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Weight Training for Women Over 50: A Full Program Breakdown

Holly Smith

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

weight training for women over 50

There is a common misconception that as women age, a decrease in strength and fitness is inevitable. Some women also believe that strength training is only for young people, or that it may not be safe for older women to lift weights.

But the truth is weight training is a great option for women of all ages. And you can maintain, or even improve your strength at any age.

As women age, lean body mass decreases, something known as sarcopenia. Studies have shown that this appears to be more from muscle disuse rather than just aging alone.

However, regular exercise can help you maintain muscle mass (1).

Strength Training and Increased Lean Muscle Mass

Having increased lean muscle mass is important for many reasons. For one, this will elevate your basal metabolic rate, meaning that your body will be more efficient at burning calories throughout the day.

This adds up to increased weight loss and improved health.

In addition, having stronger muscles means not only will you look great, but you will also be able to maintain your independence and ability to do everyday activities.

You'll be able to complete tasks that require lifting, reaching, pushing, or pulling much easier when you have a higher level of fitness and strength.

Maintenance of muscle mass and strength can decrease the risk of falls and functional decline, as well as balancing the loss of independence that is commonly seen in aging adults.

Studies have also shown that resistance training is important for bone health and reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis.

In addition, strength training has been associated with a decreased risk of other chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes (2).

Focus on Functional Strength Training Exercises

Of course, as the body ages, your fitness goals will change to a certain degree. Strength training exercises may need to be modified somewhat to reduce injury risk.

In addition, it is important to focus more on weight training moves that promote functional, everyday activities.

This means exercises that mimic everyday movements. During the day you likely perform a number of activities that involve bending, twisting, lifting, or reaching overhead.

By using strength training exercises that focus on these types of movements, you can reduce your risk of injury.

It is best to focus on full-body sessions over isolating specific muscle groups. This will make your exercises more efficient and prevent overtraining.

Another key point for women over 50 is to focus on form over high weights when doing strength training.

It is always best to modify an exercise rather than perform a movement with poor form. This will only lead to injury and the inability to work out further.

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Your Complete Strength Training Workout

As injury prevention is paramount, it is crucial to begin every strength training workout with a warm-up, and end with a cool down.

Studies have shown that the best warm-ups include dynamic stretching, with static stretching reserved for the cool down.

Dynamic stretching has the benefit of providing increased power output in the main portions of the workouts when compared to static stretching (3).

Start with 5-10 minutes of light cardio to get your blood flowing and your heart rate slightly elevated.

This will prime your muscles for the main strength training workout.

Then move through the workout below, starting with your warm up.

Dynamic Stretches:

Arm Circles:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold your arms out to the side at shoulder height.
  • Circle your arms forward, starting with small circles, working up to larger circles.
  • Perform 20 circles. Reverse direction and perform 20 more.

Front Arm Swings:

  • Start with your arms extended out to your sides.
  • Swing both arms in front of your chest, crossing your left arm over your right, then reverse back to the starting position.
  • Then swing both arms back in front of your chest, this time crossing your right arm over your left, then bring back again.
  • Continue alternating like this for about 20-30 seconds.

Leg Swings:

  • Stand while holding onto a chair or wall for support.
  • Shift your weight to your left foot, and swing the right leg forward and backward, allowing the right knee to naturally flex and extend throughout the movement.
  • Continue for 10-15 swings on the right then switch sides and repeat.

Knees to Chest:

  • Bring your right knee toward your chest before lowering your foot to the ground.
  • Bring your left knee in and hug it towards your chest before lowering back down.
  • Continue alternating sides for 10 reps on each side.

Best Weight Training Exercises For Women Over 50

As noted above, the best weight training workouts for women over 50 will include exercises that promote functional movements.

Remember the key points above when performing these exercises and always modify the movements if needed to avoid injury.

Dumbbell Squats:
Squats are the ultimate lower body exercise. This movement targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves to build strong legs.

In addition, this is a very functional exercise as you need to perform the squatting motion in a number of daily activities.

While holding a dumbbell in each hand, lower into a squat, making sure your knees don’t track past your toes.

Go down as far as comfortable, or until your knees are at 90 degrees and your thighs are parallel to the floor.

Rep Range: Perform three sets of 10-12 reps.

Dumbbell Chest Press:
Chest presses are another great exercise that emphasizes functional movements while strengthening the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.

Lie back on a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand just to the sides of your shoulders. Press the weights above your chest by extending your elbows until your arms are straight, then bring the weights back down slowly.

Rep Range: Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.

Dumbbell Lawnmower Pulls:
Just like pushing exercises are important for everyday activities, pulling movements are also essential.

Place your left knee up on a weight bench for support with your right leg on the floor beside the bench.

Keep your left hand on the bench in front of your left knee and hold a dumbbell in your right hand.

Bend over so your back is parallel with the ground. Lift the dumbbell up to your side and then lower it slowly back down.

Rep Range: Repeat for 10-12 reps with the right arm, then switch sides and repeat 10-12 reps with the left arm. Aim for three sets.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts:
Romanian deadlifts are excellent for increasing strength in the core, legs, and back. This movement also focuses on the hinging motion.

