I recently wrote about common body-weight exercise mistakes. Today I'd like to discuss the proper way to do body-weight exercises and introduce a few you can add to your at-home workout. You won't need to get any equipment, or to try to fit a trip to the gym into your busy schedule, but you might want a sturdy chair for support, if needed.
Body-weight exercises focus on the body's natural movements — pushing and pulling — and have the ability to increase your range of motion. You can target every muscle in your body just by using the weight of your own body to provide resistance against gravity. And because the exercises usually involve compound movements, you will be burning more calories by engaging many muscles with each movement. You will also be improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility without investing a lot of time.
You can create cardio-focused exercises to improve cardiovascular endurance by transitioning from one move to the next while maintaining an elevated heart rate. If you'd like to perform an interval training workout, simply alternate between bursts of higher-intensity activity and low-intensity activity.
To get you started, here are a few basic standing body-weight movements. Remember to always contract those abdominals, as the abs work to stabilize the torso, which will protect your back and also help with balance.
Work your body
• Standing oblique crunch: Targets the sides of your core.
Stand tall with your feet hip width apart and your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows wide. Lift your left knee out to the side slightly above hip level while bending your torso slightly to the left. Repeat eight to 10 times and switch sides.
• Toe walking (calf raises): Strengthens the lower legs, helps keep calves and the Achilles healthy and strengthens balance.
Standing tall, shoulders retracted, lift your heels off the floor and walk forward on your toes for 10 to 12 steps, building to 30 seconds. Do not walk backward, and only do several sets of walking to avoid chronic tightness in the calves. Be sure to maintain a straight back, keeping your head, shoulders and hips aligned over your ankles.
Tip: If you have a balance issue, sit in a chair or stand in place while doing your toe lifts.
• High knees: This aerobic movement strengthens the abs, quads, calves and glutes.
Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, jog in place, bringing your knees as high as you can toward your chest while pumping with running arm movements. Land lightly on the balls of your feet.
Tip: Don't want to do the jogging? Extend your arms upward and pull them down as you step and lift alternate knees.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your move | Demonstrated by Jerry Biehn
Add a dash of creativity to those traditional lower body exercises. Your body not only likes variety but needs the challenge that variety brings.
Forward lunge with side stretch: Targets the thighs and glutes. The side stretch offers flexibility through your torso.
Stand tall with your feet hip width apart, hands on your waist.
Keeping your back straight, step forward with your left foot into a forward lunge with both knees bent. Your front thigh will be parallel to the floor while your back knee will be pointing toward the floor, heel lifted.
As you lower into the lunge, raise both arms over your head, keeping your hips in alignment.
Holding your right wrist with your left hand, stretch to the left side, holding for a count of five.
Return to standing and repeat the pattern three to four times.
When you step forward with your right foot, hold your left wrist with your right hand and stretch to the right.
Tip: Do not twist on the stretch movement. Simply lean to the side.
Standing side lunge: Targets the glutes, quads and hamstrings.
Stand tall with your feet about shoulder width apart, hands on hips.
Take a large step to the left, lowering into a lunge position by bending your left knee and sinking your hips to the back.
Keep your right leg straight but avoid locking your knee. Both feet will be pointing forward.
Push off your left foot to return to the standing position.
Repeat eight to 10 times, then switch to the opposite side.
Tip: Add a knee lift when you return to the standing position to create a balance exercise.
Curtsy lunge with side leg lift: Targets the glutes, calves and inner and outer thighs while helping with balance.
Standing tall, place your feet hip width apart, hands on your hips.
Keeping your torso upright with your hips square, bend your knees and move your right leg diagonally behind your left leg, lowering into a lunge.
Press through your left heel to stand while sweeping your right leg out to the right side.
Repeat eight to 10 times, then switch sides.
Tip: Maintain a straight back.