The Biggest Exercise Mistakes You Can Make After Age 50

Senior male at group fitness class


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woman on Peloton bike at home
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Fitness Fails

You might think you're doing everything right to stay fit, but some "healthy" habits can be counterproductive. As you age, your body becomes more rigid and less flexible, and if you exercise incorrectly, you can suffer more serious injuries than sore muscles. On the other hand, if you are intentional about your exercising, you can benefit in more ways than one. For instance, a 2022 study found that even small amounts of exercise can increase women's mental processing speed

"As time goes by, muscles and joints become less responsive and adaptable compared to the peak young adult years," says physical therapist Rob Cowell. "Sports and exercises that involve sudden changes in direction and quick, powerful movements can easily lead to strains or more serious injuries, especially for the untrained." Here are some exercises to approach with caution, including those intense Peloton sweat sessions.

Related: 20 Essential Exercises for Older Adults

Stationary Bike

Spin Classes

Experts say cardio can actually lower your risk of heart disease, but they do caution that anyone who has been sedentary for a long time or has risk factors such as high blood pressure should consult a doctor before starting a strenuous exercise program. Moreover, spin classes (with the exception of aqua cycling) can even result in the potentially fatal condition rhabdomyolysis. "Spin classes can cause too much strain on the joints," cautions spinal-care expert Bradley W. Bartel Jr. A better fitness option could be a recumbent bike.

Related: 11 Ways to Get Exercise While Just Going About Your Day

woman doing pushups in a gym

Traditional Push-Ups

Trainer Kyle Overstreet, who works with a number of senior clients, warned that push-ups put stress on your shoulders. "Push-ups can cause problems in the rotator cuff and the neck," he says. A better option is a wall push-up.

Related: 24 Fitness Myths to Debunk for Your Next Workout

Squats With a Bar

Squats With a Bar

Squats are a great workout, but they can put too much pressure on the knees if not done correctly. "There's no reason an older person who is not in peak physical condition, or who is just beginning to get into a physical exercise routine, needs to use a heavy bar while engaging in a squat," Overstreet says. A simple squat without weights is still a great exercise and much safer.

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senior man jumping outside while exercising


This jumping move is exactly the type of exercise you may want to avoid as you get older. "You need the appropriate range of motion in the spine and in the hips and in the ankles to perform this exercise correctly," says physical therapist Brett Russell, a certified athletic trainer, licensed massage therapist and neuromuscular therapist, and owner of Fyzical Therapy and Balance Centers. Still, he notes that, "with proper training and technique, all these exercises may be modified to be performed safely."

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Bench Press

Bench Press

Your shoulders and rotator cuffs degenerate as you age, and it's possible to tear your biceps or rotator cuff while doing a bench press. Contrary to popular belief, the bench press doesn't promote healthy shoulders. People who suffer from "frozen shoulder syndrome" should avoid this exercise.



"If you haven't ever done a pull-up, and you're out of shape and older, this could be a dangerous exercise to try," trainer Kyle Overstreet says. "The rotator cuff could be injured by this movement." Physical therapist Brett Russell agrees. "There are better ways to attempt a pull-up, such as an assisted pull-up machine," he says. "This is an exercise that you need to build up to."

Biggest Exercise Mistakes You Can Move Over 50

Jumping Lunges

Fitness-trainer Overstreet says many people try to do too much, too soon. Jumping lunges are another exercise that's hard on the knees and the joints. "You have to respect the fact that you are getting older, and high-impact jumping lunges may not be the way to go," he says.



A lot of people attempt rapid crunches with someone holding onto their feet. But physical therapist Brett Russell advises against that. "One reason is that you're actually pulling yourself up with your hip flexors and that can cause low-back issues." He suggests doing crunches on an exercise ball to avoid pulling muscles in your lower back.

Leg Press

Leg Presses

Leg presses can be tough for older folks. "Cartilage thins out as we age, and the discs shrink in size in the spine," Russell says. This thinning can bring the bones and the vertebrae closer together, pushing the nerves out on each side, resulting in back pain and worse. "The nerves can be impinged upon, because the discs have shrunk and the vertebrae compress the nerves. There are so many safer ways to strengthen your glutes, your quads, and your hamstrings to obtain the same result."



Older lifters must have the appropriate strength and range of motion to perform these correctly. Physical therapist Rob Cowell suggests alternatives. "To stay healthy and lower your risk of injury as an older adult, focus on continuous aerobic exercise like walking, biking, or swimming. Add bodyweight exercises on a mat or classes such as yoga and pilates to help improve your core strength and mobility."



It may be a big fitness trend, but high-intensity interval training is hard at any age, according to trainer Kyle Overstreet. "HIIT training should be modified, slowed down, and taken at a pace that is right for the condition of the client's body," he says.

hot yoga studio with sun shining

Hot Yoga

Extreme heat can cause dizziness and be troublesome for older people with heart conditions. Hot yoga isn't recommended for people with arthritis, heart disease, high or low blood pressure, and other ailments common among older people. A study of nearly 30,000 yoga-related injuries seen in U.S. emergency rooms from 2001 to 2014 researchers found that participants 65 and older had a greater rate of injury than other age groups, and advised older people to consult with a doctor before unrolling a mat.