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strength training for seniors

Fact vs. Fiction: Strength Training for Seniors

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTP3 Comments

Is age really just a number? Can you still get stronger even as you get older? There are common misconceptions surrounding senior populations and exercise or strength training. Let’s debunk some of these misunderstandings.

Seniors cannot gain muscle mass. (FALSE)

There is no age limitation on the body’s ability to gain strength or muscle mass. Resistance training at a higher intensity, above 60 percent of their one repetition maximum, has been shown to cause larger increases in strength in seniors.1 Strength training can increase the strength, mass, power and quality of muscle as well as improve endurance performance in seniors.2 Strength in seniors is important for performance of daily activities and to decrease the risk of falling which is a common cause of injury in this population.

Exercise improves cognitive function. (TRUE)

Several studies have confirmed that both long-term exercise training and short-term (under 4 weeks) exercise training showed positive results on cognitive functions including memory, reading ability, attention and processing speed in people over the age of 60.3 The exercise program in these studies included aerobic exercise, strengthening exercises, and stretching at least three days per week. This combination of exercises appears to be the most effective for improving cognitive function.3

Strength training in elderly individuals is not safe. (FALSE)

There is risk of injury with exercise at any age but there is no evidence that senior populations are at higher risk for injury than other age groups when performing strength training. For any individual beginning a strengthening program, education is important to ensure safety when using weight machines or free weights. Individuals should consider consulting their physician before starting any new exercise program, and should also be cautious about the number of repetitions and amount of resistance for their own safety and recovery after workouts.

An Athletico physical therapist or athletic trainer may be helpful to discuss strengthening programs for added safety. Contact your closest Athletico for a free assessment.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Evans WJ. Exercise training guidelines for the elderly. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999;31(1):12-7.
2. Hurley, Ben F., and Stephen M. Roth. “Strength training in the elderly.”Sports Medicine 4 (2000): 249-268.
3. Nouchi R, Taki Y, Takeuchi H, et al. Four weeks of combination exercise training improved executive functions, episodic memory, and processing speed in healthy elderly people: evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Age (Dordr). 2014;36(2):787-99.

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About the Author:
Tara Hackney, a physical therapist in Marion, IA, enjoys working with all patient types, especially gymnasts, cheerleaders, and dancers. She is the prominent blogger for Athletico's Gymnastic/Cheer Program. With an orthopedic specialization and training in dry needling and Graston technique, Tara hopes to answer your questions about injuries and injury prevention in an easy-to-understand manner. She hopes to ease fears surrounding pain and injuries, address concerns about recovery, and provide tips to prevent injury. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dog, reading, and watching her nephews play sports.


  1. Christine Farrell

    From this senior, thanks for exposing the myths about seniors and exercise!!

  2. Tara Hackney

    Great question Judith, exercise can benefit patients who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. There have been several specific programs developed for this patient population in research. I would encourage a patient such as this to discuss with their doctor prior to starting an exercise program to ensure safety and proper education. Thank you for reaching out!

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