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3 Exercise that Help Seniors Gain Muscle

by Joe Fleming
3 minutes read

Fears of heavy barbells and stuffy gyms might keep many seniors from incorporating strength training into their workout routine. The truth is, however, strength training is critical to retaining muscle mass which contributes to balance, coordination, and fall prevention. In addition, strength training helps seniors manage a healthy weight and lower risk for developing chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s.

Harvard Medical School shares that every decade after you turn 30, you lose anywhere from 3 to 5% of your muscle mass, with some men losing upwards of 30% in their lifetime. Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, doesn’t have to be an inevitability for seniors, especially if you are proactive about exercises that build muscle and help you retain vital strength and power. Check out these 3 go-to exercises that help seniors gain muscle:

Progressive Resistance Training (PRT)

Effectively using your strength as a senior means challenging yourself more and more and progressively increasing the energy and power needed to complete your workout. With the guided instruction of a personal trainer, this might mean incorporating exercise machines, free weights, and elastic resistance bands into a comprehensive workout structured around technique, load, tailored repetitions, rest, and progression.

One 2009 study found that progressive resistance training played an important role in helping seniors maintain basic day to day functionality. Increased strength and confidence can be the difference between staying mobile, being able to carry groceries, and even keeping up with hobbies like gardening. Free weights and exercise machines might be available in your gym, but who makes the best resistance bands? Shop around and invest in durable equipment that provides the right length and resistance for your workout.


The ancient practice of yoga has been shown over recent decades to help lower high blood pressure, build bone density, as well as relieve stress and anxiety, but can it also help make you stronger? Absolutely. As a weight bearing exercise where you hold various body postures against the force of gravity, yoga forces key muscle groups around the body to engage including the arms, legs, back, and core.

The deep breathing and stretching components also prime muscles to be more pliable and elastic, which can allow for greater gains when incorporated with other elements of a workout routine like light weight-lifting. Seniors do want to be mindful of when, how, and with whom they practice. A knowledgeable instructor who has a background in tailoring yoga exercises to specific senior needs (i.e. for seniors with limited mobility, osteoarthritis, etc) is a must to avoid potential injury.


A revealing 2014 study out of Australia found that older men who swam regularly were 33 percent less likely to experience a fall than their counterparts who regularly engaged in different forms of exercise, like golfing or treadmill workouts. Researchers believe that unlike other activities, the weightless environment of swimming provides an effective workout which requires older adults to use their core for foundational support while coordinating movements between the arms and legs.

As a low-impact exercise, swimming is more accessible for seniors and is especially beneficial for those with mobility limitations and joint ailments, like arthritis. Swimming burns twice as many calories as walking, and engages more muscle groups than almost any other activity. Water aerobics, pool running, and other water-based activities will have similar effects to swimming and have the added benefit of being done year-round.

Additional Considerations

What’s important for seniors to remember as they are strength training and targeting energy towards building muscle is that nutrition plays a key role as well. Working out without refueling the body does little to help cells repair and grow muscle tissue. A 2014 study from the Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism found that older adults who ate more protein regularly were better at building muscle mass.

While protein powders may be a simple solution, there are other ways to get the amino acids your body needs without loading up on animal proteins with high fat and cholesterol content. Plant-based proteins like cooked beans, as well as nuts, seeds like quinoa, low-fat milk, greek yogurt, and salmon can pack a mean protein punch in any diet.

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