How should I do resistance training as an older adult?

Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine
As an older adult, the amount of weight you lift or the amount of resistance you face with the exercise bands is important. Lifting a very light weight 20 times will do little for your strength and muscle mass if you don't have to work at lifting it that 20th time. Your final few repetitions of any exercise should make you feel your muscles working hard to complete the exercise. However, you don't want to strain your joints, muscles and tendons to the point of injury, which can set back any progress you've made by forcing you to suspend your training.

With most exercises, try to do 2 sets of 10 repetitions. If that's too difficult, try a slightly lighter weight (or less resistance on the bands). Or, do 2 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions. Ideally, your muscles should feel like they got a good workout, but that's all. Your muscles may feel a bit sore after training, but you should be able to use them without a problem. If you feel a sharp pain during any exercise, you should stop immediately. If the pain persists after icing and resting the affected muscles or joints, seek medical attention. And be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any resistance training program to cover issues such as physical limitations, warning signs of overdoing it, how medications may affect your exercise ability, and alternative exercises if your physical condition does not allow for certain exercises.

Focus on functional fitness with this population. Begin resistance training with stable exercises and progress older female clients to more unstable, yet controlled exercises in order to improve balance, core stability, and functional strength. One example may include having the client perform an assisted squat and later advancing her to a squat while using a stability ball. Exercise sets may need to begin with little to no weight. Resistance training sessions may need to be kept short in order to avoid excessive fatigue. Modifications include limiting the range of motion of an exercise, or performing an exercise in a seated or standing position. When having the older female client use selectorized equipment, do not begin joint movement at angles that are beyond her normal range of motion. Encourage deliberate breathing in order to avoid rapid increases in blood pressure.

I strongly recommend the NASM OPT level-stability and muscle endurance & core strengthening program, about 4 to 6 weeks, as an introduction to your strength training program. You will want to ensure that you can demonstrate and have the strength and flexibility to maintain a good and healthy posture. The stability and muscle endurance level will allow the connective tissues to be strengthened and in condition to safely move into your resistance/weight lifting strength training cycle/phase.

You can also recycle into one to two weeks stabilization and endurance phase periodically during the course of a year as a recovery or break from the strength training and to recondition your connective tissues.

Starting a resistance training program for an older adult is similar to anyone starting a resistance program. What is your fitness level now? What is your range of motion? What are your goals? These are questions that your doctor and personal trainer can help you answer in order to find an appropriate resistance training program. 

If you are continuing a resistance training program and you notice a change in your ability or strength level, it's a good idea to talk it over with your health care professional. We all go through changes over time, and it's important to listen to your body. Keep challenging yourself without pushing to the point of injury. 

If you are an older adult that is new to resistance training or any type of exercise, it is important to first obtain clearance for exercise from your health care provider; particularly if you have a chronic illness it is strongly advised to see your provider before attempting an exercise regimen.

Once you have received clearance from your provider, then seek a certified personal trainer who will work with you to achieve your health and fitness goals. Your personal trainer will perform an assessment of your physical stability, balance and strength needs, your daily lifestyle (nutrition, sleep, work, and activity patterns) and will work with you, providing instruction on proper form and training techniques when it comes to resistance training.

Resistance training will help to build muscular strength and endurance, build strong bones, and improve your mental health. Research has found that resistance training for the older adult can help prevent functional immobility (such as walking, standing, sitting) and slow or even reverse loss of muscle strength and balance.

JC Pinzon

As you get older your goals to stay healthy change and now you have to focus on your priorities. Your heart becomes number one. Try high repetitions with lower weights to increase your heart efficiency. Moving quickly from one set to the next can keep your heart rate up for a while and your session can become aerobic. Try at least 20 reps for all muscle groups jumping from one exercise to the next one as quickly as possible. One should always wear a heart rate monitor to control the intensity of the exercises. Weight training or resistance exercises can help also build up your bone density. Focus on your back and core muscles to help keep you posture upright. Resistance exercises should be done in a slow controlled manner with a rep per breath to make sure blood pressure doesn't increase.

Being an AAHF Senior Fit Specialist I have plenty of useful info. First off senior population must do resistance training to develop bone density. Also, exercises like squats, single leg squats off a bench and bridges to activate the glutes and remain independent are necessities. Unstable exercises are also vital. A fractured hip can be life threatening.

Resistance training in older adults is very important. Select weights that are heavy enough but still use good form. Pick exercises that work your legs and back muscles.

Great question! First, I would get medical clearance from your primary care physician (PCP) before starting an exercise program. If you are new to resistance training, employing the services of a certified personal trainer would be a smart way to get started, to design a safe and customized program based on your goals and current fitness level. You can start with body-weight or functional movements, as well as incorporate bands, free weights, machines, and TRX training. I hope this helps and have fun!
Sadie Lincoln
Resistance training is important at any age.  Not only has it been shown to slow and even reverse the effects of bone loss, it promotes better balance, increased energy, and overall improved health.  Just as with any age group, it is important to check with your doctor before starting a new form of exercise and choose a program based on your current fitness levels. This will help you to reach your goals in a safe and effective manner.  I love to seeing clients in their 60's and 70's in my classes, working alongside women less then half their age. Very inspiring!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.