Strength Training For Older Adults

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Strength Training For Older Adults

Put yourself in the position of a typical older adult, say a 55-year-old male or female who has been physically inactive and has added 30 pounds (14 kg) of fat. You have been on several diets, but none has produced a permanent reduction in bodyweight. Also, you have tried walking, but your exercise schedule has been inconsistent and your body composition has remained essentially the same. Furthermore, you have read about the benefits of strength training but you’re not fully convinced that it would be beneficial to you, and you’ve heard that it may raise your blood pressure.

You’re not very athletic, and you’ve never even tried to lift weights. You’re concerned about looking uncoordinated or experiencing an injury; and you’re wondering whether the benefits of weight training are really worth the time and effort.

Unless someone clearly explains why you should undertake a strength training program and carefully shows you how to perform the exercises, chances are that you will not attempt this unfamiliar physical activity. A fitness professional who has expertise in strength training for older adults can play a vital role in helping you and the glowing number of older adults get on track with respect to improving musculoskeletal fitness. In fact, research shows that strength training for older adults has many health and fitness applications beyond building stronger muscles.

At what age should adults stop weight training?

The short answer is: Never! Humans should not use age as an excuse to stop weight training. Some physicians advise older adults to stop weight training because of medical problems, but as long as a person has no medical reason to quit, there is no reason to stop weight training at any certain age. Weight training programs, however, do have to be modified with age.

The purpose of this post is to present the beneficial effects of strength training for older adults—including replacing muscle, reducing fat, increasing metabolic rate, decreasing low-back discomfort, relieving arthritic pain, minimizing osteoporosis, enhancing glucose utilization, speeding up gastrointestinal transit, lowering resting blood pressure, improving blood lipid levels, and improving postcoronary performance, as well as boosting sell-confidence and beating depression.

weight training for older people

Rapid decline in physical performance

Sometime in their 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s, most older adults undergo a more rapid decline in physical performance. How much of this decline is a result of the decrease in physical activity that often accompanies retirement or how much relates to a person’s deciding that it is time to get old and to act old is difficult to determine.

In either case, older adults must maintain their muscular system if they wish to retain their freedom and mobility. Therefore, older adults should participate in strength training as long as possible.

Benefits of strength training for older adults

Research indicates that older adults may experience many health-related benefits from a sensible program of strength exercise that is performed at a relatively high effort level. Some of the possible benefits include the following:

  • Better body composition, with up to 4 pounds (1.8 kg) more lean weight and 4 pounds less fat weight after 2 months of regular strength training.
  • Increased metabolic rate of up to 7 percent higher resting metabolism and up to 15 percent greater daily calorie requirements after 3 months of regular strength exercise.
  • Decreased low-back discomfort, as evidenced by approximately 80 percent of patients reporting less or no pain after about 3 months of specific low-back strengthening exercise.
  • Reduced arthritic pain, as indicated by subjective ratings of symptoms in strength-trained adults who have arthritis.
  • Increased bone mineral density that may minimize age-related bone loss and offer protection against osteoporosis.
  • Enhanced glucose utilization that may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Faster gastrointestinal transit that may reduce the risk of colon cancer and other motility disorders of the gastrointestinal system.
  • Reduced resting blood pressure, including lower diastolic readings and lower systolic readings.
  • Improved blood lipid profiles, including lower levels of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of HDL cholesterol.
  • Improved postcoronary performance resulting from higher muscular functional capacity and lower cardiovascular stress from routine and unplanned physical activity.
  • Enhanced self-confidence, as reported by previously sedentary men and women following 2 months of regular strength training.
  • Relieved depression in older adults clinically diagnosed with mild to moderate depression.

Senior strength training guidelines

  • Undergo health screening by a physician or health care provider before participating.
  • Use a 5- to 10-minute warm-up period before each strength training workout.
  • Begin with one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises.
  • Strength train two or three days per week on nonconsecutive days.
  • Perform each repetition through a pain-free range of motion.
  • Focus on proper breathing patterns while strength training.
  • Seek guidance from a qualified fitness professional if needed.

A sample workout routine for older adults

#1 Brief machine workout

Beginners should try this machine only workout that uses six standard exercises that collectively work most of the major muscle groups. The first four exercises are linear movements that cumulatively address most of the muscles of the leg, upper body, and upper arm. The last two (rotary movement) exercises target the
abdominal and low back muscles that are critical to core strength.

1. Leg press – Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals;
2. Machine chest press –  Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps;
3. Seated machine row–  Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, biceps, middle trapezius, rhomboids, teres major;
4. Machine shoulder press – Deltoids, triceps, upper trapezius;
5. Abdominal flexion (machine crunch) – Core: Rectus abdominis;
6. Machine low back extension (machine lumbar extension) – Core: Erector spinae;

General guidelines:

1. Training load: 60-70% max
2. Repetitions: 12-16
3. Sets: 1-2
4. Repetition speed: 4-6 sec
5. Recovery time: 60-90 sec

If you perform one set of each exercise, you should complete this workout in approximately 12 to 15 minutes. It will take approximately twice as long (24 to 30 minutes) if you perform a preliminary warm-up set or do two sets of each exercise. Perform the exercises in the recommended order, which involves training the larger muscle groups first, then the smaller ones. This arrangement of exercises alternates pushing with pulling movements for best results.

strength training programs for older adults

strength training programs for older adults

#2 Standard machine strength training for older adults

This is a machine strength training for older adults that includes 12 excellent resistance exercises that collectively work the most important major muscle groups.

