3 Strength Moves to Build More Muscle

By Elizabeth Millard, A.C.E.-certified trainer, RYT-200 yoga teacher |

If you've mastered some basic bodyweight strength moves and you're ready to move on to a new challenge, check out these exercise progressions.

strength training exercises to build more muscle

When you’re hiking a hilly landscape, a plateau can feel like a relief — that flat surface offers some ease and rest after a strenuous walk. But when you’re building strength and mobility, a plateau isn’t the kind of break you want.

In fitness, a plateau happens because your body adapts to your exercise routine. In some ways, that’s a good thing. It means you’ve built endurance, and likely added muscle mass along the way.

Over time, though, those benefits can wane if you don’t keep adding on to them and challenging your body in new ways — so your muscles can continue to adapt and get stronger. (Here are 3 Signs Your Workout Isn’t Working Anymore.)

According to the National Association of Sports Medicine, the first step in scaling up your workouts is to master the technique and form for basic exercises. When you feel comfortable doing the root move, it’s time to change the variables.

One way to do this is to add more weight or resistance or increase the number of reps you’re doing — pick one or the other to avoid potential injuries.

Another way to change the variables is to try the exercise using different equipment — resistance bands instead of dumbbells, for example. You could also do the move in a different position — knee pushups to regular pushups.

Not only does this kind of change increase the intensity and effort, but you’ll also be engaging different muscles.

With that in mind, here are three common moves that you may have done in a SilverSneakers class, along with a progression to make the exercise more challenging.

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How to Level-Up 3 Basic Strength Exercises

Bodyweight Squats, Hip Hinges, and Biceps Curls are classic exercises that are recommended for older adults. If you have confidence in your form and can do three sets of 12 to 15 reps with ease, you may want to try the progressions recommended.

These are strength exercises, so they’re good to do two to three times a week on non-consecutive days. You can add them to your regular strength training routine or tack them onto the end of a walk.

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

What you need:

  • Space to move
  • Comfortable clothing
  • Light hand weights to increase the challenge, if preferred
  • Sturdy chair for support, as needed
  • Water to sip, as needed

Recommended reading: How to Add More “Weight” to Your Favorite Exercises (Without Ever Buying New Equipment)

You can do a Bodyweight Squat, now try a Traveling Side Squat

Why it’s effective: Moving laterally is good balance training, as it strengthens the side muscles of your glutes as well as your outer thighs and quadriceps.

How to do it:

  • Stand tall with your feet together and hands on your hips.
  • Step your left foot out to the side. As you land, lower into a squat, bending at your knees and hips.
  • From there, squeeze your butt and press through both heels to stand back up, bringing your right foot in to meet your left foot as you do. Immediately step your left foot out to the side as you squat once again.
  • Perform 5 squats leading with the left leg.
  • Pause, then reverse directions with 5 squats leading with the right leg for a total of 10 reps.
  • Repeat 2 to 3 more times.

You can do a Hip Hinge, now try a Romanian Deadlift

Why it’s effective: Strengthens your core, shoulders, and the often-overlooked muscles of your upper back.

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Tip: If you have chronic lower-back pain, try one of these three deadlift alternative exercises instead.

How to do it:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip, and hold them at arm’s length in front of your thighs. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  • Without changing the bend in your knees, push your hips back and lower your torso until the weights are at your knees or just below.
  • Pause, then squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward to raise your torso back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.
  • Do 12 to 15 reps.
  • Repeat 2 to 3 more times.

You can do a Biceps Curl, now try an Overhead Press

Why it’s effective: Strengthens your shoulders, back, and core. It’s also a functional exercise that can help you perform daily activities — like reaching items on a high shelf — with greater ease.

How to do it:

  • If you’re using weights, grab light dumbbells. Sit forward in a sturdy chair with your chest up tall and your knees above your ankles. Or stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bring your shoulders back and down, and pull your belly button in toward your spine.
  • Bend your elbows and bring your hands in front of your shoulders with palms facing each other.
  • Inhale and press your hands up and slightly in front of you as you straighten your arms.
  • Exhale and gently bring your hands back down to your shoulders. That’s 1 rep.
  • Do 12 to 15 reps.
  • Repeat 2 to 3 more times.

Recommended FREE SilverSneakers On-Demand Workout: Arm Exercises for Seniors Tone Your Arms in 4 Minutes

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