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Back Exercises for Elderly: Easy Exercises for Lower Back & Upper Back While Seated and Standing

By Maurice

Back Exercises for Elderly

As we get older, our backs don’t always do what we want them to. We may have limited flexibility or pain when we move. If you’re a senior and have wondered whether you should start a routine of back exercises, this article is for you. Read on to discover the best back exercises for the elderly that you can do right at home.

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 Back Exercises for Elderly

Some days your aches and pains might make you want to just sit there, but moving around is good for your back.

Back exercises don’t just strengthen your back; they build your leg and abdominal muscles as well. They improve your balance and help your posture.

You might think you’re too sore for back exercise, but an exercise plan can actually reduce pain over time. Seniors who exercise regularly develop better muscle tone, reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke and in general live longer with greater mental acuity. The old saw about a sound mind in a sound body has a lot of merit.

Here’s some good news: you don’t have to put yourself through the wringer to strengthen your back and improve your overall health. You don’t even have to go to the gym (although it’s a great place to work out!) Here are 12 exercises you can do at home without any special equipment. Try a few of these and watch your strength, mobility and general feeling of wellness improve.

One general word of advice: form is more important than maximum range of motion. If you can’t do any of these “all the way” and still maintain a straight, posturally correct back, go only as far as you comfortably can.

Best Back Exercises for Elderly

The ideal routine of exercises for seniors includes both stretching exercises and strength exercises. Some of these are done standing up, and for others you use a chair. Only a few require you to get on the floor.

Standing Back Stretches for Seniors

1. Standing Back Extensions


A few standing stretches are a great way to start your day or to do any time during the day, especially after you’ve been sitting for any length of time.

It’s easy! Just lean back!

  • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.
  • If it’s comfortable, place the heels of your hands on your lower back. Otherwise place them on your hips or just leave your arms by your side.
  • Keeping your knees straight, bend back as far as you can.
  • Repeat 5-10 times. Try to go a little farther each time.

2. Forward Back Bend

Remember when people urged you to touch your toes, or even harder, lay your palms on the floor? It’s not necessary to bend that far to get the back benefits of a bend.

Here’s how:

  • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.
  • Fall forward from your hips.
  • Let your arms dangle. Don’t push; just let your body relax into a comfortable position. If you like, grab each elbow with the opposite hand.
  • Some younger people bend into a jackknife position, but it’s not necessary to go that far. Upper body parallel to the floor is a good stopping point.
  • Maintain this relaxed stretch for 20-30 seconds. Then roll back up, slowly, to avoid imbalance.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

Take it slow to ensure good balance. If you feel uncomfortably dizzy, skip this one.

3. Standing Back Side Stretch

You’ve gone forward and back. Now go sideways as well!

  • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart and your arms at your side.
  • Keep your knees straight and bend sideways from the waist. Reach down your leg with your lower hand. Hold for 10 seconds then slowly bend to the other side.
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each side.

Sitting Back Stretches for Seniors

You can do your back stretches in a chair, particularly if you have concerns about balance. Use a heavy kitchen chair or dining room chair. No armchairs or captain’s chairs!

4. Seated Back Bend


Replace the standing back extension with this if you’re more comfortable sitting down.

  • Sit up straight in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back away from the chair back.
  • If it’s comfortable, reach back and place your palms on your lower back. Otherwise, put them on your hips or rest them on your lap.
  • Lead with your head and arch your spine from neck to lower back.
  • Don’t lean back from the hips.
  • Hold for several deep breaths.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

5. Seated Cat and Cow

This classic yoga exercise is usually done on your hands and knees, but you can do it in a chair as well.

  • Sit with your feet on the floor and the knees at 90 degrees.
  • Place your hands on your knees. If it’s comfortable, turn them in so your fingers point at each other.
  • As you exhale, press your hands into your knees and gently roll backward. Start at your lower back and imagine you are bending one vertebra at a time. Finish by extending your neck so you look at the ceiling.
  • As you inhale, roll your shoulders forward and pull your belly toward your spine. The motion should start from the neck “one vertebra at a time” until it finishes at the lower back.
  • Repeat 10-15 times.

Upper Back Exercises for Elderly

The routines of daily life are hard on our upper backs. When we spend time on the computer or watching TV we tend to hunch our upper torso. Most back exercises concentrate on the lower back. These 3 exercises not only strengthen the upper back muscles but also strengthen shoulders and help preserve their range of motion.

A couple of these call for dumbbells, but you can use any light object from a bottle of soda to a can of corn. They’re even beneficial if you do them with nothing in your hands at all!

