The Cottages Blog

10 Equipment-Free Exercises for Seniors

Posted by Lisa Chapman on Apr 22, 2016 9:00:00 AM


Regular exercise is an important part of aging well, but you don’t have to go to the gym or use heavy, expensive equipment to get an effective, beneficial workout. Try incorporating some of the following exercises into your daily routine to help lengthen, tone, and stretch out your muscles. Remember to talk to your doctor before you start any new exercise routine, and always stop or modify an exercise if it becomes painful or uncomfortable. If you have trouble with getting up or down, either avoid the floor exercises or make sure that you have a friend or relative in the room with you who can assist you.

1. Bridge Pose

This exercise will help to open up your hips and tone your glutes, making it easier to get up out of chairs and bed without feeling stiff.

Instructions: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands palms down by your sides. Squeeze your glute muscles together and push your hips up into the air. Only go as high as is comfortable. Hold the pose at the top for 3 breaths, then slowly lower yourself back down one vertebrae at a time. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

2. Calf Stretch

Stretching your calves daily will help to prevent tightness and cramps. Keeping your calf muscles loose helps knee joints to move more freely and can help prevent falls.

Instructions: Stand a little farther than arm’s length away from a wall, facing the wall, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height, shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg and bend your right knee. Step back slightly with your left leg into a lunge. Keep both feet flat on the floor. Pull your back leg in closer if the stretch is uncomfortable. Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and then return to a standing position. Switch legs and repeat the process. Alternate legs until you have done the stretch 3 to 5 times on each leg.

3. Deadbugs

These movements will help you to strengthen your core and improve your stability, helping you to gain greater balance.

Instructions: Lie flat on your back and stick your arms and legs up in the air. You can place a small pillow or folded blanket under your lower back for support. Your legs do not have to be straight up in the air. Bend your knees until you are comfortable. While keeping your back flat on the floor, slowly lower one leg until your heel touches the floor. As you lower your leg, lower the opposite arm back toward the floor behind you as well. Once you feel your limbs tap the floor, lift that arm and leg and repeat the motions on the opposite sides. If moving an arm and a leg at the same time is too difficult, alternate moving one arm and one leg at a time. Do this exercise 3 times on each side.

4. Modified Side Plank

This exercise helps to improve your core and your shoulder muscles. It will help you with balance and help you to avoid shoulder injuries.

Instructions: Lie on your side and prop yourself up on your bottom elbow. Make sure your elbow is directly below your shoulder. Place the palm of your top arm on the floor in front of your chest for stability, or place it on your hip for a more advanced balance move. While still on your side, bend your knees. Leaving your knees on the floor for support, use your shoulder muscles to gently lift your hips up off the floor so that your body forms a straight line from your ears to your knees. Hold for 3 breaths, then lower your hips back to the floor. Flip your body and repeat on the opposite side for the same number of breaths.

5. Opposite Arm and Leg Balance

This is another exercise that is great for core strength and for improving balance. It will help you to strengthen your back and your abdominal muscles.

Instructions: Get on all fours on the floor with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Keep your back flat and pull your abdominals in tight to support your lower back. Lower your gaze to the floor in between but slightly in front of your hands. Slowly lift one hand and reach straight out in front of your shoulder. If you can, lift the opposite foot straight back behind your hip at the same time. Hold this pose for 3 to 5 breaths, then lower your hand and foot to the floor and lift your opposite arm and leg. If moving your arm and leg at the same time is too difficult, alternate between arm lifts and leg lifts. Repeat this exercise 2 times on each side.

6. Shoulder and Upper Arm Stretch

Doing these stretches will help you loosen your shoulder muscles, which helps prevent over-rotation and other shoulder injuries.

Instructions: You will need a medium-sized towel for this exercise. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one end of the towel in your right hand. Raise and bend your right arm so that it is up behind your head and you are dangling the towel down your back. Keep your right arm in this position and continue to hold the towel. With your left hand, reach behind your lower back and grab hold of the bottom of the towel. Pull the towel down slowly with your left hand. This will start to stretch your right shoulder. Stop when you feel a slight stretch. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths and release. Repeat 3 to 5 times then reverse your hand positions and repeat the same number of times on the opposite side.

7. Side-Lying Leg Circles

This move will strengthen your hips and help to improve your hip joint mobility, preventing stiffness and discomfort after long periods of sitting or lying down.

Instructions: Lie down on the floor on one side with your body in a straight line. Extend your bottom arm straight up past your head and rest your head on that arm. Place the palm of your top hand flat on the floor in front of your chest. Squeeze your abdominals and pull in your belly to help stabilize yourself. Keep your hips directly on top of each other. If this is uncomfortable, you can place a thin pillow or folded blanket beneath your bottom hip for support. Lift your top leg up to hip height and move that leg in small, clockwise circles in the air. After 3 to 10 circles, switch directions and do the same number of counterclockwise circles. Lower your leg, flip your position so that you are lying on the opposite side, and repeat the exercise with the other leg.

8. Squats to a Chair

Squats help to strengthen your entire lower body and your core. This exercise will help you to go up and down stairs, get down and back up when picking things up off of the floor, and get up out of chairs without struggling.

Instructions: Stand directly in front of a chair with your back to the chair and your feet hip-width apart. Keep your chest up and straight and face forward.  If necessary, place a second chair in front of you to hold on to for stability. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body toward the chair. As you move toward the chair, make sure that you don’t tip your chest forward and do not let your knees extend past your toes. Once you feel the chair beneath you, sit down. Pause in the chair for a few breaths, then lift yourself to your feet and repeat 3 to 5 times.

9. Wall Angels

This exercise will help to ease back pain and improve your posture by opening up your chest and working your shoulder muscles.

Instructions: Stand with your back flat up against a wall. Place your feet 3 to 6 inches out from the wall. Lean the back of your head up against the wall and place your arms straight down by your sides. Tuck your chin to your chest slightly then turn your palms out and slowly raise your arms, maintaining contact between the backs of your hands and the wall. Raise your arms as high as you can without your elbows bending. If you feel any discomfort, stop the movement. Once your arms are over your head or as high as you can get them, pause for 3 breaths, then lower your arms. Repeat the movement 3 to 5 times.

10. Wall Push-Ups

This move is a great way to gain upper body strength in your arms and chest. It will help you avoid shoulder and back injuries.

Instructions: Stand a few feet away from a wall, facing the wall. Move in closer to the wall to make the exercise less difficult. Place your hands against the wall, palms down, at shoulder height, and shoulder-width apart. Keep your body in a straight line. Pull in your abdominals to help support your lower back. Bend your elbows and slowly lower your chest toward the wall. It is ok for your heels to come up off the floor. Get as close to the wall as you can without discomfort, then press through your hands to straighten your elbows back out and return your body to an upright position. Repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times.


Try these great stretches to cut down on stiffness and help keep your body flexible.


Caregiver's Field Guide to Assisted Living

Topics: Senior Health Care

Lisa Chapman

Written by: Lisa Chapman

Lisa has 18 years of nursing experience, and a big heart for caring for and helping the elderly in her community. When she’s at home, she enjoys spending time with her family, husband of over 20 years, James, and their twins, Alex and Alicia.