Our bodies are designed to move and we have an amazing set of tools in our nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. We need to work our body systems in order for us to function at our peak levels and to stay healthy.
More and more people worldwide are becoming extremely sedentary in their work and personal lives. It has become such a pronounced problem that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity. Starting a basic exercise routine is key to keeping your health, whether it's walking 20 minutes a day, joining a gym or working with a trainer.
When it comes to actually doing physical exercise, we have all found those things we really dislike. For some of us, it is running, others going to gym and for many, even the thought of a daily exercise regimen of any type is unpleasant. For the sake of good health and a longer life, there are four basic exercises we should all do on a regular basis. When we think about what regular basis means, consider three to four days a week.
The four basic exercises I am discussing in this column are all body weight exercises. What that means is they are done without weights, machines or other workout equipment. They are easy to do and have full body benefits when done regularly. Body weight training also ties nicely with other functional fitness aspects. When you think of body weight training, think of standard PE type training like push-ups and jumping jacks that have been used for years as a form of basic physical training. As stated, body weight training uses minimal equipment, which makes it a quick, easy and inexpensive way to exercise anywhere at any time effectively.
1. The ubiquitous push-up which can be done in so many ways to accommodate almost all physical limitations. From novice to elite athletes, push-ups can help build and strengthen a large cross section of muscle groups. Starting with easy wall push-ups by standing using a wall or doing incline push-ups using a bench, you can start simple and work up to 30 reps. After you build strength and technique, move to a straight floor push-up and start working your reps up to 50. Do this three times a week at different times of the day and you will be surprised how your upper body strength and abs will improve.
2. Core exercise is critical and maintaining a strong core helps with mobility. Doing standard crunches or sit-ups are great, but not everyone can do these for a number of reasons. The best all-around core strength exercise that is easy to do and can be done anywhere are planks. This is where you assume a push-up like form leaning on your forearms flat to the floor and hold your body in a straight ridged position. Flex your glutes and abdominals and hold for as long as you can or 1 minute to start. Build from there and workup to two or three minutes a couple times each day. This exercise can be done daily or a few times each week. Variations that are more complexed can be mastered as your core strength and form improves.
3. Squats are another all-around great exercise and can be done simply and easily by modifying to your fitness level. For beginners, you can hold onto something firm and lower your body downward keeping feet flat on the floor, chest facing forward with your back straight. Your knees need to line up with your toes and your feet should be turned comfortably outward a small amount. Then squat down until your thigh is level with the floor or to begin with, as far as you can go without pain or discomfort. Then push back up then squat back down then repeat.
As your flexibility and strength builds, let go of supporting poles or furniture and do a few standing squats. Start with low reps and only do what is comfortable until you build up to at least 20 reps or more depending on your fitness goals and ability. Squats can also be done daily and randomly to build flexibility, mobility and lower body strength.
4. Pull-ups are another exercise that delivers great benefits. Now some of you may be thinking that due to your age and physical limitations you could never do a pull-up. You may be surprised at just what you can do to make this exercise work for you. By placing a stool or chair underneath the pull-bar you can keep the majority of your weight under you and only pull up what your strength allows. After a while you can attempt more and more weight by shifting how much you pull. If you feel like you are unstable, have someone hold your waist while you attempt this exercise.
If you are physically fit but lack strength, do the same until you can hang freely, pulling your entire body weight up with chin clearing the bar. Start by placing the palm of your hands away from you over the bar. Keep your shoulder blades slightly retracted, chest up and gradually pull. Work on form over quantity of reps and take your time. There are a number of great examples on YouTube to learn how to effectively do a overhand pull-up.
A little exercise is better than nothing. In fact, adding just modest amounts of physical activity to your weekly routine can have a profound effect on your overall health. Go easy on yourself and the effort you put forth until you're comfortable with the basics. Doing these basic exercises consistently, yet at irregular times focusing on form and function over reps and timing is key to building your physical fitness.
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.