Arm Exercises for Seniors

Arm Exercises for Seniors: Best Exercises for Flabby Arms, Seated, Without Weights & More

By Maurice

Arm Exercises for Seniors

Different parts of our bodies age differently, but many seniors find it troubling when they begin to lose arm strength. But you don’t have to give in to flabby or weak arms. Keep reading to learn about seniors' exercises that will help maintain muscle tone in your arms and shoulders.

Please click the button below to download a free PDF of the exercises in this article:

Keep in Mind:

Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.  

Benefits of Arm Exercises for Seniors

Many older people want arms that look stronger and less flabby. That’s an excellent reason to do arm exercises, but the benefits don’t stop there. Seniors with healthy arms and shoulders are better able to maintain independence and keep doing the activities they love.

Think of all the ways you use your arms every day. Something as routine as pushing up from a chair is easier with good arm muscle. Carrying groceries, lifting things onto high shelves, picking up babies: all these work your arms, and that’s not even mentioning recreational activities such as tennis and golf.

Here’s another benefit: arm exercise, done with proper form, work your upper back as well, which improves posture and balance. So let’s get started. Here are some exercises to keep those arms and shoulders working for you.

Best Arm Exercises for Seniors

Flabby Arm Exercises for Seniors

You can’t have strong arms without strong shoulders. If you’re just starting an arm exercise routine, here are a couple easy ones for the shoulders to get warmed up for armwork.

1. Shoulder Rolls

This is an ideal way to get ready for an arm session or just to shake out tightness any time of day.

  • Stand straight with your arms by your sides.
  • Roll your shoulders forward, up and backwards. Make big circles. It’s good to make bigger circles as you go.
  • Do 20 reps, then reverse direction.
  • Shake your hands or swing your arms at the end to “shake it all out.”

These can also be done seated. When you’re watching TV, plant your feet flat, move forward from the back of your chair, rest your hands in your lap, and do some reps in each direction.

2. Shoulder Blade Squeezes

Another easy exercise with great benefits. It tells your body that you’re ready for a workout.

  • Stand up straight. You can do this either with your arms by your side or your elbows bent and held close to the body.
  • Draw the elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Imagine you’re trying to make them touch.
  • Hold in the squeezed position for up to 5 seconds then return to the relaxed position
  • Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps.

Upper Arm Exercises for Seniors

Many upper arm exercises call for dumbbells. You don’t need a lot of weight. In fact, be careful not to use too much. These exercises should require effort but should not be painful. Even a pound or two is enough to lead to gains.


Any of these dumbbell exercises can be done with no weight at all! Grip a small towel in your hand or just make a fist.

3. Shoulder Raise

This is an ideal way to get ready for an arm session or just to shake out tightness any time of day.

  • Stand straight with both arms at your side and the dumbbell held in one hand. The palm should face forward.
  • Move the arm away from your body and raise it all the way over your head.
  • Exhale on the upward motion and inhale on the downward.
  • Do about l0 reps with each arm.

You can also do both arms at once. You’ll find a different feel in the core muscles that maintain your posture.

4. Bent Row

This exercise works the upper back and shoulders as well as the arms.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Thrust your hips back and bend your knees.
  • Let your upper body fall forward. Ideally, your torso should be almost parallel to the floor, but go only as far as you comfortably can.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other, bend your elbow and pull the weights up to your side.
  • Do 1-2 sets of about 10 reps.

Sometimes it’s easier one arm at a time.

Triceps Exercises for Seniors

Too many arm routines emphasize biceps and give triceps short shrift. That’s too bad. It’s triceps weakness that holds a lot of seniors back. For example, you need triceps to put your carry-on in the overhead bin.

5. Triceps Kickbacks

  • Lean over a table or chair. Bend from your hips, not your back. Grip the table or chairback with your “off” arm.
  • Hold the dumbbell in the working arm. The elbow is bent and the weight is close to the body.
  • Straighten your elbow as you push the weight behind you. Go as far as is comfortable.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Do about 10 reps with each arm.

You can also do this sitting in a chair (one without arms, of course). Lean over your knees and rest your off arm on a knee. You can also do both arms at once if you’re confident in your balance.

6. Overhead Elbow Extension

  • Sit in a chair with your back against the chair back.
  • Hold a dumbbell in one hand just behind your shoulder. Your elbow is bent and your palm is facing the back of your head.
  • Straighten your arm toward the ceiling.
  • Hold for just a second and return to start.
  • Do up to 10 reps on each arm.

This can also be done from a standing position, which requires more balance control. If you like a challenge, do both arms at once.

Seated Arm Exercises for Seniors

Have a seat and do one exercise for your biceps and another for your triceps.

