You probably know how important daily exercise is for your physical and mental well-being, and you might even have a routine that you try to stick to during the week. But do you include strength training in your workouts, or just cardio?
If you fall into the latter category, it’s time to start strength training, because cardio won’t get you far. You need strength training to maintain muscle mass and mobility. This is especially important as you age, as both men and women lose about 10% of muscle mass per decade from the thirties. That doesn’t mean you have to learn how to bench press or even pick up a set of weights. Instead, you can just use your body weight.
“The variety of exercises you can do using just your body weight is endless,” said Katie Schneider, trainer at Boxing club title in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. “Most movements require more than one muscle group, which is an effective way to increase calorie expenditure while improving overall strength.”
Bodyweight exercises are used by everyone from beginners to professional athletes, added Erin Kloosterman, head of sports science at Sport Performance Laboratories in Middletown Township, New Jersey.
“These exercises allow you to focus more on the movement pattern rather than moving a load placed on you,” she said. “It also helps create neuromuscular connections in the body. The brain commands the body to move, and it does so by recruiting muscle fibers to perform the movement. The more frequently you do these exercises, the more memory these muscle fibers get, which helps you perfect your form and prevent injuries when and if you decide to start strength training with weights.
Read on for eight recommended bodyweight exercises by Schneider and Kloosterman for all fitness levels. Each will help you build lean muscle mass while improving muscular endurance, balance, and flexibility.
“No weights are needed, you’ll be building a foundation with less risk of injury and minimal stress on the joints,” Schneider said.
The wall sits
Muscle targets: Your quads, glutes, and core
- Stand flat against a wall.
- Bring your knees to a 90 degree angle as you slide down the wall, keeping the ankles directly below the knees. (Imagine you are sitting in an imaginary chair.)
- Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat for two or three sets.
Muscle targets: Your chest, triceps and core
- Start in a high plank position with your hands directly below your shoulders.
- Lower slowly, aiming to have your elbows at a 45 degree angle. You want your elbows pointing straight behind you, as opposed to the sides.
- Engage your core and glutes to keep your back straight. Once you’ve gone as low as you can go, slowly climb back up to your starting high board.
- Aim for five to 10 reps for two or three sets.
Muscle targets: Your heart
- Start flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Keeping your arms crossed in front of you, contract your trunk to sit up.
- Keep clenching your core as you sit up slowly (so don’t collapse).
- Do 10 reps for two or three sets.
Muscle targets: Your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and core
- Start with your feet a little wider than hip width.
- Tuck your hips under to engage the core. Begin to sit as if you were sitting in a chair. Keep your knees in front of you.
- From a chair position, push yourself up to a standing position.
- Do 10 to 20 reps for three sets.
Muscle targets: Your hamstrings, glutes, core, and quads
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Make sure your heels are a few inches from your butt and place your arms at your sides.
- Tuck your hips under to engage your core and push through the back of your feet to bring your hips into a bridge position.
- Make sure your body forms a straight line from shoulder to knee, squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly lower your hips.
- Do 15 to 25 reps for three sets.
Muscle targets: Your chest, shoulders, triceps and core
- Start by lying down with your chest and stomach on the floor, your hands under your shoulders and your thumbs aligned with your armpits.
- Tuck your toes under and lower your chin slightly toward your chest, as you tuck your hips under to engage your core and press your body into a high plank.
- Slowly lower back to starting position, chest and belly on the floor.
- Release your hands as you lie down on the floor before returning them to the starting position.
- Do five to 10 reps for three sets.
Muscle targets: Your legs, chest, arms, shoulders, hips and core
- Start in a standing position.
- Place your hands on the floor, then jump up or step your feet back into a high plank position. From there, quickly lower your chest to the floor.
- Press on a high plank, jump or walk with your feet to stand up and finish with a jump.
- Do five to 15 reps for three sets.
Muscle targets: Your obliques, core and pelvic floor
- Lie on your back with your feet up, knees bent in tabletop position (90 degree bend).
- Reach your arms above your head and chest, tuck your hips below and drop your rib cage to engage your core and rotate your pelvis upward. Make sure your back is still flat on the floor.
- From this position, extend one leg at a time, lower it toward the floor without touching it, then lower your leg back to its starting position.
- Do six to 12 reps for each leg for 3 sets.
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