Around age 40, the average person loses about a half pound of muscle mass each year. Weight training will help prevent that, and it’ll help you feel younger, too.
Why build strength?
Strength training has a whole host of health benefits:
- Builds muscles and connective tissues
- Revs up your metabolism and burns calories, even after your workout is done
- Improves balance
- Cuts your risk of injury
- Improves blood-sugar control
- Eases arthritis pain
- Helps keep your mind sharp
- Increases bone density
- Improves sleep and mental health
Gina Ryan, program manager at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield's Well for Life Center says you don't even need any special equipment to begin building muscle. “You don’t need to belong to a gym, and you don’t even need hand weights. All you need is a little space and your own body weight as leverage and resistance.”
To be sure you are using proper form, Ryan adds that it would be wise to talk to a qualified trainer if you are new to strength training and body weight exercises. Squats and lunges may look simple, but you could do more harm than good if you do them incorrectly.
Body weight exercises
Here are a few classic body weight exercises you can do almost anywhere. Aim for three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets. As the exercises get easier, mix up your routine or try a variation of each move.
Strengthen glutes, hamstrings and core with this Pilates move. Lie on your back with your knees bent, hip distance apart and feet flat on the floor. With your core engaged, press your feet into the floor and squeeze your bottom as you lift your hips off the floor. Your body should make a diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for five seconds and slowly release back down to the floor.
There are many variations, but a basic forward lunge will work some of the biggest muscles in your body, including quadriceps, thighs, hamstrings and glutes. From standing position, take a big step forward until you have made a 90-degree angle with the floor, and keep your knee in line with your feet. Push yourself back to starting position, working your way forward or across the room.
This basic exercise is a classic test of upper body strength. It strengthens the chest, shoulders and triceps, and is also great for working the core. Lying face down on the floor, place your hands shoulder-width apart while holding your torso up at arms length. Lower yourself until your chest nearly touches the floor. If you are a beginner, bend your legs at the knees.
Begin with your arms extended back, resting your palms against a bench, chair or elevated stair. Lower your body toward the floor, bending the elbows to 90 degrees. Push your weight back up to the original position.
This exercise is a great way to engage your entire core, plus your lower back. Hold this pose (pictured) for 20–30 seconds (or one set), and work your way up if you can. Your body should make a straight line from your heels to the back of your head. Avoid raising or dropping your hips.
Done correctly, squats engage more muscles than any other exercise move: your quadriceps, hamstrings, outer thighs, glutes and core. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your legs at the knees until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees don’t go past your toes as you squat.
Deck of cards workout challenge
Grab a deck of cards for your workout. Each of the four suits represents a different body weight exercise.
Hearts: Cardio — sprint in place, burpees, jumping jacks or jump rope
Spades: Planks — hold for five seconds per number, or bridges — two per number
Diamonds: Squats or lunges
Clubs: Push-ups or tricep dips
Draw a card
Perform each exercise according to suit (above) and the number on the card, which represents how many repetitions you need to complete. For example, a seven of hearts means you’ll do seven jumping jacks. A two of spades means you’ll do a 10-second plank (5 seconds is one repetition), or two bridges. If it’s a face card, you can assign it 5 or 10 reps (you decide), based on your level.
Take 10–30 second rests between cards
Start with a quarter deck (13 cards) or half deck (26 cards), adding more cards each time you exercise, until you reach a full deck (52 cards).
If you like competition, exercise with a partner
Take turns drawing cards, and see who can make it the longest. Substitute different exercises as you wish, and make up your own rules as you go along. It’s all about making it challenging and fun.
Want to challenge yourself?
Try this 30-day plank challenge.
You’ll find all kinds of challenges online for almost any exercise. The plank may be the most popular. Proceed with caution, as bad technique can cause injury. Keep in mind that if you experience pain during the challenge, you need to rethink your workout, starting with shorter periods and perfecting your form.
Days 1–2: Hold plank for 20 seconds
Days 3–4: Hold plank for 30 seconds
Day 5: Hold plank for 45 seconds
Day 6: Rest
Days 7–8: Hold plank for 45 seconds
Day 9: Hold plank for 60 seconds
Days 10–30: Increase by 30 seconds every 2–3 days
By day 30: You will be up to 300 seconds, or five minutes
If needed: Split up your time with 10–20 seconds breaks
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