Every day we use our arms for a whole number of things, from holding a phone when typing a message, to carrying shopping bags, wielding a tennis racquet or golf club, or even moving furniture around. In fact, we are constantly using the muscles in our arms, often without even thinking about it. Arms become even more important if you are unable to leave a chair, or to move about very easily.
Your arms are part of your upper body, which also includes your chest and back muscles. To really use those muscles efficiently, it is necessary to keep them strong.
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.
The Need for Upper Body Strengthening Exercises
As we age, it is natural for our muscles to weaken, simply because the human skeleton and muscles change in structure and function. This means that, at times, our muscles no longer behave just as we want them to. This can make us feel a little less useful and a little too dependent on others.
Building upper body strength is important, because it helps to maintain usual, everyday activities and to keep us feeling fitter and stronger.
The way to develop individual muscles is through strength training. Just about twenty minutes spent regularly every day, or at least three times a week, can help you to strengthen your muscles and feel so much more efficient and capable.
Before beginning any new exercises, it is best to consult your doctor.
For each of the exercises described below, you should do a number of repetitions. Begin with 10 on each side and add to this as you get fitter.
If you feel any pain, stop the exercise and consult a medical professional.
Upper Body Exercise Equipment
Because upper body strength training uses the arms a lot, the most important piece of equipment to use is weights, as these provide some resistance against the muscle in each exercise.
These weights can be mini dumbbells, acquired from a sports shop. They come in different weights and are easy to hold.
If you can’t access dumbbells, it is possible to use some household items as weights.
It is also important to have a mat that you can lie on comfortably, as some of the exercises require that you lie down.
To increase the pull of an arm exercise, a resistance band is also useful, which can be purchased at a sports shop.
Simple Upper Body Exercises
Walk swinging arms
Walking and swinging your arms means that you will focus on exercising the muscles in your arms and shoulders, as well as your abdominal muscles.
You will use your arms slightly differently, depending on the style of walking you are doing.
The alternative is to use your arms actively as you walk. This is more like power walking.
Swinging your arms as you walk will allow you to exercise your arms as much as your legs and will help to tone the muscles of your upper body.
A shoulder roll is a good exercise to do to release tension in the shoulders and to warm up for other exercises.
You can do this exercise standing or seated.
When performing a shoulder roll, take care that you don’t lift your arms to do the exercise. The movement must come from your shoulders.
Side Shoulder Raise
A side shoulder raise can be done standing or seated.
You can do the exercise on one side at a time, or using both arms at the same time.
When performing a side shoulder raise, begin with nothing in your hands and then progress to using weights.
Seated Upper Body Exercises
Finger marching is a simple exercise that demands focus and will help to work on the dexterity of your fingers. It will also help to build the muscles in your arms.
When performing finger marching, try to keep your hands spread flat and allow the fingers to move very deliberately.
A biceps curl can be done standing or seated.
You should use a weight or a resistance band.
When performing a biceps curl, you can use a resistance band, instead of the weight. In this case, the band should be tied to the leg of the chair, or you could stand on it, so that it does not move.
Overhead elbow extension
The overhead elbow extension can be done standing, or seated.
When performing an overhead elbow extension, you could begin by doing the exercise without a weight and then progress to using a weight.
An overhead press is usually performed seated and with weights.
You can also do the exercise standing and begin without any weights.
When you perform the overhead press, it is important to keep your arms strong. Press your hands firmly towards the ceiling.
Upper Body Strengthening Exercises
Wall push ups
Wall push-ups are performed standing. Your focus should be on using the wall as resistance to push against, so that you work on your arm muscles.
When performing a wall push-up, keep the movement steady and focus on taking the weight and pressure on your arms.
Do not hunch your shoulders.
Back arm chest stretch
A back arm chest stretch opens your chest, stretches your arms and helps you to become more flexible.
When you perform a back arm chest stretch, you can aim to bend forward to lift your arms behind you as high as possible.
Do not over-stretch, though, or you may damage a muscle.
The Superman exercise is very good for strengthening your back and has the added advantage of making your core stronger.
A variation on this is to do a half superman:
Repeat with the other arm and leg.
When performing the Superman exercise, do not stretch your back further than you are able. As you become stronger, you will be able to raise your head and legs higher.
Triceps kickbacks can be done with or without weights.
When performing a triceps kickback, do not allow your knees to bend too far. You should not think of this as a squat.
Diagonal outward shoulder raise
A diagonal outward shoulder raise can be done standing or seated.
You can also do it:
The action is always the same:
If you use a resistance band, it should be tied to the leg of chair – on the opposite side from the arm you begin with.
Hold the band across your body and then pull it as you move your arm upwards and outwards.
When performing the diagonal outward shoulder raise, make sure that you do not let your shoulder itself raise. It should remain relaxed.
Working on strengthening your upper body means that you will feel stronger and more confident…and more independent. You need to use the exercises that will focus on specific muscles in your upper body to develop that strength. And to develop your sense of self as you grow older.
Bårdstu, H.B., Andersen, V., Fimland, M.S. et al. Effectiveness of a resistance training program on physical function, muscle strength, and body composition in community-dwelling older adults receiving home care: a cluster-randomized controlled trial. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act 17, 11 (2020).
HUR USA 6 of the Most Effective Strength Training Exercises for Seniors
Langhammer, B., Bergland, A., & Rydwik, E. (2018). The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People. BioMed research international, 2018, 7856823.
Saeterbakken, A. H., Bårdstu, H. B., Brudeseth, A., & Andersen, V. (2018). Effects of Strength Training on Muscle Properties, Physical Function, and Physical Activity among Frail Older People: A Pilot Study. Journal of aging research, 2018, 8916274.