20-Minute Strength Training Workout for Seniors

As you grow older, being active is more important than ever. Regular exercise can help improve muscle mass, manage symptoms of illness or pain, support independent living, and reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular or neurodegenerative diseases.

This workout designed just for seniors includes exercises to work all the major muscle groups throughout the body. You can do this workout at home or at a health club, whichever is most enjoyable and convenient for you. You don't need special equipment. And you'll notice that several of the exercises help you improve or maintain functional stability and balance so that activities of daily living remain accessible as you age.

Safety and Precautions

Before you start this or any exercise program, it is best to check with your healthcare provider to make sure it is safe for you. Your provider may suggest modifications for your well-being.

Next, you'll want to find a space where you can comfortably complete the exercises. Make sure that you can fully extend your arms and move around without hitting furniture or walls. Remove any small area rugs that might slip or cause you to trip. If you have a yoga mat, you can use it for the floor exercises.

Lastly, remember to work within your ability. There's no need to overexert yourself, especially when you are first starting out. It is normal to feel your body working and you should expect some level of challenge, but you should not feel pain.

Overview

Total Time: 25 minutes (5-minute warm-up, 15 minutes strength training, 5-minute cool-down)

Level: Beginner to intermediate

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells or handheld weights (3 to 5 pounds to start, 8 to 10 pounds as you get stronger). If you don't have weights, use household items such as water bottles or soup cans.

What to Expect: If you are a beginner, do the exercises with no weight at all when you're first starting out. Just focus on learning the exercises with good form. Once you feel comfortable with each move, add dumbbells (or another form of resistance) to the exercises that require them.

Warm-Up: 5 Minutes

It is crucial to warm up. Warming up dilates your blood vessels, which helps supply oxygen to your muscles. A warm-up also slowly raises your heart rate to minimize stress on your heart.

Go through the following 4 warm-up moves for about 1 minute each. Try not to rest between each movement, but take a few seconds if you need it.

Jog in Place: 1 Minute

jogging in place

If low-impact movement serves you better, march with high knees in place for 1 minute.

Punching: 1 Minute

punching

Punching is a great way to warm up the upper body and get the blood pumping all over.

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart and bend knees slightly. Tighten the core to keep your center still. Punch out one arm at a time at a steady pace.

Knee Thrusters: 1 Minute

knee thrusters

Start standing with feet wider than shoulder-distance apart and turn both feet in one direction, allowing the hips to follow like you’re in a shallow lunge. The front knee is a 90-degree angle and the back heel lifted. Arms are in a guard position in front of the chest.

Drive the back knee up to hip height toward the hands and hands in toward the thigh. Return the foot to the floor and repeat.

Basic Squat: 1 Minute

squat
Chris Freytag

Finish your warm-up with the basic squat. Try to get your glutes to drop as low as possible to keep your hip flexors mobile.

Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart. Your hips, knees, and toes should all be facing forward. Bend your knees and extend your buttocks backward as if you are going to sit back into a chair. Make sure that you keep your knees on your toes and your weight in your heels. Rise back up.

The Workout: 15 Minutes

Go through the following exercises for the recommended number of repetitions. Rest 1 minute between each exercise.

Squat Curl Knee Lift

squat curl

Targets: Biceps, glutes, quads

  1. Start in a squat position, weight back on heels and arms long next to your side holding dumbbells.
  2. Squeeze your glutes to press up and lift your right knee as you curl the weights to your shoulders.
  3. Slowly lower the weights back down and return to a squat position. Repeat with the left knee.

Reps: 8 to 12 per side

Safety Tip

Try to keep the back straight and the chest open as you sit into each squat repetition. Keep the elbows close to the ribcage as you curl.

Shoulder Overhead Press

shoulder press
Chris Freytag

Targets: Shoulders

  1. Start with feet hip-distance apart. Bring elbows out to the side creating a goal post position with arms, dumbbells are at the side of the head, and abdominals are tight.
  2. Press dumbbells slowly up until arms are straight. Slowly return to starting position with control. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

To work harder and improve balance, stand on one foot while performing half the reps, then switch to the other foot.

