Functional strength training for Parkinson's

Functional strength training aims to keep your body moving well, so you can continue to carry out everyday tasks that Parkinson's may affect. We find out more with specialist physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy.

Functional strength training works several muscle groups that you might use to complete a daily task, such as shopping or climbing the stairs. The main aim of the activity is to train your body to move well.

This is different to traditional strength training where you focus on one set of muscles at a time.

In traditional strength training, your goal is to completely tire the muscles you’re working. In functional strength training, you still work hard, but not to the point of exhaustion.

Functional strength training aims to build or maintain muscle strength, but can also:

  • strengthen bones
  • improve endurance
  • burn calories

What do I need to do to get started?

You don’t need any specialist equipment to get started, but you can use simple equipment like dumbbells or resistance bands if you have them. 

You can do all of this at home, so you don’t need to go to a gym.

How hard should I be pushing myself?

You should try to do functional strength training at least twice a week.

Whatever exercise you choose, aim to do 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions. The last of the 10 repetitions should be difficult to complete. Once you have finished a set, rest for about a minute before starting another set.

Choose a weight that makes it challenging for you, but not impossible. This will help you to focus on moving well.

Ideally you should aim to increase the weight you lift over time. But don’t worry if this isn’t possible, especially if you’ve had Parkinson’s for a while.

Functional strength exercises

Try practising these functional strength training exercises at home to help you improve your movement with everyday tasks - like going food shopping. Choose a pair of weights you can lift above your head or out to the side if twisting your body.

Picking items from a shopping bag on the floor and putting them onto a high cupboard or fridge shelf.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and stand up straight. Hold a weight in each arm.
  • Squat down and bend to touch the floor with the weights.
  • Stand up straight again, going up onto your toes and
    raising the weights over your head, pushing them up to the
    ceiling. If you want to make the movement more powerful, push the weights up with more effort.
Taking items off shelves and putting them into a supermarket trolley.
  • Stand sideways between a table and a chair. Place the weight on the table to start.
  • Twist or turn at the waist to pick the weight up with the
    opposite hand, and place it down on the chair.
  • Using the same arm, pick it up from the chair and twist or turn to put it back on to the table. Do the first set with one arm, turn around and then do a set with your other arm.
Carrying shopping up a curb or step back to the car or into your house.
  • Stand at the bottom of a step or your staircase with a weight
    in each arm.
  • Step up onto the bottom step with 1 leg, then the other.
  • Once both feet are on the step, step down backwards.
  • Repeat with the same leg leading all the time. Then do the next set with your other leg leading.