If you are looking for the best arm exercises for older women, you’ve come to the right place!
Many senior women suffer from muscle weakness, especially in their arms. This is often caused as the natural result of aging as well
Like I talked about in the post Losing postmenopausal belly fat, older women have an unfavorable hormonal profile for building and maintaining strength and muscle mass.
Since many women, especially in the past, have avoided any kind of heavy strength training for their upper body in the fear of becoming bulky, they already have little muscle mass to lose from as they age.
While the muscle mass of your arms is nowhere near as important as the muscle mass and strength of your legs, back, and abdominals, it still has an important function in operating your arms and hands.
At first lack of strength will make it hard or impossible to lift heavy objects with your arms, especially overhead. But once the aging process goes on, the lack of strength can start effecting your everyday actions and performance.
You can suddenly notice that a cup of coffee starts to shake your arm because it feels so heavy, your coordination deteriorates, carrying the groceries becomes impossible, etc.
The good news is that it’s never too late to improve strength in your arms! If you have never done strength training for your arms, you will improve strength levels rapidly and even build some muscle mass over time.
Muscles Of The Arms
There are dozens of muscles in your arms if you count the tiny muscles of your hands and forearms, but there are actually only a couple of muscle groups that do all the heavy lifting.
The biceps are responsible for the flexion of your elbow joint and you use them any time you lift something in front of you with your arms.
They also keep your forearm stable while performing something with your hands, so this muscle group is important for coordination and control as well.
The triceps are the opposite muscles to the biceps. The extend the elbow joint. You use any time you push something in front of you or lift something overhead. They are the strongest muscle group in your arms.
The deltoids or shoulder muscles are used to raise your arm in front of you or above your head, as well as laterally to your side. The deltoids are especially important for lifting things above your head and they also play a crucial role in stabilizing your arms and hands when performing intricate movements with your hands.
The muscles of the forearms are responsible for both gripping and moving your fingers, so making them stronger will help you carry and hold on to things as well as make your hands more stable.
Finally, the pectoral or chest muscles and the large muscles of the upper back are important for the arms because they are responsible for pushing and pulling motions, where they move the upper arm.
I talked more about the muscles of the arms in the post Arm exercises for the elderly
Can You Build Muscle As A Senior?
So can you build muscle and strength as a senior if you’ve never lifted weights in your youth? Of course you can! Presuming you are otherwise relatively healthy.
The truth is that while aging does make the process slower, seniors will benefit greatly from strength training.
You might not be aware but the vast majority of strength improvement in people who have never done training before happens in the first 6 months or so of active training.
After that, the progression slows down and it takes years and years of work to build big and bulky muscles even when you are young. But for health reasons, it’s enough to do progressive training for a few months and then just maintain that strength level.
Another good news is that maintaining strength is much easier than improving it. So the sooner you build a good base, the better you will be able to maintain it to old age.
It’s always important to talk with a doctor when starting a new exercise routine to rule out any contraindications. Also if you are not comfortable learning exercises on your own, you should consider hiring a professional to guide you.
It’s possible to injure yourself if you don’t know what you are doing. So start light and easy and ask for help if you have any doubts.
How Effective Strength Training Works
If you have never done any kind of structured weight training, there are a few principles you need to understand to effectively improve the strength of your arms.
First of all the exercise itself doesn’t make you stronger. It causes stress on the muscles and actually damages them slightly.
This gives your muscles and body a signal that they need to recover and be built a bit tougher so they can withstand this new demand. It’s during this recovery phase the actual improvement happens.
The next time you train you need to add more resistance or do more work (more weight or repetitions) to cause enough stress to damage the muscles again since they are now a bit tougher after recovering from the previous workout.
This process is so slow that you might not notice any significant improvement after a couple of workouts, but when you keep doing the exercises consistently in a progressive manner you start noticing improvement.
The key thing is to keep consistent and keep doing a bit more on each workout. This is called progressive overload. You can think of it like walking a ladder or stairs, you can’t jump three steps at a time, you have to take each step.
Finally, it’s important to realize that strength adaptations happen only with large enough resistance. If you lift a weight that you can do 50 repetitions with, this will result in minimal strength adaptations, it will only improve your endurance but not strength.