6. Shoulder Squeeze

  • Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your side. This can also be done sitting straight up in a chair.
  • Pull your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together as though you’re trying to make them touch each other.
  • Hold for 5 seconds then release
  • Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

7. Shoulder Rotations

  • Hold a lightweight dumbbell (or other object, or nothing at all) in your right hand.
  • Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart, your upper arm by your side and your forearms extended forward with your elbow bent at 90 degrees.
  • Keep your elbow in contact with your side.
  • Rotate your arm inward across your body.
  • Then rotate outward as far as you can comfortably move it.
  • Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps with each arm.

As an alternative, exercise both arms at the same time, bringing the arms inward until the hands or dumbbells touch.

8. Bent Shoulder Rows

  • Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell (or lighter object) in each hand.
  • Push your hips back and let your knees bend slightly.
  • Let your upper body fall forward as far as is comfortable. Ideally, it should be almost parallel to the floor.
  • Let your arms and the dumbbells hang with your wrists facing inward.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the dumbbells up to your chest.
  • Pause for only a second before lowering them.
  • Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

Lower Back Exercises for Elderly

Many back exercises can be done standing or sitting, but the best lower back strength exercises require you to get on the floor. Here are 4 “classics” that are still around because they’re among the most effective. These are most comfortable on a well-carpeted floor or on a mat.

9. Bird Dog


  • Position yourself on your hands and knees with your knees and hips at 90 degree angles. Your wrists should be directly below your shoulders.
  • Use your abdominal muscles to keep your torso rigid while you do the motions.
  • Raise and point your right arm and left leg. Go as far as is comfortable. The ideal is to have each limb extended as far as possible from the torso and tilted slightly toward the ceiling.
  • Pause for just a second, then slowly return to the original position.
  • Repeat with the other arm and leg.
  • Do 2-3 sets of about 10 reps.

For an additional challenge, extend the arm and leg on the same side. This requires even more tightening of the abdomen to maintain your balance.

10. Superman


Similar to the bird dog, but you may find this a little more challenging.

  • Lie on your stomach with your arms extended straight overhead.
  • Squeeze your butt muscles together.
  • Raise both arms and both legs. Keep your elbows and knees very slightly bent; this will prevent you from putting too much pressure on your lower back.
  • Don’t raise your neck. Keep looking at the floor.
  • If raising all four limbs is too difficult, raise one arm and the opposite leg.
  • Do 2-3 sets of about 10 reps.

11. Bridges

  • Lie on your back with your arms at your side, or fold them across your chest.
  • Bend your knees and pull your feet toward your body until they’re directly under your knees.
  • Keep your upper back in contact with the floor.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles to maintain form and balance.
  • Slowly raise your hips as high as you can.
  • Pause for just a second then lower
  • Do 2-3 sets of about 10 reps.

For an additional challenge, pause in the raised position and lift one foot briefly from the floor.

12. Crunches


This is the first thing many people associate with back exercises, and it’s still one of the best. These aren’t the old fashioned sit-ups, which put too much strain on your spine and discs. With crunches, you do the part that’s beneficial and skip the part that’s risky.

But even crunches can sometimes hard on people who’ve had neck and back injuries. They may not be safe for all seniors. If you do them, here’s how to do them correctly. If they don’t feel right, skip them.

  • Lie on your back.
  • Interlace your fingers behind your head or cross your arms over your chest.
  • Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor, just beyond your knees.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles.
  • Exhale as you lift your upper back, keeping your head and neck relaxed.
  • The lift must come from your upper back, not your neck or lower back.
  • You don’t need to raise yourself far. You should feel the effort in your upper back. If your lower back gets engaged, you’ve gone too far.
  • Lower yourself.
  • Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

An additional crunch exercise: work your obliques by twisting your upper body as you raise it.

Get Started but Don’t Overdo It

Remember that an effective exercise program starts gradually and builds over time. That’s good advice for people of all ages, and especially for seniors. While exercising regularly requires commitment, a grim-faced determination to grit your teeth and go as hard as you can is as likely to work against you as for you.

The sets and reps numbers listed here are suggestions. Furthermore, while daily exercise is a great practice, you don’t have to do these every single day to get the benefits. If you’ve been thinking about protecting and strengthening your back, a few times a week is an excellent start.

Exercise is a gift you give yourself. If you make back stretching and strengthening a regular practice, it won’t result in a radical overnight change to your life, but rather quickly you’re likely to feel a bit better and find the tasks of daily living a little easier.

Supporting Scientific Studies

Effects of wheelchair Tai Chi on physical and mental health among elderly with disability

Exercises to Activate Seniors

Keep Seniors Standing Tall

Effect of spinal stabilization exercises to reduce urinary incontinence in the elderly

Effectiveness of Strengthening Exercises for the Elderly with Low Back Pain to Improve Symptoms and Functions: A Systematic Review

The Effect of William Flexion Exercise on Reducing Pain Intensity For Elderly with Low Back Pain

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