ease into the process. It takes time, but it is so worth it! If you need help getting motivated, think about hiring a personal trainer to challenge you, and ensure good form. They will know what exercises that will suit you best and can tailor the workout to your exact needs. 

Warm-Up

Warming up is imperative before physical activity, regardless of the duration or intensity of the workout. Incorporating a warm-up will slowly raise your heart rate without putting too much stress on your heart. It will also help supply oxygen to your muscles. Aim for about 5 minutes of warm-up time. Focus on the areas that you will be working out that day. Some examples of warm-ups would be shoulder rolls, toe touches, ankle circles, and marching in place. Now that we’re all ready to go, here are the exercises!

Seniors can decide to train with or without a trainer, through having a trainer is always a smart move.

Seniors Weight Training Exercises

We have compiled a list of the best exercises that focus on full-body strength training. These exercises are especially helpful for older people as they focus on safety and easy movements. If done regularly, you will see an improvement in strength, flexibility, balance, and range of motion. Try starting at 2 days a week at a low-intensity, and steadily increasing the amount of regular exercise as you begin to feel stronger. You can work up to 3 to 4 times a week. We have included both bodyweight exercises and free weight exercises. We recommend starting with bodyweight exercises so as not to strain your muscles too much. When you start to feel more comfortable, you can incorporate dumbbells, resistance bands, and medicine balls. Conversely, if you aren’t comfortable with the resistance training exercises that incorporate weightlifting, feel free to leave the weights out. Pay attention to your body and what it can and can’t handle. We hope you enjoy these exercises and feel proud of yourself as you see your body grow healthier, happier, and stronger!

1. Squats

This is one of the most important exercises for seniors, if not the most important. Being able to squat means you will be able to get up from a chair, get out of bed, lift something from the ground, and get out of a car. Squats are critical for building a strong foundation in your lower body. This strength will also carry over to supporting the rest of your strength exercises. This exercise targets your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. You may do squats holding onto a table or a wall if you are unable to maintain balance.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width to shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointing forward. Look forward, keep your heels planted, and raise your chest as you lower your hips backward. Make sure your knees hover above your ankles and are not caving inward. Raise your arms in front of you to keep balanced. Squat back as far as you can comfortably and hold for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Push through your heels and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times, or as many as you can do. 
  • Easier: If you have issues with your knees, you can try making the squats easier. Sit in a chair and keep your feet flat on the floor.  Keep your chest raised and your knees out as you push off the chair a few inches or as far as is comfortable for you. Return to sitting and repeat. 
  • Harder: You can increase the intensity by doing more of them, slowing the movement down, or adding weights. You can do squats while holding a dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball. 

2. Lunges

These are especially important for the strengthening of your quads, glutes, and hips. Doing lunges will keep you stable for standing and walking. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips.

  • Step forward with your right foot flat on the floor while keeping your torso straight. Step as far as is comfortable for you.
  • Return right foot to starting position.
  • Switch to your left foot.
  • Repeat 10 times or as many times as are comfortable for you.
  • Easier: Hold onto a chair or railing for balance.
  • Harder: You can add a 2 to 5-pound weight in each hand for extra resistance

3. Wall Push-Ups

This variation of regular push-ups is much more convenient for seniors. You don’t have to get on the floor and struggle to get back up afterward! The exercise focuses on upper body strength, particularly the arms and chest.

  • Stand about 2 feet in front of a sturdy wall, or as close as is comfortable for you.
  • Place your hands against the walls directly in front of your shoulders.
  • Keep your body straight and bend your elbows. Keep your elbows close to your sides as you bend them, as opposed to sticking out.
  • Stop as your face approaches the wall and push back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times or as many times as are comfortable for you.

4. Step-Ups

This is an important leg strengthening exercise as it focuses on one very important skill: stepping up. Being unable to climb stairs seriously limits places you can go. This balance exercise will help build your glutes and quadriceps so you can climb stairs and step over things. For an extra challenge, add 2 to 5-pound ankle weights to each foot.

  • Stand up straight at the bottom of the stairs. Hold onto the railing for support.
  • Slowly step up with your right foot, firmly planting it fully on the step.
  • Follow with your left foot.
  • Slowly step back down with your right foot, then with your left.
  • Repeat 10 times or as many times as is comfortable for you.
  • Slowly step back down with your right leg, then with your left. 

5. Seated Bicycle Crunches

Doing bicycle crunches are a good way to work the abs to develop core strength. We recommend doing them seated so seniors can avoid having to get up and down off the floor.

  • Sit in a firm chair with your feet planted flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing out. 
  • Twist at your core as you raise your left knee to meet your right elbow. 
  • Untwist and return to the starting position. Do not be discouraged if you are not able to join your elbow and knee immediately. It takes time and practice to build your muscles. Keep practicing!
  • Switch sides, raising your right knee to your left elbow. 
  • Repeat 10 times for each side, or as many times as is comfortable for you.

