Fit After 50: Improve Your Strength

Note: Please check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program that involves working with weights or resistance machines. And remember, it is always important to warm up before working with weights and cool down afterwards.

Strength training can involve going to a gym and working out with weights — but it doesn’t have to. There are strength-building exercises that you can do in your own home using the weight of your own body.

In future blog articles and in a future e-book, we will talk about weight training for the purpose of building muscle mass and weight training for the purpose of increasing endurance. We’ll also discuss the differences between using free weights and using range-of-motion resistance machines. For now, however, lets talk about some strength training you can do at home at your own convenience.

There are three areas of your body that you can easily exercise and strengthen at home without using external weights: legs, arms and shoulders, and core — which is your pelvic region, including your stomach and lower back.

Let’s talk about your legs first. You may not realize it, but every time you squat down to sit on the toilet, you are exercising your leg muscles. Why not do five or six squats to the top of the toilet seat each time you need to sit down to take care of business? Or, if the urgency is too great, do the squats AFTER you’ve taken care of business. Gradually work up to ten repetitions.

Of course, you don’t need to do this exercise in the bathroom. You can do it anywhere, at any time. A couple of sets of ten repetitions every day will do wonders for your leg muscles. When you do these knee-bends or squats, make sure you don’t squat too far. One reason for doing them over the toilet seat in the bathroom is to prevent you from squatting too far and damaging your knees.

If you have stairs in your home, another way you can strengthen your legs and hips is to walk up and down the stairs several times a day. Keep your back straight and don’t “pound” your feet on the steps; try to walk lightly, landing on the ball of your foot and springing upward. This will strengthen your calf muscles. Stop immediately if you start to feel dizzy or light-headed.

Now let’s talk about arms and shoulders. There are many different arm motions you can do from either a standing or sitting position that will strengthen your shoulders and upper arms. With your arms at your sides, your hands open, and your thumbs pointing in the direction you are going to move your arms, first raise your arms slowly until they are fully extended above your head; then lower slowly. Repeat ten times. Next, point your thumbs at a 45-degree angle away from your body and raise both arms to a Y-shaped position. Lower slowly and repeat ten times. Finally, turn your hands so that your palms are facing forward and your thumbs are pointing away from your body. Slowly raise your arms sideways to a horizontal position, hold for a count of three, and lower slowly. Repeat that movement ten times also. You’ve just given your arms and shoulders a good workout. Be sure not to “hunch” your shoulders while you are doing these movements.

If you’ve read any articles about fitness in recent years, you’ve undoubtedly read something about the importance of strengthening your “core” — the middle part of your body that includes your stomach and lower back. My favorite at-home core exercise is to lay on my back on the floor and raise my head and upper back off of the floor by tightening my stomach muscles. You will begin to feel soreness in your stomach muscles after just a few repetitions of these movements called “crunches.”

Tina cringed when I mentioned this exercise to her because she has neck problems; she can’t do floor crunches without damaging her neck. So if you have neck problems, or if you can’t lift your head and upper back without pulling forward with your neck, try a different exercise. Lay or your back with your feet together and your hands on the floor next to your body. Keeping your legs straight and your feet touching each other, try to lift your feet and legs off of the floor to a height of two inches or less. Hold the position for a count of five if you can, then slowly lower your heels to the floor and rest. Repeat this up to ten times. As your stomach muscles get stronger over time, try spreading your legs apart and bringing them back together while your heels are two inches above the floor. If you do this exercise consistently, you will eventually be able to spread your legs apart, hold them apart for a count of five, bring them back together, spread them apart again — up to five times — before lowering your heels to the floor.

There are several other good core-strengthening exercises that you can do at home on your living room floor. You can pick up some good ideas here. For even more education about core muscles and exercises, click here.

Have fun with these at-home exercises and improve your strength!

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