Exercises for Older Adults





The Best Kettlebell Workout for Women Over 50

Women in their 50s often gain weight, experience changes in posture, and lose muscle mass because of menopause. Doing two to three kettlebell sessions a week can help combat some of those physiological changes. Kettlebells increase muscular strength and endurance, and improve balance, core strength, coordination and posture. The workout has cardiovascular benefits as well. Most of the exercises are functional and incorporate the entire body, which makes the workout more efficient and less time consuming than traditional strength training with free weights.

Program Design

Pay careful attention to form and technique when learning how to use kettlebells. It is better to begin with a light weight to master form to prevent injury to the back, shoulders and knees. If you work out regularly, begin with a 10- to 15-pound kettlebell. Try a routine two to three days a week that consists of two to three sets of eight to 10 exercises. Cross train on alternate days with Pilates, yoga or a moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity.

Short Circuit

A circuit kettlebell routine can help banish the excess adipose tissue that accumulates around the midsection during menopause. Include two to three sets of 10 to 15 squats, deadlifts, snatches and swings. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between each exercise before continuing. Finish with two to three bodyweight planks before you stretch. The moves can help you burn calories, aiding in fat loss and increased lean muscle mass.

Muscle Up

You may be dismayed as you progress through your 50s to realize that you are losing tone in your lower body, particularly in the derrière. A kettlebell routine that targets the lower body can prevent things from going further south. Warm up with joint mobility exercises. Perform two to three sets of walking lunges, single-leg squats, figure eights between the legs, single-leg deadlifts and single-arm swings for 15 to 60 seconds. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between exercises.

Upper Body Training

Banish batwing arms with upper-body exercises involving 5- to 8-pound kettlebells, such as snatches, high pulls, bentover rows, alternating shoulder presses, farmer’s walks and overhead triceps extensions. Consult a certified fitness professional to watch your form when you are learning how to use kettlebells.

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Kettlebell Exercises for Seniors

Kettlebells are traditional Russian weights that look like a cast-iron cannonball with a handle. Used properly, they are senior friendly and can be used for maintaining and increasing muscle strength and bone density, and for a cardiovascular workout. They are available in weights from 2 lbs to over 100 lbs. Women should start with about 8 lbs, while men can begin at 16 lbs. Use common sense: If a particular exercise aggravates an existing problem or injury, don’t do that exercise.

Two-Arm Swing

The two-arm swing is the most basic kettlebell exercise and should be mastered before moving to other exercises. Use an overhand grip with both hands on the handle and allow it to hang between your legs. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Start swinging by rocking your hips rather than using your shoulders and use momentum to raise the bell so that it swings to about shoulder height, then back between your legs. Perform for at least one minute, or for a desired number of repetitions.

Single-Arm Swing

The single-arm swing uses the same basic movement as the two-arm swing, but only one hand is used. Remember to swing upward by thrusting the pelvis forward rather than lifting from your shoulders, and allow gravity to bring the kettlebell down in a smooth, controlled movement. Keep the free arm at the side of the body. Perform for one minute or a desired number of repetitions, then change arms and repeat.

Body Pass

Begin in the same body position as for the two-arm swing. Release one hand from the bell, and swing the bell behind your back with the other hand. Grasp it with the free hand at the back and bring it back around the other side to the front again. Make sure you grasp it firmly and breathe throughout the movement. As the weight moves from hand to hand, your arms will loosen and tighten. After the required number of repetitions, repeat in the opposite direction.

Figure Eight

The figure eight is an advanced version of the body pass and should not be done until you have mastered that move. Instead of passing the kettlebell around your body, you pass it from one hand to the other between your legs from the front of the body to the back and from side to side, so that it creates a figure-eight pattern. This gives you an excellent workout. After the required number of repetitions, repeat in the opposite direction.

