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Strength Training Exercises for Women Over 50: All You Need to Know

Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN

Published in Fitness

8 min read

June 23, 2023
a woman doing a yoga pose in the park
a woman doing a yoga pose in the park

Incorporating strength training into your regular exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Strength training is beneficial for people of all genders and age groups, but it can be especially important for women over 50.

Hormonal shifts, decreased bone density, and muscle loss become more prevalent as women age, making them susceptible to health risks. Incorporating strength training into their fitness regimen may benefit women over 50 in these areas and more.

In this article, we’ll delve into the science behind the benefits of strength training and offer practical tips, exercises, and safety recommendations to help women over 50 get started with a safe strength training program.  

Benefits of Strength Training

reasons why you should lift weights

Strength training is a vital component of any well-rounded fitness routine, providing many benefits that are particularly relevant to women over 50 and older adults. Here are a few of the benefits of strength training:

  • Strength training helps build muscle: Strength training builds muscle, which helps improve core stability and muscle strength. This can benefit balance and mobility, and reduce the risk of falls and other injuries that we become more prone to as we age.
  • Strength training can reduce body fat: As women age, hormonal changes and a decrease in muscle mass can lead to an increase in body fat percentage. Strength training can help to build lean muscle mass, which in turn increases the body's metabolic rate and promotes fat burning, even when you’re at rest.
  • Strength training can reduce the risk of injury: Strength training improves the strength of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which can reduce the risk of injury during physical activity. 
  • Strength training can benefit bone health: As women age, they become more prone to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by decreased bone density and increased fracture risk. Strength training exercises increase bone strength and improve bone mineral density, and strengthen the skeletal system, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and promoting long-term bone health.
  • Strength training can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses: The risk of chronic diseases increases as we age. Research has shown strength training exercises can reduce the risk of serious chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Why Using Resistance is Important for Building Strength

a woman warming up for training

Resistance is crucial for maintaining and improving muscle health as you age. As we get older, muscle mass naturally declines, leading to a loss of strength and functional limitations.

Engaging in regular resistance training helps counteract this age-related muscle loss, providing several benefits, including increased strength, improved mobility, enhanced bone density, and better overall physical function.

A process called “progressive overload” can help you maximize the effectiveness of resistance training and continually challenge your muscles. Progressive overload involves gradually increasing the demands placed on your muscles over time, which stimulates them to adapt and grow stronger.

The principle of progressive overload ensures that your muscles are consistently challenged beyond their current capabilities, leading to improvements in strength and muscle growth. This can be achieved through various methods, including gradually increasing the weight you lift, performing more repetitions, or adjusting the intensity, volume, or frequency of your workouts.

It is important to note that the rate of progression should be gradual to avoid overexertion and injury. Listen to your body and progress at a pace that suits your fitness level and abilities, or try consulting with a qualified fitness professional who can help create a personalized training plan.

Are Your 50s and Beyond Too Late to Start Lifting Weights?

an older woman lifting dumbbells

It's a common misconception that once you reach your 50s or beyond, it's too late to start weight training or engage in strength training workouts. But this isn’t true! It’s never too late to work towards better health and fitness. 

Strength training in your 50s can provide many benefits that positively impact your overall well-being. When venturing into strength training later in life, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind. 

First, it’s important to focus on adequate protein intake. Protein plays a crucial role in muscle growth and repair, and it becomes even more important as we age.

By ensuring you consume enough protein-rich foods, such as:

  • Poultry and other lean meats
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Soy products

This will provide your body with the necessary building blocks to support muscle growth, maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and promote optimal recovery.

Prioritizing sufficient sleep is vital for efficient workout recovery. During sleep, our bodies repair and regenerate, allowing our muscles to recover after training. Aim for at least seven hours of quality sleep each night to maximize the benefits of your training sessions and promote recovery.

Starting slow and gradually building up your strength training routine is another important tip to keep in mind. It's important to listen to your body and give it time to adapt to the new exercises and movements.

