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Sample Class: Seated Exercises for Older Adults

Three ways to challenge your older-adult participants in your next seated, chair-based fitness class.

Older adults are more susceptible to deficits in cardiovascular fitness, muscle mass, strength and power, which may ultimately lead to losses in physical function. The following chair-based format focuses on improving outcomes for older participants, especially those who may need the support of a chair during exercise. Ready, Set, Sit! offers the variety of three 15-minute training segments (cardiovascular, high intensity and strength/power), while targeting important components that boost overall function.

Ready, Set, Sit! Details

Total Time: 50–55 minutes

Goal/emphasis: to improve activities of daily living and basic function

Equipment: lightweight medicine balls and dumbbells

Music: 126–130 beats per minute

Benefits and safety: This chair exercise routine is helpful not only for older adults but also for those who are recovering from injury or are new to exercise. The workout strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, increases muscle power and enhances overall physical function. Ensure that all chairs are sturdy and encourage participants to sit tall in the center of their seats with feet placed firmly on the ground. Chairs with arm rests may be needed for those who have difficulty transitioning from seated to standing, so be prepared.

Warmup (5–8 minutes)

From a tall, seated position, lead the following light arm and leg movements:

    • marching


    • leg extensions


    • arm circles


    • heel digs


    • leg lifts


    • arm reaches


  • arm pulls


See also: Sample Class: Functional Strength for Older Adults

Work Phase (40–45 minutes)


Seated chair based exercise class with older adults
This format offers cardiovascular, high-intensity and strength/power segments to boost overall function in older adults.


These exercises are in groups of four to create easy, repeatable combinations. Do each move for 32 counts before moving on to the next one. Repeat each combination 2–4 times before moving on.


    • alternating leg kicks


    • alternating leg kicks with opposite-arm punches


    • alternating leg kicks with opposite-arm overhead punches


    • speed bag


    • Repeat 2–4 times.


    • single-leg jumping jacks with opposite arm reaching to side


    • single-leg jumping jacks with both arms reaching to sides


    • chair “jump rope” (mimic jump rope movement)


    • jump rope, moving legs side to side


    • Repeat 2–4 times.


    • alternating heel digs


    • alternating knee lifts


    • alternating knee lifts; opposite elbow to knee


    • Plant feet wide; reach arms overhead and down toward floor.


  • Repeat 2–4 times.


Each round lasts for 4 minutes (30 seconds each move; re­peat twice). Intervals alternate between high- and low-intensity moves (all seated).

Interval 1:

    • football runs


    • slow marching


    • chair jumping jacks


  • slow heel digs

Interval 2:

    • fast alternating punches (jabs)


    • slow speed bag


    • fast uppercuts


  • slow alternating hooks

Interval 3:

    • double knee lift (Simul┬¡taneously lift both knees. Relax arms or place hands on sides of chair.)


    • slow marching


    • double knee lift + arm pulls (Lift knees while simultaneously drawing both elbows toward knees.)


  • light heel digs


Do 8–16 reps of each strength move. If time permits, do 2 sets. To focus on power, have participants do the concentric phase as quickly as possible, followed by a slow eccentric phase.

    • Sit-to-stand: Start seated on chair edge, feet just outside hips. Cross arms on chest and stand up quickly. Slowly lower back down.


    • Lunge: Stand in lunge position, holding back of chair. Slowly lower into lunge, hold, and rise quickly.


    • Seated medicine ball press: Begin seated, feet planted firmly on ground, back straight, core engaged. Hold medicine ball with both hands, thumbs pointing at chest. Quickly push ball to front and slowly return to starting position.


    • Sit-to-stand with medicine ball press: Begin seated, feet planted firmly on ground, back straight, core engaged. Quickly stand while simultaneously pushing ball out. Slowly return to starting position.


    • Dumbbell front shoulder raise: Begin seated or standing, arms at sides. Slowly lift arms, bringing them no higher than shoulder level. Slowly return to starting position.


    • Dumbbell triceps extension: Begin seated or standing, upper body leaning slightly forward. Place one hand on thigh for support while holding dumbbell in opposite hand. Lift elbow back, dumbbell next to hip. Slowly extend elbow to lift weight. Return to starting position.


  • Dumbbell biceps curl: Begin seated or standing, elbows at sides, palms facing forward, dumbbell in each hand. Bend elbows to curl dumbbells to shoulders. Slowly return to starting position.


See also: Innovative Chair Exercises for Seniors

Cooldown (5 minutes)

Hold each stretch for 20–30 seconds.

    • Chest: Bring arms out to sides, palms facing back of room.


    • Upper back: Extend arms in front, one hand in front of other, palms facing toward or away from body.


    • Shoulders: Bring one arm across body and hold in place with opposite hand.


    • Triceps: Extend one arm overhead and bend elbow, bringing palm as far down back as possible. Place other hand on elbow and gently pull. Avoid if there is shoulder pain or injury.


    • Hip flexor and quadriceps: Rotate body to side so that one leg is supported by chair while other leg extends back for stretch.


  • Hamstrings: Sit on edge of seat, one foot placed firmly on ground. Extend opposite leg and place heel on floor. Hinge at hips and reach both hands toward foot of extended leg.

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