How To Move Without Pain

Strength Training Exercises for Women Over 50

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 6 minutes to read

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Maintaining strength throughout our life is important, not just for yard work or long bike rides, but for joint health, overall mobility, and daily function.  As we get older, we sometimes move less, become more sedentary, or stop trying new things. 

Strength can be very specific, in other words, we can develop strength specifically for certain activities that we do. If you have a job that requires you to work overhead, you may develop better muscle strength in your upper body to allow you to tolerate this position all day.  As we age, our interests and activity levels may shift or change.  Our bodies will keep the strength it needs and when our bodies realize that we aren’t as active anymore; it decides to lose muscles we don’t ‘need’ anymore. 

As we age changes to our bone mass becomes more a health concern than earlier in our lives. Osteopenia or osteoporosis is the result of our bodies losing bone mass or density and greatly affects post-menopausal women more than men. 

The body constantly absorbs and replaces bone tissue. With osteoporosis, new bone creation doesn’t keep up with old bone removal.  Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist, or spine. One in 3 women over the age of 50yo will experience an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 5 men. 

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How does losing muscle mass affect us over time?

When we do the same activities day after day, our muscles are attuned to the regular routine.  Improving our muscle strength helps our overall daily function, endurance, our balance, improve our metabolism, and feel more confident to do new hobbies or activities. 

Exercising to maintain strength. Exercising not only improves the strength of our muscles but also improves the strength of our bones. A stronger body keeps us more independent, more mobile, and free to do the things we want to do – play whiffle ball in the backyard, pick up our grandkids, carry groceries, take longer walks, do our own yard work. 

There are many important benefits for strength training over 50 that include:

  • Prevents muscle loss
  • Reduce bone loss
  • Improve balance
  • Increase confidence
  • Improve ability to recover if you do fall or get up off the floor if it happens
  • Speeds up metabolism
  • Reduces the risk of chronic illness
  • Maintain a healthy weight to decrease strain on joints

Best Exercises for Strengthening to Build Muscle when you are Over 50


 Target Muscle Groups: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, and Core

  1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Make sure your hips, knees, and toes are all pointing forward.
  2. Bend your knees and sit your butt back slowly (you can count from 1 to 4) as if you’re going to sit on an invisible chair. Keep in mind to distribute your weight equally in both heels and make sure your knees are behind your toes.
  3. Once you hit the bottom of your squat, then stand back up slowly (count from 1 to 4 as well!).
  4. Repeat for 20 times.

Tips: You can use a chair as an added safety when you do your squats, but that does not mean you can sit on it purposely!

How to advance: You can hold a weight (i.e. dumbbell) in your hands, keeping the weight close to your chest just under your chin.  This is often called a goblet squat.

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Target Muscle Groups: Glutes, hamstrings, and Core

  1. Start in a standing position with both of your hands on the floor and slightly wider than your shoulders’ width. 
  2. Keep your neck long, engage your glutes and inner thighs so your lower body is active too.
  3. Gently lower yourself to bring your chest towards the ground. As you do this, keep your elbows back at a 45-degree angle.
  4. Push yourself back up to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 20 times or the amount that you’re comfortable with.

How to advance: Once you have mastered the countertop push-ups, you can try the knee push-up and build to the full pushup version. First, start with your knees touching the floor, then only your toes will be touching the floor for the full version. Then, proceed to do the number of times that you can and improve on it slowly.

Forward step-ups

Target Muscle Group: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Low Back

Stand at a sturdy stool or at the bottom stairs in your home. 
Choose one (ex: right) leg and step up onto the stair, followed by the 2nd (ex: left) leg. 
Then step down leading with the 2nd (ex: left) leg first followed by the other leg. 

Repeat 20 step-ups on 1 leg, followed by 20 step-ups on the opposite leg

How to advance: You can increase your speed or cadence, or you can hold weights in each hand, letting your arms hang at your side.

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Target Muscle Groups: Glutes, Hip Abductors

Sidestepping exercises can strengthen underused muscles while also improving balance, improving the strength of the legs and hips, and increasing spatial awareness. 

Here are the steps for the side steps exercise: 

  • Start with knees slightly bent and feet together.
  • Make sure both sets of toes are facing forward
  • Step to the side with your left foot, making sure your foot stays facing forward and does not turn.
  • Step with your right foot to meet your left foot.
  • Take 5 steps in 1 direction. Keep your steps short and comfortable.
  • Repeat the sequence in the opposite direction.
  • Repeated for 3-5 minutes

How to advance:  You can perform this while maintaining a shallow squat position (knees slightly bent) or with a piece of an elastic exercise band around your knees.

Lunges with Bicep Curl

Target Muscle Groups: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, and Biceps

  1. Begin by standing hip-width apart. While holding the dumbbells, take a large step forward with one foot and lower the knee of the other foot towards the ground. Make sure to lower your knee until both legs are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. While going down, release the bicep curl and straighten your hands.
  3. Push off the front foot to return to the standing position. At the same time, bring the weights in towards your shoulders to perform the bicep curl. The next time you go down again, release the bicep curl and straighten your hands.
  4. Perform the same steps on the other foot.
  5. Repeat for 20 times.

How to advance:  You can combine the lunge with the step-up described above, or consider changing the angle you lunge by stepping slightly to one side and then the other.

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Standing Shoulder Press

Target Muscle Groups: Shoulders and Triceps

  1. Begin with standing your feet hip-width distance apart. Bring your arms out to the side with your elbows bent at a 90-degrees angle. Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders and tighten your core. Remember to keep breathing. 
  2. Push the dumbbells straight overhead towards the ceiling, extending your arms upwards until they’re straight.
  3. Slowly return to starting position (elbows bent at 90-degrees angles).
  4. Repeat this for 2 sets of 10 times.

How to advance:  Consider combining this with the lunge described above.


Target Muscle Groups: Trapezius, Hamstrings, Glutes, Back, Hips, Core

  1. Pick up a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and hold them in front of your sides. Stand with your knees slightly bent, and your feet placed shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend at the hips and knees (pushing your butt backwards), lowering your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor.
  3. Allow your arms to hang down in front of your knees and shins. Make sure you keep your back in a neutral position, taking care not to round it. You should lower yourself into position slowly, in a controlled manner.
  4. From this position, stand up straight without changing the shape of your back, while squeezing your glutes as you straighten up.  Keep pushing through the ball and heel of your foot. This is one rep.

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Should I Strength Train After 50?

Strengthening is recommended for everyone. CDC guidelines show that everyone should perform muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. 

Strengthening has benefits not only to the muscles but also the bones, tendons, balance, endurance, and overall function. 

As we age the prevalence and severity of bone diseases like osteoporosis, osteopenia, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis increases. Maintaining strength in our bones and muscles is an important part of managing those diseases. 

A couple of tips to think about when planning on getting started on a new exercise routine: 

  • Consult your doctor to check if you have any pre-existing conditions or injuries that may impact your ability to exercise or your safety. 
  • Always start with a warmup, like a 5minute walk before starting your strength training session! The body needs a warmup to increase blood flow and flexibility to muscles/joints that will be used in the exercises you choose to complete. 
  • If exercising or these exercises are new to you, start slow and monitor how you are responding. You should feel muscles working/fatigue in the muscles you are exercising, not pain during or after the exercise. Allow your joints, muscle, and tissues to adjust to your increased activity.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after the exercises.
  • End with some gentle stretching to the muscles used during the workout. Stretching helps to reduce post-workout soreness, tension and stiffness. 

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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