For older adults, exercise that challenges the muscular system, commonly referred to as resistance training, has significant physical, psychometrical and functional benefits. While well recognised by the scientific community, the translation of these benefits into practice has received little attention. Particularly neglected is an understanding of the personal experiences, motivation towards and adherence to resistance training recommendations among older adults. This paper investigated the benefits older individuals attribute to resistance training and the motivational tactics they employed to undertake it. Data were drawn from three focus groups where participants (⩾65 years; presently, previously or wanting to become involved in a resistance training intervention) were encouraged to openly discuss resistance training, physical activity and exercise. Findings revealed that participants were aware of the benefits of training on general and functional health, and that these benefits were employed in the motivation to train. In addition, presently or previously trained individuals stress the importance of environment and programme structure as a training motivator. The benefits to mental and social health, effect on ageing and body image were also raised. However, participants discussed these in a broad context. While it could be said that public knowledge reflects current evidence, it is also clear that individuals are still unaware of a number of specific benefits.