Strength Over Age 50

A recent article published in Reader’s Digest is grabbing the attention of medical and fitness professionals. The article, entitled ‘14 Exercises You Should Modify if You’re Over 50,’ has good intention but shells out some advice that may create fear or apprehension among readers interested in exercise. Reader’s Digest has since asked two physical therapists to rewrite the article due to the overwhelming response among healthcare professionals.

Exercises do not necessarily need to be modified simply based on age. The human body is incredibly complex and unique. We see many patients and clients in the Palisades well over the age of 50 doing what they love. Let’s go over some specific exercises and routines discussed in the article that, when performed appropriately for your body, can have immense health benefits.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT involves short bursts of low volume exercise with rest periods of decreased intensity.(1) HIIT is a well studied exercise practice known for improving cardiovascular and metabolic functioning.(1) HIIT will provide improvements in physical function at a more rapid rate than traditional endurance training, especially for non-athletic and sedentary populations.(1) Not to mention, typical HIIT sessions only last 20-30 minutes which makes it more convenient to integrate into your day. HIIT can be performed in many different ways. Work with a healthcare professional to design a graded, appropriate HIIT program to reap the benefits!

Pull ups

Lifting the entirety of your body weight is easily one of the most challenging physical tasks for a human being. But mastering this feat can hugely improve upper body strength and grip strength. Not to mention that it’s pretty cool to be able to accomplish this. Now, before you go hanging from door frames or your local park monkey bars, let’s go over some appropriate progressions to mastering the pull up. Start with pulling exercises that use a manageable amount of resistance that is moderately challenging for your body. Examples of this include rows and lat pull downs. Perform rows with a resistance band, on a machine, or bent over with a free weight. Lat pull downs can be performed on a machine at the gym or even sitting on the floor so that you can move through your full available range of motion and bonus, you get to work on getting up and down from the floor (something highly undervalued in our Western society).

Another method of working on your pull up is through Pilates. Chest expansion and bicep curls on the reformer are great initial exercises to build up the strength needed to do a pull up. Hanging back on the cadillac is an advanced exercise that combines pulling your body weight against gravity with back extensor strengthening.

As you get stronger with these pulling exercises, then you can practice static holds in a hanging position with a step underneath you so that your feet are only an inch off of the ground. Finally, progress to the full pull up.


Deadlifts are an excellent exercise for the posterior muscles of your body. This includes the back muscles, gluteal muscles, and hamstrings. But, again, proper progression to this exercise is necessary. Performing pelvic tilts, bridging, and/or spinal motor control exercises with a physical therapist or fitness professional who can give you feedback about body positioning is a good starting point. Then, you can progress to standing and practicing the hip hinge motion involved in a deadlift with a dowel against your tailbone and mid back for spinal positioning. Finally, perform the deadlift without the dowel and gradually add resistance.

Leg Press

This is suggested to be avoided in the article due to assumed back positioning during the exercise. The back is not necessarily rounded during this exercise unless you make it that way. The leg press is still a great exercise and most physical therapy rehabilitation facilities carry this piece of equipment because of its value. The leg press will improve not only the strength of the legs but also the strength of the muscles in your trunk. It also allows you to grade the amount of resistance you can tolerate. A Pilates reformer is a great piece of equipment to perform a leg press on.

The bottom line is - exercise is one of the most beneficial and necessary things you can do to enhance your body and life. The human body is incredibly robust, especially when provided appropriate challenges over time. Don’t get caught up in the plethora of information we have circulating around the internet. Be skeptical. If you ever have pain during an exercise, consult your physical therapist for an assessment of your movement. Furthermore, if you want guidance on how to effectively improve your strength and mobility, contact a trusted healthcare professional.


  1. Weston M, Taylor KL, Batterham AM, Hopkins WG. Effects of Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) on Fitness in Adults: A Meta-Analysis of Controlled and Non-Controlled Trials. J. of Sports Medicine. Published April 18, 2014.