Strength Training for Seniors: Where to Begin?
For those in their golden years, strength training is one of the most overlooked and age-defying forms of exercise out there. The benefits — from combating muscle loss to boosting feel-good hormones in the brain — are nothing short of transformative when it comes to living a longer, more independent life.
Despite these health perks, it’s no secret why many so many seniors shy away from strength training: It can seem pretty darn intimidating!
The reality is, strength training isn’t solely limited to lifting heavy weights. There’s plenty of ways to incorporate strength training (also known as resistance or weight training) into your fitness routine without picking up a weight. How, you might ask?
“Strength training involves using gravitational stress on your muscles to build strength, mass and endurance. This healthy stress can be in the form of resistance bands or your own body weight,” says Deanna Nosel, CA personal trainer.
Why strength training is so important
Ever heard the expression, “Use it or lose it”?
Well, as morbid as it might sound, everything has a shelf life — our bodies included. They’re also incredibly efficient, so when you slow down and stop using certain muscles, it signals to your body that it’s time to start breaking down. However, just because your mother or grandmother started to deteriorate at a certain age doesn’t mean you have to accept frailty as your inevitable fate too.
“By strength training, you put the brakes on your body’s hormones to say, ‘I’m not done yet!’” says Nosel. “Thinking about it this way can light a fire underneath you. I love working with seniors because they’re committed and know that exercise is what’s going to help them stay strong and age gracefully.”
Here’s just a few of the biggest benefits of strength training for seniors:
- Prevents age-related bone and muscle loss (especially for women, who are at an elevated risk of osteoporosis).
- Increased muscle mass = increased metabolism. Over time, strength training even increases your resting metabolic rate, which is the rate that your body burns calories when you’re not exercising.
- Relieves stress and improves your heart health.
- Slows the effects of chronic conditions that affect your muscle and joint strength, such as arthritis and diabetes.
- Enhances strength, stability and balance, which helps you reduce the risk of falls and injuries.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association said it best:
“Current research has demonstrated that countering muscle disuse through resistance training is a powerful intervention to combat the loss of muscle strength and muscle mass, physiological vulnerability, and their debilitating consequences on physical functioning, mobility, independence, chronic disease management, psychological well-being, quality of life and healthy life expectancy.”
Phew! Without further ado, let’s look at how you can get (safely) started.
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Strength training for seniors 101
As you enter into your mature adult years, Nosel says it’s “extremely vital” to incorporate strength training into your exercise program at least twice a week.
If you have mobility issues or are totally new to working out, suspension straps are your best friend in kicking off a routine. Their support helps you do things that would be difficult free-standing, and also reduce the likelihood of falling or injuring yourself. Plus, they help you refine your form and take pressure off your joints.
Wondering where to start with the suspension straps? According to Nosel, squats are an excellent exercise for seniors to work on. Because it’s a functional motion that we do every single day of our lives, whether it’s sitting down or getting out of the car, it has direct benefits to staying mobile and independent well into an advanced age.
“When it gets harder, people stop doing it. And remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it!” says Nosel.
Suspension strap squats
- Grab the handles of the straps, and bring your elbows underneath your shoulders. Your arms should be nice and relaxed.
- With your feet hip width distance apart (or wider for more balance), sit back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Stick your butt out to activate the hamstrings and glute muscles.
- The idea is just to be able to bend and push yourself up out of that motion. Most of us won’t get our thighs totally parallel to the floor, but that’s not essential.
Try starting with three full squats with the straps to see how it feels. Eventually, you’ll be able to build up to 10-12 squats and as you get more comfortable, you’ll also be able to sit deeper. Before you know it, you’ll be able to try a wall squat and then a free-standing squat.
Wall pushups are another effective resistance exercise that target your arms, chest, back and shoulders. The best part is that zero equipment is needed (well, unless you count the wall!). The wall offers great support and can help you progress to a standard pushup.
- Come into standing plank position, with your feet hip width distance apart. ‘Standing plank’ means placing both hands on the wall, shoulder width distance apart, and making sure your body is in one straight line from your head to feet.
- Place your hands on the wall, shoulder width distance apart.
- Lower yourself down closer to the wall, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body and your shoulder blades drawn back and down.
- Use your body weight to push up.
To make this move gentler or more challenging, adjust the distance your feet are away from the wall. The farther away they are, the harder this move will be (because you’re supporting more of your own body weight).
CA’s personal trainers can help
Ready to take your strength training routine to the next level? CA’s personal trainers are here for you. Even if it’s just for a few sessions, enlisting a personal trainer helps guarantee you have proper form and understand how to use equipment safely. Learn more about CA’s personal training programs here.
“As a personal trainer, my goal is to make you independent so you don’t need me anymore,” says Nosel. “My main job is to create an exercise plan for you that you can then make your own. I want to empower you and help you work toward a stronger, healthier you.”