Strength training for your upper body is arguably just as important as lower body strength training as you get older.
Building muscle mass as you get older, particularly 65+, is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself independent and thriving.
If that’s too abstract for you, being stronger helps you live longer. This has been shown in several published articles over the last decade.
In this article, I’m going to share with you my top 5 upper body exercises that I use with my clients to help them increase their upper body strength, muscle mass, and bone density.
If you’re a beginner to strength training, please read this beginner’s guide to strength training for seniors.
Also, please bookmark this other article about how to modify exercises if you’re having pain. It’s an important one to keep you training through the ups and downs.
What do you need to know about strength training before getting started?
I’m going to assume you haven’t read any of my other articles on this topic so I’ll give you a quick rundown.
Start with lightweight. Go slow, count at least 2 seconds up and 2 seconds down. Counting one thousand, two one thousand.
Watch yourself in a mirror to try and get the form right. If you still aren’t sure, hire a personal trainer, or keep working on it on your own til you get it.
There are many options to help you make progress, safely.
Start with doing three sets of ten repetitions at a lower intensity meaning you shouldn’t be straining too hard on the last rep. Eventually, you will want to build up to where you are working very hard as this is where the most adaptation takes place.
And if you’re not sure what a set and rep is, a set contains ten reps. Each time you move your arms up and down or you sit up and down, you count that as one set. If you do that 10 times, you’ve completed one set of 10.
Alright, let’s move onto the actual exercises.
Upper Body Strength Exercises
Keep in mind that the reason I’ve chosen these specific exercises is that they work nearly every muscle group in your upper body.
The shoulder press is a fantastic exercise. I have people doing this who have full-thickness rotator cuff tears and they are ok. You will just need to start with very lightweight and progress from there.
To be able to reach overhead you need to have enough shoulder range of motion as well as strength. This exercise allows you to keep that.
Carrying items from the grocery store, picking things up at home, and opening heavy doors all require bicep strength. It’s not unrealistic or unreasonable that with 6 months to a year of work that you would be able to get to between 12 – 15 lb. dumbbells in each hand, doing this.
I’ve never seen a female client aged 65+ go past 15 lbs. Dumbbells for these but I know it’s possible and you may be the first!
Overhead tricep extension
The triceps are important as they are our “pushing,” muscles and they aid us in getting up from the floor if we are using our hands. Ideally you don’t need to use your hands to get up from the floor, but I’ll cover that in another article.
Bent over row
The bent-over row is an excellent, nearly full-body workout. It works your upper, middle, and lower back muscles while also working your triceps, biceps, and deltoids. It’s really a superb exercise and one that I think is missed by a lot of people.
Lateral raises target the middle deltoids and depending on how you do it a portion of your anterior deltoid, too. These are great for building your shoulder muscles including your rotator cuff muscle group.
The bench press can be done from the floor or with a bench. If you’re at home and you don’t have a full home gym setup I’d recommend just getting a bench and a pair of dumbbells for this. Start light and progress from there as you learn the movement. This exercise works your chest muscles, specifically the pectoralis major. There is also a contribution from your triceps and anterior deltoid during this motion.
These can be done from the knees as a modified push-up or as a full push-up on your feet.
If you’re just starting you can also elevate where your hands are placed so instead of being on the floor you can place your hands on a 17” chair, bench, or other surface, making it a bit easier. If that’s still too hard you can perform wall push-ups, too.
- Upper-body strength training is equally as important as lower-body strength training as you still lose muscle mass and bone density as you get older.
- Lifting weights (strength training) is a process and you should not expect spectacular results in 2 weeks. It takes time to see massive changes. But, strength training is one of the only things in life where you will have a guaranteed result if you are consistent.