You need to use a weight that is heavy enough that you can only perform around 15 to 20 repetitions at max. The optimal strength development happens at loads that you can lift only 1 to 5 times, but this kind of weight poses a large injury risk for older people, so there is no reason for risking injury.
I recommend you stick to between 8 and 20 repetitions and once you can perform that, you can add more weight. Another important thing is the rest period.
Exercise Equipment You Will Need
To perform all of the following exercises, you will need some form of resistance.
The push-ups can be done with bodyweight, but since most older women can’t perform pull-ups, we are going to include a free weight pulling motion. The overhead press will also need an external weight.
Exercise 1: Push-up
Push up is a basic pushing movement that is great for strengthening the pectoral muscles and the triceps.
There are two variants that are suitable for older women since they are easier to perform than a regular pushup where you have to lift a large portion of your body weight and are only supported by your toes.
If you are a senior woman who can perform regular push-ups with good form, you don’t probably need this article after all.
The two easier variants are the wall push up, where you push against a wall standing up and the knee push up where you reduce the weight by
Push-ups are great for arm strength because it uses the arms in a functional movement that transfers well into real life.
Here’s an excellent example of a wall push-up from YouTube by Evergreen Wellness:
You can read more about the push-up and how to perform it correctly in my article: Push-ups for seniors.
Exercise 2: Bent over row
Bent over row is a pulling motion that helps you strengthen the bicep and the upper back muscles. It is a simple movement but you might need to rehearse a bit to find the correct position.
You will need a stable chair or a bench that’s on the correct height. You then lift the weights like in this example from YouTube by Sears:
Be mindful of your back position, keep it flat, and don’t lift with your lower back and use your upper body instead. Just lift with your arm by pulling your elbow towards your side.
If you dong have any kind of weight, you can start with water bottles or milk jugs. Most senior women will have enough strength in the upper body to do this exercise easily with these objects so it’s a good start.
Exercise 3: Overhead press
The overhead press is a great functional movement that activates the deltoids and the triceps. This is one of the most useful strength training exercises for the upper body since many seniors and women struggle with overhead strength.
You will need a dumbbell, a barbell, or kettlebell to perform this exercise. You simply start the weight on your shoulder and push it straight upwards.
A couple of things you need to focus on are keeping your abdominals and glutes tight to keep a stable base to push against. The weight should go as straight upwards as possible.
Here’s a great example form YouTube of a single-arm, neutral grip by an iron lady called Joan Macdonald:
Many people struggle with shoulder mobility and the weight will go a bit forwards. This will usually improve over time if you are mindful of it.
It’s not a huge issue with small weights but when the weights get significant this forward position becomes dangerous for your shoulder joint.
If your overhead strength and mobility is very weak you can start with simply lifting your arms above your hand and focusing on getting them as up as you can.
You can then add weight when you can lift your arms straight above your head for 20 times or so. If you don’t have any other weight a water bottle will do just fine for this exercise in the beginning.
Exercise 4: Bicep Curl
The bicep curl is a classic bodybuilding movement but it does serve a purpose in strengthening the bicep muscle. While the bicep isn’t really that important for functional strength, if they are very weak the bicep curl helps to activate the muscle so pulling movements become stronger.
Bicep curls are very simple to perform. You can perform them with a single arm with a small kettlebell or a dumbbell or with two arms with a barbell.
Here’s a great example from YouTube by Livestrong.com:
If you want to learn how to plan a strength training routine around these exercises, check out my free full-body strength training routine. The principles are the same no matter what the exercises are.
You can use the free routine to build overall strength, which I recommend by the way instead of only focusing on your arms. The lower body strength is much more important than arm strength for overall health, mobility, balance, and freedom of movement.
I hope you found this quick guide about exercise for the arms useful. If you have any questions feel free to contact me through the comments section below and I’ll see how I can help you!
Strengthening the arms is possible and even relatively easy for older women. Just remember to be consistent and maintain a progression in your workouts and you will be stronger in no time.
But always remember to be careful and run your new exercise routine by a medical professional if you have any concerns about your health or any joint pain for example.
That said, don’t be afraid to push yourself from time to time. You are much stronger than you probably think you are. Aging does slow things down a bit but strength training is effective at any age.
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Thanks for reading and see you next time.