As a senior, even without disease, your body will inevitably decline functionally and structurally as part of the normal aging process, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Also, as you age, your risk for conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and sarcopenia (muscle loss) increases. The good news, however, is that regular exercise can help you minimize the negative effects associated with aging. Along with endurance and flexibility exercises, ACSM recommends you perform a full-body resistance exercise routine at least twice each week. Check in with your doctor before starting any weight training program.
In line with ACSM recommendations, Dr. Bruce W. Craig of the National Strength and Conditioning Association developed a weight training program for seniors to strengthen all major muscle groups. Bench press strengthens your chest, shoulders and triceps. Depending on your current physical condition and experience level, you can perform bench presses on a machine or with free weights such as a barbell or dumbbells. Craig recommends starting safely with machine weights to avoid dropping an unaccustomed weight accidentally. To perform bench presses, lie on your back and repeatedly push the weights above your chest and lower them back down.
Leg extensions work on your quadriceps muscles on the front of your thighs. They are performed on a machine with a chair and foot bar attached to a stack of weights. The weights provide resistance when you raise the foot bar. You can adjust the weight as desired -- begin with a weight recommendation form a certified trainer. To perform leg extensions, according to strength and conditioning specialists Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, first sit on the machine with your lower legs hanging and feet under the foot bar. Then, extend your legs to raise the bar and lower it back down slowly. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Lat pulldowns build the latissimus dorsi muscles on either side of your back. They are done on a machine that has a pulldown bar attached to a weight stack through a pulley. Lat pulldowns are safe because if the bar slips out of your hands, the weights will fall on the weight stack, not your body. To do the exercise, grasp the pulldown bar with a wide grip and repeatedly pull it downward to your chest and let it back up slowly.
Leg curls complement leg extensions because they strengthen the muscles opposite your quadriceps—your hamstrings. Balanced strength in both quads and hamstrings can help to lower your risk for a pulled muscle or other injury. Leg curls are performed on a machine specially designed for the exercise that has a bench and foot bar off one end of the bench at the same height. Like leg extensions, the foot bar is attached to a weight stack through a pulley. To perform leg curls, lie face down on the bench and place your heels under the foot bar. Then, flex your legs to move the foot bar toward the back of your thighs. After flexing your legs completely, slowly reverse the movement and repeat.
Shoulder presses keep your shoulder and triceps muscles strong as you get older. National Strength and Conditioning Association's Bruce Craig recommends seniors do shoulder presses on a machine until they are experienced, but you can also use a barbell or dumbbells if and when you feel you are able. A certified trainer will help you to assess the correct weight to start with. To perform the exercise, sit down and press the weights straight upward from your shoulders and then slowly lower them back down. Repeat for as many repetitions as you want.
Leg presses exercise your upper legs and buttocks extensively. Along with leg extensions and leg curls, leg presses help strengthen your hip joints, which commonly weaken as you age, according to Baechle and Earle. Leg press machines vary in style, but most require you to place your feet on a platform attached to an adjustable weight stack, extend your legs to press the platform away from your body, and keep some tension in your legs to resist the slow return of the platform to the starting position.
- "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise"; Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults; American College of Sports Medicine; 2009
- "NSCA Hot Topics Series"; The Importance of Strength Training for Seniors; Bruce W. Craig, PhD
- "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (Second Edition)"; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle; 2000
- American College of Sports Medicine: Resistance Training and the Older Adult