New Year’s Challenge: Use Hand Weights to Build Upper-Body Strength

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Strengthen your arms, shoulders, and core! These easy-to-follow exercises will show you safe, comfortable ways to build muscle mass with hand weights.

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As we grow older, the body naturally loses muscle mass — and with that muscle loss we experience dips in strength and functionality. Using light hand weights either at home or at the gym helps you build (and hold onto) the muscle mass that keeps your body strong and healthy.

There’s even a word for age-related muscle decline: sarcopenia. According to the National Institute on Aging, sarcopenia is more likely to occur in people with chronic diseases and may increase the risk of falls, fractures, and other serious injuries. Strength training can help you avoid any of those outcomes.

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How to Use These Dumbbell Exercises

Today’s activity offers up three simple exercises you can do to make the most of those hand weights. SilverSneakers trainer Shannon Thigpen offers her advice on how to choose the right weights, and then she guides you through a sequence designed to strengthen your arms, shoulders, and core. She also gives valuable tips on proper form to help prevent injury.

It’s good to work on your upper-body strength two to three times a week.

Here are the exercises you’ll perform. If you don’t have weights at home, you can perform each exercise using just your bodyweight for resistance, or grab two water bottles or two food cans:

Exercise #1: Reverse Biceps Curl

  1. Sit or stand tall with your chest up and your shoulders back and down.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down in front of your legs and palms facing your legs.
  3. Keeping your torso stationary and your elbows tucked close to your sides, bend your elbows (not your wrists) to curl the weights up to your shoulders.
  4. Pause, then slowly lower your arms with control. That’s one rep.
  5. Do 8 to 12 reps.

Exercise #2: Overhead Raise

  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. For more support, stand with them a little wider. For a balance challenge, stand with them closer together.
  2. Bring your shoulders back and down, and pull your belly button in toward your spine.
  3. Bend your elbows and bring your hands in front of your shoulders with palms facing each other.
  4. Inhale and press your hands up and slightly in front of you as you straighten your arms.
  5. Exhale and gently bring your hands back down to your shoulders. That’s one rep.
  6. Do 8 to 12 reps.

Do Overhead Presses Hurt Your Shoulders? Try These Instead

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Exercise #3: Bent-Over Row

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to bend slightly, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor.
  3. Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length from your shoulders, palms facing in.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you row the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso, keeping your elbows tucked close to your sides.
  5. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells. That’s one rep.
  6. Do 8 to 12 reps, or as many as you can with good form.

As always, safety is key. Get your doctor’s OK before beginning a new exercise program. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Love this and want more? Take a SilverSneakers LIVE Upper Body Strength (Express) Class!

Build strength and endurance in just 15 minutes with a mix of exercises for the upper body. Handheld weights or tubing are recommended. View the schedule and RSVP here.

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