By Sarah Smulligan

For many older adults, the thought of strength or resistance training is met with apprehension. Not only can it be intimidating entering a gym, but many are fearful of getting injured. One third of men and half of all women in their golden years are not participating in any physical activity. Inactive adults are at an increased risk for loss of muscle mass, fall-related injuries and loss of physical independence. Incorporating appropriate resistance training is key to reducing these risks and aging healthfully.

Why resistance training?

After age 30, individuals lose up to 5% of total muscle mass each decade. That muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, is a main contributor to frailty and decreased energy in aging individuals. If you want to live a healthy and happy life, you must work to combat that loss as much as possible through safe and effective resistance training. Not only can resistance training build/prevent loss of muscle mass, but it also delivers a handful of other benefits:

  • Improves bone density. When load on a particular bone increases, the bone will remodel itself over time to become stronger.
  • Plays a key role in fall prevention. Balance is so much more than the ability to stand stationary on one leg. Strength, agility, and mobility all play a role in what we think of as “balance”. An effective resistance training protocol will positively impact all of these factors
  • Improves arthritis. When it comes to most arthritis pain, more movement is better! According to Mayo Clinic, lack of exercise can often make arthritic joints more stiff and painful. Resistance training builds strong muscles that help support and protect your joints.
  • Reduces back pain. Chronic back pain is typically a result of muscle imbalances that create mobility restrictions and poor movement patterns. Once we begin to move correctly and address these imbalances, pain often improves.
  • Has mental health benefits. Studies show that older adults who engage in regular resistance training have lower rates of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, feeling strong and capable has been proven to increase overall feelings of well-being.

Implementing an effective resistance training program.

It is clear that resistance training has many benefits. So how do you begin? Start small & remember that less is more. At this stage, consistency is more important than intensity. Begin with short intervals of work using a very light load and work toward 2-3 days per week of resistance training. If available, exercise tubing is a safe & effective way to provide resistance. Refer to National Strength and Conditioning Association guidelines for optimal training protocols.

The resistance exercises performed will vary based on individual goals, experience, and orthopedic status, but a few fundamental starting exercises include sit to stands (squatting to a chair and returning to standing), seated rows, hip hinging, and horizontal presses such as a tubing chest press. Aim to be in the 10-15 rep range using a load such that the last three reps of each set are challenging, but doable with good form. When in doubt, seek the help of a qualified, professional personal trainer. They will be able to guide you through appropriate progressions/regressions and help you get the maximum benefit while ensuring your safety.

We all desire to live a healthy & happy lifestyle as we age. This includes maintaining our independence and thriving through the activities of daily living. Resistance training enables you to do just that. It is never too late to reap the benefits of resistance training. Start small, focus on proper form and take it one day at a time. Good Luck!

Sarah Smulligan is a Certified Personal Trainer and has been a One on One team member since 2015. Contact her at