As we get older, taking care of ourselves becomes essential — and a big part of that is exercise. Older adults in their 60s and above should aim to make exercise a part of their daily and weekly routines, as it can delay the onset of common health problems. Exercise can also lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart disease, help you get better sleep and improve balance.
Just moving your body regularly is enough to feel the positive effects of exercise, but if you're ready to advance in your training, a great way to do that is to build muscle strength. Weight training is one of the best ways to do this, and using kettlebells (or KBs) is a safe, easy way to use weights.
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Kettlebell exercises for older adults can increase muscle and bone density, improve grip strength, improve mental health and increase confidence. Kettlebells are convenient, compact and just require a little bit of space, and the five moves below cover all the major muscle groups to ensure you're getting the most out of your kettlebell workout.
It's important to follow instructions so you're using kettlebells properly. There are a few safety precautions for older adults when doing kettlebell exercises: If you've had heart problems, avoid overhead movements that would put strain on the heart; if you have had problems with your wrists or knees, kettlebells may not be the right tool for you. And of course, you should always get medical clearance before starting any new exercise program.
Kettlebells are often labeled and sold in kilograms, so keep an eye on that to make sure you're not picking up too heavy of a weight. When starting a kettlebell training program, the weight recommendation is 8 to 12 kilograms (or 17 to 26 pounds) — but you may want to start even lighter depending on your fitness level.
1. Seated Box/Bench Squat
Squats are a great lower-body exercise for hitting nearly all of the muscles in your legs. Adding a kettlebell helps focus your balance and keep your joints limber. Using a seat as a goal for your squat depth is a great way to get a feel for how low you should be aiming to go.
- Find a sturdy surface (like a chair, bench or box) and stand in front of it.
- Hold your kettlebell by the handle or by the bell at chest level.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart with your weight balanced in both feet.
- Keeping your chest high, push your hips back and down toward the chair or box as you shift your weight into your heels. Touch your glutes to the chair or box.
- Press through your heels to return to standing.
As soon as you're able to squat below a depth where your hips are parallel with your knees or you've established good balance, you can progress this move by getting rid of the bench.
2. Single-Leg Squat to Bench/Box
This single-leg squat takes the seated squat a step further by isolating each leg, building your single-leg strength. Keeping your heel on the ground will help with balance and allow you to focus on using the right muscles (you should really feel this in your quads, glutes and hamstrings).
- Stand in front of a bench or box. Extend your left leg, and place the heel into the ground. (This will be the stationary leg.)
- Put your weight into your right leg, and push your hips back toward your point of contact (box/bench). As you lower, bend your right leg to 90 degrees, with your knee in line with your toes. Your left leg, or stationary leg, stays straight.
- Once you touch your point of contact with your glutes, drive your hips up and forward to finish. Repeat for 8 reps, then switch sides.
To make this move work best for you, try lifting the leg off the ground (beginner), lowering the box (intermediate) or removing the box altogether (advanced).
3. Bent-Over Row to KB Fly
Focusing on upper as well as lower body is important for full-body strength, and this move will help build muscles in your back and shoulders. During the row movement, really focus on drawing your shoulders back. You want the pulling back motion to come from the muscles around your shoulder blades.
- Hold your kettlebell in your right hand and stand about two feet in front of your bench/box. Bend at the waist and knees and place your left hand on your bench/box, so that you're in a standing tabletop position, with your knees under your hips and your left wrist under your shoulder. Try to keep your back straight.
- With the kettlebell in your right hand, draw your right shoulder back away from your ear. Make sure you're keeping your elbow close to the body, and pull your right elbow back.
- Finish the bent-over row by full extending your arm back down. Then, complete the fly: Keeping your right arm straight, draw your arm laterally away from your body until your hand is in line with your shoulder.
- Drop your arm back to your side and repeat 8 times before switching sides.
To make this exercise easier, you can begin in a staggered stance and break the exercises into two parts. If you want a challenge, go for time with 30 seconds on each side.
4. Skull Crusher
The goal of the intensely named "skull crusher" move is to work your triceps, a typically weak muscle. Make sure you start with lower weights and work your way up with this one — you might be surprised at how fatigued your triceps feel after a few reps.
- Lie on your back on your bench or on the floor.
- Hold the kettlebell by its bell.
- With your arms straight over your chest, bend at just your elbows.
- Pull the kettlebell toward your forehead.
- Press the kettlebell back up once your elbows reach 90 degrees.
5. Reverse Lunge Press Knee Up
This is the most advanced of these KB exercises. We are working on mobility, power and balance. By itself, it's a total-body move: You'll feel the kettlebell press in your shoulders and the lunge in your quads and hips.
- Start by holding the bell of the KB at chest level.
- Step your left foot back about three feet, bending both knees to 90 degrees while driving your left knee down. You don't need to touch the ground with your left knee, but the closer you can get, the more effective this move will be.
- As you step back and lower, push the kettlebell overhead simultaneously.
- Pushing off your right leg, drive your left leg forward and up. Your left knee should end up toward your chest. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds to establish balance. That's one rep.
- Repeat 8 times before switching legs.
To make this exercise easier, break it up into two separate parts. First, work on the mobility of the reverse lunge. Once that feels strong, work on the knee drive.