Dumbbell Strength Training for Seniors

Get strong and fit over 50

older woman using dumbbells
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This is a program for men and women over 50 who are starting out with strength training. If you’re an experienced "senior" weight trainer you probably won’t need this beginner program.

Program Goals

Why Dumbbells?

I’ve chosen a dumbbell program because dumbbells provide exercise flexibility and convenience and are ideal for home use.

Obtain either a full set, an adjustable set or at least a range of three different weights to accommodate exercises that require more or less weight. For example, you will use heavier weights with a dumbbell squat than you would for an arm curl or overhead press.

Sets and Repetitions of an Exercise

Weight training usually utilizes repeats of exercises called “sets” and “repetitions.” A repetition is one completion of an exercise and a set is one group of repetitions. A typical training workout exercise is 3 sets of 12 repetitions. You will often see this written as “3x12.” You rest for 1 to 2 minutes between each set.

For each exercise, choose a dumbbell heavy enough so that you can do 8 to 12 repeats (repetitions) of the exercise before resting. The last lift in each set should feel that it somewhat difficult to complete but should not be exhausting.

It’s important to do decent work when you’re weight training.

Throwing lighter weights up over your head with little effort will not provide the benefit we are looking for in this program. On the other hand, you don’t need to strain unreasonably. 

Find out more about weight training terminology and exercise descriptions if you need background information before you try this program.

Get a Medical Checkup

Weight training is not dangerous for older people as long as you take a few precautions.

  • Ask your doctor for clearance.
  • Take advice about medications. Diabetics using drugs or injectable insulin may need adjustments.
  • Drink sufficient fluids — more if it’s hot.
  • Stop if something hurts — other than the discomfort of muscular effort. 
  • Start slowly and work up to heavier weights and more repetitions to suit your existing level of fitness and capability.

The Exercise Program

Do all of the 8 exercises at least twice each week. Start out with two sessions and see how you react. You will probably get a little sore in the muscles and possibly joints in the early stages but this should subside over time. Make sure you rest for at least one day between sessions initially. You may wish to build it up to 3 or 4 sessions each week if you don’t do too many other exercises. A dumbbell weights program is a good complement to a walking program.

Do 3 sets of 12 for each exercise. Start at 2 sets of 8 if you feel 3x12 is too much to begin with — or even less if that's what it takes to get you started. Try not to skip any of the 8 exercises in the program unless you have medical reasons for doing so.

Rest between sets for 60 to 120 seconds — or more if you need it.

Make sure you are well balanced for each exercise, wear appropriate footwear and have access to water or fluids.

Take care of your joints. Don’t over-stress the joints if you have existing or past problems, especially in exercises like the squat and the lunge. This means using lighter weights and not extending the joint through its full range of motion in the early stages of your program. Weight training can improve your joint health, so build up to the full program specifications when you feel strong enough.

Remember to ease into the workout if you have not exercised with weights previously, then build up to your best work over days and weeks.