Exercise: Exercises to Try

Strength Exercises

To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try all four types of exercise -- endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. This page addresses strength exercises.

Exercises That Build Muscle

Strength exercises build muscle, and even very small changes in muscle strength can make a real difference in your ability to perform everyday activities like carrying groceries, lifting a grandchild, or getting up from a chair.

Strength Exercises to Try

These 10 muscle strengthening exercises shown below target the upper and lower body.

Upper Body Exercises

  1. wrist curls
  2. arm curls
  3. side arm raises
  4. elbow extensions
  5. chair dips
  6. seated rows with resistance band

Lower Body Exercises

  1. back leg raises
  2. knee curls
  3. leg straightening exercises
  4. toe stands

What to Use, How to Start

To do most of these strength exercises, you need to lift or push weights. You can use weights, resistance bands, or common objects from your home. Or, you can use the strength-training equipment at a fitness center or gym. Start with light weights (1- 2 lbs.) and gradually increase the amount of weight you use. Starting out with weights that are too heavy can cause injury. If you can't lift or push a weight 8 times in a row, it's too heavy for you, and you should reduce the amount of weight.

How Much, How Often?

Try to do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week for 30 minutes at a time, but don't exercise the same muscle group on any 2 days in a row. Muscle soreness lasting a few days and slight fatigue are normal after muscle-building exercises, at least at first. After doing these exercises for a few weeks, you will probably not be sore after your workout.

Lifting Weights

Building Strength

To build strength, gradually increase the amount of weight you use. Start out with a weight you can lift only 8 times. Use that weight until you can lift it easily 10 to 15 times. When you can do 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions easily, add more weight so that, again, you can lift it only 8 times. Repeat until you reach your goal.

Safety Tips

For more on safety, see "Stay Safe! Use Proper Form While Strength Training" from Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging.

Upper Body Exercise - Wrist Curls

Strengthen your wrists with wrist curls.

  1. Rest your forearm on the arm of a sturdy chair with your hand over the edge.
  2. Hold weight with palm facing upward.
  3. Slowly bend your wrist up and down.
  4. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  5. Repeat with other hand 10 to 15 times.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each hand.

Upper Body Exercise - Arm Curls

Strengthen your upper arm muscles with arm curls.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold weights straight down at your sides, palms facing forward. Breathe in slowly.
  3. Breathe out as you slowly bend your elbows and lift weights toward chest. Keep elbows at your sides.
  4. Hold the position for 1 second.
  5. Breathe in as you slowly lower your arms.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  7. Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.

Upper Body Exercise - Side Arm Raises

Strengthen your shoulders with side arm raises.

  1. You can do this exercise while standing or sitting in a sturdy, armless chair.
  2. Keep feet flat on the floor even, shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hold hand weights straight down at your sides with palms facing inward.
  4. Slowly breathe out as you raise both arms to the side, shoulder height.
  5. Hold the position for 1 second.
  6. Breathe in as you slowly lower arms to the sides.
  7. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  8. Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.

Upper Body Exercise - Elbow Extensions

Strengthen the muscles in the back of your arms with elbow extensions.

  1. You can do this exercise while standing or sitting in a sturdy, armless chair.
  2. Keep your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hold weight in one hand with palm facing inward. Raise that arm toward ceiling.
  4. Support this arm below elbow with other hand. Breathe in slowly.
  5. Slowly bend raised arm at elbow and bring weight toward shoulder.
  6. Hold position for 1 second.
  7. Breathe out and slowly straighten your arm over your head. Be careful not to lock your elbow.
  8. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  9. Repeat 10 to 15 times with other arm.
  10. Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each arm.

Upper Body Exercise - Chair Dips

Strengthen your arm muscles with chair dips.

  1. Sit in a sturdy chair with armrests with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lean slightly forward; keep your back and shoulders straight.
  3. Grasp arms of chair with your hands next to you. Breathe in slowly.
  4. Breathe out and use your arms to push your body slowly off the chair.
  5. Hold position for 1 second.
  6. Breathe in as you slowly lower yourself back down.
  7. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  8. Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.

Watch a video showing how a chair dip is done. (After watching it, click on the back button to return to this page.)

Upper Body Exercise - Seated Row With Resistance Band

Strengthen your upper back, shoulder, and neck muscles by doing a seated row with a resistance band.

  1. Sit in a sturdy, armless chair with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place the center of the resistance band under both feet. Hold each end of the band with palms facing inward.
  3. Relax your shoulders and extend your arms beside your legs. Breathe in slowly.
  4. Breathe out slowly and pull both elbows back until your hands are at your hips.
  5. Hold position for 1 second.
  6. Breathe in as you slowly return your hands to the starting position.
  7. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  8. Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.

Lower Body Exercise - Back Leg Raises

Strengthen your buttocks and lower back with back leg raises.

  1. Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance. Breathe in slowly.
  2. Breathe out and slowly lift one leg straight back without bending your knee or pointing your toes. Try not to lean forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
  3. Hold position for 1 second.
  4. Breathe in as you slowly lower your leg.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
  7. Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.

Watch a video showing how back leg raises are done. (After watching it, click on the back button to return to this page.)

Lower Body Exercise - Knee Curls

Strengthen muscles in the back of the thigh with knee curls.

  1. Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance. Lift one leg straight back without bending your knee or pointing your toes. Breathe in slowly.
  2. Breathe out as you slowly bring your heel up toward your buttocks as far as possible. Bend only from your knee, and keep your hips still. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
  3. Hold position for 1 second.
  4. Breathe in as you slowly lower your foot to the floor.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
  7. Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.

Lower Body Exercise - Leg Straightening Exercises

Strengthen your thighs with leg straightening exercises.

  1. Sit in a sturdy chair with your back supported by the chair. Only the balls of your feet and your toes should rest on the floor. Put a rolled bath towel at the edge of the chair under thighs for support. Breathe in slowly.
  2. Breathe out and slowly extend one leg in front of you as straight as possible, but don't lock your knee.
  3. Flex foot to point toes toward the ceiling. Hold position for 1 second.
  4. Breathe in as you slowly lower leg back down.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
  7. Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.

Lower Body Exercise - Toe Stands

Strengthen the muscles in your calves and ankles with toe stands.

  1. Stand behind a sturdy chair, feet shoulder-width apart, holding on for balance. Breathe in slowly.
  2. Breathe out and slowly stand on tiptoes, as high as possible.
  3. Hold position for 1 second.
  4. Breathe in as you slowly lower heels to the floor.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  6. Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.

Watch a video to see how toe stands are done. (After watching it, click on the back button to return to this page.)

See more upper and lower body strength exercises from Go4Life®.