Compliment your Cardio With These 7 Dumbbell Exercises for Older Adults

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Written by Penny Cooper

Into middle years and you want to add some strength exercises into your workout routine – we think you should – below are seven of the best dumbbell exercises for older adults. 

Fitness routines are one of the best ways to develop consistency and maintain an active lifestyle. Adding dumbbell exercises to your regular cardio workout can increase your strength and stamina. 

Incorporating compound dumbbell exercises into your workout routine has many benefits. A compound exercise activates multiple major muscle groups. You can make the most out of a workout by adding these types of movements. 

To choose the right weights check out our article on the best dumbbell sets for home. And for adjustable weights here.

We have also reviewed our 2 favorite adjustable dumbbell systems.

1. Dumbbell Squat

A dumbbell squat is primarily a squat with the addition of handheld weights. First, your feet should be about hip-width apart. Then, depending on your fitness level, you should pick up a light to medium dumbbell in each hand. 

The weight of the dumbbells in each hand should be the same. Remember to keep your back as straight as possible and your body upright. The dumbbells are likely too heavy if you are uncomfortably pulled forward or downwards by the weights. 

As you begin to squat or bend your knees, you must keep your knees from extending past your toes. Think of a squat as the first movement you might make to sit down in a chair. 

If in doubt, start with a minimal bend of the knees. You can always go deeper in your squat as you grow more comfortable with the movement! 

2. Dumbbell Chest Press

A dumbbell chest press is a movement that begins from a prone position. Laying on your back, often on a workout bench, you will hold a dumbbell in each hand. 

A dumbbell chest press works muscles in the arms, chest, and shoulders. Ultimately, people use heavier weights to perform this movement. 

First, lay flat on the benchtop and extend your arms upwards from your shoulders. You will be holding weights of equal size in both hands. A good reference is to imagine Frankenstein, with both arms straight out. 

Then you will slowly lower the dumbbells toward your chest. Try to create a 90-degree bend with your elbows. However, to reduce strains, point your elbows towards the corners of the rooms rather than directly to the side. 

As you continue repeating the exercise, be sure to keep your wrists straight and unbroken to maintain a firm grip on the dumbbells. As always, if the movement feels intimidating, try it with no weights or very light dumbbells. 

3. Dumbbell Low-Row

You can perform a dumbbell low-row with both arms simultaneously or complete one side and then the other. 

Hold dumbbells in both hands and bend forward at the waist to complete the movement with both arms. The end of the dumbbell should rest on your leg, just above the knee. Then you will row the dumbbells up along your body. 

If performing a high row with both arms is uncomfortable, then you can position your legs in a split stance and row with one arm at a time. A split stand is a high lunge. 

To perform a one-sided dumbbell low-row, place one hand on your bent knee. The dumbbell should be hanging between your legs in the lunge, and you will lift the dumbbell alongside your body until it reaches the area of your ribcage. 

If you are new to working in a split stance and need more control, you can lunge alongside a workout bench for more power.

With this option, one hand and one knee would be on the benchtop, and you move the dumbbell with your free hand and arm. 

Regardless if you perform the low dumbbell row with one or with both arms, the movement will activate your biceps, and triceps and will create stationary tension in your lower body. 

4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

You can perform a dumbbell shoulder press from a standing or seated position. 

Holding medium dumbbells in each hand, you will start with your elbows bent and your hands and arms in a goal post position beside your head. To activate your shoulders, arms and back, press the dumbbells up above your head and repeat from the starting position. 

Try the dumbbell shoulder press from a seated position at the end of a workout bench for a more specific focus on your upper body. Sitting first is also a good plan as you increase your weight in this movement. 

5. Dumbbell Pullover

A dumbbell pullover uses one dumbbell and activates the chest, triceps, and core. 

To begin a dumbbell pullover, securely place both hands underneath one end of the dumbbell and extend your arms over your head. One way to hold the dumbbell that many people find comfortable is to make a diamond or triangle with your hands – the dumbbell is contained within the triangle that is made between your thumbs and pointer fingers. 

Slowly drop the dumbbell behind your head and lift it again to complete one pullover. Performing the pullover standing will increase core stability, but you can also attempt a seated dumbbell pullover. Sit at the end edge of a workout bench, hold the weight above your head, and complete the pullover as usual.

Many active seniors find this exercise a great way to weight train and stretch the side body. Controlling your breathing to inhale when the dumbbell is above your head can expand the chest cavity and create a relaxing sensation. 

6. Dumbbell Deadlift

A dumbbell deadlift is usually performed with heavier weights and mimics an everyday movement you might perform in daily life. A dumbbell deadline is a compound movement that will work the upper and lower bodies and your core. 

Starting with a dumbbell in each hand, stand in an athletic stance with your feet just outside your shoulders. You will hold the dumbbell in front of you; it should be nearly touching the tops of your thighs. 

Keeping a slight bend in your knees, slowly lower the dumbbells towards the floor, like you might be trying to touch your toes. Once you reach the lowest point of your deadlift, rapidly stand and return to the starting position. 

As you fold forward, count to three slowly, then as you stand, think of the return movement occurring in one count. This explosive tempo method will help you achieve your goals more quickly when working with dumbbells. 

7. Farmer’s Walk with Dumbbells

The farmer’s walk is a traditional strength and conditioning exercise where you will carry a heavier dumbbell in each hand while walking in a straight line for a significant distance. 

Usually, people who practice the farmer’s walk use ten-pound weights or greater and walk at least ten steps. 

The farmer’s walk is a functional exercise and translates to carrying groceries into the house from your car. Practicing exercises like this movement can help older adults remain independent. 

Let’s Get Lifting! 

Any combination of these compound dumbbell exercises is excellent for seniors to add to their regular workout routine. In addition, lifting weights increases strength and balance, which can reduce the possibility of injuries. 

Working with dumbbells is just as important for seniors as cardio-based workouts. Dumbbell exercises that target multiple areas of the body at the same time are functional, time-saving, and practical. 

Bodyweight exercises are great too but sometimes you can’t beat a bit of extra help to get stronger.

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Penny is a Personal Trainer currently training as a wellness coach. She gained a BA in English at Edinburgh University. Redundancy from retail management hastened a move to helping people get fit and writing about all things fitness in middle age.

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