Weightlifting: A Guide for Seniors

July 25th, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  JoAnn Cranson

What is happening to me? I’m still very active, walking, running, cycling, swimming, playing with the grandkids, yet…. I’m not as strong as I was a few years ago!! The inconvenient truth is that we lose muscle mass as we age into our late 50’s, 60’s and beyond. By the time we are in our 80’s statistics show some have lost over 30% of our muscle mass!! What?? No wonder it is harder to get up that big step or balance oftentimes feels off.

If you feel this way, you’re not alone.  I’m fighting this muscle loss, too. To combat Osteoporosis, balance issues, muscle loss, slower metabolism and to increase calorie burn, I’ve found that the best thing to do is WeightLifting. I realize many women are not keen on this.  But you also want to stay active, burn fat, strengthen bones and have good balance as you age, right?

I’ve weightlifted off and on in the past to get faster at cycling. This year I knew I needed to do it for more than cycling, I needed to do it for my overall health. The weightlifting, whether at home or in the gym, is not simply for toning. To increase muscle mass, you must lift somewhat heavier weights. Now this doesn’t mean you are lifting like a body builder, but small weights doing it fast with lots of reps will not work either.

I’m here to remind you that it’s never too late to start!!  I was listening to a podcast about lifting and learned about a study that was done on 90-year-olds that had not lifted weights before they entered this study.  After 12 weeks of lifting two times per week, they all showed significant improvement.  Click here to review the study.

Before you start weightlifting you should:

  1. Check with your physician before anything else to make sure you are healthy enough to be lifting weights.
  2. Ideally find an experienced trainer to get you started. (Athletic Mentors can work with you in their gym or remotely).
  3. Develop a training routine.  Do strength training 2 to 3 times per week (make sure to have a day of rest in between – even once per week is better than nothing). Normally you will do the same exercise for one or two sets starting with 6 to 10 repetitions, then as you build strength you can do 3 or 4 sets. I normally do between 6 to 9 different exercises per workout. Between sets I rest about 1-1 ½ mins depending on how strenuous the exercise was.
  4. Get a weightlifting buddy.  You can encourage each other.  Alternate taking turns and you will get your rest break while your buddy is lifting.  Watch each other and help your partner keep good form when lifting.


  • Lift the weight slowly; lift to a count of 4 and lower to a count of four. Start with 3 to 5 lbs., then hopefully over an extended period of time you can build up to 10, 15 or 20+ lb. weights depending on the exercise. You should be able to feel your muscles having to “work” when lifting.
  • Don’t use other muscles to compensate when you are lifting. If you can’t help compensating, then do less repetitions or use lighter weight until you gain more strength to only use the muscle you are using in the movement.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles to help protect your back from strain. The great thing about strength training with dumbbells or other free weights is that it is also working your “core” muscles – abdominal area – which is a great help with balance.

If your doctor has advised you that you have osteoporosis or are in the beginning stages, it is super important to begin strength training right away and stick with it. Strength training can help prevent bone loss and can even help build new bone. You will need to focus on hip and back exercises as that is the most damaged by bone loss. Here is a good website to give you professional advice on lifting – https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/features/weight-training

For the cherry on top, weight lifting increases your metabolism, burns fat/calories not only when you are exercising but afterwards. Check out this article about it, https://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/strength/calories-burned-lifting-weights

When I’m lifting consistently I see significant improvement in my strength, balance and calorie burning too! Give it a try and don’t let your age get in the way of your overall health and feeling strong!



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