Reps: 8 to 12

Safety Tip

Lift the weights directly over the shoulders. Try not to allow the arms to float back, as this may cause the back to arch. If you have a hard time maintaining good posture during this move, perform it in a seated position.

Renegade Arm Row

row

Targets: Triceps, back, shoulders

  1. Start with legs together and sit back into slight squat engaging abdominals. Arms are in front of the body holding dumbbells at hip height with palms facing the ceiling.
  2. Draw elbows back past hips gently hugging the side body so you feel lats and triceps engage and return forward with control.

Reps: 8 to 12

Safety Tip

Try to keep a neutral spine throughout this move. Try not to curve through the spine or arch the back. Keep your focus on the floor a few feet in front of your toes.

Bird Dog

bird dog

Targets: Back, glutes, core

  1. Kneel on the floor (use an exercise mat if you have one) on all fours. Reach one arm long, draw in the abdominals, and extend the opposite leg long behind you.
  2. Repeat on the other side.

Reps: 8 to 10 per side

Safety Tip

Move slow and steady, holding the arm and leg out momentarily before switching.

Glute Bridge

glute bridge

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings

  1. Lie on back with bent knees hip-distance apart and feet flat, stacked under the knees.
  2. Engage the core and squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips to a bridge. Hold, squeezing tight, and return to the mat with control.

To make it harder, try this exercise with one leg at a time. Lift the non-working leg into the air as you push the hips up and down.

Reps: 8 to 12

Safety Tip

Keep your focus on the ceiling to protect your neck during this move.

Kneeling Shoulder Tap Push Up

push up shoulder tap

Targets: Arms, shoulders, core

  1. Start in a kneeling plank position with hands on the ground below shoulders and back extended long to the knees.
  2. Lower chest ​to the floor, keeping abs tight. As you push back up to the kneeling plank, tap your right hand on your left shoulder, then set it down.
  3. Repeat the push-up, but as you rise, tap the left hand on the right shoulder. Keep abs tight throughout and don't allow the torso to tip to the side as you tap.

Reps: 8 to 12 push-ups total

Safety Tip

If your knees are uncomfortable, place a folded blanket under them for this move.

Mid-Back Extension

back extension

Targets: Back, core

  1.  Start lying face down on the mat. Lift abs away from the mat to engage them and slide the shoulders down the back. The head is lifted in a low hover. Your body is one long line.
  2. Using your back muscles and core, lift the chest away from the mat into extension as you exhale. Think of lengthening from the crown of the head.
  3. Inhale and return back down to the mat slowly, getting longer through the spine as you go.

Reps: 8 to 12

Safety Tip

Skip this move if it causes pain in your back. If your back feels fine, you can add a challenge by performing the exercise with your arms out in front like superman.

Full Body Sit-Up

sit up
Chris Freytag - Get Healthy U

Targets: Core, shoulders, back

  1. Start lying on a mat with arms extended overhead, legs long, and feet flexed.
  2. Inhale as you lift arms up and begin curling chin and chest forward. Exhale as you roll the entire torso up and over legs keeping abs engaged and reaching for toes.
  3. Inhale as you begin rolling your spine back down one vertebra at a time and exhale as the upper portion of the back lower and arms reach pack overhead. Repeat moving slowly and using the abdominals to lift and lower, not momentum.

Reps: 8 to 10

Safety Tip

If this is not comfortable on your back, bend the knees and do an abdominal crunch instead. With the feet flat on the floor, place your hands behind your head and curl the upper body off the floor. Lower back down and repeat.

Cool Down

Take five minutes to bring your heart rate down and your breathing back to normal. Walk in place or around the room or do some simple full-body stretches to relax and finish up your workout.

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2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Garatachea N, Pareja-galeano H, Sanchis-gomar F, et al. Exercise attenuates the major hallmarks of aging. Rejuvenation Res. 2015;18(1):57-89. doi:10.1089/rej.2014.1623

  2. American Heart Association. Warm up, cool down.

Additional Reading