Resistance Training Ideas For Seniors

I am 57 years old and have been training now for some considerable time. I recently have had an anthroscopy on my right knee which has caused me to reflect a little on my training regime.

I used to train with relatively heavy weights for six days a week. I guess I now feel that I was not resting my muscles enough. Even though I was training different movements I think the general strain on my Central Nervous System was inhibiting performance.

I would split my training between resistance and conditioning.


I thought what if I went back to basics and simplified my daily exercise regime. I would reduce the weight and really focus on good form. To simplify:

  • Perform 3 sets.
  • Start with resistance you can comfortably perform 10 repetitions with.
  • Start with 5 repetitions of each exercise.
  • 2 second concentric and eccentric portions of the exercise (2 up then 2 down).
  • Every workout I would add 1 repetition to a set.
  • When you perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions then increase resistance.
  • Train body movements* not body parts.

*Horizontal Push, Vertical Push, Horizontal Pull, Vertical Pull, Squat, Hinge and Whole Body

Examples of Movements

Horizontal Push: Press-ups

Use the above tempo. This makes this exercise a lot more interesting. Get your nose to the floor, we don't want any of these elbow hinge type efforts. Once you can do 3 sets of 12 then look for something more robust i.e. push ups with elevated feet or increase the tempo to 3 seconds down and 3 seconds up. Don't be in a mad panic to get into bench press, no need to do them until you can knock out 40 GOOD press ups in one hit.

Vertical Push: Shoulder Press

I prefer single-arm version of this with either a kettlebell of a dumbbell. Seems to give the obliques a once over. Also helps with any left side right side strength imbalance issues.

Horizontal Pull: Batwings

I found this exercise in a book called “Intervention – Course Corrections for the Athlete and Trainer” by Dan John ( a really good read and it makes sense). For description of the exercise I quote Mr John.

Grab a heavy pair of kettlebells or dumbbells and lie face down on a bench, resting the weights on the floor below you. Pull weights up towards your ribcage, squeezing your shoulder blades together for a second at the top. When in doubt, stick your thumbs in your armpits for this drill.

Vertical Pull: Single-arm lat pull down (Kneeling position)

The best vertical pull exercise is the pull-up. However there aren't many of us who can do sufficient GOOD repetitions to make it worthwhile. I started thinking. Why not do a single-arm vertical pull to balance the vertical push outlined above? So find a lat pull down machine (if you only have access to a machine with a seat then perform the drill seated). Put one of those single hand attachments on the cable, kneel down on both knees ( I like the extension feeling torso gets with this, a bit like a pull-up), grab handle. Lead with elbow slowly pulling handle down towards rib-cage. SLOWLY under control return to start position. Repeat for reps.

Squats: Bodyweight Squats

Again perform to 2-1-2 tempo. Don't be rushing around the gym looking for the heavy metal until you can perform 2 sets of 50 reps with 1 minutes rest between sets. Thighs to parallel to floor at bottom please!

Hinge: Single-leg Dead Lifts (SLDL)

I'm a recent convert to these (thanks Mike Boyle). Start with body weight, 3 sets of 8 each leg. Work up to 3 sets of 12 then use a couple of light dumbbells using the same training reps/sets formula. Be patient and think of QUALITY of repetitions. Don't go looking for the 100lb dumbbells if you are swaying around like a drunken sailor with bodyweight. Imagine when performing the drill that you are being judged on the quality of the rep.

Whole Body: Turkish Get-up

Very popular with my Saturday morning class…..Ahem. As we get older we need to counter or prevent falls. This little number should do it. Best to look this up on YouTube( see Brent Jones version if still there). Five repetitions of these each side with bodyweight will show you what your lungs are for. Yes I know everyone is using weights on the videos. If you want to use a weight then use a paper cup half full of water then come back to me. No I'm not coming around to your house to mop the floor!!!

Now hopefully that’s the content of the resistance workouts sorted out. I would perform 3 resistance workouts a week using a Monday-Wednesday-Friday format. I think the important thing here is to keep at least 48 hours between sessions.


I decided that steady-state cardiovascular was not for me. I have read numerous articles on the subject and feel that interval sessions would be the way forward. I am not criticising people who do steady state work but feel weight control is more effective using interval training.

For intervals I prefer the 30 seconds work 1 minute rest protocol. The work should be around 85 to 90% of maximum effort.

I decided upon 2 methods; Kettlebell Swings and Stationary Bike. For the Swings get a mate to time out 30 seconds for you whilst performing the Swings, count your reps. Then in future perform this amount of reps before taking a minutes rest. Start with 3 sets then work up to 10 sets. You might want to go up in weight and start again with 3 sets. Similar process on the bike. Find a level which taxes you keeping rpm>80 for a minute then in the rest minute go back down to Level 1 (Yes 1) and just keep the pedals turning to keep the machine on. On this work up to 15 or so sets (30 minutes total duration).

Perform conditioning on alternate days to strength training. A couple of days a week should do we need to rest more and more.

I think that the above ideas are, above all, pretty simple. I think you can have an effective exercise regime without over complicating things.

Most importantly HAVE FUN!!