7 Upper Body Strength OT Activities That Can Help

Occupational therapists are professionally trained to help you or your loved one improve across a wide variety of physical and functional activities, including those requiring upper body strength.

The Importance of Upper Body Strength

Upper Body Strength in Children

As children begin to crawl and move, they develop the muscles and core strength required for upper body strength. The more children explore, the better their strength development will be.

If there are factors impacting either a child’s core strength development or even their upper body strength directly, they can struggle with manipulating small objects like feeding utensils, handwriting, motor-based activities, grasping and other prehensile actions during play.

Upper Body Strength in Adults

Among adults, there are different reasons why one may need to improve upper body strength. From various neuromuscular disorders to recovering from injuries or illnesses (such as tendinitis, trauma or a stroke), it’s important to focus on your upper body strengthening with a trained OT professional. OTs can help you regain the core strength that allows you to function in a variety of contexts and carry out daily activities.

What is Upper Body Strength?

When we use the term upper body strength we’re basically referring to your ability to use the muscles in your arm, shoulder and/or back to exert as much force as possible onto an object other than your body.

In addition to core muscle weakness, if you have low body tone, suffer from severe joint hypermobility or have weak scapulae (shoulder blades) you may find your upper body strength negatively affected.

How can Occupational Therapy (OT) help?

Occupational therapists employ a wide range of therapeutic activities to help improve the physical and functional abilities of clients. Activities can include:

  • Active tasks
  • Balance activities
  • Problem solving
  • Safety-oriented activities
  • Weighted exercises

OTs, such as our team here at One Central Health, are skilled at employing evidence-based and best practice therapy to help both adults and children in need of help.

Toddler girl in child occupational therapy session doing sensory playful exercises with her therapist.

7 Occupational Therapy Activities to Improve Upper Body Strength

1. Throwing and Catching a Ball

Simple yet effective, playing catch with a ball helps to develop coordination, strength, timing and even regain muscle memory. Depending on the client and presenting issue, OTs may use everything from light, small balls to larger and heavier balls like medicine balls. Depending on the particular type of ball and motions with which the ball is being thrown and caught, you can strengthen a range of muscles and improve balance and overall core strength.

2. Completing Puzzles

Puzzles are a great engaging you both mentally and physically. While not often thought of in relation to muscle strengthening, completing a puzzle requires coordination and dexterity of upper body muscles. You can also incorporate wrist weights or other cross-training accessories for further strengthening. Puzzles are also useful for clients of all ages, from children right through to the elderly, and can help to make huge gains with just small actions.

3. Fine Motor Activities

Fine motor fatigue is a real thing. This is why OTs will sometimes get you to engage with simple yet highly effective fine motor activities. Whether it’s screwing nuts into place on bolts or placing small items into holes or cups, these activities can be customised much like puzzles by incorporating wrist weights or done in conjunction with other activities and therapies.

4. Rolling Shoulders

Shoulder rolls are another fairly simple yet effective activity to engage with as you become stronger. Simply shrug your shoulders in a circular motion, with or without weighted objects in hand. Your OT will assess your core and upper body strength and adjust your weights accordingly to ensure your physical progression. In addition to building up your body strength, shoulder rolls also engage your core and gives you the opportunity to further develop and improve your balance.

5. Arm Bike Exercise

Arm bikes are quite useful as they don’t use any free weights to work your shoulders, back, arms and even core muscles. In occupational therapy, arm bikes can be used to great effect in conjunction with more traditional exercises (think dumbbells) or on their own. From the duration of the session to the intensity, your OT will help you build up your core and upper body strength over time with customised exercises.

6. Customised Everyday Activities

The field of occupational therapy is geared–and named–towards focusing on helping clients resume their day-to-day activities and live as independent and meaningful lives as possible. From household chores to the routine activities of a profession, your OT might actually modify your daily activity in a way that you simultaneously build up your upper body strength while getting the actual task done.

7. Wall Activities

While these activities are easy to carry out against a wall (though some, as you will see, may leave a mark!), the truth is that any vertical surface will do. Whether you have access to a wall, mirror, window, or door there are a range of activities available to help your build up your upper body strength. While some of these activities tend to be geared towards children, the truth is that even adults can benefit greatly from engaging their wrists, fingers, arms and shoulders through these therapeutic exercises.

By carrying out these activities on a wall or similarly vertical surface, you’ll build up more endurance, strength and stamina, all of which is great for your upper body.

  • Drawing/colouring/painting – stick a piece of paper up on the wall and use any writing or painting implement that you like. If you have access to a standing whiteboard or chalkboard, they’re highly practical for many reasons.
  • Playdough – pressing Playdough onto a smooth surface (such as a mirror) and either making impressions and indentations by hand or using a utensil is an effective and varied wall-based activity.
  • Sticking and tearing – once again, set up a piece of paper and practice both placing and removing stickers. From the required pincer grip, hand-eye coordination, and wrist movement, to the shoulder strength and fine motor skills being engaged, this is one underrated activity.
  • Shaving cream – this one might be favoured among children, but there’s no reason an adult can’t make use of it as well. Spreading shaving cream by hand across the surface of a mirror or similar surface can improve arm, shoulder and general upper body strength.
  • Games – there are various wall-based games that you can engage with, such as Tic Tac Toe or Connect-4. Even vertically adapted board games can be great for engaging arms, wrists, fingers and shoulders.

Strengthen Your Upper Body with One Central Health

While we’ve outlined seven simple activities for improving your upper body strength, the best approach to improving your or your loved one’s occupational and functional abilities is to book in with one of our experienced and professional occupational therapists.

To find out more or book your initial consultation, call us today on (08) 9344 1318 or send us a message via our online contact form.

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