Performing exercises using this type of movement can help you avoid injury in future workouts and in daily activities.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs.

Hinge forward at the hips and lower the dumbbells in front of your shins, keeping them close to your body.

Once the dumbbells go past your knees, drive through your heels to extend your hips and knees and return to a standing position.

Rep Range: Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.

Dumbbell Woodchops:
This compound weight training exercise targets your upper body, lower body, and core. It should be done slowly to focus on the correct twisting form from top to bottom.

You would be surprised how often you find yourself twisting and lifting in everyday life, and this exercise will aid you in decreasing your risk of injury.

Hold a dumbbell by both ends in front of your body.

Twist to the left, to hold the dumbbell on the outside of your left leg.

Then lift the weight diagonally across your body as you twist to the right while bringing the dumbbell above your head.

Pivot on your left foot as needed.

Slowly bring the weight back down to the starting position to complete 1 rep.

Rep Range: Do three sets of 15 reps on each side.

Always remember to include a cool down after every workout.

This will stretch out the muscles and reduce your risk for post-workout muscle soreness and soft tissue injuries.

You should include stretches that target the upper body, lower body, and core. You can choose your own stretches, or use these stretches below after your workout.

Static Stretches

Chest Opener:

  • Push your arms up behind you while pulling your shoulder blades together and your back straight until you feel the stretch in your chest.
  • Hold for about 20-30 seconds before releasing.

Triceps Stretch:

  • Lift your arms overhead with both arms slightly behind your head and bent at the elbow.
  • Use your right hand to pull your left elbow until you feel a stretch in your triceps.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Core/Abdominal Stretch:

  • Lie down on your stomach with your face towards the ground and your palms facing the floor.
  • While keeping your hips on the floor, push your upper body up from the ground.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before releasing.

Low Back Stretch:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and pulled up toward your chest.
  • Hold for 30 seconds before releasing.

Glute Stretch:

  • Sit on the ground with both knees bent and both feet on the floor.
  • Lift your right leg and cross it over your left thigh.
  • Pull both legs inwards toward your stomach for a deep stretch of your glutes.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch sides and repeat.

Build Strength, Avoid Injury, and Maintain Independence

Weight training is incredibly important for women over 50.

These workouts will enhance strength and help you increase your metabolism and overall health.

In addition, weight training allows you to perform everyday activities much more easily, especially as you age.

In turn, you will decrease your risk of injury and be able to maintain independence in later years. Plus, you will have the added benefit of looking great in the process!

The Fit Mother Project

The great thing about the Fit Mother Project is that there are a variety of workouts and fitness programs that are specifically designed for women.

As you age, fitness goals may change, but weight training is just as important, if not more so, for women over 50.

One of the programs offered by the Fit Mother Project is FM30X.

This 30-day workout program offers safe, full-body, weight training workouts.

These workouts will help you lose weight, increase strength and stability, and get an amazing looking body.

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30X PROGRAM

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Being fit and in shape becomes more important as women age. That is why it is so important for women over 50 to find a workout program that helps them achieve their goals in a safe and controlled manner.

The above exercises are some of the best weight training workouts for women over 50. These will help build overall strength as they target all of the essential muscle groups.

In addition, they emphasize functional movement patterns such as squatting, pulling, pushing, hinging, and twisting that you use in everyday life.

These weight training exercises will get you in great shape and help you avoid injury. So get started today!

After you have mastered these exercises, you have to try FM30X as you continue your fitness journey.

The team at the Fit Mother Project has already helped so many women achieve their strength and fitness goals, and you can be the next!

Your new friend and health coach,

Holly Smith
Holly Smith

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!


If you’re a busy mom who wants to finally lose weight, get healthy, and actually keep the pounds off for good, this is the simple program you’ll love sticking to…

Our Fit Mother 30X Program (FM30X) is the answer you’ve been looking for. Inside FM30X, you’ll receive:

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  • The metabolism-boosting Fit Mother 30X Workout (under 90 min/week) to kickstart your metabolism for fast fat burning.
  • VIP email coaching where we’ll personally walk you through the program.
Learn More About FM30X

If you’re a busy mom who wants to finally lose weight, get healthy, and actually keep the pounds off for good, this is the simple program you’ll love sticking to…

Our Fit Mother 30X Program (FM30X) is the answer you’ve been looking for. Inside FM30X, you’ll receive:

  • The simple & delicious Fit Mother Meal Plan with easy recipes for you and your family.
  • The metabolism-boosting Fit Mother 30X Workout (under 90 min/week) to kickstart your metabolism for fast fat burning.
  • VIP email coaching where we’ll personally walk you through the program.
Learn More About FM30X

*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on weight training for women over 50.

References:

1) Wroblewski, A. P., Amati, F., Smiley, M. A., Goodpaster, B., & Wright, V. (2011). Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 39(3), 172-178.

2) Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current sports medicine reports, 11(4), 209-216.

3) Page P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International journal of sports physical therapy, 7(1), 109–119.

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