Today we will look at a simple full body dumbbell workout for seniors. Dumbbells are convenient exercise equipment you can buy pretty affordably to your home or find at virtually any gym.
Using dumbbells is a form of strength training. You can actually train your whole body with them at the comfort of your own home.
If you are new to strength training, dumbbells are a great way to get started improving you strength. Let’s start by looking at what dumbbells actually are before jumping to the actual workout program!
What are dumbbells
Dumbbells are a form of hand held free weight that’s used for resistance training. A dumbbell is a weight that can be held with one hand and there’s a handle on the middle with the actual weight (bells) being mainly on both ends of the handle.
A larger cousin of a dumbbell is called a barbell. Barbell has a long bar that can be gripped with both hands and weight (bells) at both ends. A third form of a free weight is a kettlebell. It’s a spherical weight with a handle on top for gripping.
But back to the topic of today, dumbbells. They come in many forms and materials. The three most common once are:
- Plastic dumbbells filled with sand, water or other heavy substance
- Metal dumbbells
- Adjustable metal dumbbells
Especially adjustable dumbbells are a very affordable way to increase strength with a progressive overload. You simply choose a set of exercises that you complete with a set weight. Once you can achieve a certain amount of reps, let’s say 15 for example, you then add a bit of weight to the dumbbell.
Then you keep doing the exercise for few weeks, adding reps until you can do 15 reps with the new weight. You guessed it, it’s time to add a little bit of weight again. This is how strength training works. You add weight and reps incrementally over a long period of time. The increased resistance (weight) and workload for your muscles to adapt and become stronger. They do this by becoming stronger and more efficient.
Why are dumbbells great for seniors
So are dumbbells a good form of strength training for seniors? Yes they are. They are affordable and available almost anywhere and they can be used at home. This makes trying them very easy.
Because of the vast amount of exercises you can do with dumbbells, it’s possible to design a program that targets most of your body even if you have mobility or joint issues.
Because dumbbells are free weights, they improve functional strength, coordination and balance as well. You have to control your whole body and your core, while maintaining balance when you do exercises with the dumbbells.
Free weight exercises are superior to gym machines because of this added requirement to use your whole body. While gym machines can be great for seniors because you can generally use higher resistance safely, free weight are superior because of the functional component.
If you can combine both you will get the best of both worlds. Use free weights for improving overall functional strength, coordination and balance and use gym machines for improving maximal strength.
You should never do maximum strength work with free weights as a senior because the risk of injury is higher.
One great thing about using dumbbells and other free weights is that they improve your grip strength as well, because you have to grip the weight during the whole movement.
Let’s look at a workout plan for the whole body!
Dumbbell workout for legs and lower back
The legs, lower back and core can be completely trained with four dumbbell exercises. These are:
- The goblet squat
- Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
- Dumbbell lunges
- Dumbbell calf raises
The Goblet squat
The goblet squat is a great exercise for the whole body but it especially targets the quads. It’s easier to perform than a typical back squat because you the center of gravity is in front of you. This allows a more upright position.
There are two important things for seniors performing these exercises. The first is that you have to be careful about keeping your core active and not over extending your back (bringing your butt back). Think about bringing your knees forward and sitting straight between your feet.
The other thing you need to be careful about is your knee health and the depth of the squat. In a perfect world you would sit completely down so that your hamstring touch your calves. This requires extremely good mobility, something most seniors don’t have. Also, if you have weak quads or any joint issues, this might feel bad or even painful on your knees.
So start with a “quarter” squat and without a weight. Hold your hands in front of you. Then go lower over several days and you will feel your quads activating more. Once you can hit parallel (your thighs are horizontal to the ground) you can add a light dumbbell.
Do 3 sets of 10. When you can perform those, add weight.
Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
The Romanian deadlift might seem similar to the goblet squat but it’s actually a movement that activates specifically the posterior chain, which consist of your hamstring, glutes and lower back. These are the strongest and most important muscle group for your ability to move independently.
In the dumbbell Romanian deadlift the most important thing is to keep the weight on your heels and bring your butt back while hinging at the hips. Only slightly bend your knees and they should not come forward at any point of the exercise.
(Don’t mind the steroid pumped bodybuilders, the tutorial was the best one around, many show it wrong)
You will feel a pull on your hamstrings, especially at the lower part of the movement. Go only as low as what feel comfortable, you can add depth gradually like in the goblet squat.
Lunges are a variation of the squat, where you step forward with one leg, while the other one stays back. They are great for improving balance and activating the glutes.
You should definitely start these with body weight and add dumbbells once you can perform several reps comfortably with body weight.
Dumbbell lunges are much easier than barbell lunges for example because the center of gravity is so much lower.
Dumbbell workout for the back
The leg exercises we talked about a moment ago will strengthen both your core, lower back and also you upper back. You can do one additional exercise to improve upper back and arm pulling strength.
The dumbbell bent-over row is a back exercise that activates the large muscles of the upper back like the latissimus dorsi (lats for short), rhomboids and part of the trapezius (traps for short). Here you need to keep core stable and focus on pulling on your back and arm, not rotating with your upper body to move the weight:
Dumbbell workout for the chest and shoulders
For the chest muscles or pecs we need to do a single exercise with dumbbells. The floor press. The floor press is very similar to bench press you likely have seen or heard about.
The only difference is that your don’t need a bench. You just lie on the floor, hold two dumbbells vertically relative to the floor and press them up, like this:
The floor press is actually a good option for seniors because of the shorter range of motion compared to the bench press (because the floor stops your elbows coming behind your body, like in the bench press). The shorter range of motion is less straining on the shoulder joint while offering the same pressing strength benefits.
Side Dumbbell Lateral raises
For shoulder the best dumbbell movement is the side dumbbell lateral raise. It activates the deltoids and other shoulder muscles quite effectively.
The important things with this movement is to use a light enough weight that you can maintain proper form. You should be able to lift the weight at your side with straight arm without momentum. Otherwise, you risk shoulder injury. So take it slow and start light:
We hope you found this dumbbell workout for seniors useful and will try it. Please let us know the results, we’d love to hear from you! If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave the on the comment section below.
Dumbbells are a great way to get started with resistance and strength training even in older age. Doing regular strength training will improve your health and ability to function independently as you age, so it’s very important for active and healthy old age.
With this simple workout you can train your whole body in less than half an hour! Just do it couple times a week and gradually add repetitions and weight and you will soon notice you are much stronger than you were starting.
We wish you enjoyable strength training sessions and hope to see you next time!