Oftentimes, when we think of working out, we think of cardio. Going for a jog, an hour on the elliptical at the gym, or swimming laps in the pool are all great forms of exercise, and all fall into the category of cardio. However, there might be a key component to working out that your routine is undoubtedly missing. Strength training is a way to build a foundation for all other physical activity. It can be a little intimidating at first if you don't know where to start, but understanding the basics can help you feel confident in your refreshed fitness routine.
Whether strength training seems daunting because you don’t feel like you’ve ever learned how to incorporate it into your workouts, or you simply assumed it was only for bodybuilders—it’s worth adding some of these muscle building movements into your routine.
What is Strength Training, Exactly?
First of all, let’s make sure you have a solid understanding of what strength training is, exactly. Also called resistance and weight training, it refers to the use of resistance with muscular contractions to build strength, muscle size and increase anaerobic endurance. It is based on the scientific principle that the body will work to overcome a resistance force, and by training in this way you will build strength.
Resistance can include your own bodyweight, dumbbells, a barbell, resistance band or items you have at home like cans of food or a gallon of water.
Why Strength Training is Vital to Your Workouts
Strength training has an impressive slew of benefits, and it’s not just about getting bigger or more sculpted muscles (although that’s an added bonus).
1. Resistance training promotes bone density, tendon and ligament strength and joint junction, which means it can go a long way in helping you to prevent injuries down the road.
2. Studies show that more muscle mass raises something that’s called your RMR (resting metabolic rate), meaning you’ll burn more calories at rest. Many people make the mistake of focusing only on cardio when weight loss is their goal, but increased lean muscle mass will help you burn more calories while you watch TV at night, and is essential to a well-rounded weight loss plan. (1)
3. Weight training supports your lung and heart health, just as working any kind of muscles with targeted exercise does. Strengthening the muscles of the upper body places less strain on the lungs and heart, supporting the overall health of these vital organs. (2)
4. Building lean muscle also helps to improve your balance and flexibility. Especially strength-based single leg movements, like single leg deadlifts, balance reaches, step-ups and speed skaters.
Strength Training Exercises You Can Do Anywhere
Here are a variety of movements to incorporate into your workouts, and a circuit to start with.
The squat is one of the most functional movements you can do, as it targets multiple muscle groups and joints, works flexibility, mobility and strength. Form isn’t as simple as you might think, but when performed correctly works the glutes, quads, hamstrings, erector spinae, abs, adductors (inner thigh muscles) and more.
To properly execute the squat, stand with your feet just shoulder width apart, keeping your knees centered over your ankles (not jutting out in front of your toes). Bend your knees as you sit the hips way back, maintaining your weight on the heels, until you come to about ninety degrees from the floor. Press back up through your heels to starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top. This is one repetition.
Another excellent and important total body movement, the push-up should definitely make a cameo in your workouts. The main movers of the push-up include the pectoralis major (chest), triceps and anterior deltoids, but they strengthen so many muscles essential to daily life, as well as working the core.
To properly execute the push-up, come into a plank position on your hands with your feet hip width apart and hands directly underneath your shoulders. Keeping your core engaged and being sure your low back doesn’t sag down towards the floor, bend your elbows to come down, keeping your shoulders down and back (not up by your ears). Your neck should be long and in a neutral position with the spine as you come down to the floor and push back up to the starting position.
To modify the push-up, use an incline. You can even start standing against a wall, which is a great place for beginners to build push-up strength. Then, slowly work your way to a lower incline such as a stable chair or couch, until you’re ready for a full floor push-up.
You’ll need a little space for this one, like a big living room or backyard.
The walking lunge exercise is important for leg strengthening, as well as hip flexibility. Begin in a standing position with feet together, and then take a big step out with one leg, lunging down. Your back knee should bend to ninety degrees, gently tapping or hovering just over the floor. In one slow and controlled motion, bring your back foot to meet the front, and repeat with the other leg.
Single Leg Balance Reach
Focusing on balance and stability is key for a well-rounded fitness plan.Research shows that many injuries in the elderly are caused by poor balance, and single leg movements are excellent to improve stability, balance and stay healthy and injury-free. (3)
The single leg balance reach also works the low and mid-back, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. Often, these posterior muscles are weak, and this can lead to injury. Begin by balancing on one leg, and you have the option to place a cone or any other object on the floor about one foot in front of you. Slowly, reach towards the cone (or floor), slightly bending the knee of your standing leg, weight evenly distributed through the foot. Return back to standing, and repeat.
Easy Bodyweight Workout Routine
Now, let’s put it all together in a simple circuit you can do anywhere!
5 minute warm-up: 10 minutes of jogging or dynamic movements to raise your heart rate.
10 walking lunges (10 each leg)
10 one-leg balance reach (5 each side)
Rest 2 minutes and repeat circuit 3 times total
Don’t forget to keep doing your cardio! Studies show that aerobic exercise helps to maintain healthy blood pressure, manage blood sugar, improve sleep and mood, boost the immune system and much more. (4)
Now you can build a new workout routine that incorporates some of these simple and effective forms of movement you can do to build strength in your body. A great place to start is to alternate between cardio and strength training during the week. Always remember to stay hydrated, and take a rest day if your body is telling you to.
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