7. Seated Biceps Curls

  • Sit up straight in an armless chair. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with the elbows straight and the arms hanging outside your leg.
  • Bending your elbows but keeping your wrists straight, curl the weights up to your chest.
  • Maintain a steady position. Don’t let your torso move.
  • Return the weights to the original position.
  • Do 1-2 sets of 10-20 reps.

This also makes an excellent standing exercise. Keep the feet hip width apart and, again, move your arms with minimal torso movement. You can also work one arm at a time.

8. Seated Overhead Press

Like other triceps exercises, this one builds your ability to put objects on overhead shelves and take them down. If you find that hard, it’s not surprising. Lifting overhead takes coordination of muscles in the arms, shoulders and back.

  • Sit with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, close to your shoulder, with the elbow bent.
  • Keeping your torso firm, raise your arms straight above your head and straighten the elbows.
  • Return to the starting position
  • Do 1-2 sets of about 10 reps.

Most seniors (and most people of any age!) will find this harder than the seated curl and will have difficulty using as much weight. This can be done one hand at a time. The work needed to keep the torso motionless will feel different. As with the curls, you can do this standing.

Exercises for Seniors without Weights

Dumbbells are useful, but there are plenty of exercises you can do without them. Here are examples.

9. Arms Circles

This one sounds so easy. Stick your arms straight out and make circles. If you make tiny circles, it actually isn’t too hard. But if you move your arms slowly and describe large circles, this is a surprisingly strenuous workout.

  • Stand straight with your legs at shoulder width.
  • Stick your arms straight out to the sides with the palms down.
  • Initiate the motion from the shoulder. The rest of the arms remain rigid.
  • Starting with a forward motion, make circles with your shoulders.
  • Do 20 reps. If you can, make larger circles as you progress.
  • Turn the palms up, and do 20 more circles starting with a backward motion.

It’s good to do this in front of a full-length mirror so you can observe your form. The shoulders should stay the same height as each other all through the rotation. The arms should remain parallel to the ground. It’s easy to let them start to drop.

10. Wall Pushups

Older people, especially men, remember when they could drop to the ground and answer the drill instructor’s command to “give me 20.” Even if it’s been years since your last floor pushup, you can still reap the benefits of the world’s most classic arm exercise by using a wall.

  • Stand arm’s length from the wall with your feet just more than shoulder width apart.
  • Lay your palms on the wall with your arms straight.
  • Bend your elbows and let your upper body fall toward the wall until your chest is a couple inches away.
  • Push back to your upright position.
  • To get the biggest “bang for your buck,” do these slowly, especially on the return trip.
  • Do 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps.

If these are too easy, there are lots of variations. Stand farther from the wall. Do them with your hands on the edge of a desk or table. Rather than put your hands directly on the wall, press a small exercise ball or a volleyball against the wall, which demands more balance.

Seated Isometric Exercises for Seniors

Most exercises require you to stop and set aside time for a workout. Not so with chair isometrics! You can do some any time you’re seated at a table or desk or watching TV.

Isometrics can’t make up a fitness program all by themselves. Because the arms don’t move, isometrics do little to build new muscle. They’re excellent, however, for maintaining strength. They’re particularly beneficial for someone whose strength has been compromised by pain, arthritis or injury. In other words, they’re a fine maintenance tool for older adults.

The variety of arm and shoulder isometrics you can do in a chair is limited only by your imagination. Anything that pits the strength of one arm against the other or against an immovable object will do. Here are a few ideas to get started.

In all of these, build your effort gradually, hold maximum effort for a few seconds and then relax your effort gradually. Go for about 5-10 reps.

  • Hold your hands in front in “prayer position," palms together, at the level of your breastbone. Push them against each other. This can also be done with the hands in front of your face.
  • With your hands in front at chest level, push the fist of one into the open palm of the other. Alternate hands.
  • With your hands at chest level, one palm up and the other down, curl the fingers and pull four fingers of one hand against four fingers of the other.
  • Make fists with your hands at chest level, one on top of the other. Push down with one and up with the other. This can also be done with the fingers interlocked.
  • Hold your arms in front, both palms down, one palm on the other forearm. Try to raise the lower arm while holding it in place with the upper arm.
  • Grab the sides of your chair and pull up while pressing yourself into the seat.

Conclusion

You don’t have to push a lot of weight to improve your arm and shoulder strength, nor do you have to have to hit the dumbbells every day. In fact, one study found that seniors improved arm strength in as little as 16 sessions over six weeks. That’s not quite three times per week.

Just because you’re getting on in years, that doesn’t mean you have to give up effective use of your arms. Try exercises like these just a few times a week, and it’s likely you’ll have a much easier time with your hobbies and your chores around the house.


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