Weight Training Routines: The Over 50 Workout

I can’t workout the way I used too. But the iron has been in my blood ever since I got that cheap Sears plastic weight set when I turned 15. They will have to pry the barbell from my cold, stiff fingers.

Nevertheless, things change, and my workout has too, mostly out of necessity. So here’s the workout I’ve ended up with at the age of 51. It works for me, and maybe it will give you some ideas too.

It’s worth noting that I’m pretty much in maintenance mode, meaning I’m not lifting or eating to gain. I’m seeking to maintain what I have — my strength and my flexibility. If you’re looking to gain muscle, this will do it because of the linear progression element, but probably not as well as some of the other programs out there. It takes a very gradual approach at increasing the load and has plenty of resets.

The end result is that I tend to end up working in a weight range for 4-6 weeks, then starting back with a reset and working my way up. Occasionally, I see increases, but they are few and far between.

When to Increase Weight

The compounds exercise portion of this program works on a basic linear progression with resets.

When you hit all reps with weight in your top sets, go up by the smallest increment you can for the top sets in the next workout. In my case, that’s 2.5 pounds because I have 1.25 plates. In your case, it might be 5 pounds, or even 10.

For some exercises, mainly accessory, I keep the weight the same and work max reps.

I don’t increase weight in dead lifts. If getting your dead lift stronger is your goal, you can use the dead lift variant at the end.

This is a 5 day a week workout, Monday – Friday, with everything except legs being done two times a week. It’s broken down as

  • Mon/Thurs: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
  • Tues/Fri: Back, Biceps
  • Wed: Legs

I work legs (including dead lifts) only once a week because squats and dead lifts really take it out of me now and it takes me longer to recover. If I were to do them two times a week, like a traditional PPL, I’d bee tired and sore all the time. I know, because I’ve tried it.

So there might not be enough lower body volume for some people.

By now you’re probably thinking this is just a traditional PPL run as PPLPP rather than PPLPPL — and you’re right. That’s pretty much all it is with a few variations.

Warming Up

Make sure you warm up well. Warming up was something I never paid much attention to when I was younger, but it’s certainly more important now that I’m older.

Do something overall to get blood flow going and increase core temperature; jumping jacks, running in place, jump rope… anything that gets your heart rate up. You don’t have to do it for long. I do three minutes total using active 1 minute, rest 1 minute.

Once you’ve got your hear rate up, move into some muscle specific warm-ups. This would be doing the motion of the exercise you’re about to start with little or no weight and working up to a working weight. So body weight squats to bar squats to 95 pounds to 135 pounds, etc….

Do some light stretching in between, but very light and within the range of motion of the exercise. Don’t overstretch.

Once I’m done with the first exercise of the session, I usually only do one warm up for the remaining exercises, that being because the main compound exercise I do generally warms up the surrounding muscles.

For example, once I’m done with my sets of bench press, my shoulders and triceps are warmed.


I rest 3 minutes between sets on the big compound exercises, 2 minutes on smaller compounds exercises, and 1 to 1.5 minute on accessory exercises. The larger amount of muscle worked, the longer the rest.

On to the workout:

I’ll give the exercises and weights I do including exercise specific warm-ups.

Monday/Thursday: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

  • Bench Press: push-ups x 10, bar x 20, 95 x 15, 135 x 10, 155 x 8, 175 x 6, 210 x 6, 6, 6

When I get 6 reps in all three top sets I go up 2.5 pounds for the next workout. If I don’t get 6 reps on all 3 top sets, I drop weight by 10% for the next workout and start back up.

Rest 1 minute between warm up sets and 3 minutes for working sets

  • Incline Flies: 25 x Max, Max, Max

This usually ends up being something like 25, 20, 15 reps or some such. I don’t increase weight here.

Rest 1.5 minutes between sets.

  • Seated Arnold Press: 25 x 10, 40 x 15, 15, 15

I have an adjustable bench, so I put the back up and do Arnold presses with dumbbells. One warm-up set at 25 and then 3 working sets at 40. I’ll stay at 40 until I get 3 sets of 15, then go up. Minimum reps here would be 10, as in if you can’t get 3 sets of 10 reps it’s too heavy.

Rest 2 minutes between sets.

  • Wide Grip Front Row: 135 x max, max, max

You could call these high shrugs. I grip the bar close to the same width I use for bench press and pull it up to the bottom of my rib cage, slight pause at the top. focusing on pulling my shoulders toward my ears.

I mess around here a bit with the weight, but don’t follow a progression. If I get 15 in my first set and at least 10 in my third, I’ll go up next workout. If I fail to get 10 in my third, I back off 10% the next workout.

Rest 2 minutes between sets.

  • Standing Lateral Raise: 20 x max, max, max

I do these to burn out my shoulders. Ends up being between 15 – 25 reps. I could go heavier, but I focus on form and getting that burn. Not trying to hit weight here.

