Fit for Life: Strength Training for “Masters”

Michael Conroy, USA Weightlifting International Coach

A 2015 Experimental Gerontology study of men and women ages 65 to 97 in retirement care facilities found that performing strength exercises just two times a week for six months significantly improved participants’ mobility and functional performance. Other studies have shown that at any advanced age weight training can show an increase in both bone density and muscular function.


When the phenomena of weight training for the elderly began in the 1980’s it was to make seniors Fall Proof. The current research shows that people aged 45 and over can, actually, show a strength gain of such significance that it slows the aging process.  One is “never to old” to benefit from appropriate and supervised strength programs. 


Before beginning any physical training program individuals aged 45 and over should speak with their primary care physician and get an overall fitness assessment. This should include all the traditional reviews. 

  • Your skin – to look for bruising, cuts, moles or lumps
  • Your face and eyes – to see if they are even and “normal”
  • Your neck veins – to see if these are bulging, distended (swollen)
  • Your chest and abdomen (stomach area)- to see if there are any masses, or bulges
  • Your legs – to see if there are any swelling
  • Your muscles- to check for good muscle tone
  • Your elbows and joints – check for swelling and inflammation, if any deformities are present
  • The neck: When your doctor or healthcare provider is listening to your neck, they are often listening for a “swishing” sound in your arteries. This may suggest that there is a narrowing of the arteries, which would increase the sound of blood flow.
  • The Heart: Normally, your heart produces a “lub-dub” sound, when the heart valves are opening and closing during the flow of blood. Your healthcare provider will listen to see if your heart is beating regularly, or if there are any murmurs (extra sounds with every heart beat). Heart murmurs may be “innocent”, meaning they are normal, and non-life threatening, or they may signify a problem may be present. To diagnose this, your healthcare provider may listen with their stethoscope to many areas around the heart, instead of just one area, and suggest further testing, if necessary.
  • The Lungs: Your doctor or healthcare provider may listen to your lungs with their stethoscope, anywhere on your back (posterior), or on the front of your chest wall (anterior). He or she may be able to tell if air is moving to the bottom of your lungs, by listening to the airflow in and out of your lungs with each breath. These are called normal lung sounds. If there is a blockage, constriction or narrowing of your lung tubes, or fluid in your lungs, this can be heard by the examiner. 
  • The Abdomen: The abdomen will be examined using a stethoscope, to listen for any “swishing” sounds of blood through the arteries near your stomach (such as the aorta), or abnormal bowel sounds.
  • Other locations: Auscultation may be used anywhere your healthcare provider wants to listen

Once the assessment has been concluded and the person has been cleared for participation just what exercises should be included?

As ‘controversial’ as this may sound. The only, true, restriction to a strength program is range of motion. The individual needs to be able to properly, and safely, demonstrate the proper motion of any given exercise. If they cannot then the path of training is simplistic. The coach and athlete develop a ‘range of motion’, flexibility program and upon successful completion of that the person may move forward with more traditional training.

What does a “Senior” training program look like?

Training Frequency: 3 days per week is the preferred starting point.

Exercises: Placed into 2 Major Categories. Flexors and Extensors (The Canadians called this approach Push Pull Training. One day the athlete trains all their Extending Joints and the next time the train they train all their Flexing Joints.

Barbell, Dumb bell and Kettlebell equipment are implemented as determined by the expected outcomes.

Sets, Reps, and Weight: Once again a gentle, safe and effective program is developed in the following progressions

Strengthen the Joints, then Power the Muscles, Recruit the nervous system and, finally, access the program.

Free weight exercises, Pulls, Squats and Presses, are recommended as they involve the three afore mentioned areas much more effectively than “Machine” work.

As the individual progresses through the training the exercises may move to multi-joint, dynamic and ballistic movements. Snatches, Cleans and Jerks are amazingly effective (and totally appropriate). 

Life is a dynamic, ballistic, change of direction with the individual applying force to the ground with their feet. Their training should be as well. 

The great thing about this approach to training is that the individual does not have to lift heavy weights to benefit. The basis for this method is to improve the Motor Movement of those involved in the program.

Intrigued? Contact us a Crown Performance and schedule a consultation.