Begin with lighter weights or bodyweight exercises and gradually increase the intensity and resistance over time. This approach not only minimizes the risk of injury but also allows you to establish a sustainable routine that you can maintain in the long run.

Best Exercises for Full-Body Workouts

a woman holding a plank

When starting a new strength training routine, you’ll want to make sure that it targets all of your main muscle groups, including your arms, back, chest, core, and legs. Here are some exercises to try that target these areas: 

Push-Ups

Push-ups primarily target the chest, shoulders, and triceps, while also engaging the core and other supporting muscles. Push-ups can help maintain upper body strength, burn calories, and build endurance.

Squats

Squats are a lower body exercise that work the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, while also engaging the core and back muscles. Squats can help build lower body strength, improve balance and stability, and enhance overall functional mobility.

Lunges

Lunges are a versatile lower body exercise that primarily target the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles, while also engaging the core for stability. Lunges strengthen the lower body muscles, improving balance and coordination, promoting joint stability, and enhancing functional movements such as walking and stair climbing.

Bicep Curls

a woman doing a bicep curl

Bicep curls are an upper body exercise that target the biceps brachii muscles located in the front of the upper arm, while also engaging the forearms and shoulders. Bicep curls can improve arm strength and muscle tone, enhancing functional movements such as lifting and carrying objects.

Lat Pull Downs

Lat pull-downs are a compound exercise that work the latissimus dorsi muscles, commonly known as the "lats," located in the back. They also engage the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms. Lat pull-downs strengthen the upper body muscles, improve posture and stability, and can enhance functional movements like pulling and lifting.

Tricep Extensions

Tricep extensions are an isolation exercise that primarily target the triceps brachii muscles located on the back of the upper arm. They help tone and strengthen the triceps, which are important for arm extension and pushing movements.

Core Exercises

Core strengthening exercises focus on targeting the muscles of the abdominal area, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and deep stabilizing muscles. These exercises help improve stability, posture, and balance, which are particularly beneficial for older women and individuals.

Safety Tips When Exercising

list of ways to avoid injury when lifting weights

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “I’m in my 50s. How do I get started with weight lifting?” here are some safety tips to keep in mind: 

Start With Light Weights and Gradually Increase Load

Starting with light weights and gradually increasing loads allows your body to adapt and build a solid foundation of strength, which can reduce the risk of injury. By starting with lighter dumbbells or resistance bands, you give your muscles, tendons, and ligaments time to adjust and strengthen gradually.

Perform Exercises With Good Form

Performing exercises with good form is essential. It helps prevent injuries and minimizes unnecessary stress on joints, tendons, and ligaments. 

Proper form also ensures that the targeted muscles are engaged correctly. Working with a personal trainer may be a good idea for beginners getting started with lifting.

Focus on Keeping Core Muscles Engaged Throughout 

Keeping your core muscles engaged throughout exercising provides a solid foundation for all your movements, improving overall strength and power. Engaging the core also helps maintain proper alignment, stability, balance, coordination, and control during exercises, reducing the risk of injury in areas like your lower back and optimizing performance.

Take Breaks and Rest in Between Sets

Taking breaths and resting in between sets during a workout allows your body to recover and replenish energy stores, reducing the risk of fatigue and improving performance. Proper rest periods help maintain optimal muscle function and prevent overexertion, and even allows for better form and technique.

Drink Plenty of Water

Hydration is important for your health and well-being, especially during exercise. Water is essential for proper hydration and helps maintain energy levels, promotes cognitive function, and aids in the elimination of waste and toxins from the body through urine. Sufficient water intake during exercise helps prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue, headaches, and impaired physical and mental performance.

Weight Lifting for Older Adults: Key Takeaways 

a woman performing bicep curls
  • Strength training can provide a variety of health benefits for people of all ages, including women over the age of 50. 
  • It is important to practice proper form and use light weights when first starting out.
  • Start slow and gradually build up your strength training routine.
  • Be sure to take breaks and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while exercising. 
  • Always consult a physician before starting any new exercise program. 
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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.