Programming for Parkinson’s Disease

by Kyle FActor

Parkinson’s is a neurological disease where damaged nerve cells do not produce enough dopamine in the brain. First signs of this disease are tremors in one single hand. As this disease progresses, you lose a lot of other body function as well like, range of motion, muscle stiffness, and loss of balance. It is difficult to program exercise for individuals with this disease because it varies on which stage the disease has progressed to. People in the later stages of the disease can typically not function at as high of levels as those in later stages. In all stages of this disease, exercise is prescribed as tolerated by each individuals.

Some things to focus on when programming for individuals with Parkinson’s are:

  • Individuals tend to have low cardiovascular endurance
  • Diminishing Range of motion
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Tremors make free weights difficult to train with
  • Overtraining individuals can make ADL’s difficult the following days


A basic program for these individuals is recommended to use five different training methods. These include Aerobic training, Endurance training, Strength training, Flexibility training, and Functional training. As previously stated before, all of these recommendations should be personally prescribed for each individual. This is a broad recommendation for programs for all individuals at all stages of this disease.

  • Aerobic Training- Maintain or improve work capacity
    • 60-80% of HR peak
    • 3 days a week
    • No more than 60 minutes per session
  • Endurance Training– Increase work capacity
    • Speed dependent on the individual
    • 4-6 sessions a day
    • 20-30 mins
  • Strength Training– Maintain the muscular strength in the arms, shoulders, legs, and hips
    • Use light weights
    • 1 set of 8-12 reps
    • 3 times a week
  • Flexibility Training– Increase/Maintain range of motion
    • Stretching the muscles and joints
    • 1-3 sessions per week
  • Functional Training– Maintain capacity to perform as many ADL’s as possible.
    • Tasked based exercises that involve hand eye coordination.
    • Everyday

Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Health Studies department