Just because it may be harder to start exercising later in life does not mean it’s not worth it. Exercise can help improve strength, balance, and mobility, all of which tend to decline with age.

There are so many “fitness experts” on social media that it can be hard to know who to believe. It’s important to find exercises and a fitness program that will help you stay healthy and fit without risking injury.

A workout at home using dumbbells is a great way to improve fitness without spending a lot of money, feeling intimidated, or having to go to a gym.

Dumbbell exercises are good for developing muscles on both sides of the body evenly, as well as engaging smaller muscles, tendons, and ligaments which help with joint stability and balance.

Get a Good Warmup in First

It’s important that your warmup is intense enough to get your heart rate up and prepare your muscles for a workout. A 10 minute bike ride isn’t going to be enough.

The goal of a pre-lifting warmup is to increase blood flow to the muscles and joints used in the strength training workout.

If you warm up your muscles before weightlifting, they will be more lubricated and ready to go.

As we age, we need to take the time to properly warm-up before exercise.

One way is to start workouts by doing a short, high-intensity set with a very light weight for each of the exercises you plan to do that day.

Then, finish your workout by doing a few minutes of stretching exercises with light Therabands or resistance bands.

Dumbbell Workout for Seniors

A dumbbell workout that targets the legs, arms, shoulders, back, and chest can help people over 50 combat age-related muscle loss and improve their cardiorespiratory fitness, posture, and mobility.

The text is saying that if you complete one round of each exercise with rests in between each set, the workout should take you 20 minutes. If you are up for a challenge, you can do two or three rounds. The number of reps for each exercise differs, so the text tells you how many to do for each move.

Things You’ll Need:

  • A set of dumbbells at a weight will be challenging to you when you reach the last repetition of each set.
  • An exercise mat is optional but recommended.


The exercises listed go from those working the largest muscle groups to the smallest. This is so you can do each exercise with the most intensity. Otherwise, if you start with smaller muscle groups, the larger ones might get tired too quickly and you wouldn’t get the full benefit of the exercise.

Sumo Squat

Squatting like a sumo wrestler improves your overall strength in your thighs and glutes, while also focusing on developing the muscles in your inner thighs.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. (If the position feels uncomfortable, move your feet in a little closer).
  2. Hold a dumbbell vertically with both hands in front of your chest.
  3. Keeping your back straight, push your hips back and bend your knees out over your toes to squat down. Think about sliding down a wall, keeping your back as straight as possible, and avoiding leaning forward or sticking your butt out.
  4. Lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can comfortably go with good form).
  5. Activate your core, glutes, and quads to propel your body back upright, driving your weight through your feet to return to a standing position.
  6. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and repeat.

Lying Single-Arm Chest Press

The lying single-arm chest press is a great way to increase your chest, shoulder, and triceps strength. Not to mention, it also does wonders for your core strength and stability, especially in your obliques.

  1. Grab a dumbbell and lie flat on the floor, knees bent and feet planted firmly.
  2. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand over your chest with a prone (overhand) grip, palm facing away from you toward your feet. Your triceps should be resting on the floor and your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Extend your free arm (the one not holding the dumbbell) out next to you with your palm down flat on the floor.
  4. As you exhale and brace your core, press the dumbbell toward the ceiling.
  5. Pause, then return your arm to the original starting position.
  6. Switch arms and repeat.

Bent-Over Row

The bent-over row is an effective exercise for increasing upper-back strength, mid-back mobility, and lower back endurance. Additionally, improving upper-back strength can improve posture.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other.
  2. Push your hips back and soften your knees to lean your torso forward until it’s nearly parallel with the ground and your weight is centered in your heels. Let the weights hang straight down in front of your knees.
  3. Brace your core and think about keeping your back completely flat.
  4. Leading with your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and then pull through your arms to raise the dumbbells toward your ribcage. Pause at the top of the movement.
  5. Keep your core and spine stable as you reverse the motion, extending your arms to lower the dumbbells so they hang by your knees.

You can use two dumbbells at the same time if you are able to keep your back angled and straight simultaneously.

After performing your reps with one arm, turn around on the bench and do the same with the other arm.

Stationary Lunge

While doing stationary lunges, you are indirectly improving the strength and stability of your calves, which can help prevent knee injuries.

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Step back several feet with your left leg, rooting your right heel to the ground.
  3. While your chest remains upright, bend your right knee to 90 degrees.
  4. At the same time, lower your left knee to hover just above the ground, bending to 90 degrees.
  5. Press through your right heel and straighten your right leg. Simultaneously straighten your left knee. That’s 1 rep.
  6. Switch legs and repeat.

