5 Best Exercises for Women Over 50

imagesReasons to exercise change as you age. In my 20s it was all about matching my leg warmers to my headband and mimicking moves from Flashdance. I took back-to-back aerobic classes (obsessive much?) and ended up with a stress fracture of my foot thanks to the unforgiving floors of that era.

High impact on concrete floors can hurt you. Who knew?

After more than 35 years of exercising, I’ve tried just about everything, some with more success than others. Today, high-intensity workouts – P90X, CrossFit (a whole story in itself), Insanity – do not motivate me or intrigue me.

My knees hurt just thinking about some of the moves.

But I’ve never wavered in one modality: resistance training. No matter what else I did, I never stopped weight training. 

I’ve had a love-hate affair with weights ever since I hoisted my first dumbbell. You can’t get the same results walking or just doing any kind of cardio.

So I’ve gathered my top five resistance exercises for women over 50 that target a few of the biggest trouble spots.

Keep in mind that you also have to eat clean (ditch the junk food and cut back on portions!) and do cardio at least 30 minutes a day for best results. Plus, once you master these moves be sure to add to them to keep making progress.

Do these 3x a week, 12 – 15 reps, 1 set to start and work up to 3 sets.

SQUATS: Done properly, squats hit all the major muscles of the lower body, particularly the glutes. Most women do not squat low enough or use enough resistance to see results. If your knees hurt (like mine!), start with a thorough warm-up (5 to 10 minutes of walking or biking) and a modified version and do them fewer times per week. Even once a week helps if you’re also doing cardio.

Perfect form:

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

–Engage (tighten) your abdominals and bring your arms out in front to counter balance.

–Keep your weight on your heels as you lower yourself towards the floor by bending at the hips and knees; push your glutes out as if you’re about to sit on a public commode.

–Continue squatting until thighs are parallel to the floor or until your heels begin to lift off the floor. Pause a second or two and then slowly raise back up, pushing through your heels.

You should feel this in the front of your thighs and glutes. Repeat 15 times for three sets. Add weight with dumbbells or a weighted bar as you progress.

PUSH UPS: Push-ups tone and strengthen the entire chest as well as the backs of the arms, too (triceps act as stabilizing muscles). If you’re starting out, try them against a kitchen counter and work your way up to knees and then up to full push-ups on the balls of your feet.

Perfect form:

Lie face down on the floor and bring hands out to your sides next to your chest, fingers pointed in front of you. (If you have wrist pain as I do, grasp onto dumbbells instead of putting your hands flat on the ground.)

–Come up onto the balls of your feet or on your knees if you need to modify the move.

–Keep your body in a straight line and abs engaged as you push yourself up; lower and repeat as many times as you can, aiming for 15 reps. Do 2 to 3 sets.

PLANKS: Best core exercise ever. Did you know over 20 muscles comprise the core? That’s right. Planks strengthen your core, back, abs and your entire midsection. Again, you can start by standing, with your forearms against the wall, and progress to traditional on-your-toes planks. Start with 20 to 30 seconds and work your way up to a minute or more.

Perfect form:

Lie on your stomach and prop yourself up on your forearms and the balls of your feet, elbows directly under your shoulders.

–Engage your abdominals as you raise your body off the ground until you’re in a straight line: shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should all align.

–Do not allow your hips to hike up or sag. Hold 20 to 60 seconds. Repeat.

ROWS: A hunched-over posture ages you more than anything, and strengthening your back can help you stay upright. Use a simple piece of exercise tubing, medium to heavy resistance. These also tone your biceps, since they assist you in pulling.

Perfect form:

–Using a piece of exercise tubing with a handle on one end, attach the center of the tubing to a door hinge or wrap it around a sturdy object.

–Stand facing the door hinge in a staggered position, one foot in front of the other, for stability.

–Grasp the handles of the tubing and step back until your arms are straight and you feel tension on the tubing. Pull the handles back as you squeeze your shoulder blades together (without shrugging!); pause and slowly return to starting position. Do 12 to 15 reps for 3 sets.

LATERAL/FRONT RAISES: This move does double duty for shoulders. By bringing weights out to each side and then in front you target all the major deltoid muscles. Strapless dress, anyone?

Perfect form:

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold dumbbells, one in each hand, facing in towards your body down to you sides.

–Keeping arms straight but not locked out, raise dumbbells out to the sides until they’re parallel to the ground; slowly bring them back to starting position and then raise them straight up in front of you until they’re once again parallel to the ground. Repeat the side to front motion for a total of 10 to 12 reps. Repeat for 2 to 3 sets.


