Weight-Training Exercises for Women Over 50

Weight training offers the keys to the kingdom to women older than 50 seeking an answer to fat gain, loss of muscle mass and a lack of bone density. Whether you train with kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells, or for that matter weight-stack machines, your body will respond with a transformation to a trimmer, tauter look and greater functional strength for daily life. You need to work with slightly lighter loads than a man of your same weight, but you can expect equally good results as the guys in as quickly as eight weeks.

Mature woman over 50 lifting hand weights.
Credit: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Designing Your Program

In "Strength Training Past 50," two gurus of exercise science for the middle-aged, Wayne L. Westcott and Thomas R. Baechle, provide ideas on how to shape your exercise program if you plan to work out with dumbbells, barbells or weight machines. They advise that you select an exercise for each major muscle group, and -- after warming up -- start with the lower body, followed by the upper body and, finally, the core. Start off with one set of each exercise, and add a second or third set over time. Begin with a weight that you can do eight to 12 reps until fatigue, and once that become easier, increase the weight. Rest one to two minutes between sets and one minute between different exercises. Weight train on two or three nonconsecutive days each week, they recommend.

Logging Your Progress

Set up a training log each week listing a column each for exercises, sets, reps and weights lifted, as well columns headed "Day 1," "Day 2" and "Day 3," advise Baechle and Westcott in a separate book, "Fitness Professional's Guide to Strength Training Older Adults." Most gyms or trainers can give you a blank workout log card, or you can create or download your own.

Getting Started

You can kick off your first two weeks of training with dumbbell or barbell squats and bench and seated presses, to challenge the lower and upper body. Add the dumbbell one-arm row, situps and trunk extensions, which are similar to yoga's Cobra pose. You can also substitute comparable machine exercises for each free-weight version. If you stick with dumbbells, a set weighing 7.5, 10, 12.5 and 15 pounds works well for women aged 50 to 59 who are just beginning a strength program. Use heavier weights for your squats and presses, and lighter weights for your triceps exercises. Over time, you can graduate to 20 and 25 pounds for your squats.

Adding More Exercises

In Weeks 3 and 4, add the dumbbell standing curl and overhead triceps extension. In Weeks 5 and 6, the dumbbell shrug and dumbbell heel raise come into the mix, followed by the dumbbell chest fly in Week 7 and the lat pull-down in Week 9. So by Week 9 of your program, you have a 12-exercise workout that provides a nice balance of lower, upper and midsection work.

Kettlebells for Intense Results

You can also work out with kettlebells to attain a full-body workout in a shorter workout period -- and results that provide exceptional carryover to daily activities. You can start off the lower body with squats, deadlifts and lunges; hit the upper body with overhead presses and bent-over rows; boost your heart rate and core with the swing; and hit the core again with floor work, including planks.

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