T Nation

Advice for 50-Something Mom?


I'm Not Over 35 but...

I convinced my mom to start lifting. She is in her mid 50s and overweight. In an effort to get healthy again, she bought some "Women's Health" book which has her doing all sorts of ab exercises on an exercise ball. I'm happy that she's doing something, but I know her current routine is far from optimal. I want to set her up with a few compound exercises she can do a few times a week.

We're starting with squats. She used to do these http://exercise.about.com/od/lowerbodyworkouts/ig/Lower-Body-Exercise-Photos/Ball-Squat.htm, but I got her to hold a doorknob instead, and says she can tell it's working her whole legs, not just her quads. Soon she will be able to do them free standing. Once she gets there, I'm thinking goblet squats would be a good way to add some weight and work on technique.

I'm young and don't know much about the complications of age when lifting weights, which is why I came here. I want her to have a solid program, but I really don't trust myself to design it for her. I can't tell which exercises, rep ranges, etc. would be best for an overweight 50 something year old woman who's never lifted before. I'd appreciate any help of any kind, thanks.


Hello N.man, I'm not your mom's age, but i am a mom of teenagers and approaching 40 so I maybe could help. or maybe not :). Let me ask you, is your mom eating a healthy diet, low carb etc? I'm sure you know that weight loss will be the first thing that will assist her in progessing in with lifting. Unlike men, we don't bulk up with a trillion calories and then lean up. For your mom it will be different. Also does she have any BP, cariac or joint issues?


Welcome, Nowhereman. There's a few people here who are going through very much what your mom is doing. BigNurse is a guy who just started weights at age 53, his thread is Oldest Swinger in Town. He's currently on vacation, or holiday, as the Brits say.

Over on the thread Lifting With the Stricks, LittleStrick's wife posts under the name MrsS. She used to be overweight, now middle aged and just started lifting a few months ago. She's making awesome progress.

BobAdams on Low Carb Weight Loss just started training and his thread has some great diet info.

Good luck!


I think men and women have far more in common then we're led to believe. I would guess that the differences between individuals is much greater then between groups.

But the results are different.
Women get gorgeous.
Men get "muscular".


Sorry Null the picture just popped in my head with this post. :slightly_smiling:



Is there a "does not apply" selection???

But then whatever the person in the picture is, they don't lift...


Hahahahahahaha its marlyn mason and lady Gaga. I have a weird sense of humor to many years of working in the ER.


i think mobility can be a bit harder to re-acquire with many years of disuse. carrying extra weight around can turn mobility drills into strength exercises especially when one is just starting out. bodyweight exercises tend to be hard for women in general and particularly hard when you are overweight. i do think that bodyweight exercises can be psychologically easier for women who aren't used to lifting heavy weights, though. you sort of don't realize how much weight you are lifting, if that makes sense.

squatting holding a doorknob for balance sounds like a really good idea, to me.
then goblet squats and / or squats where you hold the weight straight out in front of you.
goblet squats are really good for full range of motion mobilization (pushing the knees out etc)
holding it out seems to help with balance (making it a bit easier to keep the torso upright and engage abdominals than without any loading). nice way to transition into barbell squats.

when i started out (after many years of disuse) my freeweights program (though most of these were unloaded to start) looked something like this:

upper body horizontal / vertical push / pull

  • overhead press (weighted of course. started with very light weights trying to train glute / ab activation)
  • lat pull-down (eventually move to assisted chins then chins)
  • push-up variation (start with the upper body up higher on a step or something then progressively lower it)
  • inverted row (start with the upper body up higher then progressively lower it)

lower body knee / hip dominant (i think that was the idea anyway)

  • static split squats (progress to lunges)
  • air squats (progress to barbell)
  • deadlift


  • planks (for abs)
  • stability ball back extensions (for spinal erectors / glute activation)

i did 2 days upper body (+abs) and 2 days lower body (+back) per week (alternating)
when i could get 10 reps almost comfortably would make it slightly harder.

i started out with 3x10 and it served me well.

once i was ready to get serious about the loading and strength (because the mobility was good) I moved to 5x5 (for strength).

i've read somewhere that 8-12 reps represents a good middle-ground between strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. works each of them a bit so a nice 'generalist' rep range. higher reps (i think of 8-10 as higher) is good for greasing the groove / training activation, too.


Thanks everyone for your help.

She has a somewhat physical job, and has started doing yoga for mobility, etc. No cardiac or joint issues, although her BP is too high. It's dropping pretty rapidly as she loses weight, so I'm not worried about it. She's on a pretty low carb diet because it worked for her in the past. She's got great support and motivation, because my Dad eats basically the same and I am living at home this summer. My next goal is to get her eating more protein.

Alexus, what you described is very close to what I had in mind. Lat pulldowns aren't an option because she wants to lift at home. We have an Olympic weight set and blocks for squatting, etc. so everything else is covered. We do have a pull up bar as well.

She wants to lift 3 days a week, so we've settled on:

-Squats every time -> get free from doorknob, then start adding weight
-Alternate overhead press and incline pushups -> progress to regular pushups
-Hip raises (don't know much about these but she really likes them so I'm not going to stop her)

I think lunges would be a good addition, but right now her lower body can't handle any more than squatting... Maybe wait until her work capacity goes up to add those in?

She's also missing a pulling movement. She can't do pullups and I can't convinced her to try deadlifts yet. I'm thinking pullup negatives or maybe some rows?


i can't do pull-ups either :-p
can do a single chin (after training for about a year - AND i'm not overweight.)
pull-up flexed arm hangs and negatives can be fairly hard but might be worth a try if she is up for it. even with bands to assist they can be fairly hard, though.

i quite like inverted rows:

the movement gets harder as the bar gets higher (becomes a pull-up)
and also as the bar gets lower (becomes a reverse push-up)

the hip raises sound good. glute activation. could progress them to barbell hip thrusts, maybe.

i hear you about the lunges. come to think of it... i ditched them for a while when i was finding air squats hard, too.

sounds like she is lucky to have you on board. nice that she has a supportive spouse with the nutrition aspect, too.

you could maybe get her to start a log...

edit --

maybe try marketing deadlifts as a 'how to pick things up safely' exercise. doesn't have to be a bar. could be a couch end or a tv or shopping bags... you get the idea. of course most people don't have the flexibility to pull from the floor from the get-go. but it is important to learn to hold your spine safely when you pick things up and put things down.


Great to hear she is doing yoga!
I started after a motorcycle accident a long time ago. Really helps with, well everything: Pain mgt., mobility, even strength.