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Interactive guide for the best strength exercises

8th June 2016


Maintaining optimum overall body strength is an important factor throughout an individual’s life, however it is even more important in later life. As we get older and as our lives evolve with significant changes in our social and working networks, it can be difficult to keep to a routine that will exercise your strength in various parts of the body and, in turn, increase your balance to prevent falls. As for this, and to encourage people to understand the value of muscular strength training in later life, we have created an interactive guide that gives you professional recommendations and the pros and cons of activities you can enjoy whilst strengthening muscles throughout the body.

Adam Coley from At Home Fitness explains: “When strength training think about the movements that we perform on a daily basis. Strengthen the muscles that allow these movements to happen. There are more, but the four main movements are pulling, squatting, pushing and pressing. However, if you are hypertensive you may need to be wary of pressing and some pushing exercises over head.”

What is strength?


“Strength is defined as the ability to apply force against a resistance”

Exercising your strength is just as crucial as exercising your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, without doing so we wouldn’t be able to do many of our day-to-day activities such as taking a bath, walking to the shops or getting up and down from a home stair lift.

Personal trainer Olga Holcakova says: “Nowadays we find more and more research encouraging older people to take part in physical activities for various reasons - from keeping their muscle mass and maintaining bone density to being capable of carrying out normal daily activities.

“After the age of 40 our muscles start losing 5-10% of their strength each year, which can affect daily tasks such as getting in and out of a car, buses, trains, pushing or pulling heavy doors or carrying a few shopping items.”

Olga adds: “The main goal of strength training is to keep ourselves fit, and being able to be part of the very precious moments with our loved ones. Being able to be independent and mobile.”

Using our interactive guide, you can learn and take part in just some of the many exercises that are safe and easy to complete to maintain and improve your muscular strength in later life.

How often should I do strength exercise?

According to a report conducted by four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers, older adults (65 plus) should aim to be active daily. Over a week, the total minutes of exercise should equate to 150 minutes of moderate intensity. It is recommended that older adults should incorporate strength exercises in at least two of these days.

Dave Lee from AMAC Training, a family-run business who provide fitness training qualifications for all ages, says: “Any activity that uses muscles against a resistance, is performed relatively slowly, and is repetitive can be considered a strength training activity. The recommendations suggests performing eight to twelve repetitions of any such activity, and making sure you cover all the major muscle groups in your body to gain most benefits.

“These activities will make your muscles feel warmer, tired and more tense, and they will probably ache the next day – this shows that the activity is working, and is the normal and necessary response for any improvement in strength. The important point is to push yourself a little out of your comfort zone, so you are working slightly harder than you would normally – a principle called overload.”

Dave adds: “You may find that if you have not been very active before, everyday activities such as using the stairs, rising from a seated position, lifting and carrying, as well as heavy housework, shopping and gardening, may be sufficient for improving strength. But as you get stronger you will find that you need greater resistance to experience the overload described above – this is a principle called progression.”

Exercises for different parts of the body

interactive guide for the best strength exercises


Pilates is an excellent form of exercise and helps rebalance the body by restoring and maintaining functional movement. An all-round body strengthening activity, Pilates will gradually help you to stabilise muscles to prevent further damage, aches and pains that are a frequent misfortune when at a later stage of life. 

Mary Thornton, chartered physiotherapist and Pilate’s teacher at The Clinical Pilates Studio, says that practising Pilates can help re-educate posture, balance and coordination.

Mary comments: “Pilates is also well known for its effects on strengthening the muscles that support the spine and stabilise the lower back. By performing slow, controlled movements of the pelvis and spine it can help maintain joint health and flexibility much needed for everyday functional activities.

“Pilates can be taught in many ways; individual sessions with a teacher that will focus on your specific needs, a studio session that has 2-4 people in a class using specialised Pilates equipment or in a group mat work class that is more generalised.”


  • Not only beneficial for physical health, but also mental health and mindfulness.
  • As well as improving overall strength, it also helps increase balance of the body and flexibility.
  • Pilates is a low impact activity that doesn’t require excessive force or impact on the joints or muscles.
  • It is great for injury rehabilitation and improves awareness of the body.


  • Pilates requires quite a lot of concentration to perform the movements correctly.
  • It won’t aid weight loss like you would expect from aerobic exercise such as swimming or walking.
  • If Pilates is to be completed for injury rehabilitation, you will require one-on-one classes instead of joining a group class.  

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Swimming is a cheap, easy and non-weight-bearing activity that can be enjoyed by everyone, whatever their age. There is no need for use of equipment unless you need a little helping hand with a float or buoyancy aid, with potential to increase your cardio and muscular strength at the same time.


  • Swimming is completely non-weight bearing which means you are not at risk of heavy impact on the joint or musculo-skeletal system.
  • It can be done at your own pace, with whatever stroke you wish to do (breaststroke, front crawl, and backstroke).
  • Many swimming pools employ their own swimming teachers – a great way to learn more about building strength through the activity and how you can improve your ability, too.