Rest 1 minute between sets.

  • Close Grip Bench Press: 125 x max, max, max

I bounce back and forth with weight here too, aiming for a minimum of 10 and a max of 15, as in if I get 15 on my first set and at least 10 on my third, I’ll go up. I’m usually oscillating between 125 – 140 pounds.

Rest 1.5 minutes between sets.

  • Neck

I have one of those neck harness things. I hang 30 pounds from it and do 1 set max reps. When I get 60 reps, I go up.  I haven’t been doing these long. I started at 20 pounds a few months ago and I’m at 30 pounds now. I got 55 reps last workout, so I’ll probably be going up soonish. Yes, I have a pencil neek, and yes, that’s why I do these.

I finish every workout with an ab exercise done for max reps. I do 1 of these 3: legs up crunches, hanging leg raises, or lying leg raises (reverse crunch).

Tuesday/Friday: Back, Biceps

Hang on the pull-up bar a few times to stretch after my general warm-up.

  • Yates Row: 95 x 10, 135 x 10, 155 x 15, max (to 15), max (to 15)

If I get 15 reps in all three top sets I go up 2.5 pounds for the next workout. If I don’t get at least 10 reps on all 3 top sets, I drop weight by 10% for the next workout.

Rest 1 minute between warm up sets and 3 minutes for working sets

  • Seated Rows: 95 x 10, 125 x 10, 140 x 15, max (to 15), max  (to 15)

If I get 15 reps in all three top sets I go up 2.5 pounds for the next workout. If I don’t get at least 10 reps on all 3 top sets, I drop weight by 10% for the next workout.

Rest 2 minutes between sets.

  • Chins: max, max, max

I finish with 3 sets of max reps body weight chins.

Rest 2 minutes minutes between sets.

  • Cable Curls: 45 x max, max, max

Ouchie boo-boo, these burn. Slow up, hold, slow down. I don’t usually change weight here.

Rest 1 minute between sets.

  • Dumbbell concentration curls: 25 x 12, 11, 10

Seated, 1-arm, dumbbell concentration curls, the one where you rest your elbow on the inside of your leg. You can make almost any weight feel heavy by going nice and slow and holding that top contraction for a second or two. That’s what I do here – slow up, slow down, hold the top, and make it burn.

If I have gas left in the tank after hitting the rep number, I do them slower next time.

No rest here, just back and forth between arms for 3 sets with each arm.

Finish with an ab exercise per Mon/Wed workout. No neck today.

Wednesday: Legs

Make sure you get a good warm up here, but don’t tire out your legs. Avoid things like burpees and do body weight squats as your first “weighted” warm up. One of the warm-ups I do is to lay on my back on a bench, legs pointed at the ceiling, and flutter kick to warm up my knees for 30 – 60 seconds. This is the last warm-up I do before moving to squats.

  • Squats: body weight x 10, bar x 10, 95 x 10, 135 x 10, 165 x 8, 195 x 6, 225 x 5, 5, 5

Rest 1 minutes between warm-up sets and 3 minutes between working sets. I used to do low bar squats, but due to bar issues I’ve moved the bar higher. This has made it a bit easier on my back, but I can’t do as much weight. Nor do I try to.

If I get 5 reps on all three top sets, I’ll go up 5 pounds. I find when I get to 250, my back starts bothering me, and I drop back to 225. So I end up just working from 225 – 250 back and forth. Occasionally I’ll step out and do 1-2 reps at 275 or so just because, but that’s not part of my regular workout.

  • Dead Lifts: 135 x 5, 255 x 5, 5, 5

I do dead lifts as an accessory. I don’t increase weight here, just the same weight and reps every time. I dead lift sumo style, having switched over from traditional after a bad back injury (ruptured disc) a few years ago.

  • Straight-leg Dead Lift: 135 x 15, 15, 15

Gotta work those hammies direct. I do these accessory style with 2 minutes between sets and keep weight the same.

Wednesday: Dead Lift Variant

If you want to get stronger in your dead lift, then do it first using a linear progression scheme. It might look like:

  • Dead Lift: 95 x 10, 135 x 10, 165 x 8, 195 x 6, 225 x 5, 275 x 5, 315 x 5, 5, 5

Rest 1 minute between warm-up sets and 3 minutes between working sets.

If you get 5 reps on the top sets, go up 5 pounds. If you fail to get 5 reps on all 3 top sets 2 workouts in a row, reset by dropping top weight by 10%.

  • Squats: 135 x 5, 185 x 5, 5, 5

Use squats as your accessory. Pick a top weight where you can get 3 sets of 5 reps without too much difficulty, say like 60% effort. You can go heavier if you want, but don’t go below 5 reps.

  • Straight-leg Dead Lift: 135 x 15, 15, 15

Same as regular leg day.


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