Arm Exercises for Strengthening
Medically reviewed by Karen Murray, OT, CHT, CSRS - written by

For a stroke patient that has arm movement but still has residual weakness, there are various arm exercises that can be performed to promote strength and mobility. Some examples include active assistive exercises, isometrics, functional activities and weighted exercises. A description of the different types of exercises is provided below and pictures of resistive exercises can be found further down on this page.

Active assistive exercises entail the patient performing movements with the affected arm while providing assistance with the unaffected arm as needed. This can include activities such as assisted reaching, lifting, or pushing exercises. You can also use overhead suspension systems, bands, or bungee cords such as the ones below to assist with holding the arm up while performing upper extremity movement.

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During isometrics, the individual places gentle pressure against a stationary object or their other hand while holding the position for a few seconds. This helps activate the muscles without joint movement.

Functional activities incorporate daily activities into the exercise routine, such as reaching for objects on a table, picking up small items, or folding laundry. These functional activities engage multiple muscle groups. If you are trying to regain movement, it is important to do as many activities as you can with the affected arm to help rewire the brain.

Weighted or resistive exercises to strengthen the arm can be performed with dumbbells or bands for strengthening. Some of these arm exercises for strengthening are demonstrated below.

How Many Repetitions Should You Do for Resistive Exercises?

If someone already has movement and is wanting to work on strengthening, start with one or two sets of 10-15 repetitions and work up to 3 sets performing exercises 2-3x per week. Please check with your physician or therapist first to see if these exercises are appropriate for you. Discontinue any exercises that cause pain. If you are unable to move your arm or are too weak to do these exercises, go to for simplified exercise examples.

Shoulder Flexion

Hold weight in hand (food cans can be used as well). Keeping elbow straight, raise arm overhead and back down. Switch arms and repeat.

Arm Exercises Shoulder Fexion with Dumbbell

Shoulder Abduction

Hold weight in hand. Keeping arm straight, lift arm out to side to shoulder height. Return arm to side. Switch arms and repeat. 

Arm Exercises Shoulder Abduction

Elbow Extension

Lean forward slightly, hold elbow up behind you, straighten elbow lifting weight behind you then bend elbow. Make sure the elbow stays behind you and that you only move the arm from the elbow down. Switch arms and repeat on other side. 

Arm Exercises Triceps
Triceps Extension Arm Exercise

Elbow Flexion

Hold weight in hand. Bend elbow and then straighten elbows. Switch to other side and repeat or you can do both elbows at the same time. 

Arm exercises biceps curl

Overhead Press

Push arms overhead and back down. 

Arm Exercises Shoulder Overhead Press
Shoulder Exercises Overhead Press

Shoulder External Rotation with Theraband

(Safety Note: Use eye protection in case band breaks)

Holding theraband with hands, start with elbows bent to 90 degrees and against the body. Rotate arms back moving hands out to sides (keep elbows bent to 90 degrees during the movement). 

Shoulder Exercises Rotator Cuff
External Rotation wth theraband

Shoulder Internal Rotation with Theraband

Tie one end of theraband to a doorknob. Pull the other end of the band toward the abdomen keeping the elbow at 90 degrees.

Shoulde Exercises Internal Rotation
Arm Exercises Internal Rotation

Supination and Pronation

Hold weight in hand with elbow bent to 90 degrees. Turn palm up and down. Keep elbow against side through entire movement.

Supination Pronation with Dumbbell"Images by"

Wrist Extension

Hold weight in hand with palm facing downward. You can place forearm on table for support or support forearm with other hand. Lift wrist up and down keeping elbow still (wrist movement only). 

Wrist Extension with Dumbbell"Images by"

Wrist Flexion

Hold weight in hand with palm facing up. Support back of forearm on table or support it with your other hand. Lift wrist up and down keeping elbow still (wrist movement only). 

Wrist Flexion with Dumbbell"Images by"

Other Arm Exercises for Strengthening

The above exercises are just some examples of simple arm exercises. Strengthening can be performed in many different ways including using one's own body weight, bars, weighted balls, machines, tubing, and more for resistance. Consult with your therapist to learn other ways to do strengthening activities.

Using a personal trainer to learn strengthening exercises is an option as well if given the okay by your physician. To find a personal trainer who has experience in working with clients with health risks or physical limitations, look for a ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT). These professionals can be found via a search at the ACSM Pro Finder website (make sure to look for CIFT trainer in search options).

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