The significance of maintaining upper body strength and flexibility is often not fully understood or appreciated until a person starts to experience declines. Whilst many know that their upper body is much weaker than the lower body, it still seems to take less of a priority for many people.

Learning more about upper body exercises for older adults appears to be needed.

For individuals navigating unique physical challenges, the ability to perform daily tasks independently can significantly enhance their quality of life. These tasks include reaching for items on high shelves, lifting groceries, opening doors, dressing oneself, or hugging a loved one, and a strong and flexible upper body is fundamental to maintaining autonomy. When body function is compromised, whether that is through age-related decline, injury, or disability, it can quickly lead to decreases in both mental and physical wellbeing and ultimately, a reduction in independence.

In this blog, we will explore the often-overlooked importance of upper body functionality and present six functional upper body exercises tailored to support the independence of special populations.

Upper Body Exercise Ideas

This is not an exhaustive list of exercises; however, it focuses on some of the primary movement patterns and muscle groups involved in upper body functioning.

  1. Seated Row:
  • Seated row exercises strengthen the muscles of the back, shoulders, and arms, essential for pulling movements. promoting better posture and overall upper body stability.
  • Enhanced back strength aids in activities such as pulling oneself up from a lying position, opening car doors or maintaining proper alignment and stability during seated and standing tasks. It is also beneficial to work un-laterally to strengthen the weaker side of the body.
  1. Seated Shoulder Press:
  • This exercise targets the deltoid muscles and triceps, essential for pushing movements.
  • By performing the seated shoulder press, individuals can improve their ability to reach overhead, aiding in tasks like retrieving items from cabinets or placing objects on high shelves. It is also beneficial to work un-laterally to strengthen the weaker side of the body.
  1. Tricep Dips:
  • Tricep dips effectively engage the triceps and shoulders, crucial for pushing oneself up from a seated position, transferring to and from different surfaces or propelling a wheelchair.
  • This exercise is most effective when using body weight as it is most functional for daily life; however, this is a very challenging exercise for many so alternative tricep exercises with resistance bands, weights, cable machines and similar are still supporting strength development in this muscle group.
  1. Rotator Cuff Exercises:
  • Incorporating rotator cuff exercises, such as external and internal rotations with resistance bands, and standing wall angels, will help to stabilise the shoulder joint and prevent injuries.
  • Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles supports various upper body movements, enhancing functional abilities like reaching behind the back, putting a seatbelt on, or lifting objects laterally. If you aren’t familiar with different rotator cuff exercises, then consider doing some further research.
  1. Chest Press:
  • Chest press movements target the pectoral muscles and help improve the range of motion in the shoulders and strength in pushing movements.
  • Strengthening the chest muscles aids in activities like pushing objects away from the body or performing tasks that require forward-reaching motions.
  1. Standing Bicep Curls:
  • Bicep curls target the muscles of the upper arm, essential for lifting and carrying objects.
  • By performing standing bicep curls, individuals can improve their ability to carry groceries, lift bags, or perform other tasks requiring arm strength while standing.

These are a few upper body exercises for older adults but there are many more functional ones to choose from. Think about daily movement patterns and mimic these through exercise.


The upper body is a weaker area for most people, particularly for those who are deconditioned. Slowly and gradually introduce the range of movement, the resistance and the complexity. Make sure not to overload the upper body without sufficient rest. This can be achieved by working alternate muscle groups such as the chest and then the back as well as alternating the lower body with the upper body within a session. Associating the day-to-day movements with the exercise can help motivation, so consider educating them along the way.


To support ongoing independence, the importance of selecting specific upper body exercises for older adults is paramount. By focusing on strengthening and improving flexibility in key muscle groups, individuals can enhance their ability to perform daily tasks with ease and confidence. Whether these exercises are used to prevent deterioration or to help rehabilitate a client’s strength and mobility, learning how to balance a programme and develop its intensity over time is essential.

To learn more about effective resistance band exercises for older adults, access our resistance band training here.