Three Foundational Exercises

There are three exercises that everyone should be doing in some form at least a couple of times per week.  There’s no need for a gym, and they require very little time or equipment.  These important exercises activate the body’s major muscle groups, boost the metabolism, strengthen the core, promote better posture, tone the muscles, and increase strength. These exercises also have numerous adaptations, so they’re for people at every level of fitness.  

Push-ups: If you’re a girl you might be thinking “push-ups are for men,” but don’t discount your abilities or the benefits push-ups can offer.  Push-ups are basically like an intense planking exercise (AKA pilates).  They activate the entire core, including the stomach and back muscles, while strengthening the upper body.  The pectorals, triceps, and shoulders are the primary muscle groups targeted.  Push-ups can help you bulk-up or they can accentuate lean, toned muscles; it’s all about how they’re performed.  For the lean, toned look, push-ups are performed in the standard position, or with the upper-body elevated. Repetition and perfect form are key.  If a standard push-up is too difficult, rest your weight on your knees, instead of the balls of your feet, or elevate your body on a park bench or chair until it’s easy enough to perform several push-ups.  Aim to do three sets of 12 pushups during one exercise.

Pull-ups:  Pull-ups are another challenging exercise, but they’re one of the most effective body weight exercises for the hands, arms, upper-back, and core.  If you can’t do a pull-up, don’t despair.  You can start out by doing a locked arm hang.  Pull yourself up until your arms are at a 90 degree angle and hold yourself in that position for as long as you can.  Another option is to learn how to do a kipping pull-up (steps 1, 2, 3, 4) which is performed by using the momentum of the legs and hips to propel oneself upwards.  The kipping pull-up is a true full-body work out.  If you don’t have access to a pull-up bar, there are affordable door mounting solutions that don’t require any installation, but usually pull-up bars are easy to find at a local playground, park or gym.

Squats: Of the three foundational exercise, squats are probably the most important.  Why?  Because they activate the body’s largest muscle groups: the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles.   Squats burn the most calories, boost the metabolism, strengthen the core, and provide endurance and energy for everyday activities.  Counter-intuitively, they can also help strengthen the knees.  One’s knees might hurt at first, but when squats are eased into, people often report that their knee pain goes away after continued practice.  Start out by aiming for three sets of 20 squats.  If that’s too difficult, try three sets of 10.  Progressively work towards higher numbers.  Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands resting just above your chest.  As you lower yourself, keep your back upright and extend your arms straight out.  Go as low as you feel comfortable, but it’s probably best at first not to go past the point where the thighs are parallel to the ground.  As you stand up again, return your hands to the rest position, just above your chest.

These exercises can be performed in about 15-25 minutes, almost anywhere.  Make it a goal to do each of these exercises 3-5 times per week.  As you become stronger, increase the amount of repetitions performed or the difficulty of the movements.  Combined, these exercise can improve posture, reduce back pain, tone the muscles, and boost the metabolism (promote weight loss).  There are few good reasons not to incorporate them into a daily fitness routine.  They can also be performed outside, which is an added bonus for getting sunshine (vitamin D) and fresh air!

Originally posted 2013-02-14 22:39:00.

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