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Kettlebells for the Aging Population

Swinging and lifting kettlebells may sound like a form of training best left to weightlifters, hardcore athletes, and members of the younger generations. But the reality is that everyone, especially seniors, can benefit from properly training with kettlebells. In 2010 the American Council of Exercise (ACE) at the University of Wisconsin conducted a survey about kettlebell training and its effects on individuals. Researchers found evidence supporting the positive implications of kettlebell training’s potential to strengthen the core muscles by 70 percent, especially for elderly people. One of the research leaders, John Porcari, Ph.D. says, “I think that’s huge because the stronger people are through the core, the less low-back pain they are going to have.” He also pointed out the importance of how working out with the unique weights can affect and improve balance for older kettlebell users. “Older people who are doing some sort of kettlebell-like training are going to be more likely to avoid dangerous falls,” he says.

Kettlebells training can also improve bone density (preventing osteoporosis), combat against age-related muscle atrophy, and help control blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels among the older generations.

Due to the many health benefits and quality of life improvements associated with kettlebell training, kettlebell classes and workout videos for older age groups are cropping up all over America. Of course, as with any other type of workout program for the elderly involving weights, the key to getting a safe workout is using wise judgment. It is also advised to consult with a physician before starting any kettlebell training, to begin slowly and gradually increase intensity and weight, and to pay close attention to proper form to avoid injuries. 

Here are just a few typical activities you regularly engage in that require some form of pulling, pushing, lifting, and/or balancing objects that have a displaced center of gravity (meaning they’re not centered and balanced in your hand):

picking up a child or pet

mowing the lawn

operating the vacuum cleaner

toting bags of groceries

catching your balance when you start to slip or fall

walking your dog

playing a sport

carrying a full laundry basket

lifting a suitcase or gym bag

Beginner Kettlebell Exercises for Older Adult

Kettlebells are a centuries-old exercise tool originally used by Russians to develop strength, stamina and endurance with a single piece of equipment. Seniors can use these weights to perform exercises that build muscular strength, improve heart health and increase bone density. Limit your use of a kettlebell to simple exercises using a light weight as you begin to learn how to use this increasingly popular piece of fitness equipment.

Step 1

Perform biceps curls, a simple exercise you can do standing or sitting, to work the muscle on the front of your upper arm. Start with the kettlebell hanging at your side with your palm facing forward. Bend your arm at the elbow, bringing your palm and the kettlebell toward your shoulder. Hold for one or two seconds, then lower the kettlebell. Perform this exercise one arm at a time or using two kettlebells at once. If you can stand while you perform the exercise, curl the kettlebell across your stomach instead of up to your shoulder. Balance yourself with one hand against a chair or wall if you exercise standing up.

Step 2

Perform triceps extensions using a kettlebell to work the upper backs of your arms. Without using the weight, practice putting your hand behind your head with your palm facing your back. Extend your arm at the elbow, turning your hand outward so your palm faces forward when you’re finished. Decide if you can perform this exercise with the weight of kettlebell you have chosen without losing your balance or straining your back. If you can safely perform the exercise, add the weight of the kettlebell.

Step 3

Perform rows, a simple exercise you can do while kneeling on a bench. Place one knee on the bench and one hand on the seat in front of you for support and hold the weight straight down with your palm facing your body. Raise and lower the weight to your chest, bending your arm at the elbow. Keep your elbow tucked into your side and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you raise the weight. This exercise will work your biceps and the fronts of your shoulders as well. Change positions to work your other arm.

Step 4

Add kickbacks to your workouts, which start from the same position as rows, using a slightly different movement to emphasize your triceps and rear shoulder muscles. Raise the kettlebell to your chest, bringing your elbow back behind you with your palm facing your body for your starting position. Extend your arm at the elbow, bringing the weight backward without changing the position of your elbow and upper arm. Return to the starting position by bending your elbow. Switch positions to work the other arm.

Step 5

Work your forearms, chest and the fronts of your shoulders with arm raises. Hold the kettlebell at your side with your palm facing behind you while you are in a standing or sitting position. Raise your arm straight ahead, up to shoulder level. Hold the weight still for two seconds, then slowly lower it. Switch sides.