Resistance Training in Older Adults

What is resistance training? Should I be doing it? And where do I start? Strength and Conditioning Coach, Cameron Lane explains the benefits to resistance training and why it’s important to do it at all ages.

Most people understand the importance of general physical activity for health and well-being, however one training type that is commonly overlooked, but has a very significant impact on quality of life for the older population (I’m taking about 65 years and above) is resistance training. 

Resistance training is not just for athletes or for the younger generations looking to stay strong and healthy. Doing exercises that are targeted at improving muscle function is arguably more important in older adults in order to maintain a high quality of life, reduce injury risk and managing any long-term health issues. 

What is resistance training

Let’s first look at what resistance training is and is not. It is not just lifting big weights and grunting as you do it. Resistance training does not need to be done at the gym nor does it even need to be about lifting weights’. If you are finding ways to challenge your musculoskeletal system, you can use your own bodyweight, resistance bands or cables. Most of the programs I prescribe for older adults uses things that can be found in the home; A shopping bag with some food in it, a filled water bottle, even the lounge room couch or seat. 

Why should I do resistance training?

One of the biggest reasons why this is such an important area for older adults is due to the natural process of sarcopenia, the loss of muscle and strength as a result of ageing. As we age, we inevitably are going to lose muscle and by extension strength, which has a knock-on effect as general daily functions become a bit more challenging. However, resistance training has more benefits than just muscle function. A recent analysis of the research on resistance training for older adults showed positive outcomes for; 

  • Increased muscle size 
  • Increased bone mineral density 
  • Reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis/​diabetes/​osteoporosis
  • Promoting independence in daily task 
  • Improved balance – reducing falls risk 

Choosing Exercises

So, what exercises should I be doing? Ideally you are targeting all major muscles groups doing large compound movements that are functional for you day to day. A session should include 6 – 8 exercises targeting all major muscle groups. Lower body exercises like squats, lunges, step ups and leg curl; and upper body exercises such as press ups, rows, dips and pull ups will cover most of your bases. Then for core muscle exercises such as cable press, cable rotations and sit ups will strengthen the mid-section.

Repetitions — Sets — Weight

The next step is choosing a weight, and how many reps to do. Aiming for 2 – 3 sets for each exercise of 1015 reps. If you can’t do 10 then drop the weight down, if you can do 15 easily, then increase the weight. The goal should be to have the last 2 – 3 reps feel challenging but not unmanageable so that you are pushing the muscles to work hard. If you are unsure, then start lower and build up. 

How many sessions & how long for?

The World Health Organisation, and many other professional bodies, recommend that Muscle-strengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, should be done on 2 or more days a week (1). These sessions should be roughly 4560 minutes and can be done as a circuit, classes or just an individual session at your own gym. 

What would a typical session look like?


  • 10 — 15 reps, x23 sets. Use bodyweight or small dumbbells

Step Up

  • 10 — 15 reps, x23 sets. Use bodyweight or small dumbbells

Incline Press Up

  • 6 — 12 reps, x23 sets. Using a box, bench or ledge to find an appropriate height

Cable Row

  • 10 – 15 reps, x23 sets. Using a weight you can do 10 repetitions for

Leg Curl

  • 10 — 15 reps, x23 sets. Using a weight you can do 10 repetitions for

Cable Paloff Press

  • 10 – 15 reps, 2 – 3 sets. Using a weight you can do 10 repetitions for

Sit Ups

  • 10 – 15 reps, x23 sets. No weight needed for this exercise


  • 2 or more resistance sessions/​week
  • 6 – 8 exercises targeting the whole body
  • 2 – 3 sets for each exercise
  • 1015 repetitions for each set

If you aren’t sure where to begin or need some guidance on what to do, reach out to a qualified Strength and Conditioning coach to get you started.