As you get older, you might find it more challenging to perform day-to-day activities like walking up the stairs, carrying groceries, or bending over to tie your shoes. Muscles tend to weaken with age both as a natural part of aging and because you’re not using them in the same ways you once did. For this reason, anyone over age 50 should think about starting a weightlifting routine.
Weightlifting helps improve your agility and balance, and even helps to prevent fractures. When your agility and sense of balance are improved, you’re less likely to suffer from a nasty fall.
Weightlifting also strengthens your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and helps build up bone mass. Building up bone mass, especially in the spine and hips, is important for people with osteoporosis. This condition can develop and worsen with age.
If you’re a beginner, start your exercise program with light weights and gradually increase as you get stronger. Perform these exercises a few times a week for a total body strength training workout.
1. Leg Press
Declining leg strength is common for seniors. It’s a powerful predictor of future disabilities like the inability to walk or even get out of a chair. Your legs are the foundation of your body, so it’s important to keep them strong and moving.
Equipment needed: leg press machine
Muscles worked: quadriceps, calves, glutes, and hamstrings
- Sit down in the leg press machine and place your feet on the platform. They should be shoulder-width apart. Your knees should form a 90-degree angle and be in line with your ankles. From the side, you should look like you’re in a squat position. You may have to adjust the seat or platform accordingly.
- Exhale. Drive through your heels and push the platform away from you until your legs are fully extended in front of you, leaving your knees slightly bent. Make sure you don’t lock out your knees.
- Inhale. Slowly release tension on the platform and return to your starting position. It should take you twice as long to return to your starting position as it did to push the platform away. Slowing down on the return forces your muscles to work harder.
- Perform 15 reps for 4 sets, adding weight when you can.
2. Reverse Flyes
This exercise helps with posture and opening up the chest. This can combat any signs of rounding in the shoulders that occurs over time.
Equipment needed: reverse fly machine
Muscles worked: shoulders and middle back
Note: You can also use two dumbbells or a seated cable pulley machine to perform this exercise.
- Select an appropriate amount of weight and adjust the handles so they are on the notch farthest away from you. This move requires a full range of motion, so the handles need to be at that particular notch.
- Sit down with your chest against the pad and both feet flat on the floor. Keep both of your knees in a 90-degree angle. If you feel squished or like you’re straining to reach the floor, adjust the seat accordingly. Lean your chest in toward the pad with your core engaged. Keep your back straight with your shoulders relaxed and pulled down away from your ears. Grasp onto each handle with your palms facing down toward the floor. This is your starting position.
- Exhale and bend your elbows slightly to about 20 degrees. Push the arms of the machine out to the side until your arms and shoulders form a “T” figure with your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you reach this ending position. Hold for 1 count.
- Inhale and slowly release the tension in the arms of the machine and return back to your starting position.
- Perform 12 repetitions for 3 to 4 sets, increasing the weight when you can.
3. Tricep Cable Pull-Down
Equipment needed: high cable pulley machine and rope attachment
Muscles worked: triceps
- Attach a rope to the high cable pulley machine and select an appropriate amount of weight. Grab the rope with both palms facing in toward each other, about 3 inches above the rope knots.
- Stand facing the cable machine with your core engaged. Keep your feet in a staggered stance with 1 foot in front of the other. Pull the rope down so your palms are at chest height and your forearms are perpendicular to the floor. Keep your elbows glued to the sides of your ribcage. Keep your shoulders pulled back throughout the entire exercise. This is your starting position.
- Exhale and using your triceps, pull the rope down until your palms reach outside your hips. Your upper arms should remain stationary while performing this exercise; only your forearms should move. Hold this position for 1 count.
- Inhale and slowly release the tension in the rope to return to your starting position.
- Perform 15 repetitions for 5 sets.
4. Seated Row
Rowing is a very functional movement. Anytime you pick something up off the floor, you’re technically lifting it up into your chest in a row-like movement. This exercise targets your middle back and shoulders in those hard to reach places.
Equipment needed: seated row machine
Muscles worked: middle back, lats, shoulders, and biceps
Note: If your gym doesn’t have a seated row machine, you can perform this exercise using two dumbbells.
- Sit down facing the pad of the seated row machine and select an appropriate amount of weight. Your chest should be comfortably pushed up against the pad with both of your legs at a 90-degree angle. If you feel squished or like you’re struggling to reach the floor, adjust the seat accordingly. Engage your core to sit upright and grab the handles with a neutral grip. Your palms should be facing in toward each other. This is your starting position.
- Exhale and pull the arms of the handles in toward you, keeping your elbows tight into your rib cage. End when you can’t row any further and your palms are in line with your chest. When you’ve reached this position, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 1 count.
- Inhale, slowly reverse this movement, and come back to your starting position.
- Perform 12 repetitions for 3 to 4 sets, adding weight when you can.
5. Chest Press
Equipment needed: leverage chest press machine
Muscles worked: chest, shoulders, and triceps
Sit down on the chest press machine with your back glued against the pad, with no space in between. The handles should be in line with the middle of your pectorals. If they don’t line up, adjust the seat accordingly.
- Keep your head facing forward and your shoulder blades down and back. Place your heels flat on the floor with your core engaged. This is your starting position.
- Exhale. In one motion, push the handles away from you, extending through the elbows. Don’t let your back or shoulders lift up off the pad. Hold this position for 1 count.
- Inhale. Slowly bring the handles back to your starting position without letting the weight slam down. You want to keep tension in your muscles at all times.
- Perform 12 repetitions for 4 sets, upping the weight when you can.
6. Shoulder Press
Equipment needed: a dumbbell or two free weights in each hand
Muscles worked: triceps, trapezius, and rhomboids
- Depending on comfort level, sit or stand with a straight spine and with your feet shoulder-width apart and your core tight. With elbows bent, hold your chosen weight or weights with elbows at shoulder level and palms facing forward.
- As you exhale, begin pressing the weight overhead, keeping your head back and spine straight. Make sure you are keeping your wrists rotated so that the palms of your hands face forward.
- Pause for a count at the top with your muscle contracted.
- Slowly and with good control, exhale as you lower the weights down to the starting position.
- Complete 12 repetitions for 3 sets.
7. Bicep Curl
Equipment needed: a free weight in each hand, or a dumbbell held by both hands in front of you
Muscles worked: biceps
- Sit or stand with your back straight and core tight. Feet should be shoulder-width apart. Hold your chosen weights down with your arms straight. Palms should be rotated to face forward.
- As you exhale, bring your palms up, bending your elbow as you bring the weights up, but keeping stationary. Track the weights toward your shoulders and feel your biceps contract.
- Pause for a count at the top, with your muscle contracted.
- Slowly and with good control, exhale as you lower your weights back down to the starting position.
- Complete 12 repetitions for 3 sets.
Strength training is important for people of all ages. But as you get older, it’s especially important to keep your muscles strong so you can continue to perform daily activities without obstacles.