NOW YOU.

Do you have a favorite exercise? Let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you! And please share this with your ageless friends. I’d be forever grateful :).

In the meantime, stay fit, fab and ageless!

Your ageless body coach,

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25 Comments

  1. toni thomas on November 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    I found this article very interesting. I am about to get started by walking my dogs first and when I get back I am going to start my weight and cardio training especially squats and the plank up against the wall for starters.

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on November 16, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Thanks, Toni! Stay tuned for more workout tips this week :).

  2. Women Health on January 29, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    I’m down with a little exercising like the next person however sometimes we have to start from the inside and work our way out. Exercising is a beautiful component to add to ones life.

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on January 29, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      I completely agree. Exercise is simply part of the whole healthy body picture :).

  3. Michelle on March 14, 2015 at 4:50 am

    This is so helpful! I use to exercise all the time but now that I’m 58 it’s much harder. This is something I can do and the modification tips are helpful. Maybe I can get back to a full men’s push-up again. I use to do 20 of them! Thanks!

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on March 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks, Michelle! Yes, everything’s harder after 50 — but it’s still doable with some modifications, as you said. Twenty push-ups is great! That’s a good goal. Most women can’t do that many even at age 20 :).
      Linda

  4. Beth Mince on March 20, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I guess I have more ambition than sense. I am almost 54 and active. I have been working out at the gym mainly focusing on elliptical and crunches. I use a ball to do crunches because I have lower back problems and I also have had bulging discs in my neck. I have been doing good with that but every time I try to add much weight on machines it seems to strain a muscle. My trainer says my form is good. Lately there has been a group about 20 years younger than me that has added me to their workout group. The guy sends texts every morning and also includes a few females. I tried to modify these as much as possible but my core is so weak, I think I’ve just about killed my legs.
    This was the first workout.
    150 overhead plate squats, 3 rounds 10 reps dB twist press, hanging leg squats, pistol squats, machine shoulder press, 2 rounds 20 dB in and outs, 20 leg extension, 10 dB squat shoulder press, 1 round 100 toe raises, 100 shrugs 50 leg press 50 dB circle. 50 right leg jump rope 50 left leg jump rope. 1 mile elliptical

    Can me building up on these 5 core exercises help me achieve a stronger core than modifying the other. Thanks.

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on March 20, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      HI Beth,

      Is the person leading this group a certified trainer? I’m not familiar with some of the exercises you mention like the “hanging leg squat,” but it looks like a lot of legs, two shoulder moves and cardio. I’d question the high number of reps. If you’re using enough weight to get more than 20 reps you’re better off raising the weight and doing fewer reps if you want tone and strength. I don’t know if this is one of several split workouts and they plan to do another one that focuses on upper body and core, but I’d be a little wary of this plan, especially if it’s led by younger, non-certified people. ARe these supposed to include the five core moves you asked about? Sorry, but I don’t have enough details to answer your question! I’ll help if I can.

      Linda

  5. Joyce on April 19, 2015 at 4:08 am

    I am looking for exercises to strength thighs and core. I ripped my ACL and have rehabbed without surgery. I am 66 years old. Can you recommend some strengthening exercises that take into account my lack of ACL (right knee)?

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on April 19, 2015 at 5:19 pm

      Hi Joyce! I’m seriously impressed that you were able to rehab a torn ACL without surgery. What did you do to rehab it? I am not a physical therapist, of course, so I’d check first with your doctor or PT. But I can tell you what you do that doesn’t involve putting stress on the knee… leg raises, where you sit or lie down with legs out in front of you, one leg bent, and raise and lower the straight leg. That strengthens quads. Hamstring curls on a chair should also be safe, which I demonstrate here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzim2nYjZAk As for core, planks do not involve the knee and work great as a core strengthener! Hope this helps 🙂

  6. kathy on April 20, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Hi: i have a torn meniscus and until surgery was told not to do squats anymore. It hurts when I squat down. I also have a baker’s cyst behind my knee from the above injury. I’m in my early 60’s and notice the toning is not great. I need some exercises that can help get my legs and butt back in shape. Any ideas. I used to run until my injury and miss that. I’m somewhat frustrated as surgery is not for 6 months to a year.

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on April 21, 2015 at 1:00 am

      Hi Kathy, Sorry to hear about your meniscus and Baker’s cyst! Neither of those make my Top 10 Fun list. The first question: Did you work with a physical therapist at all? I am not qualified to override any advice you may get from your doctor or PT, obviously, but I can make a couple suggestions if you run them by your doc first. I’m thinking a low step-up exercise, maybe 6 inches, may be alright. That’s where you literally step up and down off a step, starting with right foot, then left, then step down with your right and then left for 15 reps and switch the lead leg. That works the same muscles as the squat, basically. Can you do a modified squat, where you go down halfway? I’d ask if that would be alright. Otherwise, what about biking on a stationary cycle? Does any of these tips help?

