5 Senior-Friendly Strength Workouts for Cross-Training Days

mature woman doing barbell lifts during workout
5 Strength Workouts for SeniorsThomas Barwick - Getty Images

If you’ve never prioritized strength training as part of your fitness routine, it’s not too late to start.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism recruited two groups of senior participants. Individuals in the first group were between 65 and 75 years old, and those in the second group were 85 years and older. Neither group had engaged in resistance training for at least six months. After following a 12-week strength-training program, both cohorts showed significant improvements in muscle mass, strength, and physical performance.

This doesn’t mean you should wait for your golden years to pick up a dumbbell. Age-related sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and function, can begin in your 30s, says Robert Linkul, C.S.C.S., owner of Training The Older Adult. And it only ramps up with every passing decade. “There’s a constant battle against sarcopenia,” he tells Bicycling. “But if you resistance train your entire life, your body shouldn’t change drastically. Naturally, you’ll lose some muscle mass. There’s going to be some degeneration of performance and power output. But as long as you keep trying to maintain it, you’ll have it.”

Julie Logue, M.P.H., senior program manager for Silver Sneakers, agrees that strength training is particularly worthwhile for seniors. “As muscular strength and endurance improves, you can perform activities of daily living with greater ease,” she says, noting that a regular resistance training program can also help older individuals maintain bone density, improve balance, reduce the risk of falling, and correct muscle imbalances. “Because cycling uses some parts of the body more than others, strength training is a necessary complement to promote muscle balance and reduce overuse injuries. Increasing strength can also benefit cyclists by increasing overall endurance and postural control,” she says.

Convinced but not sure where to start? With Linkul’s help, we put together five strength-training workouts you can do on cross-training days. Each one includes senior-appropriate exercises, some of which can be modified or progressed depending on your skill level and experience. For exercises that require added resistance, choose a load that’s heavy but doable; on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being your max effort, aim for between a 6 and 7.

Cyclists who are entirely new to strength training want to go lighter at first. “Beginning with bodyweight movements can help build a foundation for using external resistance,” Logue says. She also recommends consulting a primary care provider before starting any new exercise program.


1. Bodyweight Senior Workout

Why it works: Like most bodyweight workouts, you can do this full-body circuit anywhere, making it a convenient option for when you’re traveling, can’t get to the gym, or just don’t feel like dealing with a bunch of equipment. You’ll work every major muscle group, including your deep core, and train functional, everyday movement patterns, like standing from a sitting position, pushing up from the floor, and maintaining balance and control while stepping backward.

How to use this list: Perform the following exercises in order for the number of reps described, resting 1 minute between sets. Repeat for a total of 3 rounds. You will need an exercise mat and a chair, box, or bench.

Sit-to-Stand Squat

emom workouts
Frank Baptiste

Stand in front of a chair, box, or bench with feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Send hips back and down to lower into a squat. Tap the chair with glutes. Drive through feet to stand back up. Repeat. Do 12 reps.

Mountain Climber

plank hold to mountain climber
Raj Hathiramani

Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists and body forming straight line from head to feet. Drive right foot to chest. Step back to plank. Repeat on left side. Continue alternating. Do 15 reps per side.

Reverse Lunge

how to do a lunge, lunge variations
Trevor Raab

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step back with right foot, bending both knees 90 degrees; front left knee tracking over toes and back right knee hovering just above floor. Drive through left foot to stand back up, stepping right foot forward. Repeat, stepping left foot back. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps per side.

Inverted Plank Hold

a person lying on the floor
Yusuf Jeffers

Start faceup with arms at sides, legs together, and feet on an elevated surface, like a small box, bench, or chair. Engage core and lift hips off ground so body forms a straight line from heels to shoulders. (Head and shoulders stay on ground, like a straight-leg glute bridge.) Allow arms to rest on ground or, for added difficulty, lift them off floor so elbows are straight and fingertips point up. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Lateral Lunge

lateral lunge to butt kick
Raj Hathiramani

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step out wide with right foot, bend knee, and send hips back. Keep left leg straight and weight in right heel. Drive through right foot to stand up, foot stepping back to hip-width apart. Repeat, left foot stepping out. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps per side.

Push-Up

push up
Julia Hembree Smith

Start in plank position, shoulders over wrists and forming straight line from head to heels. Bend elbows, lowering body to floor while maintaining straight line. Press back up to plank. Repeat. Do 12 reps. Perform on knees or with hands against wall to make it easier.


2. Core, Balance, and Stability Workout

Why it works: This workout develops core strength through exercises that challenge your balance and train transferable skills, like carrying a heavy load, crawling in multiple directions, and shifting your body weight from a lying-down position. The single-leg glute bridge and superman variation fire up the posterior chain, which is critical for cyclists, and the three-way toe tap will help improve your overall balance and stability.

