During a recent visit to the dentist, the hygienist started talking about the need to build strength in her upper body as she had noticed herself getting a little weaker with age. Like so many others who have shared their weight training experiences, she went on to describe a program she was following which resulted in her getting hurt. 

I’ve been asked many times over the years for advice on the best way to keep the upper body strong. When it comes to diet, we have a general idea of what’s good for us and much of eating well is about making the right food choices in the right amount for our body. When it comes to weight training, however, the landscape can be more confusing and often times individuals with the best interests get involved and the results end up in injury.

People also ask as if they can get stronger as they get older. In general, certainly past the age of 40, we will always be in a position of losing muscle mass and gaining fat. That’s just how the body functions and it makes the topic of keeping strength and tonality even more important. 

My recommended routine, described below, is designed to strengthen the arms, along with the core muscles and postural muscles. As it has been shown that weight lifting can mitigate the effects of osteoporosis, the practice is especially valuable for women over 40. 

Here is my recommended routine: (see video for more detail and instructions):

One round:
20x 2-handed curls
10x 1-handed curls – each arm
10x 1-handed floor lifts – each arm

Use the first exercise as a test to determine the correct amount of weight to start with. Somebody who weighs around 120 pounds should be considering something in the 10-15 pound range, and it goes up from there.  You can always add more weight. Everyone’s starting point will be different and it’s important to recognize what’s comfortable and start with that. If you can 2-hand curl the weight 20 times, and it’s not too easy or too challenging, that’s the right amount to get you going.  

Begin with one round and work your way up to 3 rounds.  Ideally, you start out doing the routine 3 times per week.  As you pass the age of 50, 5-6x per week is recommended. 

After 6 months, start to increase the repetitions until you can do 4-6 rounds.  This is your workout for the next 30 years. Keep in mind that it is more important to lift consistently then it is to increase the amount of weight.  My goal has been to lift the same at 82 that I lifted at 52. 

A basic principle with weight lifting is, the less interesting, the better. This simplicity allows you to focus on posture and alignment and make sure they are correct. Adhering to proper alignment will also assure that you are not lifting too much or doing too many repetitions, as it is impossible to maintain correct alignment under these conditions.  

In general, people get injured lifting weights because they are either lifting too much, using the wrong exercises or have the incorrect alignment. In my routine, we are going to make sure you have the right amount of weight and repetitions, but there has to be self-monitoring for alignment and positioning.  Alignment and positioning should reflect what I’ve already covered in videos such as:

The Best Neck Position https://youtu.be/iUvBF0sro6Q
The Best Shoulder Position https://youtu.be/invGwWfGCHs
The Best Way to Sit: https://youtu.be/t63QShNpR-s 

Please check out these links at some point to make sure you are getting the most benefit from your workout with the least amount of risk.  To summarize the main points, when lifting, the priority is always going to be that the clavicle is parallel to the floor, that the humerus is slightly rotated out, and the chin is tucked in tremendously.

Regarding the lower body, the safest way to maintain strength is to ride a bike, use a stationary bike or go for a walk. Walking hills or stairs is especially beneficial. Leg weights can be used but they introduce some risk, especially after the age of 40. Squats and other types of hip, leg, and pelvic strengthening exercises, can also be helpful, but the correct alignment on those is near impossible to achieve on your own.   

Various professions require upper-body strength, such as chefs and bakers, electricians, dental professionals, people who sew or knit, and pet groomers. Many tasks in the home environment, such as cooking, gardening and cleaning are also quite manually taxing. So, get strong, stand straight and work your core. If you want to keep tonality for your day-to-day activities, Feel Better Forever with a weight -lifting routine that’s right for you.