6. Overhead Press and Shoulder Press

This is a dumbbell exercise that can be a good challenge for seniors. It targets the shoulder muscles and helps stabilize and strengthen your back and arms. This will increase your ability to lift things or reach over your head. We recommend starting with a one-pound weight, or no weight at all. You must ease into it slowly so as not to injure yourself. Pay attention to what feels right for you. You can perform the overhead press either standing or sitting. We recommend sitting so as not to strain your back.

  • Sitting in a chair with your chest high, keep your feet flat on the ground while shoulder-width apart. Hold your weights at chest level with your palms facing forward.
  • Raise your arms overhead till fully extended. 
  • Lower your arms to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times or as many times as is comfortable for you.
Bicep curls are great for the arms and can be done almost anywhere.

7. Bicep Curls

This is an important dumbbell exercise for strengthening the biceps. You use your biceps every day to lift, reach, open, and carry things. They are essential for maintaining your independence. We recommend sitting in a chair while doing this exercise so as not to strain your back. Do not do this exercise if you have elbow pain.

  • Sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, hold the dumbbell in one hand down close at your side. Your shoulders should be straight and your palm should be facing inward, towards you.
  • Lift the weight toward your shoulder as you rotate your palm to face up.
  • Return the weight to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times or as many times as is comfortable for you.
  • Switch to the other arm.

8. Triceps Extension

This is another dumbbell exercise that works great for arm strength. The triceps muscle group is located in the back of your upper arm and helps you move your shoulders and elbows. You will see an improvement in your stability and flexibility of these areas, plus an increased range of motion. We again recommend to first try this exercise in a chair so as not to strain your back. Do not do this exercise if you have elbow pain.

  • Sit with your back straight in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Lift your right hand with the dumbbell in it behind your head, next to the ear. Place your left hand on your right elbow, supporting it. 
  • Straighten your right arm while extending your right hand toward the ceiling. Keep your elbow supported.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times or as many times as is comfortable for you.
  • Switch sides, and try with your left arm. 

9. Front Shoulder Raises

Another great dumbbell exercise for your shoulders and back are front raises. You can use dumbbells, a resistance band, or a medicine ball. We recommend sitting in a chair for this exercise, to protect your lower back and shoulders from injury. Do not do this exercise if you have any elbow pain. 

  • Sit up straight in a chair with your hips as far back as possible. Make sure your shoulders and chest are raised and feet are flat on the floor. 
  • If using dumbbells, let your arms hang to the sides with the palms facing inward toward your body. 
  • If using a resistance band, slide it under the seat, or sit on it until it has equal length on both sides. Holding each side of the band in each hand, hang your arms to the side with your palms facing inward toward your body.
  • If using a medicine ball, rest it on your knees while holding onto it from both sides.
  • Keep your arms straight as you raise the weight level with your shoulders. They should be parallel to the floor. Also, make sure not to turn your palms in any direction other than inwards. 
  • Slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times, or as many times as is comfortable for you.

10. Bent-Over Rows

This dumbbell exercise is great for the back, shoulders, arms, and core. You mustn’t do this exercise if you have pain in any of these areas, most especially including back pain and elbow pain. Good posture for bent-over rows is imperative to prevent any injuries. Make sure to keep your back straight in the following exercise.

  • Stand behind a sturdy chair with your right hand resting on it. Take one step back from the chair and hinge at the hips as you bend over, with your back straight. Your knees should be slightly bent and your left hand will hang straight at your side, holding a dumbbell. 
  • Pull the dumbbell up as you bend at the left elbow, raising it till it is level with your shoulder. 
  • Slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times or as many times as is comfortable for you.
  • Switch the dumbbell to the right hand and continue on the other side. 

Well-Balanced Workout

Compliment your strength training exercises with some cardio to get a full workout. Take a walk around the neighborhood to get your heart rate up and combat heart disease. Not only will it get your muscles moving, but you can also enjoy the sunshine, nature, and neighbors. Keeping as active as you can means you can keep active for longer, so try to incorporate some type of movement into your day every day. This can also include yoga or tai chi. Both are great for balance and flexibility, which in turn will positively affect your strength exercises. Not only that, but they also promote a meditative quality of the mind that will calm and soothe you. 

Rest and Take Care of Yourself

As much as we are advocates for movement, we know that rest is also important for your well-being. We urge you to listen to your body every day. Take time off when you are sore or in pain. Do a cool down to gradually recover your blood pressure and heart rate. Overtraining is a common problem and leads to injury. The point of weight training for seniors is to help you, not to hurt you. Take care of yourself. We hope that you have learned a few tips and exercises to get you started on your senior’s weight training. We are confident that following the information here will greatly improve your quality of life and that of your loved one/client. Be patient and persistent. You will see the results. For more information, check out this helpful pamphlet on strength training for older adults from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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