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Maintaining your body's muscle strength is important for your overall health and well-being. Strengthening exercises should be part of an overall plan that includes regular physical activity (such as walking, swimming, yoga, sports, or other activities), and regular stretching for flexibility. You can easily exercise your muscles regularly using your own body weight, resistance, or light weights.

This strengthening program, provided by physical therapists, offers three different levels, depending on your fitness, age, and desired challenge. Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.

The following strengthening program focuses on all major muscle groups. Choose the level that is right for you:

If you are unsure of which level is best for you, begin with Level 1: Easy Strengthening Exercises, then progress to a more challenging level as you improve. You can choose exercises from different levels, depending on the strength of each muscle worked. If you are unable to do the easy exercises or they cause you pain, contact your doctor or physical therapist for help.

You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To find a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.

Find a PT Near You!


Some muscle soreness is normal to experience a day or two after working your muscles harder than you might be used to during everyday activities. It's a sign that you challenged yourself enough. Drinking plenty of water and moving often can lessen this discomfort. If you have pain, or soreness that does not go away after a few days, contact your doctor or physical therapist.

Before you begin any level of strength or resistance exercises, follow these tips for best results:

  • Warm up for a few minutes first so your muscles stretch more easily (walk briskly, march in place, or do another physical activity).
  • Keep good form and posture to avoid injury. If you find yourself losing your form, use less weight, or don’t move as fast or as far when doing that exercise.
  • Breath throughout each exercise — never hold your breath.

Strengthening exercises have two phases: Phase 1 is the movement from your starting position to the end position, and phase 2 is moving from the end position back to your starting position. Slow and controlled movements and keeping good form during both phases of each exercise will reduce the risk for injury and give you better results.

  • During phase 1: Use a count of 1-2 to complete the motion. Counting out loud will help you to breathe through the exercises.
  • During phase 2: Use a count of 1, 2, 3, 4 to return to your starting position. Count out loud to keep from holding your breath. It should take you longer to return to your starting positions (phase 2), than it does to complete phase 1 of each exercise.


Level 1: Easy Strengthening Exercises


Easy Bridge Exercise for Hip Extensors

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your hands palm down at your side (Photo A).
  2. Press into the floor from your hips through your feet and lift your buttocks. Count out loud 1-2 to get to this bridge position (Photo B).
  3. Hold this position for five seconds, then while counting 1-2-3-4, return to the starting position. It should take you longer to return to your starting position than to get to your bridge position. Control is important.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.


Note: To make this exercise more challenging, bend your elbows, or reach to the ceiling while going through the motions.

A physical therapist showing how to do a bridge exercise for hip strength.

Easy Hip Abductor Exercises


Standing abductor exercise

  1. Stand upright facing a counter or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance or stability, if you need it (Photo A).
  2. Keeping an upright posture, lift your leg up and out to the side (counting 1-2). DO NOT lean. Let your leg to do the work.
  3. Hold this position (Photo B) for 15 seconds, then lower your leg to the starting position. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Wall abductor exercise

  1. Stand upright with good posture with your shoulder touching a wall, and bend your knee closest to the wall (Photo C).
  2. Push your bent knee toward or into the wall without letting your body move.
  3. You should feel the muscles of both hips work. The muscles of one hip will work to push you against the wall, and the muscles of the other work to keep you in an upright position.
  4. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

A physical therapist showing how to do a hip abductor exercise.


Easy Sit-to-Stand Exercise for Quad Strength

  1. Sit on the front half of a stable, heavy chair that will not tip over backward (Photo A) or put the back of a lighter chair against a wall.
  2. Stand up using a 1-2 count (Photos B and C).
  3. Slowly lower yourself back down into a sitting position using a 1-2-3-4 count. It should take you longer to return to your seated position. Controlled movement is important. DO NOT plop down onto the seat. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

Tip: Work this exercise into your day. Every time you sit down to eat or watch TV or stand up from a chair to do something throughout the day, stop and complete this exercise three to five times before moving on.

A physical therapist shows how to do a sit-to-stand exercise.



Easy Heel Raise Exercise for Calf Strength

  1. Stand facing a counter with your feet flat on the floor. Use the counter to help with balance and stability, if needed.
  2. Slowly rise up onto your toes, counting 1-2 (Photo B).
  3. Return to your starting position even more slowly, counting 1-2-3-4 out loud. Control is important. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist demonstrating the heel rais exercise.

