Total Body Strength Workout for Seniors

While everyone can benefit from lifting weights, older adults can reap even more benefits, giving you a stronger, healthier body. Having a strong body helps you avoid injuries, falls, pain, and other issues associated with getting older.

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.

Getting Started

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 doctor before trying this workout if you have any pain, injuries or other conditions you're dealing with. Take your time with the moves and only add weights or resistance when you feel comfortable with the exercises. 

Equipment Needed

Various weighted dumbbells, an exercise ball, a resistance band a medicine ball, a chair and a step or staircase.

How to Do the Total Body Strength Workout

  • Begin with a 5 to 10 minute warm-up of light cardio (walking in place, etc.).
  • Perform each exercise as shown for 1 set, using no weight or light weights to get used to the exercises. Weights are suggested for each exercise but modify them according to your fitness level and goals. Focus on form at first. It's better to go light on the weights in the beginner.
  • To progress, add a set each week until you're doing a total of 3 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.

Chair Squat

Pulsing Chair Squats
Ben Goldstein

A squat is a movement we do all day, getting up and down from chairs, in and out of our cars and more. Practicing this move with good form will help you build strength in the hips, glutes, and thighs.

  1. Stand in front of a chair with feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend the knees. Send the hips back and the arms straight out in front of you to balance.
  3. Sit all the way down and, as soon as you make contact with the chair, stand back up.
  4. 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.
  5. Repeat for 12 reps.

Modifications

  • Easier: You can also place your hands on your thighs for support or sit next to a rail if you need more support in standing up.
  • Harder: Hold weights in your hands for added intensity.

Knee Lifts with a Med Ball

Knee Lifts with a Medicine Ball
Ben Goldstein

This move is great for working on upper body endurance as well as balance and stability.

  1. Hold a light weight or medicine ball (2 to 5 pounds) in both hands, straight up over your head.
  2. Lift the right knee up to waist level while bringing the arms down, touching the weight or the ball to the knee.
  3. Lower the right knee and take the ball all the way up.
  4. Now lift the left knee to hip level, bringing the ball down to the knee.
  5. Return to start and repeat, alternating sides.
  6. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.

Modifications:

  • Harder: You can add intensity by speeding the movement up, while still maintaining control of the weight and your body. and lifting the knees as high as you can.
  • Easier: You can also use no weight at all or just hold the weight at chest level as you lift the knees.
  • 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.

Side Leg Lifts

Leg Lifts
Ben Goldstein

This move improves your balance as well as strengthening both legs. The standing leg has to use more stabilizer muscles to keep your body stable and the lifting leg helps you build strength in the hips and glutes.

You can use a resistance band around the ankles for more intensity or do it without any resistance.

  1. Stand sideways to a chair or wall for support and tie a resistance band around your ankles (optional). You can also use light ankle weights as well, 1 to 5 pounds.
  2. 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. The toes should be facing the front of the room.
  3. 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.
  4. Lower back down and repeat for 12 reps on each leg.

Lat Pulls With Bands

Ben Goldstein

This move strengthens the lat muscles on either side of the back that you use every day for pulling movements like opening doors or picking things up.

  1. Stand or sit holding a resistance band in both hands up over your head.
  2. 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.
  3. Make sure you back is flat and your abs are engaged.
  4. 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.
  5. Press back up and repeat for 12 reps on the right side.
  6. Switch sides and do 12 reps on the left side.

Bicep Curls

kettlebell curl

This exercise strengthens your biceps, muscles that you use every day when you carry things, open doors, or pick things up.

  1. Stand with feet about hip-width apart and hold dumbbells in each hand. Suggest weight: 5 to 8 pounds for women, 8 to 15 pounds for men. Alternatively, you can use a kettlebell as shown.
  2. 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.
  3. Lower the weight back down, but keep a slight bend in the elbow at the bottom. Don't swing the weight and keep the elbows static as you curl the weights.
  4. Repeat for 12 reps.

Tricep Extension

Medicine Ball Triceps Extension
Ben Goldstein

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.

