It’s never too late to start working out, and in fact, there are many fantastic benefits of exercise for seniors.
While any type of exercise can be beneficial for your health, strength training for over 55-year-olds is particularly important.
We begin to lose muscle mass and bone density shortly after the age of 30, so it becomes increasingly important to strength train.
In this guide, we will discuss weight training for over 55 (or really any older adult!), including the benefits of strength training for seniors and the best strength training exercises for older adults.
We will cover:
- Can You Do Strength Training Over 55?
- 6 Benefits of Strength Training For Over 55-Year-Olds
- How to Strength Train Over 55
- The Best Strength Training Exercises For Over 55-Year-Olds
Let’s jump in.
Can You Do Strength Training Over 55?
If you’re an older adult who hasn’t been working out consistently, you might wonder if you can do strength training over 55.
The good news is yes; you can absolutely lift weights over 55. Better yet, you should be strength training over 55.
However, while there are many benefits to weight training for over 55-year-olds, there can also be a few challenges of getting started working out after age 50 or 55, especially if you have current medical conditions or a history of hip, knee, back, or joint pain.
Men over the age of 40 and women over 50 should consult with their healthcare provider before starting strength training or other forms of exercise.
Depending on your experience level and current pain or mobility impairments, you may also find it helpful to work with a personal trainer or physical therapist for a couple of sessions to instruct you on how to modify strength training exercises to accommodate stiff joints or chronic injuries and improve your function.
6 Benefits of Strength Training For Over 55-Year-Olds
There are many benefits of strength training that can be gleaned at any age, whether you’re 20, 40, or strength training over 55.
For example, research has found that strength training increases muscle strength, boosts metabolism, and improves balance.
Moreover, there are benefits that are especially pertinent to strength training for over 55-year-olds, including the following:
#1: Strength Training for Over 55-Year-Olds Can Reduce Muscle Loss
Although cardio, or aerobic, exercises such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, hiking, and swimming, are important for your cardiovascular health and function as well as your general health, strength training is necessary to attenuate the losses of muscle mass, bone density, and muscular strength that can otherwise accompany the aging process.
Although these declines were once considered an inevitable part of getting older, strength training has been shown to not only slow the losses of muscle mass, strength, and bone density but also potentially even reverse them.
For example, studies have demonstrated that strength training can indeed be an effective means of counteracting sarcopenia (muscle loss) and frailty in older adults.
For example, one study investigated the effects of a 10-week strength training program on 100 adults with a mean age of 87 years old (range 72-98 years).
In this group of seniors, muscle strength increased by an average of 113% compared to 3% in the non-exercising control group. Walking speed increased by 12% and stair climbing power increased by 28%, whereas walking speed decreased by 1% in non-exercisers.
In terms of muscle building and muscle loss, seniors who did the strength training program saw an average increase in cross-sectional quad muscle area by nearly 3%, while it declined by 2% in non-exercisers.
These results suggest that strength training for over 55-year-olds (even at nearly 90 years old) can have significant improvements in strength, function, and muscle mass.
#2: Strength Training for Older Adults Can Reduce Signs of Aging
There is also evidence suggesting that strength training can reduce signs of aging at the cellular level.
Studies investigating the effects of strength training for older adults have found that even though seniors show signs of mitochondrial impairment and muscle weakness, these losses can be partially reversed at the transcriptome level of the genes with resistance exercise training.
These genetic reversals lead to functional improvements in strength.
For example, in this above-referenced study, the older adults were 59% weaker than the young adults at baseline, but after six months of resistance training, the strength deficit was decreased to only 38%.
#3: Strength Training For Over 55-Year-Olds Can Improve Balance and Physical Function
Although we all know that getting consistent aerobic exercise is important for overall health, older adults who have been inactive for a while might lack the strength, stability, and balance to walk or do some form of cardio safely.
Worse yet, research has shown that adults over 55 who are sedentary are at an increased risk of falls because of low muscle strength, limited flexibility, and poor balance.
The good news is that strength training can help improve balance, stability, coordination, and strength so that you can enjoy other forms of exercise without worrying about falling or being too unsteady.