  7. Trish on September 20, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Hi, I am 53 and have lost so much muscle mass its scary! I used to have pretty decent tone just from running. I have some back problems but think I can do the exercises you listed-just need to get started and stay committed! Planks are really tough but really good for strengthening. Question: How many plank reps should I do when holding for as long as I can, knowing its only about 20 seconds as I am just starting? Thanks for this site, its the best one I have found!
    Trish.

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on September 20, 2015 at 6:50 pm

      Hi Trish! Glad you found me :). Yeah, resistance training is key for keeping muscle tone. As for planks, try two to three sets of 20 seconds. Try increasing holding them for 30 seconds as you progress, even if you do fewer reps. They’re particularly good for back strengthening as well as for core. Keep it up and you’ll see results!
      Linda

  8. Edye on October 7, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Wow – I’m almost identical to Trish! 53 yo who has never been in worse shape – I have NO muscle mass left, horrifies me. Major back sx, multiple herniated discs, inflammatory disease, fibro, etc etc has left me a mess the past few yrs. Determined to get back to horseback riding, my soul’s passion. My 1st attempt last month landed me in the hospital with bad head injury, lol! So want to be smarter as not physically prepared. Love these exercises as core strength critical, but planks are impossible for me. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on October 7, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      Hi Edye! The good news is, when you’re really out of shape it’s easy to see results fast. 🙂 So there’s that. Have you seen a physical therapist to get you started on a program? I’m not qualified to comment if you have medical conditions, but usually some form of planks is doable. You can even start doing them with your forearms on a wall as you lean into it. That’s the easiest one I know. Check with your PT, though. S/he may have some other advice. Let me know!

  9. gloria on October 31, 2015 at 1:48 am

    Hi i really really want to lose n tighten mY upper arms i would love to wear muscle shirts or any blouses to show my arms n shoulders …HELP?

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on October 31, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      Hi Gloria!

      I wrote a number of posts on arm workouts which you can find here:

      Plus, ss with any body part, diet plays a huge role in the definition you’ll see from any workout program. The reason: You can work out until the cows come home but if you have a layer of fat covering the muscle you won’t see it. And you must be consistent with your workouts: 2-3x a week.

      Hope this helps!
      Linda

  10. Kelly on November 1, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I’m still a few months away from 50, bit I’ll take all the help I can get. I am trying to strengthen my core and I love planks, but they pose a bit of a challenge for me. I have osteoarthritis in my toes and any moves that cause too much bending of them is very painful. Will a modified or reverse plank ( doing them face up) do anything useful for me?

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on November 1, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Hi Kelly,

      I’d never heard of a reverse plank and actually had to look it up! But yes, they’d be great. It looks like they’d also focus on your glutes, too, which is a nice bonus :). Reverse crunches and bicycle crunches are also good and don’t involve any toe bending. Check them out on my YouTube channel here.

      Hope that helps!
      Linda

  11. Honey on November 3, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Linda,
    I am happy I happened to see your site by chance, I am 51 years old, am petite, my exercise regime is medium level. I would like to reduce my abs (not expecting a miracle overnight). I underwent a hysterectomy 6 years ago, do you think it’s advisable for me to do the exercises mentioned. Haven’t done such kind of exercise as mentioned will look up You Tube videos. Thank you !

    • Linda Melone, CSCS on November 3, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      Hi Honey!

      Glad you found me :). Reducing your midsection requires a combination of diet, cardio and resistance. If you have any questions at all about the appropriateness of the exercises please check with your doctor, as I do not know (and am not qualified) regarding your health situation.

      Assuming you’re in the clear… I have a pretty wide variety of exercises on YouTube which range from beginner to challenging, so it depends. I’d start with planks, lower ab exercise either on a chair or the floor and go from there. But those are also in addition to a clean diet (no junk food), regular cardio and an overall strength training program. Make sense?
      Linda

  12. Margaret Lees on February 1, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    What diet did you do to help you keep your weight off.

    • Linda Melone on February 1, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      Hi Margaret! I don’t use any particular diet, per se, but simply follow my own advice that I post here. Email me if you’d like to set up a time to chat!

  13. […] you prefer dry land, look for targeted strength exercises to increase or preserve your muscle mass. Some good exercises […]

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