The Residential Library

The sometimes demented, frequently irreverent, and occasionally stupid musings of Ron Hargrove

Dumbbell Exercises for Seniors


How many times and how often?

  • 3-6 times per week
  • Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise (build up to this gradually)
  • Rest 1-2 minutes between sets

A good foundational program might involve these eight exercises:

Overhead press

  1. Stand upright and keep the back straight.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at the shoulders with an overhand grip. Thumbs should be on the inside and knuckles facing up.
  3. Raise the weights above the head in a controlled motion while exhaling. Pause at the top of the motion.
  4. Return the dumbbells to the shoulders while inhaling.
  5. Repeat for eight to 12 repetitions as desired.

Arm curl

  1. Begin standing tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms relax down at the sides of your body with palms facing forward.
  3. Keeping your upper arms stable and shoulders relaxed, bend at the elbow and lift the weights so that the dumbbells approach your shoulders. Your elbows should stay tucked in close to your ribs. Exhale while lifting.
  4. Lower the weights to the starting position.
  5. Do 8–10 curls, then rest and do one or two more sets.

Triceps extension

  1. Hold the dumbbell with both hands above your chest, straight up, and with the dumbbell shaft in a vertical position. This is the starting position. Inhale.
  2. Move the weight down toward the rear of your head by flexing your elbows while exhaling. The motion takes place in the elbows, while upper arms generally remain perpendicular to the body. Keep the upper arms from moving back and forth with the weight as this transfers some of the work to the shoulders instead of focusing it on the triceps.
  3. Continue lowering the weight behind the head until the dumbbell head is about in line with the bench top, or even a little higher if this feels unwieldy.
  4. Reverse the movement until the weight is held above the chest in the starting position again. Don’t lock the elbows at the starting position; instead, stop just shy of locked position to maintain tension in your muscle.
  5. Repeat. Aim for 10 to 12 extensions for each of three sets if you don’t have a defined program.

Shoulder squat

  1. Rest a dumbbell on each shoulder with the dumbbell end pointing forward.
  2. Position the feet about as wide as the hips. Keep the heels planted firmly on the floor and do not allow them to rise up during the exercise.
  3. Brace the abdominal muscles. You can identify these by pretending to clear your throat or by coughing. You will notice the “abs” tightening automatically in the stomach region.
  4. Stand tall, shoulders pulled back with good balance.
  5. Point your butt backward as you start to lower your body by bending at the knees. Make this a deliberate movement. If you concentrate on that butt backward movement you are off to a good start with the squat. Don’t arch the back forward on descent or when you return to the start position.
  6. Descend to where your thighs are parallel to the floor. Less than the full distance is OK until you develop good form.
  7. Press into your heels to straighten your knees and hips and rise back up to standing position. Be sure to keep your chest tall so that back stays in neutral position.

Forward lunge

  1. Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Hang your arms at ​your sides. Palms should face the thighs (hammer grip). Feet should be a little less than shoulder-width apart.​
  2. Take a big step forward with either leg, bending at the knee until the front thigh approaches parallel to the ground, landing on the heel. Inhale as you go down. The rear leg is bent at the knee and balanced on the toes. For the leg you step forward with, don’t let the knee go past the tip of the toes.
  3. Step back to your standing starting position while exhaling.
  4. Repeat the motion with the other leg. Alternate legs until the exercise program set is complete. A number to aim for is eight to 12 lunges per set and two to three sets in a workout.

Front raise

  1. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart. Keep the back straight and feet planted flat on the floor. Your arms holding weights should hang down.
  2. Hold the dumbbells across the thighs horizontally, palms facing back toward the thighs. Ensure that you have a firm grip.
  3. Brace the abdominal muscles.
  4. Lift the weights upward, inhaling, with arms out in front and palms facing down. Keep a slight bend in the elbows to reduce the stress on the joints. Pause when the arms are approximately horizontal to the floor and feel the contraction in the shoulders.
  5. Return the dumbbells to the starting position at the thighs with a slow and controlled motion while exhaling.
  6. Repeat the exercise for the number of sets and repetitions in your program.

Bent-over rows (this is an intermediate-level exercise; build up to it)

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend over at about a 45-degree angle (no farther). Keep the back straight throughout the exercise. Brace your abdominals and breathe in.
  2. Lift the weights straight up, exhaling. While lifting, the arms should go no higher than parallel with the shoulders—slightly lower than the shoulders is fine. While lifting, try to keep the wrists from excessive extra movement down or to the side. Do not squat down and up after the initial pose. No movement of the legs occurs throughout the exercise.
  3. Lower the weights in a controlled manner while inhaling.
  4. Remain bent over until all repetitions are complete.
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