Easy Pelvic Tilts for Abdominal Strength

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you.
  2. Pull your navel inward and down toward your spine, and flatten or press your lower back against the floor.
  3. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

To make this exercise more challenging:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you.
  2. Pull your navel inward and down toward your spine, and flatten or press your lower back against the floor.
  3. While holding this position, your lower back flattened to the floor and your navel pulled inward, lift one leg 4 to 5 inches off the floor. Do not allow your back to arch.
  4. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

A physical therapist shows how to do a leg lift and pelvic tilt exercise.



Easy Wall-Facing Chest Press

  1. Stand a little more than an arm's length from the wall and place your hands against the wall (Photo A).
  2. Slowly bend your elbows and allow your body to move toward the wall on the count of 1-2 (Photo B). Keep your body in straight alignment.
  3. Return to your starting position by slowly pushing away from the wall on a 1-2-3-4 count.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do a chest press exercise against a wall.



Easy Shoulder Strength Exercise for Rotator Cuff and Scapula


Note: This exercise requires an elastic exercise band (in online stores), or you can use a bungee cord.

  1. Stand with good upright posture. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees with your hands in front of you, shoulder width apart, holding on to a rubber exercise band with each hand (Photo A).
  2. Keeping your elbows tucked at your side, rotate one arm out to the count of 1-2 (Photo B). Slowly return to the starting position with a count of 1-2-3-4. Control is important.
  3. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  4. Repeat with your other arm.

A physical therapist shows how to do a shoulder exercise using an elastic band.


Easy Biceps Curl with Overhead Press


Note: This exercise requires the use of small hand weights (1 to 5 pounds) or other objects that you can easily grasp with your hands and lift overhead. If you do not have weights, 16- or 20-ounce water bottles, canned goods, or quart-sized milk or juice containers will work.

  1. Stand upright with good posture, holding your weights in each hand with your arms at your sides (Photo A).
  2. Slowly bend your elbows and curl your weights up to a 1-2 count until your elbows are at 90 degrees (Photo B).
  3. Then, slowly press your weights overhead to a 1-2 count (Photo C).
  4. Slowly return to your starting position using a count of 1-2-3-4. Control is important.
  5. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do a bicep curl with overhead press exercise.


Level 2: Moderate Strengthening Exercises

Moderate Single-leg Bridge for Hip Extensors

  1. Lie on your back with one knee bent and that foot on the floor, and one leg straight out, with your hands palm down at your side (Photo A).
  2. Press into the floor from your hips through your foot on your bent leg, and lift your buttocks and your outstretched leg while counting 1-2 until your thighs are evenly lined up to obtain this bridge position (Photo B).
  3. Hold this position for five seconds, then slowly return to start to the count of 1-2-3-4. It should take you longer to return to start. Control is important.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with your other leg.

Note: To make this exercise more challenging, bend your elbows, or reach up to the ceiling with your hands and arms while doing the bridge exercise.

A physical therapist shows how to do a single leg bridge exercise.

Moderate Clam Shell Exercises for Hip Abductors


Sidelying clam shell

  1. Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent (Photo A).
  2. Keeping your hips perpendicular to the floor, lift your upper leg to the count of "1-2" (Photo B).
  3. Return to your starting position slowly as you count "1-2-3-4" aloud. Control is important.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with on the other side.

Note: To make this exercise more challenging, tie an elastic exercise band or bungee cord around your legs, just above the knee to add resistance (Photo C).

A physical therapist shows how to do a sidelying clamshell exercise.


Seated clam shell

  1. Sit in a chair with good posture. Put your knees together and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Loop an elastic exercise band or bungee cord from below and cross the ends over your legs just above your knees, and hold the band in this position (Photo A).
  3. Keeping your feet together, spread your knees apart as you count 1-2 (Photo B).
  4. Return to your starting position even more slowly while counting 1-2-3-4. Control is important.
  5. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist demonstrating a seated clamshell exercise.


Moderate Stair Step for Quad Strength

  1. Stand on the ground in front of a step/set of stairs. Use the handrail for balance as needed. Place your left (leading) foot on the first step (Photo A).
  2. Step up one step with your right leg, so that both feet are on the first step (Photo B). Do these two movements to a count of 1-2.
  3. Keeping your left foot on the step, step down backward with your right leg to return to your starting position to the count of 1-2-3-4.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with the opposite leg as the leading leg.