Biceps Curl

Building biceps strength is important for everyday lifting.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides.
  2. Bend your knees slightly, engage your core and maintain a good upright posture.
  3. Position your arms so your palms are facing in toward your hips.
  4. Hold onto the dumbbells, but don’t grip them so tightly that you feel strain in your forearms.
  5. Bending at the elbow, lift both dumbbells toward your shoulders by flexing your biceps muscles, and rotating your palms so they face forward instead of inward.
  6. Lower the dumbbells in the same way you raised them until your arms are fully extended in the same position you started in.
  7. Repeat without swinging your weights. In other words, rely on your muscles rather than momentum.

If you find yourself needing to add momentum to lift, try using a slightly lighter dumbbell instead, as swinging can lead to injury.

Many people perform this exercise without proper form. It is a simple movement, but it is often done incorrectly in gyms.

Just a few important points to stay on track:

  • Shoulders back & upright. Again, don’t let them roll forward.
  • Keep the elbows in place. If they’re an inch or two off your hips but you don’t move them, that’s good too.
  • Same as with the triceps extension exercise: if you start moving your upper arms around, your shoulders will do the work, and you don’t want that here.

Compound Exercises Are the Key

The first 5 exercises on that list I showed you above are all compound exercises:

  • Dumbbell Squat
  • Dumbbell Chest Press
  • Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Pullover

This is an important distinction.

The benefits of performing compound exercises are numerous and include improved muscular coordination, better joint alignment and function, and increased production of hormones that can lead to improved muscle growth. A compound exercise is one that uses more than one major muscle group and works more than one joint. The benefits of doing compound exercises include improved coordination, better joint alignment and function, and increased hormones that lead to muscle growth.

Why does this matter?

If you want to get the most out of your workout, focus on compound exercises. These exercises provide many benefits and will help you get in better shape.

Benefits of Compound Lifting Exercises

Get Stronger & Build Muscle Faster

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the use of compound exercises for the core of any strength training program with hypertrophy as one of its goals.

Compound Exercises Burn Calories Better

While isolation exercises may not be as effective at burning calories as compound movements, they are still noted by the American Council on Exercise as being beneficial.

The leg extension machine is not as effective as the dumbbell squat exercise.

Both exercises work your legs, so this makes for a good comparison.

The squat is a compound exercise because it involves multiple joints and muscles, while the leg extension machine only uses your quadriceps muscle.

The squat requires more effort, energy, and oxygen than the leg extension, meaning more calories are burned.

More Effort = More Cardiovascular Benefit

Working out with a lot of compound exercises will improve your cardiovascular function because they require a lot of energy and oxygen.

With compound exercises, your heart rate will be increased.

So while you’re busy becoming stronger, you’re also improving your heart and lung health.

Improve Your Functional Fitness

“Functional fitness” refers to day-to-day activities & movements.

Exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time improve your ability to perform activities of daily living more easily and safely.

The reason why these exercises are effective is because they target multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously.

In order to perform strength training exercises properly, all of the moving parts must be coordinated.

As we age, we lose some of the stability, balance, coordination, and general strength we had when we were younger.

Compound exercises make us stronger and more able to confidently handle life’s physical activities with greater self-reliance, whether it’s:

  • running around with the dog
  • unloading a ton of groceries
  • climbing flights of stairs
  • moving a heavy piece of furniture.

Build Around Our Compound Exercises

By creating the right combination of sets and reps within our 9-exercise routine, most of our workout volume can be composed of 5 compound exercises, which is great. We are in a good position to achieve our training goals of becoming stronger, gaining lean muscle, and losing some fat.

Things to Consider Regarding Dumbbells

Do you have access to dumbbells at home or at a gym?

The gym is a great place to work out because they have a wide variety of weights.

If you plan to do these exercises at home and don’t have a pair of adjustable dumbbells, you’ll need to find a way to do them with the proper weights so you can see results.

How Often Should Seniors Lift Weights?

Assuming you have your doctor’s permission to start strength training, it’s more important to make sure you work on each muscle group twice a week to gain strength and muscle mass.

According to dozens of clinical research studies, strength training provides a wide range of both physical and mental benefits to older adults. Studies have shown that activities such as weightlifting can help improve mental sharpness, coordination, and balance.


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Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

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