Have you been shying away from weights? You’re not alone. Less than 15% of older adults regularly do strength training, according to a study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging.
Yes, cardio is a must for heart health, and those tai chi classes are terrific for mind-body wellness and balance. But when it comes to building up the muscles that will help you be independent and flexible, strength training is the ticket.
Unexpected bonuses: In addition to improving key biomarkers, such as blood sugar and blood fats, research shows that strength training even improves executive functioning and memory.
With all those benefits, what’s stopping you? While it’s easy to lace up your walking shoes, many people just don’t know how to get started with a strength-training regimen.
The good news is, it’s never too late to start—and strength training can be easy to do. However, if you’re new to strength training, it’s wise to book an appointment with a personal trainer, who can assess your abilities, show you proper form and customize a routine for you with body-weight, free-weight and/or machine exercises.
It takes only about 10 to 15 minutes two or three times a week to obtain benefits in health and functional capacity with a strength-training workout. To gain muscle strength, you need to do as many repetitions (reps) as it takes to reach exhaustion. One set (eight to 12 reps) of each exercise usually does the trick if the weight is heavy enough. To continually challenge your muscles, add weight and/or reps as you progress.
To get started, here’s a simple strength-training program…*
Get strong with these 6 simple exercises
Squat. Target: Quads (front of thighs), glutes (buttocks) and hamstrings (back of thighs). What to do: While standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned out, contract your core (abdominal and back) muscles and slowly lower your body as though sitting down in a chair until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Once you reach the “seated” position (or as low as you can safely go with proper form), straighten your legs to return to start. Goal: When you’re just beginning, do the exercise without hand weights and work up to using weights that challenge your muscles. Good rule of thumb: If you aren’t struggling on the last repetition, then the weight is too light.
Front plank. Target: Core. What to do: Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor and feet together. While keeping your spine straight, lift your body off the floor, balancing on your forearms and toes and contracting your core muscles. Hold for up to 60 seconds. Goal: To make the exercise more challenging, work up to balancing on your hands instead of your forearms.
Chest press. Target: Pectorals (upper chest). What to do: Lie face up on a bench with your legs on either side, feet flat on the floor and holding a hand weight in each hand. Bring the weights to your shoulders, palms facing away and upper arms pressed to your sides. Then extend your arms straight up, bringing both weights together until they touch when your arms are fully extended. Alternative: If you don’t have a bench, you can lie on the floor when performing this exercise—but it will limit your range of motion and somewhat lessen the results.
Lateral raise. Target: Deltoids (shoulder). What to do: While standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasp a hand weight in each hand, palms facing your body and arms at your sides. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, raise your arms out to the sides and lift the weights to shoulder level. Be sure not to raise your shoulders as you lift the weights.
Single-arm row. Target: Back. What to do: Place your left hand and left knee on a flat bench with your right foot firmly on floor. Grasp a hand weight in your right hand, palm facing your body and arm at your side. Raise the weight straight up until it’s just below your armpit. Contract the muscles in your upper back as you lower the arm back down. Complete reps on one side, then repeat on the other side. Alternative: If you don’t have a bench, you can grasp any secure object. If it’s a chair, be sure that it’s very sturdy to avoid injury.
Calf raise. Target: Calves. What to do: While steadying yourself with a handrail, stand on a stair tread with your weight on the balls of your feet, heels hanging off and below the stair. Rise up as high as you can onto your toes until your ankles are fully extended. Contract your calves, and then slowly return to starting position.
*As with any new exercise program, consult your doctor before starting.