A physical therapist shows how to do a stair step exercise.

Moderate Heel Raise for Calf Strength

  1. Stand on the bottom step with both feet and let your heels extend over the edge of the step (Photo A). Use the handrail for balance as needed.
  2. Slowly lower your heels below the level of the step and then rise onto your toes, so your heels are as high as possible (Photo B). Do this to the count of 1-2.
  3. Slowly return to your starting position to the count of 1-2-3-4. Control is important.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do a heel raise exercise on stairs.


Moderate Half Sit-ups for Abdominal Strength

  1. Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and one hand on top of each thigh (Photo A).
  2. Tuck your chin to your chest and sit up enough so that your hands reach the top of your knees. You do not need to sit up farther. Only your shoulders need to come off the floor.
  3. Hold this position for a count of 10. Make sure that you count out loud, so you do not hold your breath.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

Note: To make this exercise more challenging, cross your arms over your chest while lifting your shoulders off the floor and hold for a count of 10.

A physical therapist shows how to do half sit-ups for abdominal strength.


Moderate Counter-Facing Press for Pecs/Triceps

  1. Stand a little more than an arm's length away from a counter or heavy piece of furniture (Photo A).
  2. Keeping your whole body in line, lower your body toward the counter to the count of 1-2 (Photo B).
  3. Press away from the counter to return to your starting position with a count of 1-2-3-4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist demonstrates a counter-facing chest press exercise

Moderate Standing Row for Rotator Cuff/Scapula

Note: This exercise requires an elastic exercise band or bungee cord.

  1. Open a closet door or other stable door. Wrap the band around the inside door handle and close the door so you are outside the closed door. With your arms out in front of you, hold the ends of the band (Photo A).
  2. Stand upright with good posture. Keeping your shoulders down, squeeze your shoulder blades together while pulling back with your arms to the count of 1-2, until your elbows come to your sides (Photo B).
  3. Slowly return to your starting position to the count of 1-2-3-4. It should take you longer to return to your start. Control is important.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do a standing row exercise.

 

Moderate Biceps Curl with Overhead Press

Note: This exercise requires the use of small hand weights (5-8 pounds) or other objects that you can easily grasp with your hands and lift overhead. If you do not have weights, 16- or 20-ounce water bottles, canned goods, or quart-sized milk or juice containers will work. Add more repetitions to challenge your muscles if you cannot increase the weight.

  1. Stand upright with good posture, holding your weights in each hand with your arms at your sides (Photo A).
  2. Slowly bend your elbows and curl your weights up to a 1-2 count until your elbows are at 90 degrees (Photo B).
  3. Then, slowly press your weights overhead to a 1-2 count (Photo C).
  4. Slowly return to your starting position using a count of 1-2-3-4. Control is important.
  5. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do a bicep curl with overhead press.


Level 3: Advanced Strengthening Exercises 

Advanced Standing Bridge for Hip Extensors

  1. Stand upright with good posture (Photo A). You may stand near a wall for balance if needed.
  2. Lean forward from the waist, keeping your back straight and one foot flat on the floor, while allowing the other leg to rise straight behind you and your arms to naturally hang in front of you. Use a count of 1-2. Try to get your trunk and back leg parallel with the floor (Photo B).
  3. Hold this position for five seconds, then count 1-2-3-4 to slowly return to the starting position. It should take you longer to return to your starting position than to get to your bridge position. Control is important.
  4. Repeat with your other leg. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

Note: To make this exercise more challenging, hold weights or small heavy objects in your hands.

A physical therapist shows how to do a standing bridge exercise.

Advanced Sidelying Leg Lift for Hip Abductors

  1. Lie on your side with the bottom leg bent (Photo A). Roll your hips forward about 30 degrees.
  2. Lift your upper leg slowly to the count of 1-2 (Photo B).
  3. Then, slowly return your leg to the start position with a count of 1-2-3-4. Control is important.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do a sidelying leg lift exercise.