If you begin your exercise with several weeks of strength training 2-3 times per week, you can create a foundation of fitness that gives you the function you need to handle more dynamic forms of exercise as well as activities of daily living like climbing stairs, obtaining things on a high shelf, getting in and out of a chair or bed, and walking.
#4: Strength Training For Over 55-Year-Olds Increases Bone Density
Research shows that strength training increases bone density, which is important for older adults because not only does bone density decline with age, but so does the risk of falls and, thus, the risk of fractures.
There are two different ways in which strength training signals the bones to adapt and increase their mineralization and cellular content.
Being under the load or resistance itself stimulates the bones, as does the fact that as your muscles get stronger as a result of strength training, they are able to pull more forcefully on the bones when they contract. This increased stress also stimulates the deposition of more minerals to strengthen the structure of your bones.
#5: Strength Training For Over 55-Year-Olds Can Increase Metabolic Rate
Many older adults find that they either start to put on weight easily because their metabolism slows down or they struggle to have much of an appetite. Strength training can help with both of these problems.
Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat, so building muscle or preventing muscle loss, can improve your body composition and help you burn more calories throughout the day.
You might also feel hungrier, which can make eating feel more appealing.
#6: Strength Training For Over 55-Year-Olds Can Increase Self-Esteem and Confidence
Strength training can increase your confidence and self-efficacy in your independence, which can go a long way toward feeling happy and youthful.
How to Strength Train Over 55
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, older adults should aim to perform 2-3 strength training workouts per week, focusing on working all of the major muscle groups in the legs, arms, shoulders, chest, back, and abs during these workouts.
Like younger adults, when you’re strength training over 55, you will want to use a weight that’s heavy enough that you reach complete fatigue by 12-15 reps.
To build strength and preserve your muscle mass, the goal should be to complete about 10-12 reps per set of a given exercise, but the weight needs to be heavy enough that your muscles are very fatigued at the end of the set.
The exception is when you are learning how to perform the exercises as a beginner.
During the learning process and as you build the neuromuscular recruitment patterns and coordination needed for strength training, use light weights that you can handle comfortably so that you can focus solely on your form and execution rather than handling challenging weights.
Once you get comfortable and confident in your technique, you can gradually increase the weight you use.
Again, strive to use a resistance that feels maximally challenging for 10-12 reps. Once you are able to do 15 reps, increase the weight.
Lift slowly and use your muscles—rather than gravity or momentum—to raise and lower the weight.
The Best Strength Training Exercises for Over 55-Year-Olds
Strength training programs for seniors should include compound, multi-joint exercises that build strength, as well as unilateral exercises that improve balance and help correct muscle imbalances and functional deficits.
It’s also very important to strengthen the core and back to improve posture, balance, stability, breathing mechanics, and movement efficiency.
It would be short-sighted to claim that there’s a definitive list of the best strength training exercises for over 55-year-olds.
The best exercises for you depend on your fitness level, goals, physical limitations, and needs.
With that said, here are some of our favorite strength training exercises for seniors:
- Lower-Body Exercises: Squats, Step-ups, Lunges, Lateral Lunges, Deadlifts, Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts, Glute bridges, Clam Shells, Side-Leg Raises, Banded Side Steps, Hamstring Curls, Calf Raises, Single-Leg Balance
- Back Exercises: Assisted Pull-Ups, Rows, Superman, Reverse Fly, Prone Y’s and T’s
- Chest Exercises: Push-Ups (against a wall or on the knees if necessary), Chest Press, Chest Fly
- Arms Exercises: Shoulder Presses, Bicep Curls, Tricep Dips, Tricep Extensions, Forward and Lateral Raises
- Core Exercises: Planks, Pallof Press, Russian twist, Bird-dog, Dead bug, Reverse Crunches, Chops, Stability Ball Crunches, V-Ups
For best results, pick 8-12 exercises per workout, choosing a smattering that targets all of the major muscle groups.
Vary the exercises you do to keep your routine fresh and effective and have fun!
For a complete list of compound exercises, check out our guide here.