You probably know how important daily exercise is for your physical and mental well-being, and you may even have a routine you try to stick to during the week. But are you incorporating strength training into your workouts, or strictly cardio?
If you fall into the latter category, it’s time to start strength training, because cardio will only take you so 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 their muscle mass per decade starting as early as in their 30s. This doesn’t mean you have to learn how to bench press, or even pick up a set of weights. Instead, you can simply use your body weight.
“The variety of exercises you can do just using your body weight are endless,” said Katie Schneider, trainer at Title Boxing Club in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. “Most movements require more than one muscle group, which is an effective way to increase calorie burn while improving overall strength.”
Body-weight exercises are used by everyone from beginners to professional athletes, added Erin Kloosterman, head of sports science at Sports Performance Labs in Middletown Township, New Jersey.
“These exercises make you focus more on the movement pattern rather than moving a load placed on you,” she said. “This also helps create neuromuscular connections in the body. The brain tells 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 those muscle fibers get, helping to perfect your form and prevent injury when and if you decide to start strength training with weights.”
Read on for eight body-weight exercises recommended by Schneider and Kloosterman for all fitness levels. Each one will help you build lean muscle mass while improving muscular endurance, balance and flexibility.
“With no weights needed, you’ll build a foundation with a lower risk of injury and minimal stress on the joints,” Schneider said.
Muscle targets: Your quads, glutes and core
- Stand flat against a wall.
- Bring your knees into a 90-degree angle as you slide down the wall, keeping the ankles directly under the knees. (Imagine you’re 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, hands directly under the shoulders.
- Slowly move down, aiming to have your elbows at a 45-degree angle. You want your elbows pointing straight back behind you, as opposed to out to the sides.
- Engage your core and glutes to keep your back straight. Once you’ve gone as low as you can, slowly rise back up to your starting high plank.
- Aim for five to 10 reps for two or three sets.
Muscle targets: Your core
- Start flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Keeping your arms crossed in front of you, squeeze your core to sit up.
- Continue to squeeze your core as you slowly sit back down (so don’t flop down).
- Do 10 reps for two or three sets.
Muscle targets: Your quads, glutes, hamstrings and core
- Start with your feet a little wider than hip width apart.
- Tuck your hips under to engage the core. Start to sit your butt down like you’re sitting in a chair. Keep your knees out in front of you.
- From chair position, push yourself back up to standing position.
- Do 10 to 20 reps for three sets.
Muscle targets: Your hamstrings, glutes, core and quads
- Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Make sure your heels are a few inches away from your butt and place your arms by your side.
- Tuck your hips under to engage your core and push through the back of your feet to drive your hips up into a bridge position.
- Make sure your body forms a straight line from the shoulder to the knee, squeeze your glutes at the top and then slowly lower your hips.
- Do 15 to 25 reps for three sets.
Hand release push ups
Muscle targets: Your chest, shoulders, triceps and core
- Start by lying with your chest and stomach on the floor, hands under your shoulders and thumbs in line with your armpits.
- Tuck your toes under and slightly lower your chin toward your chest, as you tuck your hips under to engage your core and press your body to a high plank.
- Slowly lower yourself back down into starting position, with chest and stomach on the floor.
- Release your hands as you lie on the floor before putting them back into 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 and then jump or walk your feet back into a high plank position. From there, quickly bring your chest down to the floor.
- Press back into a high plank, jump or walk your feet in to stand and finish with a jump up.
- 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 a tabletop position (90-degree bend).
- Reach your arms over your head and chest, tuck your hips under and drop your ribcage down to engage your core and rotate your pelvis up. Make sure your back is always flat on the ground.
- From this position extend one leg out at a time, lower it toward the floor without touching and then bring your leg back to its starting position.
- Do six to 12 reps for each leg for 3 sets.