Note that most of the strength training exercises in this program are sequenced to alternately address opposing muscle groups. For example, the chest press (an upper-body pushing exercise) is followed by the seated row (an upper-body pulling exercise). Similarly, the shoulder press (another upper-body pushing exercise) is followed by the lat pulldown (another upper-body pulling exercise). By training in this exercise pattern, you will attain overall and balanced muscular conditioning in a relatively efficient manner.

1. Leg press – Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals
2. Hip adduction – Hip adductors
3. Hip abduction –  Hip abductors
4. Machine chest press – Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps
5. Seated row – Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, biceps, middle trapezius, rhomboids, teres major
6. Machine shoulder press – Deltoids, triceps, upper trapezius
7. Fixed machine lat pulldown – Latissimus dorsi, biceps, teres major
8. Machine triceps extension – Triceps
9. Machine biceps curl – Biceps
10. Abdominal flexion – Core: Rectus abdominis
11. Low back extension – Core: Erector spinae
12. Rotary torso – Core: External obliques, internal obliques, rectus abdominis

General guidelines:

1. Training load: 60-70% max
2. Repetitions: 12-16
3. Sets: 1-2
4. Repetition speed: 4-6 sec
5. Recovery time: 60-90 sec

This program should take only 24 to 30 minutes if you perform one set of each exercise. If you perform a preliminary warm-up set or add a second set the workout will last approximately 48 to 60 minutes. Perform the exercises in the order listed, progressing from larger to smaller muscle groups.

#3 Free weight training for older adults (brief workout)

This workout uses four basic free-weight exercises and two body-weight exercises. The four free-weight exercises are linear actions (straight movements) that address the most important muscles of the legs, chest, upper back, shoulders, and arms. The two body-weight exercises are rotary actions that target the major muscles of the core. As in our previous sample training programs, you will alternate pushing and
pulling exercises to enhance the efficiency of your workouts.

1. Barbell squat or dumbbell squat* – Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals
2. Barbell bench press or dumbbell bench press  – Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps
3. Dumbbell one-arm row* – Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, biceps, middle trapezius, rhomboids, teres major
4. Barbell shoulder press or dumbbell seated press – Deltoids, triceps, upper trapezius
5. Body-weight twisting trunk curl** – Core: rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, hip flexors, rectus femoris
6. Superman & prone cobra** – Core: erector spinae

*You can use kettlebells instead.
**Body-weight exercises: As many repetitions as necessary to fatigue the target muscles.

General guidelines:

1. Training load: 60-70% max
2. Repetitions: 12-16
3. Sets: 1-2
4. Repetition speed: 4-6 sec
5. Recovery time: 60-90 sec

You should be able to complete this brief strength training for older adults in 12 to 15 minutes if you perform one set of each exercise. The workout should take about twice as long (24 to 30 minutes) if you perform a preliminary warm-up set or add a second set of each exercise. Follow the recommended exercise sequence as closely as possible.

#4 Standard free weight training program for older adults

This strength training for older adults features 12 basic exercises that collectively train most of the major muscle groups. The leg exercise involves the main muscles of the hips and thighs. The nine upper-body exercises address the prominent muscles in the chest, upper back, shoulders, and arms. The two body-weight core exercises target the abdominal and low back muscles. This exercise program involves linear actions (straight movements) that work at least two major muscle groups simultaneously and rotary actions (curved movements) that focus on specific muscle groups.

Note that the upper-body exercises are sequenced to alternately address opposing muscle groups. For example, the barbell bench press (an upper-body pushing exercise) is followed by the dumbbell one-arm row (an upper-body pulling exercise), etc…

1. Barbell or dumbbell squat*  – Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals
2. Barbell or dumbbell bench press – Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps
3. Dumbbell one-arm row* – Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, biceps, middle trapezius, rhomboids…
4. Barbell or dumbbell incline press – Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps
5. Dumbbell pullover – Latissimus dorsi, teres major, triceps
6. Dumbbell chest fly – Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, serratus anterior
7. Dumbbell reverse fly – Latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, rhomboids, triceps
8. Dumbbell seated press – Deltoids, triceps, upper trapezius
9. Dumbbell incline curl – Biceps
10. Dumbbell lying triceps extension – Triceps
11. Body-weight twisting trunk curl** – Core: rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques,
hip flexors, rectus femoris
12. Superman & prone cobra** – Core: erector spinae

*You can use kettlebells instead.
**Body-weight exercises: As many repetitions as necessary to fatigue the target muscles.

General guidelines:

1. Training load: 60-70% max
2. Repetitions: 12-16
3. Sets: 1-2
4. Repetition speed: 4-6 sec
5. Recovery time: 60-90 sec

You should be able to complete this standard strength training for older adults for about 24 to 30 minutes if you perform only one set of each exercise. If you perform a preliminary warm-up set or add a second exercise set, the workout will take approximately 48 to 60 minutes.

Closing thoughts about strength training for older adults

Men and women of all ages respond favorably to sensible strength training, which has been shown to improve many health and fitness factors associated with qual­ity of life and quantity of years. When you implement one of the strength training programs specially adapted for older adults, you take a proactive role in your personal health care. There is no medicine that provides as many physical and mental benefits as regular resistance exercise does.

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