Functional Strength Class for Older Adults

by Leigh Crews on Sep 25, 2014

Baby Boomers are constantly bombarded with promises to lift, tighten and rejuvenate their bodies and “turn back the clock.” Truthfully, fitness professionals can roll back the clock for older participants! When you improve strength and stability, you increase functionality and combat the effects of sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss).

This class targets the somewhat frail older adult with a three-pronged approach to functional strength. By addressing mobility, strength and balance, you improve posture, facilitate the activities of daily living, and reduce the risk of falling.

Functional Strength for Older Adults Details

Goal/Emphasis: to improve functional strength
Total time: 60 minutes
Equipment needed: Each participant needs a chair (with a back) and a Thera-Band® resistance band. You may need nonslip mats, depending on the flooring. Some exercises are performed against a wall; therefore, remove obstacles.
Music: In the background only. Don’t perform exercises to tempo. Encourage each person to move at his or her own pace. Many older adults prefer a moderate tempo with positive lyrics—not necessarily “oldies.”
Precautions: The class is designed to put minimal stress on knees, wrists and elbows. Besides having limited movement abilities, frail adults may suffer from comorbidities like heart and lung disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and balance disorders. Modify moves to fit participants’ needs, but remember that intensity is important for this population too.

Warm-Up (15 minutes)

A dynamic warm-up doubles as the mobility phase of the workout. Participants begin each sequence standing, right (R) side to chair back. Perform 10–15 reps of each exercise per side unless otherwise indicated.

Slow marching. With chest lifted and shoulders relaxed (hand on chair if needed), begin slow march. Lift knees as high as ability allows, dorsiflexing ankles. Continue for 1 minute, about-face and repeat. Add knee extension: Hold lifted leg and slowly extend with good posture; bend knee, and lower foot to floor.

Toe and heel taps. Shift weight to leg closest to chair, move other leg in front, plantar-flex, and tap floor with toe. Dorsiflex to heel tap (1 repetition).

Leg swings and circles. Begin with simple swings (front to back, side to side) and circles (lifted leg straight and bent). As ability improves, add single-leg bicycle, reverse bicycle and simple patterns (circle leg toward midline of body, tap foot on outside of support foot, circle back up, and open into knee lift on other side).

Turn and stand facing back of chair.

Head turns. Turn head side to side and up and down. Add diagonal patterns.

Ta-das. Face chair, both hands on chair back. Step R foot back, turn body, look over shoulder and lift R arm up and away, as if to say, “Ta-da!” Switch sides.

Chest opener. Take split stance behind chair. Raise arms in front of chest, elbows bent at 90 degrees, palms facing. Open arms to sides and bring them back to the front. Switch feet in split stance and open arms. Reach arms overhead, palms out, and return to start.

Arm swings and circles. As with leg swings and circles, start with simple front-to-back and circular moves, and progress to more complex patterns.

Back pat and back scratch. With R arm up, bend elbow and pat upper back. Left (L) arm goes behind back, palm out. See how close you can get your hands. Reverse arms and repeat (1 rep).

Strength Phase (30 minutes)

Sit toward front of chair seat. Perform each exercise 10–15 times on each side (as applicable).

Bellybutton squeeze. Sit upright, exhale, and tighten abdominal muscles, pulling navel toward spine. Hold for 2 seconds.

Seated leg raise with hold. Sit upright, engage core, and lift leg off floor, holding for 2 seconds, then lower leg. Bend knees for less challenge; straighten and push through heel for more. Repeat on opposite side.

Triceps “push-off”/Sit to stand. With hands on seat, lean slightly forward from hip and use arms to push off. Return to start. Sit to stand (progression): Cross arms over chest for greater challenge (stabilize chair if needed). Add diagonal arm reach (up and to opposite side) for final progression.

For the rest of the workout, please see “Sample Class: Functional Strength for Older Adults” in the online IDEA Library or in the September 2014 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

Leigh Crews

Leigh Crews IDEA Author/Presenter

Leigh Crews is the IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year award winner for 2011 and the founder of Dynalife, Inc., a company dedicated to innovative fitness education. She is a Senior Master Trainer for TRXR Suspension Training and a Program Developer for BatukaR. Leigh also serves as an official spokesperson for ACE, a media expert for ACSM and is certified by ACE, ACSM, and White Lotus Foundation. An international presenter and "trainer's trainer", Leigh has appeared on CNN and Headline News, starred in a number of exercise videos and written articles for industry and consumer media. Visit www.LeighCrews.com to learn more.