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5 Free Weight Workouts To Regain Muscle Mass as You Age

Regain muscle and strength with these tried and true workouts.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Maintaining muscle mass becomes increasingly crucial for your overall health and vitality as you journey through life. However, the misconception that free weights are exclusively for the young persists. In reality, engaging in free weight workouts not only helps combat age-related muscle loss but also promotes bone density, metabolic health, and functional independence. Sounds like a pretty sweet trade-off! That's why below, I have five of my best free weight workouts to regain muscle mass as you age.

Achieving and maintaining muscle mass as you age is undoubtedly challenging, demanding unwavering dedication, perseverance, and time. However, the rewards are profound, and I firmly stand by their significance. By crafting a tailored fitness plan comprising free weight workouts, a nourishing diet abundant in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and staying adequately hydrated, you can align your aspirations to preserve and even enhance muscle mass over time.

Not sure where to start in the gym? No worries! I have you covered. Most of my female clients aim to increase lean muscle mass and sculpt a physique that shows off their efforts. Keep reading below to check out a few of the free weight workouts to regain muscle mass that I lean on to deliver results.

Workout #1: Hypertrophy Training

First up on this list of free weight workouts to regain muscle is all about hypertrophy training. Consider hypertrophy training as the foundation for reclaiming muscle mass. By engaging in sets and rep ranges optimized for muscle growth, you're fostering the development of a sculpted physique and priming your body to tackle more demanding workouts as you progress on your fitness journey.

1. Bulgarian Split Squats

Dumbbell Split Squats, concept of free weight workouts to regain muscle

Bulgarian split squats are highly effective for developing muscle mass as you age, as they simultaneously target multiple lower-body muscle groups, promoting balanced strength development. Split squat variations also engage your stabilizing muscles and improve balance, which is crucial for maintaining functional fitness and reducing the risk of injury as you age.

Perform Bulgarian split squats by holding a dumbbell in each hand and placing one foot on a bench or elevated surface behind you. Lower into a squat position. Keep your front knee aligned with your toes and your torso upright. Drive through your front heel to return to the starting position. Alternate legs. Complete three sets of eight to 12 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

2. Alternating Bench Press

This exercise offers the benefits of sculpting your chest while developing your arms, engaging multiple muscle groups with each rep. You'll also improve shoulder stability, crucial for avoiding injury and staying toward your muscle-gain goals.

Begin by lying flat on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand and your arms extended over your chest. Next, lower one dumbbell toward your chest while extending the other arm. Press the dumbbell back up to the starting position while simultaneously lowering the opposite dumbbell. Perform three sets of eight to 12 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

3. RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts)

illustration of dumbbell deadlift, concept of free weight workouts to regain muscle

RDLs are excellent for developing muscle mass in the posterior chain muscles (hamstring, glutes, lower back), which is key for functional movements like bending and lifting and promoting overall strength and mobility.

Begin with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-width apart, maintaining a straight back and keeping your shoulders engaged. Hinge at your hips, lowering the dumbbells while keeping your knees slightly bent until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Drive your hips forward to return to the start position, engaging your hamstrings and glutes throughout. Perform three sets of eight to 12 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

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Workout #2: Strength Training

Strength training is a potent approach to combat muscle loss, as it helps build new muscle mass, preserves existing muscle, enhances functional strength, and triggers the release of crucial hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, amplifying its effectiveness.

1. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

illustration of seated dumbbell shoulder press, concept of free weight workouts to regain muscle

Dumbbell shoulder press variations are focused on developing and retaining strength and muscle mass in the shoulders, triceps, and even core if you focus on engaging your core. Using tempos (slowing down the reps) and pauses is a beneficial way to intensify the results.

Start by sitting on a bench with back support, and grip a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level, palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are fully extended, keeping your elbows slightly bent to avoid locking them. Lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height, and repeat for the desired reps. Complete three to four sets of six to eight reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

2. Goblet Squats

dumbbell goblet squat illustration

With added resistance, goblet squats enhance regaining muscle mass primarily by targeting the lower body muscles, the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. This exercise allows for a more natural movement pattern, improving overall squat mechanics and mobility, making it easier to perform other compound exercises, and facilitating muscle mass gain throughout the body. As your strength improves, intensify goblet squats by adding more weight.

Grab a dumbbell, hold it close to your chest with both hands, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower into a squat by pushing your hips back and bending your knees while maintaining an upright chest and a straight back. Drive through your entire foot to return to the starting stance. Perform three to four sets of six to eight reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets. Perform each rep with a three-second slow lowering!

3. Staggered Stance Dumbbell Rows

Staggered stance dumbbell rows combine the benefits of rows, improving muscle mass and strength in the upper back, lats, and biceps with the challenge of engaging your core to avoid excessive rotation and bracing the torso.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in one hand. Step back with the same-side foot, creating a staggered stance, and slightly bend at the hips and knees. Lower the dumbbell, then row it toward your mid back. Lower the dumbbell with control, and repeat. Keep your non-rowing hand away from your body, and rely on your core muscles to engage. Complete three to four sets of six to eight reps per side with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

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Workout #3: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) diversifies your workout routine and transitions from traditional sets and reps to dynamic exercises performed within set intervals, accompanied by shorter rest periods. This approach elevates intensity and efficiency, stimulating lean muscle growth through high-repetition intervals while enhancing muscular endurance due to the shorter rest periods between sets.

1. Dumbbell Thrusters

dumbbell squat to press thrusters, concept of free weight workouts to regain muscle

Dumbbell thrusters ramp up the intensity, combining the dumbbell front squat with a dumbbell press. This exercise will boost muscle mass in your lower body, focusing on the quads, hamstrings, and glutes while increasing the size of your shoulders and triceps.

Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms inward, standing shoulder-width apart. Squat, then press the dumbbells overhead while driving with your legs to stand. Lower them back to shoulder height as you descend into the next squat. Perform three to four rounds of continuous reps for 45 seconds with 30 seconds of rest between rounds.

2. Kettlebell Swings

kettlebell swings

Kettlebell swings are an explosive exercise that power up your posterior chain, developing lean muscle mass in your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Kettlebell swings are a great exercise to plug into a HIIT workout.

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, grasping a kettlebell while standing tall. Hinge at your hips, maintaining straight arms, then explosively drive your hips forward to swing the kettlebell to chest height, powered by momentum from your lower body. Return the kettlebell between your legs in the hinge position, and repeat the movement. Complete three to four rounds of continuous reps for 45 seconds with 30 seconds of rest between rounds.

3. Renegade Rows with Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a dynamic core exercise that offers high-intensity benefits, sculpting your abs while prioritizing stability development. Combine mountain climbers with renegade rows, developing strength and size in your upper back and lats, and you have an effective one-two punch for a high-intensity workout and regaining muscle mass.

Begin in a high plank position with your hands on the dumbbells under your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart. Alternate rows with each dumbbell, then switch to mountain climbers, driving your knees toward your chest in a running motion. Perform three to four rounds of continuous reps for 45 seconds with 30 seconds of rest between rounds.

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Workout #4: Interval Training

Interval training, similar to HIIT workouts, comprises intervals of active movement interspersed with more extended rest periods than high-intensity routines. These workouts inject enjoyable variety into your workout regimen compared to traditional sets and reps, enabling you to lift heavier weights due to the extended rest periods relative to HIIT sessions. This approach blends cardiovascular benefits with lean muscle mass and strength development, offering a well-rounded fitness experience.

1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges

woman Weighted Lunges, concept of free weight workouts to regain muscle

Unilateral movements, such as reverse lunges, are highly effective for boosting lean muscle mass, particularly in the lower body, while enhancing stability, balance, and coordination—essential for maintaining health and mobility as we age.

Perform dumbbell reverse lunges by holding a dumbbell in each hand, stepping back with one leg, and bending both knees to 90-degree angles. Push through the front foot to return to the starting position. Complete the interval time for one side, then repeat on the other. Perform three rounds of 45 seconds with 90 seconds of rest between rounds.

2. Dumbbell Pushups

Although you won't be lifting weights with the dumbbell pushup, it allows for an increased range of motion, promoting lean muscle development in the chest and shoulders while engaging your abs and enhancing wrist stability.

Assume a traditional pushup position while gripping dumbbells shoulder-width apart. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your chest nearly touches the ground, then push back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms. Maintain a straight line from your head to your heels, and control your movements throughout. Perform three rounds of 45 seconds with 90 seconds of rest between rounds.

Side note: Ensure you use dumbbells with flat surfaces and avoid rounded ones when performing this exercise.

3. Single-Leg Hip Thrusts

Single-leg hip thrusts can be performed using various free-weight options, including dumbbells, barbells, or medicine balls. This exercise targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, enhancing lean muscle mass and helping prevent asymmetries and hip imbalances. Strengthening the hips contributes to overall strength and functionality, supporting a healthier lifestyle.

Sit on the ground with your upper back against a bench, one foot lifted off the ground and the other foot flat. Add resistance with a weight on your hips. Drive through the grounded foot to lift your hips, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knee, then lower back down. Complete three rounds of 45 seconds with 90 seconds of rest between rounds.

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Workout #5: Core-focused

The last of these free weight workouts to regain muscle mass is all about the core. Engaging your core in every workout is crucial, but it's rewarding to precisely target the abs occasionally. These core-focused exercises aim to sculpt and define your midsection while utilizing free weights to enhance and regain lean muscle mass in the core.

1. Russian Twists

kettlebell russian twist

Russian twists—especially when incorporating free weights—are highly effective for targeting the transverse abdominis, which traditional core exercises overlook. This workout efficiently engages your cross abs, enhancing core strength and stability.

Start by sitting on the ground with your knees bent and your heels on the floor, maintaining a slight lean back and a straight back. Hold a weight or a medicine ball with both hands. Twist your torso to the right, bringing the weight or ball to the outside of your right hip, then return to the center before twisting to the left, repeating the movement. Perform three sets of 10 to 20 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

2. Weighted Crunches

The secret with weighted crunches is to squeeze your abs during the movement's lower portion and emphasize lifting your torso with your core. Toss in the increased intensity from using free weights, and you'll feel the core working through each rep, regaining and developing muscle.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a weight plate, dumbbell, or medicine ball against your chest or behind your head. Engage your core, lift your shoulders off the ground, and bring your ribcage toward your hips. Then, lower back down. Complete three sets of eight to 15 reps with a three-second lowering, taking a 60-second rest between sets.

3. Weighted Side Planks

By targeting your obliques, this core workout becomes more effective and comprehensive. Introducing free weights intensifies the challenge, improving overall core strength and enhancing lateral stability simultaneously.

To perform weighted side planks, lie on your side with your legs straight, feet stacked, and your elbow under your shoulder. Hold a weight against your top hip, lift your hips to form a straight line, and engage your core. Hold, then lower your hips, and repeat on each side for the desired reps or time. Perform three rounds of 30 to 45-second holds with 60 seconds of rest.

Jarrod Nobbe
Jarrod Nobbe is a USAW National Coach, Sports Performance Coach, Personal Trainer, and writer, and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 12 years. Read more about Jarrod
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