These activities are meant to be a source of joy. But if you aren’t confident in or comfortable with your strength, mobility, and flexibility, they could cause you some worry about how your body will manage. Harry King, an 81-year-old certified personal trainer with Planet Fitness, says thinking about, and preparing for, those physical realities, is a good idea.
- Harry King, CPT, certified trainer at Planet Fitness
“As we’re trying to get up or down, playing with the grandkids, unwrapping presents, things like that, all these muscles come into play,” King says. “Especially at older ages, if we have a fitness program, it helps prepare us for those things during special occasions, but it helps us in everyday activity also.”
Hill explains that strengthening throughout the body, as well as incorporating mobility and stretching, can make movements like getting up and down from the floor easier. Our lower body, upper body, and core, all play a role in these movements. We also need quad and arm strength, hip mobility, and core strength for balance.
Multiple exercises and stretches can help you achieve this. But King recommends the following five moves in particular. You can modify them if you’re not accustomed to strength training and progress as you get stronger—aiming to get stronger as you get older is what King says is the key.
“When people think of going to a gym, the first thing [many of them] do is head for the treadmill,” King says. “If I can divert them to go to the strength machines, that helps them deal with their everyday activities.”
Holiday strength training for seniors: 5 recommended moves
With the holidays around the corner, you can start working on these moves now. Don’t let “gymtimidation” scare you off—consider an inclusive workout space that prioritizes no judgments and accessibility, like Planet Fitness. And come next year, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come.
“If we’re starting an exercise program at any age, [but] especially the elderly, let’s start at what we can do and progress,” King encourages. “It’s never too late to start.”
1. Wall sits
“The muscles we use a lot as we’re getting up and down off the floor or out of a chair are the quads,” says King. “A good non-impact exercise like a wall sit builds those muscles up.”
To get into position, you’ll want to start standing with your back against a wall, then slowly slide your butt down toward the floor, stepping your feet forward as needed to make room. Ideally, you want both your knees and hips bent at 90-degree angles. But if that is not doable for you, start with your hips and knees at 45 degrees, or as low as you can confidently go while pressing your head, back, and hips into a wall for support. King recommends aiming to hold a wall sit for 30 seconds to start and increasing the time to one or two minutes.
Lunges mimic the motion of getting up and down from the floor and engage the same muscles, which is why King says they’re such a useful exercise for these purposes.
“The lunge is going to work our quads, it’s going to work our glutes, a little bit of our lower back, so most of our lower body muscles come into play doing the lunge,” King says. “That progresses on to help us getting out of chairs, getting off the floor, things like that.”
If you are new to lunges, King recommends starting on your hands and knees with a chair or other sturdy form of assistance by your side. Then bring one leg forward, and using the assistance, bring yourself up to standing.
From there, you can do this move unassisted, and eventually progress to forward, backward, or walking lunges from a standing pose.
3. Dynamic stretches for hips, glutes, and hamstrings
Engaging in lower-body dynamic stretches provides numerous benefits for seniors, promoting improved flexibility, joint range of motion, and overall mobility. These exercises involve controlled, repetitive movements that gently warm up muscles, enhancing blood circulation and reducing stiffness commonly associated with aging.
By incorporating dynamic stretches into your routine, you can enhance balance and coordination, crucial for preventing falls and maintaining independence. Additionally, these stretches help alleviate muscle tension, contributing to a greater sense of comfort and well-being, while also supporting joint health and potentially reducing the risk of age-related muscle and bone issues.
4. Push-up and tricep push-ups
While your legs may do a lot of the heavy lifting in up-and-down motions, your arms can also help share the load.
“If you’re getting up off the floor or out of a chair, we use those arms to help us up most of the time,” King says. Strengthening the upper body with moves you can do at home should definitely be on your holiday strength prep agenda.
King recommends push-ups and tricep push-ups (which are push-ups where you keep your elbows tucked in by your sides). Depending on your strength level, start by pressing your hands against a wall, standing a couple of feet away from the wall, and pushing up and down from that standing pose. As you progress, you can move your hands down to a countertop, a chair, a stool, and eventually the floor.
Don’t forget about the core, either.
“Core strength is involved in just about everything we do,” King says. That includes balance since working on your core includes strengthening the stabilizer muscles surrounding your spine that help keep you erect. “It’s the center of all the moves we make most of the time. So it’s important to build a good, strong core.”
You can employ the same progression strategy for planks as you do for push-ups. Start by holding yourself still with your body rigid against a wall, then go lower as you get stronger.
With increased muscle strength and improved bone density, seniors can gracefully navigate holiday gatherings, whether it’s decking the halls, savoring festive meals, or simply relishing the company of loved ones. The magic of strength training lies not just in physical resilience but in the empowerment it brings—and that’s a true gift.