An elderly person performs the functional reach test within the norms

Senior Balance: Decoding Functional Reach Test Norms

What do your balance and reach have to do with each other? More than you think! Your balance and reach are more connected than you might realize—which is why you should know your Functional Reach Test norms, and how to understand them, so you can stay strong on your feet. 

What is the functional reach test?

The Functional Reach Test, AKA FRT, is an easy way to figure out your dynamic balance and mobility. The test starts with you standing close to a wall, but not against it, and reaching forward until you can’t go any farther without taking a step or losing your balance. You’ll want to mark and measure how far you reach from the starting position so you know where you stack up relative to your age.

What is the normal range for the FRT?

Using FRT norms (the normal range of reach for each age group) as a guide is a good way to keep your balance and mobility maintained as you age. Bare in mind, the FRT norms are approximations and don’t account for individual health concerns or physical limitations. You’ll want to check with your healthcare professional for the most accurate assessment of your Functional Reach Test. 

Adults aged 60–69 years 

A reach of around 14–17 inches is considered normal.

Adults aged 70–79 years

A reach of around 13–16 inches is considered normal.

Adults aged 80 years and older 

A reach of around 10–14 inches is considered normal.

How do Functional Reach Test norms determine balance?

Essentially, the FRT is a quick test used to predict the risk of falls in older adults by measuring the margin of stability and the ability to balance during a functional task. Since the FRT measures your balance by reaching forward, the farther out of the norms for your age are—the greater the risk of falling. Scoring under your age norm on the FRT test could even be a sign of increased muscle loss and decreased range of motion.

If you fall within your expected norm, then you’re doing great. If you outreached your range, then you likely have balance like a tightrope walker—so great job!

Pro Tip: While the FRT measures forward reach, there are plenty of reasons to maintain your overhead reach. Discover those reasons here.

How to safely improve your reach

To improve your functional reach test norms the best thing you can do is add lower body strengthening exercises into your routine. The stronger those muscles are—the better your balance will be.

Follow along with this free lower body strengthening workout for older adults to start improving your balance today:

But don’t forget that your body is a whole system in itself. Your lower body provides the bulk of your stability, but it still relies heavily on your core and your upper body in order to function its best. Remember, your reach and your balance go hand-in-hand. So adding in upper body strengthening or specific range-of-motion exercises can help improve your reach.

To address any range of motion loss, strengthening your upper back is key. It can unlock more than increased reach. You’ll bend and turn easier, plus your posture will improve. 

Here are some helpful upper back exercises to get you started:

Cactus Lifts

  • Sit or stand with your back straight
  • Holding light weights in each hand raise your arms to your sides, bent at the elbow upward–this is the cactus pose
  • Push your hands upward, fully extending your arms
  • Bring your arms back down to the cactus pose
  • Repeat for 8 repetitions

Wall Pushup

  • Standing close to a wall, place your hands flat against it
  • Slowly step away from the wall while keeping your chest close to the wall
  • Only step away as far as comfortable
  • Once you are comfortable, push away from the wall
  • Bring yourself back toward the wall
  • Repeat for 8 repetitions

Shoulder Retractions & Depressions

  • Sitting straight in your chair, bring your shoulders back
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together
  • Drop your shoulders down & hold briefly
  • Bring your shoulders back to neutral
  • Repeat for 8 repetitions

Core Activating Bird Dog

  • Stand beside your chair, keeping it in reach for balance
  • Raise the leg closest to the chair to hip level bending your knee
  • At the same time, lift the opposite arm above your head
  • Switch to the other side of the chair & change your leg & arm
  • Repeat for 8 repetitions

Functional Reach Test norms are an easy benchmark to reach for–pardon the pun. Falling a little short isn’t the end of the world, but it could mean your balance and range of motion could be improved. One of the best ways to get the boost you need is to strengthen your lower body. Check out this “Chair-Assisted Lower Body Strengthening” class for a gentle way to improve your balance (Click Or Tap Here)