Background: Falls are two to four times more frequent amongst older adults living in long-term care (LTC) than community-dwelling older adults and have deleterious consequences. It is hypothesised that a progressive exercise program targeting balance and strength will reduce fall rates when compared to a seated exercise program and do so cost effectively. Methods/design: This is a single blind, parallel-group, randomised controlled trial with blinded assessment of outcome and intention-to-treat analysis. LTC residents (age ≥ 65 years) will be recruited from LTC facilities in New Zealand. Participants (n = 528 total, with a 1:1 allocation ratio) will be randomly assigned to either a novel exercise program (Staying UpRight), comprising strength and balance exercises designed specifically for LTC and acceptable to people with dementia (intervention group), or a seated exercise program (control group). The intervention and control group classes will be delivered for 1 h twice weekly over 1 year. The primary outcome is rate of falls (per 1000 person years) within the intervention period. Secondary outcomes will be risk of falling (the proportion of fallers per group), fall rate relative to activity exposure, hospitalisation for fall-related injury, change in gait variability, volume and patterns of ambulatory activity and change in physical performance assessed at baseline and after 6 and 12 months. Cost-effectiveness will be examined using intervention and health service costs. The trial commenced recruitment on 30 November 2018. Discussion: This study evaluates the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of a progressive strength and balance exercise program for aged care residents to reduce falls. The outcomes will aid development of evidenced-based exercise programmes for this vulnerable population. Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12618001827224. Registered on 9 November 2018. Universal trial number U1111-1217-7148.