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Upper Body Exercises for Seniors: Simple + Seated Upper Body Exercises for the Elderly

By Maurice

Upper Body Exercises for Seniors

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 upper body 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.

For example:

  • Tins of food that you can hold in one hand.
  • Water bottles – which you can fill to change the weight.
  • Bean bags, which you could even make yourself.


It is also important to have a mat that you can lie on comfortably, as some of the exercises require that you lie down.

Resistance Bands

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.

  • Begin with your hands at your sides.
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed.

You will use your arms slightly differently, depending on the style of walking you are doing.

  • If you are walking with some purpose, but not power walking, then keep your elbows relatively straight and allow your arms to swing as you walk.
  • Concentrate on making the movement more deliberate than just swinging naturally.

The alternative is to use your arms actively as you walk. This is more like power walking.

  • Make sure that your arms are deliberately bent, almost at 90 degrees.
  • As you step, pump the opposite arm forwards, so that you are using your leg and your arm deliberately and strongly.

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.

Shoulder rolls

A shoulder roll is a good exercise to do to release tension in the shoulders and to warm up for other upper body exercises.

You can do this exercise standing or seated.

  • Make sure that your back is straight and your head is evenly balanced, looking forwards.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Lift your shoulders and move them forwards, down, backwards and then to the starting position again.
  • Repeat the exercise by moving your shoulders backwards to begin with and completing the circle.

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.

  • Begin by standing/sitting up straight.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Have your arms comfortably at your sides.
  • Keep your arms straight and raise them to your sides.
  • Hold at the top of the movement, then lower them.
  • A side shoulder raise should be done slowly and steadily.

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

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.

  • Sit firmly on a chair.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Hold your hands in front of you, as though resting on an invisible wall.
  • ‘Walk’ your fingers up and down the ‘wall’.

When performing finger marching, try to keep your hands spread flat and allow the fingers to move very deliberately.

Biceps curl

A biceps curl can be done standing or seated.

You should use a weight or a resistance band.

  • Either stand firmly, with your feet a little apart, or sit on the edge of a chair, with your feet firmly planted a little apart.
  • Sit or stand up straight.
  • Hold your arm straight down at your side.
  • Keep your arm against your side and bend your elbow, bringing your hand holding the weight towards your shoulder.
  • Return your arm to the starting position.

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.

  • Stand or sit firmly.
  • Hold your arm up, so that your hand is behind your head. (The weight should be behind your head.)
  • Keep your lower arm straight up through the exercise. If you need to, you can use your opposite hand to support your working arm – by pushing gently against your lower arm.
  • Extend your arm, picking up your hand (holding the weight) upwards towards the ceiling.
  • Return to the starting position.

When performing an overhead elbow extension, you could begin by doing the exercise without a weight and then progress to using a weight.

Overhead press

An overhead press is usually performed seated and with weights.

You can also do the exercise standing and begin without any weights.

  • Sit straight up in the chair. Your feet should be firmly on the ground, about shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your arms, with your hands next to your shoulders.
  • Raise your arms, so they stretch up above you.
  • Keep them straight, next to your head.
  • Lower your arms to the starting position.

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.

  • Begin by standing about a pace away from the wall.
  • Stand firmly, because your base will be on your feet and legs.
  • Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
  • Extend your arms so that they are straight and place your hands on the wall.
  • Keep your arms parallel to the ground and your hands vertical against the wall.
  • Gently push against your hands and allow your body to move towards the wall.
  • Hold that position for a few seconds.
  • Push against your hands again to move your body back to the starting position.

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.

  • Stand firmly on two feet, which are a little way apart.
  • Interlace your fingers behind you, keeping your arms as straight as possible.
  • Gently pull your arms away from your body and towards the ceiling.
  • Keep your arms straight.
  • Relax and repeat.

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.

  • Lie on your stomach on a flat surface (mat or bed).
  • Stretch your arms above your head.
  • Lift up your upper body and legs at the same time.
  • Only lift as far as is comfortable. As your back gets stronger, you will be able to lift yourself higher.

A variation on this is to do a half superman:

  • Extend one arm straight up above your head.
  • Lift up that arm and your upper body and the opposite leg.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • Lower both your arm and leg.

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

Triceps kickbacks can be done with or without weights.

  • Stand firmly with your feet a little apart.
  • Bend your knees slightly.
  • Keep your lower body strong and pushed slightly back.
  • Lean slightly forward from your hips.
  • Keep your arms at your sides, with your elbows bent, so that your hands are next to your chest.
  • Keep your upper arms against your sides throughout the exercise.
  • Push your lower arms back until they are straight.
  • Hold that position for a few seconds and then return to the starting position.

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:

  • Without a weight
  • With a hand weight
  • Using a resistance band.

The action is always the same:

  • Begin with your arm crossed right across your body, so that your hand is next to your hip on the opposite side.
  • Keep your arm straight and move it up diagonally to the right. Your hand should stretch up to the right at a 45 degree angle to the ground.
  • Keeping your arm straight, move it back to the starting position.
  • Repeat this action on the other side.

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.

Supporting Scientific Studies

  1. 1Reducing Risk of Falling in Older People Discharged From Hospital: A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Seated Exercises, Weight-Bearing Exercises, and Social Visits
  2. 2Programs on People Older Than 80 Years
  3. 3The Effect of 6 Months Training on Leg Power, Balance, and Functional Mobility of Independently Living Adults Over 70 Years Old
  4. 4A Controlled Trial of Exercise by Residents of Old People’s Homes
  5. 5Seated Exercise Therapy Improves Posture and Balance in Hyperkyphotic Elderly Females, a Randomized Control Trail
  6. 6Benefits of home-based rocking-chair exercise for physical performance in community-dwelling elderly women: a randomized controlled trial
  7. 7Exercises to Activate Seniors

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