Over 50? Build Strength at Home With This 20-Minute Dumbbell Workout

This at-home dumbbell workout builds strength and improves cardiorespiratory fitness, posture and mobility.

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As we age, our ability to recover and stay mobile and flexible declines. While most of us are aware exercise can help ease some effects of aging, starting a program when you’re over the age of 50 can be intimidating.

Add in the bombardment of social media “fitness experts” performing seemingly impossible or complex exercises and one can get lost in a sea of disinformation. So, it’s important to choose exercises and a fitness program that reduces your risk of injury while improving mobility, endurance, strength and posture.

An at-home, full-body dumbbell workout is the perfect way for people over 50 to increase their overall fitness without the expense, intimidation or inconvenience of going to a gym.

Dumbbell exercises allow for even development of muscle groups on both sides of the body while also engaging smaller muscle groups, tendons and ligaments, which aid in joint stability and balance.

The following full-body dumbbell workout for people over 50 will strengthen the legs, arms, shoulders, back and chest — which helps to combat age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia — while improving cardiorespiratory fitness, posture and mobility.

If you complete 1 round of each exercise, resting 30 to 45 seconds between sets, this workout should take you about 20 minutes. If you have more time and are up for a challenge, you can complete 2 or even 3 rounds. Because the number of reps per exercise differ, see below for how many to perform for each move.

  • A set of dumbbells at a weight that will be challenging to you when you reach the last repetition of each set.

  • An exercise mat is optional, but recommended.

Tip

The exercises listed are in order of largest muscle groups to smallest. This progressive order allows you to perform each exercise to the highest level of intensity. This is because working smaller muscle groups first may cause the larger muscle groups to tire prematurely, which may prevent you from obtaining the full benefit of the exercise.

1. Sumo Squat

Sets

2

Reps

12

Activity

Dumbbell Workout

Region

Lower Body

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. (If the position feels uncomfortable, move your feet in a little closer).
  • Hold a dumbbell vertically with both hands in front of your chest.
  • Keeping your back straight, push your hips back and bend your knees out over your toes to squat down. Think about sliding down a wall, keeping your back as straight as possible and avoiding leaning forward or sticking your butt out.
  • Lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can comfortably go with good form).
  • Activate your core, glutes and quads to propel your body back upright, driving your weight through your feet to return to a standing position.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and repeat.
  • Show Instructions

    Sumo squats improve overall thigh and glute strength, while also focusing on inner-thigh development.

    2. Lying Single-Arm Chest Press

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    10

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Upper Body

  • Grab a dumbbell and lie flat on the floor, knees bent and feet planted firmly.
  • Hold the dumbbell in your right hand over your chest with a prone (overhand) grip, palm facing away from you toward your feet. Your triceps should be resting on the floor and your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle.
  • Extend your free arm (the one not holding the dumbbell) out next to you with your palm down flat on the floor.
  • As you exhale and brace your core, press the dumbbell toward the ceiling.
  • Pause, then return your arm to the original starting position.
  • Switch arms and repeat.
  • Show Instructions

    The lying single-arm chest press increases chest, shoulder and triceps strength while also improving core strength and stability, specifically in your obliques.

    3. Bent-Over Row

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    12

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Upper Body

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other.
  • Push your hips back and soften your knees to lean your torso forward until it’s nearly parallel with the ground and your weight is centered in your heels. Let the weights hang straight down in front of your knees.
  • Brace your core and think about keeping your back completely flat.
  • Leading with your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and then pull through your arms to raise the dumbbells up toward your ribcage. Pause at the top of the movement.
  • Keep your core and spine stable as you reverse the motion, extending your arms to lower the dumbbells so they hang by your knees.
  • Show Instructions

    Bent-over rows increase upper-back strength and mid-back mobility while also improving endurance in your lower back. Improving upper-back strength can improve posture as well.

    4. Stationary Lunge

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    12

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Lower Body

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Step back several feet with your left leg, rooting your right heel to the ground.
  • While your chest remains upright, bend your right knee to 90 degrees. At the same time, lower your left knee to hover just above the ground, bending to 90 degrees.
  • Press through your right heel and straighten your right leg. Simultaneously straighten your left knee. That’s 1 rep.
  • Switch legs and repeat.
  • Show Instructions

    Stationary lunges improve stability and strength in your upper thighs while indirectly increasing calf strength and stability, which is important for preventing knee injuries.

