New to the weight room? This simple plan will leave you feeling fitter, stronger, and more confident.
If strength training isn't part of your weekly routine yet, you're missing out. Strength training helps ward off age-related muscle loss, keep your bones strong, promote mobility, prevent falls, and combat depression and cognitive decline. In other words, strength training is critical for staying independent.
“Getting and staying strong as you age will help you move better for longer and allow you to do the things you need and want to do on your own,” says Kate Gallagher, C.P.T., wellness coordinator at SilverCreek on Main, a community for older adults in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
That includes everyday activities like getting in and out of a chair or car, walking up and down stairs, and lifting grocery bags, Gallagher says, as all of these things require a considerable amount of total-body strength.
So, yes, you should be strength training. But it doesn't need to be complicated, and it doesn't matter if you've never set foot in the weight room before. The full-body strength workout for beginners below is proof. It was specifically designed to do two things:
1. Target every major muscle group with just six functional exercises, meaning the movements closely resemble things you do in everyday life.
2. Eliminate, or at least reduce, the intimidation of being new to the weight room. All you need is a pair of dumbbells, a medicine ball, and some floor space, so you can set up wherever you're comfortable and do the full workout right there.
How to Do the Strength Workout for Beginners
With each exercise, prioritize quality over quantity. "Slow and steady really does win the race when it comes to strengthening the body," Gallagher says.
At the end of each set, you should feel like you could do one or two more reps, but no more than that. If you feel like you could knock out three extra reps with good form, that's your cue to increase the amount of weight you're using for that exercise.
Start by completing one set of each exercise below in order, resting 30 to 60 seconds between moves (or more if you need it). Expect one round to take about 10 minutes.
As your fitness improves, gradually add rounds until you can complete the full circuit four times in a row. Just be sure to rest for one to two full minutes between rounds, and take at least one day off between strength sessions to allow your muscles to recover.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Exercise #1: Squat
Do 10 to 12 reps
Stand tall with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level, and brace your core. This is your starting position.
From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Pause, then push through your heels to slowly return to starting position. That's one rep. Perform 10 to 12 reps.
Make it easier or harder: Check out tips in this guide to the #1 exercise for older adults.
Exercise #2: Bent-Over Row
Do 10 to 12 reps
Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to bend slightly, lower your torso until it's almost parallel with the floor. Let the dumbbells hang at arm's length from your shoulders, palms facing in.
From here, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells to return to starting position. That's one rep. Perform 10 to 12 reps total.
Make it easier: If you don’t have dumbbells on hand or feel any pain in your back, try the seated row instead.
Sit with your legs extended, and place the center of a resistance band securely behind the arches of your feet. If you're using a long exercise band, you can loop it around your feet twice so that, when you hold the band, it's taut. Grab the ends of the band with both hands, arms extended and palms facing each other.
Sitting tall, pull your shoulder blades down and back, and bend at the elbows to slowly pull the band toward your core. Drive your elbows straight back; do not let them flare to the sides. Slowly reverse the movement to return to starting position. Perform 10 to 12 reps total.
Exercise #3: Glute Bridge
Do 10 to 12 reps
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart, and heels a few inches away from your buttocks. Press your arms into the floor for support, and brace your core to minimize the arch in your lower back.
From here, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to shoulders. As you get stronger, focus on getting your shins as close to vertical as you comfortably can at the top of the movement. Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to starting position. That's one rep. Perform 10 to 12 reps total.
Make it harder: Perform the bridges while holding a light weight by both ends against the top of your hips. It should sit right in the crease of your hips.
Exercise #4: Stepup
Do 6 to 8 reps per side
Stand in front of a step. Start with a low step, increasing the height for a challenge.
Set your left foot on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Step down. That's one rep. Perform six to eight reps or as many as you comfortably can, then repeat on the opposite side.
Make it harder: Grab a pair of light dumbbells, and hold them at your sides with palms facing your body as you perform the movement.
Exercise #5: Dead Bug
Do 8 to 10 reps
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise your bent legs up so that your knees are stacked over your hips, keeping a 90-degree bend in your knees. Brace your core to press your low back into the floor; make sure to maintain this flat-back position throughout the entire exercise. With your palms facing each other, bring arms up to point toward the ceiling.
Straighten your left leg and bring it toward the floor (try not to let it touch). At the same time, bring your right arm back toward the floor (try not to let it touch). Pause, then bring your arm and leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side with right leg and left arm extended. That's one rep. Alternate sides for eight to 10 reps total.
Exercise #6: Medicine Ball Wood Chop
Do 6 to 8 reps per side
Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold the medicine ball in both hands, and keep your arms straight. Inhale as you lift the ball diagonally across your body, ending twisted to the right with arms above your head. Allow your feet to pivot as you twist.
As you exhale, rotate at your waist and lower the ball to the left so your hands are outside your left knee. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to starting position. That's one rep. Perform six to eight reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
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