  1. Sit or stand and hold a medicine ball or weight in both hands. Suggested weight: 4 to 10 pounds for women, 8 to 15 pounds for men.
  2. Take the weight straight up overhead, with your arms straight and next to the ears.
  3. Slowly bend your elbows, taking the weight back behind the head until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle.
  4. Squeeze the arms to pull the weight back to start without locking the elbows.
  5. Repeat for 12 reps, keeping the back straight and the abs in.

Bird Dog

superhuman core
Ben Goldstein

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 and just lifting the opposite arm and leg.

  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your back straight and the abs pulled in.
  2. 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.
  3. Hold for several seconds, lower and repeat on the other side, this time lifting the left arm and right leg.
  4. Continue alternating sides for 12 reps.

If you feel shaky, start with just the arms and legs separately until you feel more comfortable. 

Ball Taps

This move is great for the core as well as for balance and stability.

  1. Sit in a chair and place a ball front of both feet. This can be any kind of small ball or even a phone book or some other object if you don't have a ball.
  2. Sit straight up and try not to rest against the back of the chair, keeping your back straight and your abs contracted.
  3. Start with your hands behind your head (optional) and lift your right foot and tap the top of the ball.
  4. Take it back down to the floor. Switch sides and do the same with your left foot, alternating each foot for all repetitions.
  5. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Step Ups

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.

  1. You can do this exercise on a staircase with rails or on a step if you have one.
  2. 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 back down on the floor (hold onto a rail if you need to).
  3. Keep your right foot on the step the entire time as you step up and down with the left foot.
  4. Do 12 reps on that foot and then switch, keeping your left foot on the step as you step up with the right leg.
  5. Repeat for 1 set of 12 reps on each leg.

Hamstring Curls

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.

  1. Stand in front of a chair and hold onto it for balance if you need to.
  2. Loop a resistance band around your ankles (optional), keeping it looped under the standing foot. 
  3. Bend your right knee, bringing your foot up behind you, kind of like you're kicking your own butt.
  4. Keep the right knee pointing towards the floor and right next to your left knee.
  5. Slowly lower back down and repeat for 12 reps on each leg.

Wall Push Up

Pushups work the upper body and this version allows you to gradually ease into pushups using a wall rather than doing them on the floor.

  1. Stand a few feet away from a wall or stair rail tilt forward, back flat and abs in.
  2. Place the hands on the wall at chest level, wider than the shoulders.
  3. Pull the abs in and, keeping back straight, bend elbows and lower body towards the wall until elbows are at 90-degree angles.
  4. Push back to start and repeat.
  5. 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.
  6. Repeat for 12 reps.

Chest Squeeze with Med Ball

This exercise strengthens the upper body, including the chest and arms.

  1. Sit on a chair, back straight and abs in.
  2. Hold a medicine ball or weight at chest level. Suggested weight: 4 to 6 pounds.
  3. 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.
  4. Holding that tension, slowly push the ball straight out in front of you at chest level until the elbows are straight.
  5. Continue keeping tension on the ball. It should feel harder the farther out you go.
  6. Bend the elbows and pull the ball back to chest.
  7. Repeat for 12 reps.

Lateral Raises

This exercise works the shoulder muscles that you use every time you lift something or put something on a shelf.

  1. Stand with the feet hip-width apart and hold weights in both hands at your sides. Suggested weight: 3 to 8 pounds for women, 5 to 12 pounds for men.
  2. Keeping a slight bend in the elbows and the wrists straight, lift the arms up to the sides.
  3. Stop at shoulder level with your palms facing the floor.
  4. Lower back down and repeat for 12 reps.

Seated Rotations

Seated rotations work all the muscles of the torso, including the abs and back.

  1. Sit tall on a chair and hold weight or a medicine ball. Suggested weight: 5 to 8 pounds for women, 8 to 15 pounds for men.
  2. Hold the weight at chest level, with shoulders relaxed and elbows out to the sides.
  3. Keeping the hips and knees facing forward, rotate the torso to the right as far as you comfortably can.
  4. Focus on squeezing the muscles around your waist.
  5. Rotate back to center and then to the left, keeping the movement slow and controlled.
  6. Continue alternating sides for 12 reps. One rep is to the right and left.

Source:

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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