Books can strengthen your body as well as your mind. Getting started with a strength-training program doesn’t necessarily require expensive equipment. A couple of books will do nicely. Use the following exercises as a stand-alone activity or try some of them at your next book discussion.


Setup and Tips

  • You will need at least two books for each participant. You should have a variety of sizes and weights on hand. The books should be easy to grip. Paperback books work as well.
  • You will also need some plastic or recyclable grocery bags with handles.
  • All of the exercises below can be done from a seated position. Arrange chairs so there is plenty of arm room. Armless chairs work best.
  • Repeat each exercise 8–12 times, or as many times as is comfortable.

Book Bag Exercises

The following exercises are done with books in plastic bags. Place one or two books in a bag. Tip: Double bag for extra security and tie close to the books. Double knot the handles so that they are about 6" to 8" long.

Half Biceps Curls

Hold a bag of books in each hand, palms up. With arms “glued to your sides” and elbows bent at 90 degrees, slowly lift your hands up to your shoulders. Lower back down.

Full Biceps Curls

Sit up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Dangle your arms at your sides. Hold a bag of books in each hand with palms facing toward your body. Slowly lift the books to your shoulders by bending your elbows. You can lift both arms at the same time, or you can alternate arms, lifting with one and then the other. Hold for a count of two. Gradually lower the books to the starting position.

Shoulder Shrugs

Begin with your arms hanging down and shoulders relaxed. Hold a bag of books in each hand, palms facing toward your body. Slowly shrug your shoulders as high as comfortable. Return to the starting point.

Side Hold It

Hold a bag of books in each hand and lower your arms down at your sides. Slowly lift your arms out to your sides, keeping them straight. Your goal is to lift your arms parallel to the floor, about shoulder level. Hold for a count of two. Gradually lower them back down to the starting position.

Front Hold It

Repeat the “Side Hold It,” but this time, extend your arms out in front of your body.

Bend Side to Side

Hold a bag of books in each hand and let your arms hang down at your sides. Slowly bend from side to side, trying to lower the bag of books to the floor.

Bend & Pick Up

Place a bag of books on the floor in front of your feet. Bend forward, pick up the bag, and sit up straight.

Knee Extensions

Place a book in a small plastic bag and tie the handles together. Hook your right foot through the bag handles. Lift your foot up, aiming your toes to the ceiling. The knee should remain slightly bent. Return your foot to the starting position and repeat. Switch to the left foot and repeat.

Leg Lifts

Place books in small plastic bags. Tie two of the bags together so that the books are about 15 inches apart. Drape the bags over your ankle. Extend your leg out in front and lift your foot. Hold for a count of two and slowly lower back down. Repeat with the other leg.

Hip Flex

Place books in small plastic bags. Tie the handles of two of the bags together so that the books are about 15 inches apart. Drape the bags over your right thigh. Sit tall, back straight, feet flat on the floor. Lift your knee toward your chest and back down to the floor. Repeat with the left leg.

Other Book Exercises

The following exercises are done holding a book in your hands (no bag). The weight of the book can vary depending on the person.

Chest Press

Hold a book in both hands at your chest. Push the book out in front of your body until your arms are fully extended. Return to the starting position.

Overhead Stretch

Hold a book with both hands with your arms extended over your head. Bend your elbows to lower the book down behind your head. Then raise the book back up to the starting position.

Back Extensions

Sit tall, back straight, feet flat on the floor. Hold the book to your upper chest. Slowly bend your upper body forward until you can’t go any further, or until comfortable. Slowly return to the starting position.

Book Balance

Sitting up tall, try balancing a book on your head. Tip: Ask a friend to stand by to catch the book just in case it falls.

Group Size Time of Day Duration Acuity Level
1 on 1
Small (2 - 4)
Medium (5 - 8)
Morning 15 minutes Assisted Living
Memory Care
Skilled Nursing/Rehab
Facilitator Gender
Any Coed
Wellness Domains

Social, Physical

  • Paperback books or hardcover books that are easy to grip
  • Plastic grocery bags
  • Armless chairs
Supporting Research

Good For

Anxiety, Depression, Hearing Loss, Isolation, Sundowning, Vision Loss



Arrange chairs six feet apart.

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