3 Surprisingly Easy Upper Body Exercises for Older Adults

Here’s some scary news: Between the ages of 25 and 80, muscle strength is estimated to decrease by up to 40%. Starting at about age 30, we lose between 3 and 5% of our muscle mass every decade. Not exactly reassuring, right?

Well, you’ll be happy to know that the above statistics are for inactive older adults.

3 Surprisingly Easy Upper Body Exercises For Older Adults

By living an active lifestyle and including these three strength training exercises in your routine, you’ll prevent much of the muscle loss in your upper body and arms. (Researchers are still figuring out exactly how much, by the way, but we know it’s a lot.) By maintaining and increasing upper body strength and muscle mass, you’ll perform better in activities like swimming, racquet sports and golf for years to come. You’ll also help prevent upper back and neck injuries, and you’ll maintain great posture. Not to mention you’ll get the added benefit of toned arms.

Here are three upper body compound exercises to include in your training, 2-3 days per week. Aim to perform each exercise for 3 sets of 10 repetitions, with a weight that makes 10 repetitions feel very challenging.

1. Close Grip Floor Press

One of the main concerns I hear from my over-55 clients, especially women, is about the triceps area and its apparent lack of muscle tone. Instead of doing endless triceps kickbacks with light weights, try this more challenging exercise that also works your chest and shoulders.

3 Surprisingly Easy Upper Body Exercises For Older Adults

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Lie on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Start with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other, elbows bent at 90 degrees with the top half of your arms on the floor, and your elbows tucked close to your torso. Exhale and press the dumbbells up toward the ceiling, bringing them so they almost touch once they’re above your chest. Lower with control, and repeat the repetitions. To make it more challenging, perform this exercise while lying on a bench, so you can bring your elbows below chest level.

2. Overhead Press

This is an upper body staple that strengthens the shoulders. I have my older clients perform this move while standing (instead of sitting). This way, it also uses the core muscles, which are important for lower back health and injury prevention. How’s that for a win-win?

3 Surprisingly Easy Upper Body Exercises For Older Adults

Start with a dumbbell in each hand, positioned to the outside of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing forward, with elbows under wrists. Exhale and press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are extended and dumbbells are almost touching. Lower with control, and repeat the repetitions.

3. Reverse Grip Bent-Over Row

This move is a twist on a classic back muscle strengthener, but puts more emphasis on the biceps. It also improves posture and helps keep your shoulders strong and healthy.

3 Surprisingly Easy Upper Body Exercises For Older Adults

Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand, hinging at the hips and bending your knees to bring your torso parallel to the floor. Brace your core muscles and extend your arms toward the floor, with your palms facing forward (away from you). Make sure your back remains completely straight. Pull the dumbbells toward your waist, squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your palms facing forward. Return to the start position and repeat the repetitions.

Trainer’s Tip

Many people think of upper body and arm training as lots of biceps curls and triceps extensions. While these isolation exercises may benefit certain older adults (like those working around an injury), they’re not as effective as compound exercises, which use more than one muscle and joint. Compound exercises allow you to lift more weight, train multiple muscles at once, and get better results in strength and muscle tone.

About the Writer

Karina Inkster

Karina is a Certified Personal Training Specialist with a Master’s degree in Gerontology, and specializes in health and aging. Based in Vancouver, BC, she's the author of Vegan Vitality and Foam Rolling: 50 Exercises for Massage, Injury Prevention and Core Strength.

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