As society continues to shelter in place, we hope that your determination to stay fit while at home continues. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve offered tips for cardio exercise workouts as well as for yoga and stretching. Now comes the third side of the workout triangle:
As the name implies, strength training is a way of working out designed to help you be stronger. By “stronger,” we don’t mean being able to juggle bowling balls or to look good in a tank top. Instead, this is a strength that can help you perform everyday activities.
As you get stronger, you also help increase bone density, which tends to diminish with age. Perhaps the best argument for strength training, says performance coach Jim Myers, “it helps increase longevity and quality of life.”
Jim is director of Digital Fitness/Virtual Coaching for FX Well, the company which is a managing partner for the Texas Health fitness centers.
As if those benefits weren’t plenty, regular strength training also increases muscle mass. “More muscle mass,” he says, “usually means less fat on your body, which can reduce such metabolic disorders as diabetes and cancer.”
A good strength training workout, Jim says, utilizes the following five movement patterns we need and use to get through everyday life:
Pushing: Opening a door, shoveling snow; pushing things away from the body.
Pulling: Closing a door shut; lifting a child or a bag of groceries.
Hinging: Bending from the hips to pick up something from the floor.
Squatting: Getting up and down from a chair; going to the bathroom.
Bracing: Holding your core together, which “is very important because you need to stay braced during all other kinds of movement,” Jim says.
He offers three basic strength training exercises, which can be modified or intensified for beginners or for more intermediate exercisers. Once you’ve mastered those, you might try the other three he suggests.
Ready? Here we go:
Bodyweight Split Squat
From a standing position for this variation of a squat, step right foot forward two feet and left foot back a foot. Bend the right knee while dropping the left knee and toes to the ground. Brace your core, keeping your back straight. Push through your right heel into a standing position. Return to starting position. Repeat six times, then switch sides. That’s one set. Rest one minute, then repeat one to two more times.
You should feel this primarily in your quads (front thighs) as well as in your glutes (butt muscles) and hamstrings (back of your legs).
Optional way to do this: Hold onto a table or sturdy chair while you do this.
Lie on your stomach on a rug or yoga mat. Straighten your arms, making sure your hands are flat on the ground under your shoulders. Keeping your core braced, lower your body to a 90-degree bend in your elbows, then lift your body to the starting position. Press your toes into the floor, engaging your glutes and abs.
You should feel this primarily in your chest but also your abs and triceps (muscles on the back of your arms).
Optional way to do this: If you can do 15 modified push-ups, Jim says, try doing this in the traditional manner where your whole body is straight and off the ground. Or if the modified are difficult, lean against a wall to do them.
Wall Elbow Pushes
Stand with your back and shoulders flat against a wall. Lift your arms so your upper arms are parallel to the floor and your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Press your elbows into the wall as if you’re pulling your shoulder blades together.
Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat five more times. You should feel this primarily in your upper back as well as feeling fatigue in your arms.
Optional way to do this: Hold for 10 seconds and take more time between reps.
Looking for more? Jim offers up these additional strength-building exercises:
Lie down, knees bent and feet on the floor. Keeping your abs braced and your pelvis neutral, press up through your heels as you squeeze your glutes. Hold for two or three seconds at the top, then lower your bottom while maintaining tension in your abs. Start with three sets of six, resting 30 seconds between each set.
Lay face down on the floor. Get on your toes and either straighten your elbows or bend them so your forearms are on the floor. Hold the position while squeezing your butt and abs. Hold for as long as you can. Rest and repeat if you’d like.
Alternately, you can do a plank leaning your elbows on a bench, a bed or a table, keeping your spine straight.
Do these exercises two to three times a week. As you get stronger, you can hold the position longer or add reps and/or sets.
Whatever your fitness level, Jim offers these additional tips:
Listen to your body. “You never want to feel a pop or a pull or a quick jerk in a muscle,” he says. “The sensation should be slow and gradual.”
Stay focused. “Your movements should be slow and controlled,” Jim says.
Push yourself just enough. “That’s important to know,” Jim says. “If you do six and it’s really easy, keep going. That’s true for all of these. Everyone is strong in different areas. You want it to be challenging.”
Know when to stop. “You want to stop before you feel like you can only do two or three more,” he says. “It’s OK to be exhausted after some workouts, but maybe only once or twice in a month.”
Remember that every workout builds off the previous one. “You want to make sure you can do a similar workout in 24 to 48 hours to continue to make progress,” he says. “If you push yourself to failure every time, it will take longer to recover and you won’t be able to keep up with it.”