    5. Biceps Curl

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    12

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Upper Body

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. Bend your knees slightly, engage your core and maintain good upright posture.
  • Position your arms so your palms are facing in toward your hips. Hold onto the dumbbells, but don’t grip them so tightly that you feel strain in your forearms.
  • Bending at the elbow, lift both dumbbells up toward your shoulders by flexing your biceps muscles, rotating your palms so they face forward instead of inward.
  • Lower the dumbbells the same way you raised them until your arms are fully extended in the same position you started in.
  • Repeat without swinging your weights. In other words, rely on your muscles rather than momentum. If you find yourself needing to add momentum to lift, try using a slightly lighter dumbbell instead, as swinging can lead to injury.
  • Show Instructions

    Building biceps strength is important for everyday lifting.

    6. Triceps Kickback

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    12

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Upper Body

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. Bend your knees slightly, engage your core and maintain good upright posture.
  • Position your arms so that your palms are facing in toward your hips. Hold onto the dumbbells, but don’t grip them so tightly that you feel strain in your forearms.
  • Bend over about 45 degrees while maintaining a straight back. Keep your head in line with your spine.
  • Tuck your arms while holding the dumbbells close to your torso, and bend at the elbow until your forearm and upper arm form a 90-degree angle.
  • Pretending your elbows are glued to your body, extend your arms straight back in a controlled movement and squeeze your muscles at the top.
  • After a brief pause, lower the dumbbells back to 90 degrees to the starting position, again moving only your elbows.
  • Show Instructions

    Triceps kickbacks help strengthen the triceps while also improving rear deltoid and upper-back stability and strength.

    7. Romanian Deadlift

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    12

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Lower Body

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight down by your sides.
  • Brace your core.
  • With a slight bend in your knees, push your butt back and hinge at your hips. Lower the dumbbells toward the ground, rotating your palms inward, until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or the dumbbells near the tops of your feet (whichever comes first).
  • Press your feet into the ground, engage your hamstrings and start to rise back up at the waist. Keep your shoulders back and your head in line with your spine while concentrating on keeping your chest up (this will prevent you from rounding your shoulders and lower back).
  • As you slowly return to an almost fully standing position, squeeze your hamstrings and glutes, then repeat.
  • Show Instructions

    The Romanian deadlift improves lower-back and hamstring strength and hamstring flexibility.

    8. Lateral Raise to Front Raise

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    8

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Upper Body

  • Stand up straight with feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides.
  • Face your palms in toward your body with the dumbbells slightly away from your body; this will maintain tension in your side deltoid muscles.
  • As you inhale, raise the dumbbells at your sides with arms extended until you reach approximately shoulder height, being careful not to let your wrists rise higher than your elbows at any point.
  • Pause, then slowly lower your arms back to the starting position while exhaling.
  • Inhale as you lift the dumbbells in front of you with your palms facing down. Again, keep your arms extended, this time with a slight bend at the elbows to ease tension on your joints.
  • When your arms are about horizontal with the floor, pause for a moment.
  • Exhale as you lower your arms slowly and in a controlled manner back to the starting position, again keeping the dumbbells from touching your body before repeating the exercise.
  • Alternate between the lateral raise and front raise.
  • Show Instructions

    The lateral raise to front raise improves shoulder strength without the worry of shoulder impingement issues that can occur from overhead presses.

    9. Russian Twist

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    40

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Core

  • Sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent, heels touching the floor. Lean back at a 45-degree angle.
  • Hold a single dumbbell horizontally toward the center of your chest with both hands, each hand holding the weight at one end.
  • Bracing your core and squeezing your glutes, twist your torso to the right, keeping your shoulders and back upright.
  • Rotate your torso back through the center, then twist to the left. That completes one repetition.
  • Repeat for 20 reps on each side or a total of 40 reps.
  • Show Instructions

    The Russian twist strengthens the entire core while also improving torso mobility.

    10. Windmill

    Sets

    2

    Reps

    10

    Activity

    Dumbbell Workout

    Region

    Core and Upper Body

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with the toes of your left foot pointing sideways at a 90-degree angle (or as close to 90 degrees as possible).
  • Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, reach that hand toward the ceiling letting your left hand hang down at your side.
  • Engaging your core and pushing your hips to the right, slide your left hand down your leg so you begin leaning to that side while keeping your right arm fully extended vertically throughout.
  • Go as far as you can without straining your leg, which should be kept straight throughout.
  • After a brief pause, return to standing by pressing through your feet.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Show Instructions

    Usually a kettlebell exercise, you can perform this with dumbbells just as easily. Windmills increase shoulder and torso mobility while strengthening your core and shoulders.

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