Advanced Stair Dips for Quad Strength

  1. Stand on your left leg on the bottom stair with your right leg over the edge of the stair. Use the handrail for balance as needed. Keeping an upright posture, flex your right foot so that your toes are up (Photo A).
  2. Allow your left knee to bend and slowly lower your right heel to the count of 1-2-3-4 so that it gently touches the floor, without putting your weight on it. Pretend that your heel is touching an eggshell, so as not to break it (Photo B).
  3. Straighten your left knee to return to your starting position using a count of 1-2. It should take you longer to step down than to step up.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with the opposite leg.

A physical therapist shows how to stair dip exercises.


Advanced Heel Raises for Calf Strength

  1. Stand on the bottom stair on the front of one foot, so that your heel is off the edge of the stair and your other leg is hanging, not supporting you. Use the rail for balance if needed.
  2. Slowly lower your heel below the level of the stairs to the count of 1-2-3-4 (Photo A). Control is important.
  3. Then, rise onto your toes to the count of 1-2 so that your heel is up as high as possible (Photo B), your other foot still hanging, and not providing support.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

A physical therapist shows how to do heel raise exercises on stairs.


Advanced Abdominal Exercises

Back lying

Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet off the floor. Pull your navel inward and down toward your spine, and flatten your lower back against the floor (Photo A).

  1. Slowly extend your legs out until you feel your pelvis start to rock forward. When you feel this, bring your knees back toward you by about 1/8 to 1/4 inch (Photo B).
  2. Hold this position for 15 seconds, making sure to count out loud, so you do not hold your breath.
  3. To release this position, bring your knees toward the chest, then lower your feet to the floor.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
    Note: To make this exercise more challenging, cross your arms across your chest.

Plank

  1. Lie on your stomach supported by your elbows and with your toes dug into the floor.
  2. Tighten your back and stomach muscles, and then lift your torso off the bed or floor so that you are supported by your toes and elbows (Photo C).
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do advanced abdominal exercises.


Advanced Push-ups for Pecs/Triceps

Knee ups

  1. Lie on your stomach with your palms on the floor at shoulder level (Photo A).
  2. Keep your knees on the floor and push up with your hands to the count of 1-2 to attain a modified push-up position (Photo B).
  3. Return to your starting position to the count of 1-2-3-4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

Note: If you have enough strength, you may do full push-ups.

A physical therapist shows how to do knee-ups for exercise..

Full push-ups

  1. Lie on your stomach with your palms on the floor at shoulder level and dig your toes into the floor (Photo C).
  2. Push up with your hands to the count of 1-2 to attain a full push-up position, making sure to keep your back straight (Photo D).
  3. Return to your starting position to the count of 1-2-3-4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do push-ups.

 

Advanced Shoulder I, T, Y, W Exercise for Rotator Cuff/Scapula

Note: This exercise requires a large exercise ball or an ottoman and light hand weights or 16- to 20-ounce bottles.

  1. Kneel on the floor and put your chest on the exercise ball or ottoman (Photo A).
  2. With a small weight in each hand, lift your arms to the count of 1-2 to form the letter "I" by raising them straight out in front of you (Photo I). Then, slowly lower your arms to the starting position counting 1-2-3-4.
  3. Next, lift your arms to the count of 1-2 to form the letter "T" by raising them out to the side (Photo T). Then, slowly lower your arms to the starting position counting 1-2-3-4.
  4. Next, lift your arms to the count of 1-2 to form the letter "Y" by raising them at an angle in front of you. Then, slowly lower your arms to the starting position counting 1-2-3-4.
  5. Last, lift your arms to the count of 1-2 to form the letter "W" by raising them with elbows slightly bent and out to the sides (Photo W).
  6. Do each of these slowly. Control is important.
  7. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do I-T-W-Y shoulder exercises.


Advanced Bicep Curl With Overhead Press

Note: This exercise requires the use of small hand weights (10-15 pounds) or other objects that you can easily grasp with your hands and lift overhead. If you do not have weights, then 16- or 20-ounce water bottles, canned goods, or quart-sized milk or juice containers will work. Add more repetitions to challenge your muscles if you cannot increase the weight.

  1. Stand upright with good posture, holding your weights in each hand with your arms at your sides (Photo A).
  2. Slowly bend your elbows and curl your weights up to a 1-2 count until your elbows are at 90 degrees (Photo B).
  3. Then, slowly press your weights overhead to a 1-2 count (Photo C).
  4. Slowly return to your starting position counting 1-2-3-4. Control is important.
  5. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

A physical therapist shows how to do bicep curls with overhead press.

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