Essential Exercises for Strength and Flexibility
Along with a healthy level of physical activity, you should, at a minimum, do simple free weight exercises two or three times a week with a rest day in-between. Weight training improves longevity by building and maintaining strength, flexibility, balance and bone density. Training with free weights requires a larger number of muscles to be used to maintain balance and stability. Compared to using machines where the balancing is done for you, free weights offer you a much better workout in less time. This is a body-wide group of baseline exercises that you can do at home, in the gym and on vacation in about 35 minutes.
Remember that muscle groups tend to adapt and optimize to a specific routine after four to six weeks. To keep your muscles subjected to a healthy level of stress that will facilitate regeneration and longevity, you should alter your routine. This basic group is a great place to start.
Tip – Even if you are an experienced athlete, you should work out with a professional trainer at least once per year. There are literally thousands of different ways to perform weight training and an expert can help identify the best variations for your individual needs.
Abdominal Crunch – Works the midsection and stomach muscles (rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus). Lie on your back on the floor or a mat with your knees bent at about 60-to-90 degrees. Place your hands behind your head with your with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Point your toes slightly outward. Exhale and curl your head and shoulders off of the floor until your stomach muscles are contracted as fully as is comfortable. Hold for a short count at the top of the motion and then slowly roll back down. Completely relax and inhale before the next repetition. Start by working up to 12 repetitions and then continue to go until you feel a slow burn in your stomach muscles. Do not pull on your neck with your hands.
Oblique Crunch – Works sides and front of the abdomen (internal and external obliques). Lie on your back with your left knee bent and left foot flat on the floor. Cross your right leg over your left with your right ankle resting just above your left knee. With your right arm out, place your left hand behind your head with your elbow out to the side. Exhale and lift your head and both shoulders off of the floor and twist so that your left armpit moves in line toward your right knee. Contract your stomach muscles as fully and comfortably as you can. Hold for a short count at the top of the motion and inhale as you slowly return to the starting position. Do not allow your stomach muscles to relax between repetitions. Complete one set and then repeat on the opposite side. Start by working up to six repetitions on each side.
Bent-Over Back Row – Works major back muscles including lower back muscles. Find a solid, padded bench without wheels. With your back parallel to the floor, put your left knee on the bench and your left hand on the bench with your left arm straight out. With your right hand, pick up the weight. Lift the weight toward your chest while keeping the elbow in tight at your side. Exhale as you lift upward. Perform eight to twelve repetitions per side.
Stationary Lunge – Works major lower body muscles including front of thighs, back of thighs and buttocks muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal). Put your hands on your hips and keep your upper body straight with your shoulders back and relaxed. Keep your chin up and look straight ahead. Step forward with one leg letting your hips lower until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your knee stays directly above your ankle and not pushed out over it. Do not let the bent knee touch the floor. Keep your weight off your heels as you push back up to the starting position. Then, repeat on the opposite side. A good start is ten lunges total and work up from there.
Squats – Works major lower body muscles including front of thighs, back of thighs and buttocks muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals). Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward or slightly out. Grasp equal-size weights in each hand. Look forward with shoulder blades drawn back. Slowly bend your knees, taking your hips back toward the wall behind you and down towards the floor until your thighs are almost parallel with the floor. Slowly push back up to the starting position. Do a set of eight to ten. Add dumbbell weight to future workouts as you strength increases.
Biceps Curl – Works upper front of arm and forearm (biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis). Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Arms should be down at your sides and palms facing forward. Bend your elbows slowly, bringing your hands up towards your shoulders while keeping your elbows down at your sides directly under your shoulders. Keep looking forward with your chest up and maintain the natural arch in your lower back with shoulder blades pulled slightly forward. Exhale as you lift the weights. Do eight to ten repetitions on each arm and increase dumbbell weight during subsequent workouts as you can manage.
Triceps Overhead Extension – Works upper back of arm (triceps brachii). Sit on a bench or chair with one dumbbell held by both hands. Slowly use both hands to grab the dumbbell and lift it over your head until both arms are fully extended. The dumbbell weight should be resting in the palms. The palm of the hands should be facing up towards the ceiling. Keeping your upper arms close to your head with elbows in and perpendicular to the floor, lower the dumbbell in a semicircular motion behind your head until your forearms touch your biceps. Breathe in as you lower the weight. Push the weight back up to the starting position and breath out as you do. Repeat eight to ten repetitions and increase weight as tolerable.
A more advanced triceps exercise is the dip. Working up to and maintaining ten or more repetitions is an advanced goal.
Overhead Press – Works front shoulder and back of arm (anterior deltoid and triceps). Sit on a bench or chair with back support. Rest your feet on the floor and hold one weight in each hand. Lift the weights until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor at shoulder level and the weights are above shoulder level with your palms facing forward and elbows out to the side, bent slightly more than 90 degrees. Keep the natural arch in your back and look forward while pressing the weights upwards until they almost come together over your head and your elbows straighten. Exhale as you press the dumbbells up and slowly return to the starting point.
Lateral Deltoid Lift – Works the back of the shoulders, upper back and middle back (posterior deltoid, upper and middle trapezius and rhomboids). Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Start with a light pair of dumbbells. If you are using good form, you will not be able to lift much weight at first. Stand straight with the dumbbells to your sides. Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side, until they are level with your head. Do not go higher than your head because this can put undue stress on your rotator cuffs. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to your sides. The only motion should be at your shoulder joint. There should be no movement at the elbows and no rocking of your body to help lift up the weight. Lateral side raises are most effective when the shoulders are isolated and doing all the work. Perform eight to ten repetitions.
Chest Press – Works the chest and front shoulder muscles (pectoralis major). Taking a free weight in each hand, lie on a bench, holding the weights close to your chest. Place your feet on the floor and not the bench. Press the weights straight up from your shoulders until your arms are straight and perpendicular with the floor. Keep your shoulder blades drawn together and maintain a natural arch in your back. Slowly lower the weights out to your sides until your elbows are even with your shoulders or the bench. Hold for one count. Exhale while slowly bringing your arms towards each other as you raise them upward to the starting position.