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Office Exercises: Arms

Office Exercises: Arms

National Institute on Aging

About Strength Exercises

Even very small changes in muscle size can make a big difference in strength, especially in people who already have lost a lot of muscle. An increase in muscle that’s not even visible to the eye can be all it takes to improve your ability to do things like get up from a chair or climb stairs.

Your muscles are active even when you are sleeping. Their cells are still doing the routine activities they need to do to stay alive. This work is called metabolism, and it uses up calories. That can help keep your weight in check, even when you are asleep!

To do most of the following strength exercises, you need to lift or push weights, and you need to keep gradually increasing the amount of weight you use. You can use the hand and ankle weights sold in sporting-goods stores, or you can use things like emptied milk jugs filled with sand or water, or socks filled with beans and tied shut at the ends.

There are many alternatives to the exercises shown here. For example, you can buy a resistance band (it looks like a giant rubber band, and stretching it helps build muscle) at a sporting-goods store for under $10 to do other types of strength exercises. Or you can use the special strength-training equipment at a fitness center.

How Much, How Often

Do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups at least twice a week. Don’t do strength exercises of the same muscle group on any 2 days in a row.

Depending on your condition, you might need to start out using as little as 1 or 2 pounds of weight, or no weight at all. The tissues that bind the structures of your body together need to adapt to strength exercises.

Use a minimum of weight the first week, then gradually build up the weight. Starting out with weights that are too heavy can cause injuries.

At the same time, remember that you have to gradually add a challenging amount of weight in order to benefit from strength exercises. If you don’t challenge your muscles, you won’t benefit from strength exercises. (The “Progressing” section below will tell you how.)

When doing a strength exercise, do 8 to 15 repetitions in a row. Wait a minute, then do another set of 8 to 15 repetitions in a row of the same exercise. (Tip: While you are waiting, you might want to stretch the muscle you just worked or do a different strength exercise that uses a different set of muscles).

Take 3 seconds to lift or push a weight into place; hold the position for 1 second, and take another 3 seconds to lower the weight. Don’t let the weight drop; lowering it slowly is very important.

It should feel somewhere between hard and very hard (15 to 17 on the Borg scale) for you to lift or push the weight. It should not feel very, very hard. If you can’t lift or push a weight 8 times in a row, it’s too heavy for you. Reduce the amount of weight. If you can lift a weight more than 15 times in a row, it’s too light for you. Increase the amount of weight.

Stretch after strength exercises, when your muscles are warmed up. If you stretch before strength exercises, be sure to warm up your muscles first (through light walking and arm pumping, for example).

Alternative “Dip” Exercise For Back of Upper Arm

Sit in a chair with armrests. Lean slightly forward, keeping your back and shoulders straight. Hold onto the arms of the chair. Your hands should be level with the trunk of your body, or slightly farther forward. Place your feet slightly under the chair, with your heels off the ground and the weight of your feet and legs resting on your toes and the balls of your feet. Slowly lift yourself up, using your arms, as high as you can. This pushing motion will strengthen your arm muscles even if you aren’t yet able to lift yourself up off of the chair. Don’t use your legs or feet for assistance, or use them as little as possible. Slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat 8 to 15 times. Rest; repeat another 8 to 15 times.


1. Sit in chair with armrests.

2. Lean slightly forward, back and shoulders straight.

3. Grasp arms of chair.

4. Tuck feet slightly under chair, weight on toes.

5. Slowly push body off of chair using arms, not legs.

6. Slowly lower down to starting position.


Strengthens upper-arm muscles. Sit in an armless chair, with your back supported by the back of the chair. Your feet should be flat on the floor, spaced apart so that they are even with your shoulders. Hold hand weights, with your arms straight down at your side, palms facing in toward your body. Take 3 seconds to lift your left hand weight toward your chest by bending your elbow. As you lift, turn your left hand so that your palm is facing your shoulder. Hold the position for 1 second. Take 3 seconds to lower your hand to the starting position. Pause, then repeat with right arm. Alternate until you have repeated the exercise 8 to 15 times on each side. Rest, then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.


1. Sit in armless chair, with your back supported by back of chair.

2. Feet flat on floor; keep feet even with shoulders.

3. Hold hand weights at sides, arms straight, palms in.

4. Slowly bend one elbow, lifting weight toward chest. (Rotate palm to face shoulder while lifting weight.)

5. Hold position.

6. Slowly lower arm to starting position.

7. Repeat with other arm.

Triceps Extension

Strengthens muscles in back of upper arm. Sit in a chair, toward the front. Your feet should be flat on the floor, spaced apart so that they are even with your shoulders. Hold a weight in your left hand, and raise your left arm all the way up, so that it’s pointing toward the ceiling, palm facing in. Support your left arm by holding it just below the elbow with your right hand. Slowly bend your left arm so that the weight in your left hand now rests behind your left shoulder. Take 3 seconds to straighten your left arm so that it’s pointing toward the ceiling again. Hold the position for 1 second. Take 3 seconds to lower the weight back to your shoulder by bending your elbow. Keep supporting your left arm with your right hand throughout the exercise. Pause, then repeat the bending and straightening until you have done the exercise 8 to 15 times with your left arm. Reverse positions and repeat 8 to 15 times with your right arm. Rest; then repeat another set of 8 to 15 repetitions on each side.


1. Sit in chair, near front edge.

2. Feet flat on floor; keep feet even with shoulders.

3. Raise one arm straight toward ceiling.

4. Support this arm, below elbow, with other hand.

5. Bend raised arm at elbow, bringing hand weight toward same shoulder.

6. Slowly re-straighten arm toward ceiling.

7. Hold position.

8. Slowly bend arm toward shoulder again.

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