Senior Fitness Inspiration from a WeightliftingSenior Fitness Inspiration from a Weightlifting Grandma Grandma

Two years ago, Shirley Webb of East Alton, Illinois, couldn’t get up off the floor without help. Earlier this year, the 78-year old deadlifted a 225-pound barbell with ease. The record-setting senior weightlifter sets a great example of how everyday seniors can improve their mobility, feel better, and have fun with exercise. Here’s how Webb got started and kept going with free-weight training, and what we can learn from her.

Find a workout buddy

Webb said she decided to join her gym after going along to keep her 20-year old granddaughter company. Fitness experts say having a workout buddy and a workout group is a great way to stay motivated, pursue your goals, and have more fun while you exercise.

Choose a senior-friendly gym

Webb told ESPN she wasn’t intimidated at all by her first visit to the gym. The fact that the staff took the time to explain all the equipment to her and her granddaughter cemented her decision to sign up, she said. You’re more likely to go work out if you look forward to being at the gym, so choose a place that makes you feel welcome. There are more than 36,000 gyms in the US, so unless you live in a very rural area you probably have more than one choice nearby. Visit a few before you sign a contract.

Work with a patient and attentive trainer

Shirley Webb gave John Wright, her fitness trainer, lots of credit for being patient with her. She told ESPN that when he asked her to get down on the floor for an exercise, she told him she wouldn’t be able to get back up. Wright assured her he’d help her, and a great fitness partnership was born. Webb said her trainer watches her form carefully to prevent possible injury. An attentive trainer or teacher is necessary not only for weightlifting but also for low-impact workouts like yoga and Pilates where poor form can cause problems.

Start slow and pace yourself

Webb has been quick to remind people that she didn’t start out in “beast mode” but with light weights and a program to raise her overall fitness level. To get where she is now, she simply lifted slightly heavier weights as Wright introduced them. A slow and methodical approach can lead to big improvements over time without the risk of injury from trying to do too much, too soon.

Set realistic fitness goals

Webb has said she’d like to work up to deadlifting 275 pounds, and then maybe go for 300. For seniors who are new to fitness, she suggested more attainable goals – showing up and feeling better. “Go join a gym. You don’t have to lift heavy weights,” she told ESPN. “When I go to the gym and work out for an hour, I feel so much better than I did when I walked in.”

Whatever your goals, you may be able to meet them without leaving your retirement community. You can find out why senior living communities now have some of the best gyms and explore independent living options on


Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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