4 strength moves older adults should do

Help fight age-related muscle loss with these do-anywhere, equipment-free moves.

Mature couple exercising at home.

If you’re like many older adults, you might view the term “strength training” with some fear. Maybe you’re picturing buff bodybuilders slamming giant weights on a gym floor. Or perhaps you think strength training requires, well, a gym with actual equipment. 

The response to both of those notions? Nope. 

First, let’s set the record straight about what strength training is and who it’s for. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) defines strength training as simply using some type of weight or resistance to help keep your muscles strong. 

That “weight” could be anything — it doesn’t have to resemble those massive barbells you see at Olympic events. You can train with a small resistance band or even your own body weight. It all counts, the NIA notes.

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Strength training is for just about everyone. In fact, for older adults, resistance training has been found to help combat muscle loss and mobility problems, improve life expectancy and reduce joint pain, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. 

But the benefits go beyond the physical. A 2019 study from the journal European Review of Aging and Physical Activity suggests that working out with weights helps older adults stay sharp. It found strength training helped subjects think faster and remember things better. The workouts also reduced inflammation, which plays a role in heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health conditions. 

As for that gym, it’s definitely not a requirement for strength training, says certified personal trainer Dempsey Marks. Your home is the perfect workout spot, she says. All you need is enough space to move safely.  

“Bodyweight exercises are great for everyone, especially people who don’t have money to invest in equipment or time to go to the gym,” says Marks. “You can work out in your home and tweak the level of intensity according to your needs.”

Ready to give strength training a try? Aim to complete the equipment-free sequence below two or three times a week. 

Be sure to check with your doctor before launching any new exercise program, especially if you have a chronic condition or are coming back from a recent injury or surgery. 

Strength Move #1: Squat

Why it’s effective: The squat activates your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core and hips all at once. That makes it a key player in helping you safely perform everyday movements that require lower-body strength, like standing, sitting and picking objects up off the floor. 

How to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, hands by your sides.
  • Pull your shoulders down and back and tighten your core.
  • Shift your weight into your heels and slowly push your hips back and down (as if you’re about to sit down) to create a bend at your hips (not your waist) and knees. 
  • Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel (or almost parallel) to the floor. You can extend your arms out in front of you for balance if necessary, but definitely keep your back flat as you go.
  • In a single thrusting motion, drive through your heels to push yourself back up to standing.
  • Complete 10 to 15 repetitions. 

Variations: Squat into a chair for added support on the descent. For more of a challenge, perform the move holding either a light dumbbell in front of your chest, or one light weight in each hand.

Strength Move #2: Incline Pushup

Why it’s effective: The pushup (even when it’s modified) targets your chest, triceps, biceps and core, making it the perfect low-impact total-body strengthener, says Marks.

How to do it: 

  • Stand facing a wall or a bench. The higher the object, the easier the pushup will be.
  • Place your palms shoulder-width apart on the surface in front of you at chest height.
  • Step backward one to two steps until your body forms an angle.
  • Brace your core and lower your chest toward the surface slowly and with control.
  • Once your chest reaches the surface, push through the palms of your hand to propel yourself upward until your arms are fully extended.
  • Complete 10 to 15 repetitions.

This Way to a Stronger You
Interested in learning more about strength moves that may help keep you independent and strong? Take the Functional Movement online learning course from Renew. Learn more here

Strength Move #3: Wall Sit

Why it’s effective: When it comes to hitting every major muscle in your legs —  glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves — you can’t do much better than the wall sit. Plus, wall sits do wonders for training the core muscles that shore up your spine. Be sure to wear athletic shoes to keep your feet from sliding during this move.

How to do it: 

  • Choose a spot where the wall is free of pictures and shelves and the floor isn’t slippery (no throw rugs underfoot).
  • Stand tall with your back against the wall and press your upper back into the wall.
  • Walk your feet out a few inches and slowly bend your knees to lower yourself into a sitting position (you can rest your hands on your thighs).
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds, or as long as you comfortably can.
  • Return to standing, and repeat once.

Challenge yourself: As you become more comfortable doing wall sits, gradually push yourself to add more time and/or repetitions.

Strength Move #4: Forearm Plank 

Why it’s effective: Core exercises are critical for helping you move stronger through everyday life and avoiding injuries, according to research from the University of South Florida School of Physical Education and Exercise Science. The plank in particular keeps you from straining your neck and back — something that’s easy to do with traditional crunches. 

How to do it:

  • Position yourself face down on a mat, elbows close to your sides and directly under your shoulders, forearms pressed firmly into the floor. 
  • Tuck your toes into the floor and lift your entire torso off the floor until your body forms a straight line from head to ankles.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, or as long as you comfortably can while maintaining good form (no sagging in your lower back or hiking up your glutes).
  • Return to the start, rest for a few moments, and then repeat 2 or 3 times.

Challenge yourself: Gradually push yourself to add more time. Or try a straight-arm plank, where you fully extend your arms like you’re at the top of a pushup position.