How to use this list: Perform the following exercises in order for the number of reps described, resting 1 minute between sets. Repeat for a total of 3 rounds. You will need an exercise mat and a dumbbell or kettlebell.

4-Corner Bear Crawl

low impact cardio workout, bear plank to low squat
Lindsey Clayton

Start on hands and knees, shoulders over wrists and knees under hips. Lift knees just about an inch off floor. Take two steps with opposite hand and foot to the right. Take two steps with opposite hand and foot backward. Take two steps with opposite hand and foot to the left. Take two steps with opposite hand and foot forward. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps.

3-Way Toe Tap

beginner stability workout, 3 way toe tap
Raj Hathiramani

Stand with feet together. Send hips back, back flat and core engage, to lower into a shallow hinge position. Keeping weight on left leg, tap right foot forward, then back to left foot. Tap right foot out to the side, then back to left foot. Tap right foot backward, then back to left foot. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 reps. Then switch sides.

Plank Shoulder Tap

push up shoulder tap
Courtesy of Noam Tamir

Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists, forming a straight line from head to heels. Tap right hand to left shoulder. Then return to plank. Repeat on opposite side. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps per side.

Suitcase Carry

suitcase carry
Trevor Raab

Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, stand tall with shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor, and arms straight down at sides. Keep shoulders over hips (be careful not to lean away from weighted arm) and relax shoulders as you slowly walk forward for 30-60 seconds. Repeat, holding weight on opposite side.

Superman With Lat Pull-Down

superman exercise
Adam Hoff

Lie facedown, arms and legs straight, arms above head. Lift arms, chest, and legs off floor. Hold and pull elbows down toward sides. Keep gaze toward floor. Extend arms back out. Lower back down. Repeat. Do 10 reps.

Single-Leg Glute Bridge

si joint exercises, single leg glute bridge
Thomas Hengge

Lie faceup, knees bent and feet planted, arms down by sides. Lift and straighten right leg, knees in line. Drive through left foot to lift hips up. Pause, then slowly lower back down. Lift with glutes and hamstrings, rather than low back. Repeat. Do 10 reps. Then switch sides.


3. Upper-Body Workout

Why it works: A dedicated upper-body workout counteracts the time cyclists spend leaning forward in a rounded position and can help correct postural issues, alleviate back pain, and lead to better performance on the bike. This workout includes both pushing and pulling movement patterns and targets the muscles of the chest, back, shoulders, arms, and core.

How to use this list: Perform the following exercises in order for the number of reps described, resting 1 minute between sets. Repeat for a total of 3 rounds. You will need an exercise mat, dumbbells, and a medicine ball.

Chest Press

chest exercises, chest press
Amber Rees

Lie faceup on a bench or mat, knees bent and feet planted, holding a dumbbell in each hand, held above shoulders. Slowly lower weights toward chest, bending elbows, with elbows about 45 degrees from torso. Press weights back up. Repeat. Do 12 reps.

Supported Row

tamir practicing the lawnmower row exercise
Noam Tamir

Start in a staggered stance, left foot forward with knee bent, back right leg bent or straight (whatever is more comfortable). Hinge at hips with back flat and core tight. Hold a dumbbell in right hand, arm extended down in front of you. This is the starting position. Row weight to hip by pulling elbow back and keeping it close to side. Keep shoulders down and back, back flat, and core engaged. Extended arm back down slowly to return to starting position. Repeat. Do 10 reps. Then switch sides.

Shoulder Press

upper body dumbbell workout, clean and press
Yusuf Jeffers

Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees soft, holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulders with elbows bent and palms facing each other. Press weights overhead, extending arms. Slowly lower back down to shoulders. Repeat. Do 12 reps.

Supported Triceps Kickback

rothberg practicing split stance single arm row
Samantha Rothberg

Start in a staggered stance, left foot forward with knee bent, back right leg straight. Hinge at hips with back flat and core tight. Hold a dumbbell in right hand at hip with elbow bent. This is the starting position. Straighten right arm back behind you, extending elbow. Bend elbow to return to starting position. Repeat. Do 12 reps.

Medicine Ball Chest Pass

malay man with fitness ball in the gym
William Chua - Getty Images

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart in front of a wall, a little farther than arm’s length away, slight bend in knees, holding a medicine ball at chest. Toss medicine ball toward wall. Catch. Repeat. Do 8 reps.


4. Lower-Body Workout

Why it works: Strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves can help cyclists unlock (and maintain) the muscular power and endurance needed to tackle hills, power through speed intervals, and resist fatigue on long rides. It can also improve your movement quality off the bike. “A comprehensive lower-body strength and mobility routine can help ensure muscle balance through the low back, hip, and knee, all necessary for maintaining appropriate gait and postural control,” Logue says.

