Functional Strength training is an important component to any fitness regimen. It involves compound, multi-joint movements that simulate Activities of Daily Living, and it is partucularly important for active older adults wishing to preserve function and maintain independence. The other key element to this style of training is core strength and stabilization. As members who attend my classes have heard me say before, the core is everything. The exercises that comprise funtional fitness reflect the movements that we do everyday; walking, pushing, pulling, hinging, squating, lunging and rotation. It is important to engage your core while performing all of these movements, it is important to always engage your core. : )

I have provided a list of basic functional strength training moves with modifications that are appropriate for seniors. If you are getting started from a sedentary lifestyle begin with five to ten minutes a day of activity with the lowest rep range provided and only perform one set of the exercises given. Ask a doctor before you begin any exercise program and listen to your body. If something hurts, stop. If you feel dizzy or tired, stop to rest. Resume only if you feel better. Walking Walking is such an important exercise for everyone but especially seniors. When you walk you are engaging in balance, strength and mobility training. If you are not currently active begin with five to ten minutes a day. If balance, coordination or fatigue are a concern utilize the Nu-Step machines that are in our Wellness Center. A staff member would be happy to assist in getting you started. Or you can walk laps in the pool. Walk as long as it feels appropriate for you. A good guide is aiming for 250 – 300 minutes of mild to moderate intensity activity a week once you feel strong enough. That breaks down to 30 – 45 minutes a day, seven days a week.

Be aware that as we age we have a tendency to sit and walk hunching forward. You have to work to correct this posture. Keep your gaze out looking straight ahead. Pull your shoulder blades back and use those core muscles to help you stand tall and supported.

Squats or Sit to Stands

Squats or Sit to Stands are one of my favorite functional strength training exercises. Every time you sit down and stand back up you are performing a squat. Remember as you squat keep your gaze looking straight ahead, keep your chest lifted and do not bend at the waist, your weight should be balanced through the ball of your feet and into the heels and the knees should not go passed your toes. To perform a sit to stand pick a sturdy chair or a bench that is high enough that you can sit without “falling” and stand back up without needing to rock.

Push Ups

Pushups can be done standing at the wall, on an incline at a bench or on the floor. If you are new to this exericise begin with the standing variation. Make sure you keep your elbows in at your sides and your hands should be in line with your chest. Lower yourself slowly, feel your shoulder blades come together and then push up with control. Are you still engaging your core? You should be!

Lunges or Step Ups

Lunges are a versatile leg strengthening exercise. They can be done many different ways. I recommend that my seniors begin by lunging forward while paying attention to the alignment of their knees. The knee should be over the ankle while stepping forward from the hip. Perform this motion with control without “collapsing.” This can also be done while holding onto a chair at your side if balance is an issue. If lunges aren’t a good option you can use a low step to help strengthen your legs. If you have stairs in your house you can use those as well. We have a variety of steps in our Wellness Center. Pick the lowest one to start with, just a few inches off the floor. Step up while standing tall and gaze forward. Use the pattern Up, Up, Down, Down as one rep.

Standing Row

For this exercise you will need a set of light dumbbells and a chair if balance is a concern. Stand with your right foot in front so your feet are in a staggered position. Hinge forward slightly and extend your left arm until it is hanging straight down like you are reaching for your foot. If you are using a chair, place your right hand on the back so that you have extra support while hinging forward. Engage your core muscles so that your torso is supported. Initiate a pulling movement like you are starting a lawn mower by first bringing your shoulder blade toward the center of your back. The arm follows the movement with the elbow bending so that the dumbbell is in front of your hip. Slowly release the shoulder blade so that the arm straightens to the starting position. Perform all of your reps on this side and then switch to the other side.


I love planks. They are at the very foundation of all of my classes and training sessions. When done properly they are a full body strengthening exercise. There are many ways to modify a plank to suit any level. I often have people begin by standing at the wall. Place your hands on the wall so that your shoulders, elbows and wrists are aligned. Practice good alignment of the pelvis by tucking your tailbone under and “zipping up” the lower abdominal muscles.

This will activate your glutes and legs. Even though you are standing this position should feel very active like you are the only thing holding that wall up. When you feel ready to progress, try these at an incline before going fully horizontal. You can put your hands on a sturdy chair or bench so that you are still slightly elevated. Practice good form, and engage your core so that you are supporting your own body weight.

Begin with one set of 8 – 10 reps of each exercise variation two days a week. Slowly progress to three days a week. Start with one set of each move. Slowly increase the number of sets you are performing over a period of three-to-eight weeks. Listen to your body. If a doctor or physical therapist has told you to avoid any of these moves, please abide by that recommendation. Never “push through” a painful sensation. Stop if something hurts or doesn’t feel right and give your body time to adapt to these new demands you are putting on it.

Eleanor Rixey is an ACSM certified personal trainer and AFPA certified Group Fitness Instructor. You can reach her at