  • Many people experience cramping of the leg muscles, especially the calves, during swimming. Make sure to stretch those areas before and after the activity. 

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Weight Training

The abdominal muscles help us carry out daily tasks that you never thought possible. The ability to sneeze, cough and, most importantly, breathe are all manageable thanks to our abdominal muscles! Walking, surprisingly, is one of the many exercises that maintains our abdominal and overall body strength, as core strength is associated with the activity. Although many are likely to head to the gym to improve their core strength, walking is a free and social activity for everyone to enjoy! 

Simon Roll at Alive and Active says that keeping fit is never more important than in your senior years. He adds: "A weak core for example, can really affect balance and poor balance can directly inhibit our quality of life. Walking is great for endurance but strength work, which is often underrated or overlooked, is vitally important for our muscles, bones and joints. I believe that to stay fit, a balanced exercise program of strength, endurance, flexibility and balance exercises are essential.

“The Alive & Active DVD is the perfect tool to help achieve this in the safety of your own home.  I bring my 10 years’ experience of training seniors to these fun and motivational workouts so that anyone, anywhere can benefit from their own personal trainer, at any time."


  • Weight lifting also improves the functioning of your immune system, blood pressure and balance and coordination.
  • Light to medium sized hand weights are portable and can be used within the comfort of your own home.
  • It’s an inexpensive activity and is also sociable if you join a gym or weight fitness class.


  • Not recommended for those with reoccurring injuries.
  • Unless you have been given an induction or are supervised by a personal trainer, the risk of injury is greater with insufficient knowledge of proper form when completing exercises. 

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Tai Chi


Tai Chi is a fantastic way to exercise and strengthen muscles that help you in everyday life, as well as being one of the best exercises for the smaller muscle groups. Not only does it help physically, but also mentally. With many classes and instructors around the country it is a great way to meet new people, socialise and gain a sense of mindfulness during a busy and sometimes stressful life.

Hamid from South London Tai Chi explains: “Generally Tai Chi is extremely good for relaxation, dynamic balance improvement, fitness and health.

“The gentle exercise works the smaller muscles to enhance strength throughout the body. The tip is not to give up on learning something new that can help the mind and body.”


  • Reduces stress and increases flexibility, energy and feeling of well-being.
  • There are many types of Tai Chi, so there is something for everyone to enjoy.
  • It is slow and gentle, but also strengthens many different muscles in the body.


  • Proper instruction from a qualified teacher should be practised for novices. 

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Just like the biceps and triceps, the quadriceps and hamstrings work together to provide flexion and extension in every movement that you make. As the hamstrings work as the enabler to control movement and extension and stability of the knee, taking part in leg-strengthening exercises such as walking is necessary to employ healthy lower limbs.

Bex Townley at Later Life Training, who work across the UK to provide specialist, evidence-based, effective exercise training for health and exercise professionals working with older people, frailer people and stroke survivors.  

Bex comments: “Age related changes to our physiology (our bones and our muscles for example) can also contribute to decline in mobility, stamina, strength, but the good news is that we can limit and even over-turn these negative changes.

“Whether you are independently active and enjoy a wide range of leisure activities, or whether you have limited ability and not able to participate, maintaining strength for functional movement and activities is one of the priorities to combat age related decline in strength and balance.

“Maintaining strong muscles in our legs and in our posture muscles (that hold our body upright) contribute to improved balance and ability to react when we need to adjust foot positions to stay upright if we are sent off balance. Examples of activities/movements that improve and maintain leg strength are; stair climbing, rising from a chair without using your arms and sitting into a chair with control, with additional exercises in the Get Up and Go resource.


  • Walking is great for improving all-round health and fitness, increasing the aerobic and musculo-skeletal system and mental well-being. 
  • It is a sociable activity and everyone can get involved.
  • It is free and enables you to discover new places.


  • Walking may not be advantageous for people who suffer from joint injuries or are recovering from an injury. 


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Aerobic Classes


Aerobic classes such as step classes and aqua aerobics are beneficial to strengthening many parts of the body. What’s more, there are many classes around the country and in your local area that can provide these sorts of classes, helping you to improve social and health aspects in your day-to-day life.


  • A fantastic social activity as well as a physical one.
  • Aerobic classes strengthen all parts of the body, not just one part.
  • You can complete the class at your own pace.


  • Those with breathing difficulties may struggle with the pace of a class, so it’s best to consult your GP or seek medical advice before taking part. 


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Make sure you seek medical advice from your GP or physiotherapist before taking part in any exercise and always remember to stretch off all the muscles that you have concentrated on before and especially after to avoid cramping and aching of the muscle. Different stretches can be found on the NHS Choices ‘How to stretch after exercising’ guide.

If you would like to find and take part in a class or other activities near you, then search your location by clicking the link below and start the journey to a healthier, stronger you! 


Find a local Age UK class

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.