How to do it: Perform the following exercises in order for the number of reps described, resting 1 minute between sets. Repeat for a total of 3 rounds. You will need an exercise mat, dumbbells, a box, and a hex bar.

Hex Bar (or Dumbbell) Deadlift

how to do a deadlift
Julia Hembree Smith

Stand inside the hex bar, feet hip-width apart, toes forward. (Or hold a dumbbell in each hand down in front of you.) Hinge at hips by sending butt straight back, keeping back flat and core engaged, shoulders down and back. Lower torso toward floor until parallel or you feel a pull in hamstrings. Maintain a slight bend in knees. Drive through feet to stand back up, extending hips. Repeat. Do 12 reps.

Goblet Squat

dumbbell glute exercises, hathiramani practices goblet squat
Raj Hathiramani

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Hold a dumbbell vertically at chest with both hands. Send hips back and down to lower into a squat. Drive through feet to stand back up. Repeat. Do 12 reps.

Alternating Step-Up

muscular endurance vs strength
Joshua Simpson

Stand behind a step or box, holding a dumbbell in each hand, down by sides. Place right foot on top. Drive through right foot to stand up, extending knee and hips. Drive left knee up to hip height at top. Slowly lower back down. Step off box. Repeat on opposite side. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps per side.

Lateral Lunge

inner thigh workout, alternating lateral lunge
Amber Rees

Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand down by sides. Step out wide with right foot, bend knee, and send hips back, dumbbells framing foot. Keep left leg straight and weight in right heel. Drive through right foot to stand up, foot stepping back to hip-width apart. Repeat, left foot stepping out. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps per side.

Weighted Glute Bridge

dumbbell glute exercises, hathiramani practices the glute bridge exercise
Raj Hathiramani

Lie faceup, knees bent and feet planted. Place one or two dumbbells on hips. Drive through feet to lift hips up, engaging glutes, hamstrings, and core. Avoid lifting with lower back. Slowly lower hips back down. Repeat. Do 12 reps.


5. Full-Body Senior Workout With Weights

Why it works: If you want to capitalize on the benefits of strength training but only have time to train a couple of times a week, this full-body strength workout is the way to go. By incorporating compound movements, you’ll hit every major muscle group with just a handful of exercises.

How to do it: Perform the following exercises in order for the number of reps indicated, resting one minute between sets. Repeat for a total of 3 rounds. You will need an exercise mat and dumbbells.

Staggered-Stance Romanian Deadlift

romanian deadlift workout, jeffers practices the staggered stance romanian deadlift exercise
Yusuf Jeffers

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Lift right heel and line right toes up with left heel. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, down in front of you. This is the starting position. Hinge at hips by sending butt straight back, keeping back flat and core tight. Lower torso toward floor, slight bend in knees, until you feel a pull in hamstrings or torso is parallel to floor. Drive through left foot to stand up, extending hips and returning to starting position. Repeat. Do 10 reps. Then switch sides.

Squat to Overhead Press

tamir practicing the offset squat exercise
Noam Tamir

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulders, elbows bent and palms facing each other. Send hips down and back to lower into a squat. Drive through feet to stand back up, extending arms overhead as you stand. Return weights to shoulders. Repeat. Do 12 reps.

Push-Up to Renegade Row

kelvin gary performing a renegade row with a dumbbell in the studio
Joshua Simpson

Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists and hands on dumbbells, forming a straight line from head to heels. Bend elbows to lower body to floor for a push-up, maintaining one straight line with body. Press back up. Row right weight to hip, keeping elbow close to side. Place back down. Repeat on left side. That’s 1 rep. Repeat. Do 10 reps.

Reverse Lunge With Biceps Curl

lunge
Lakota Gambill

Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand down by sides. Step back with right foot, bending both knees 90 degrees; front left knee tracking over toes and back right knee hovering just above floor. Drive through left foot to stand back up, stepping right foot forward, and at the top, curl weights to shoulders, bending elbows. Extend weights back down by sides. Repeat lunge, stepping left foot back. Continue alternating, with biceps curl at the top of each lunge. Do 10 reps per side.

Glute Bridge With Weighted Hold

romanian deadlift workout, jeffers practices the banded glute bridge with weighted hold
Yusuf Jeffers

Lie faceup, knees bent, feet planted on the floor. Hold a weight in each hand, then extend arms up, weights over shoulders. Drive through heels, engaging glutes to lift hips up toward the ceiling. Body should form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Pause for a few seconds. Then lower back down slowly, while keeping arms extended. Repeat. Do 10 reps.

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