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Seniors should lift light weights to start with and then progress to heavier weights over time.
Lifting heavy weights is safe and recommended for seniors as it helps to improve strength. Strength is lost as you get older but it can be slowed down and even reversed if you haven’t been lifting weights regularly.
Not only does this help seniors retain type II muscle fibers (fast twitch), it also stimulates bone growth and reduces your risk of dementia and Alzheimers.
On another note, read this article if you’re wondering what exercise to do to get stronger and build muscle if you’re over 65.
If you need some equipment and aren’t sure what to get here are two recommendations to get started:
- Bowflex adjustable dumbbells (amazon link). I really like these ones as they don’t take up much space and will last you a lifetime.
- Adjustable kettlebell (amazon link). This is great too as you don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of kettlebells. One and done!
The Importance of Lifting Weights For Seniors
As you know, getting older isn’t easy. You lose muscle mass, bone density, balance, cognitive speed, visual acuity, skin elasticity, among other things.
But, what if I told you that a key factor in almost all of those is lifting weights?
If by lifting weights 2x/week you could single-handedly address getting up from the floor, off of the toilet, in and out of the bath tub, walking long distances, jumping, moving quickly across a cross walk, going for long hikes, cycling, running, and much more, would that be worth it to you?
I’d say so.
Lifting weights also has a large effect on our cognitive health, too, and prevents the onset of dementia and Alzheimers.
It’s my strong position, along with the American academy of sports medicine, and literally every other governing body and association that seniors should be routinely lifting weights.
How much weight should a senior lift?
This depends on what your overall goals are. If your goals are to stay as independent as possible as long as possible and to be able to travel and do whatever you want, then you would greatly benefit from lifting two times per week (at least).
Even one time per week can have huge benefits if two times a week sounds like too much.
In terms of the poundage or kilos that you should lift, this is going to depend on your experience level.
I’ll give you an example from the strong 65 class (a strength training class for people 65 and older that I run).
When my clients first started out, most of them were shoulder pressing and bicep curling 5 lbs or less.
A year later, most of them are able to bicep curl and shoulder press at least 12 lbs in each arm. I have one client who is 70 and is able to shoulder press 15 lbs. She will be trying the 20-pounders next week.
There is a disconnect between how much people think they should be lifting with how much they COULD be lifting.
And by the way, I have 3 women in that class who are shoulder pressing 12 lbs for 10 reps.
They were able to accomplish this over the course of a year and they are still moving forward.
They are getting stronger as they get older.
These are not women who were athletes or who have been lifting their whole life. They literally just started and had no prior experience lifting weights.
This is possible for anyone. Each of these women also had some orthopedic issue before, whether it was shoulder pain, knee pain, back pain, etc. They were all able to recover from that and start lifting weights.
How much weight should a 65-year-old man and a 70-year-old man lift?
Age has nothing to do with how much you should lift. Your focus should be on starting with light weight with the focus of learning how to do the movements properly.
Once you can do them properly, work up to a weight that you can do 8-12 reps of.
After you’ve done this, make sure that the last rep that you do is difficult.
To gauge difficulty appropriately, you should notice that the speed of moving the weight slows down by quite a bit.
On Your last rep, you should be pushing or pulling as hard as you can but the weight should be moving slowly. This means that your intensity is high enough and that’s how you make progress.
How much weight should a 65-year-old woman lift?
There is no difference between men and women and how much you should lift.
Senior women are recommended to lift the same as men.
It’s arguably more important to lift weights at a high intensity for women than it is for men, as women have much higher rates of osteoporosis due to hormonal changes during menopause.
Lifting heavy and routinely stressing the bone creates a chemical stimulus to place more bone on the area that was stressed. This is called wolf’s law and it is responsible for helping to reverse osteoporosis.
At what age should you stop lifting weights?
You should never stop lifting weights.
The quickest way to the grave is to become old and weak.
Eventually, we’ll all reach a point where we will be unalive, however most of us have the option of staying strong throughout our entire lifespan.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be really strong at the end of my life and be independent til the day I’m gone.
Lifting weights can do that for you.
And to help you reach that goal of being strong forever, I’m going to provide a few links below to some workout equipment I think would be beneficial. I’ll also link to an article I wrote with a few different options for equipment.
At what age should you stop lifting heavy?
Similarly, you should never stop lifting heavy. I don’t know if you’ve seen these videos of 90 year old powerlifters, but they exist, and this doesn’t have to be the rare case. Even if you lifted 20% of what they’re doing you’d be far ahead of the crowd.
Check out this 89-year-old powerlifter, lifting 405 lbs.
**insert Joe Hunsicker and 98-year-old powerlifter**
Watch this video about this incredible 100 year old powerlifter!
What is the best exercise for seniors?
This is a loaded question, however, I would say that lifting weights (resistance training) is the most important and best type of exercise for several reasons.
Strength training preserves muscle mass
You lose muscle mass at a rate of 1-2% every year once you hit the age of about 35 if you don’t lift weights.
This is a HUGE problem, but a problem that can be solved with strength training. Sure, eventually you will continue to lose strength however it will be at a much lower rate.
Resistance training preserves bone density
Check out the LIFTmor trial and see what it found in osteoporotic women. It did not increase fracture risk at all. And this was from high-intensity lifting.
Strength Training improves cognitive function and prevents dementia
There have been several newer studies published about the brain benefits of resistance training for seniors.
If you don’t care about muscle mass or bone density (you should), you’ll likely care about brain health.
Strength training improves balance and prevents falls
This is a huge one, too. If you want to prevent falling and improve your balance. Lift weights. (read this article to learn how to achieve master-level balance)
It can literally be that simple. Now of course there are other things you should be working on like single-leg balance, reactive balance, and agility, however, those are topics for other articles that I’ll link to once I’ve written them.
Can a 70-year-old regain muscle mass?
Yes. I have worked with many 70-year-olds who were able to gain muscle mass.
Can you still build muscle at 80 years old?
Yes, while it’s harder to build muscle at 80 years old it’s still possible and arguably more important the older that you get.
Combining strength training with adequate protein intake is crucially important to building muscle and maintaining your independence at home.
Can seniors exercise too much?
While it’s possible to “over-exert,” this likely should not be your primary concern. Most seniors are not exercising nearly enough.
It’s important to start any new exercise program slowly and progress over time and this will minimize any adverse effects of exercise.
Are squats good for seniors?
Yes, squats are a great exercise for seniors. If you have knee osteoarthritis these can be helpful or they may hurt.
It depends on the person.
My recommendation is to try different variations of squats which can be as simple as standing up and down from a chair and seeing how that feels with the goal to progress to full squats without the chair behind you.
There is nothing inherently wrong with squats and they are important to strengthen the quads (front of the thigh).
Besides, lots of things in daily life require squatting. Getting out of bed, up and down from the toilet, from the floor, to name a few.
How can older people strengthen their legs?
Squats, deadlifts, lunges, leg press, knee extensions, hamstring curls, and many more are great exercises to use to strengthen your legs.
I’ll likely need to write a whole other blog post of leg-strengthening exercises for seniors that you’ll be able to access via this link once it’s written.