Importance of Strength Training
All exercise is important as part of a healthy lifestyle, but strength training in particular is recommended for long term health and to reduce risk for chronic disease. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that adults get about 150 minutes of exercise each week, with at least 2 days of exercise being strength training. If you are concerned that we are talking about body building – we are not. We are talking about the use of free weights, machines, resistance bands, or even your body’s own weight to improve muscle tone for improved overall health. Benefits of strength training for health include:
- Increased strength of bones, muscles, and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments)
- Lower risk of injury and improved ability to perform everyday activities
- Increased muscle mass, which makes it easier for your body to burn calories and thus maintain a healthy weight
- Better quality of life
Total body strength training is the use of dynamic exercises that work more than just one muscle group. This allows you to get more out of your time in each workout and allows you to improve coordination and work more muscle groups at the same time. Most of the following exercises can be done at home with a set of dumbbells, but if you don’t have dumbbells or a gym available, body weight can be just as effective. If you are doing body weight, please increase the repetition count by 50% for each exercise in order to get the desired muscle effect. These exercises can be done each of your strength days, or they can be incorporated with other exercises.
Total Body Exercises
Each and every exercise should be done correctly, with good form to prevent injury. Each of these movements are compound movements that involve coordination, so if you are new to strength training, it is recommended that you consult a fitness professional for help if you don’t know how to perform a movement the correct way. To get the health benefits from these and other exercises, perform 10-12 reps and 2-3 sets of each exercise depending on experience and level of strength.
- Sit up with a punch – lay on the floor with your back flat and knees bent towards the ceiling. Using your core muscles, sit up, making sure you are slow and sit upward one vertebra at a time and without allowing your lower back to come off the floor until you are fully sitting up. Once you are sitting in an upright position, punch the air in front of you alternating your right and left hands twice. Really focus on using your arm and shoulder muscles to punch as if you were about to hit a punching bag. Return your back to the floor by using your core muscles and slowly putting each vertebra back to the ground.
- Squat with a narrow shoulder press – using 2 dumbbells that you would normally use for shoulder exercises, start with your feet shoulder distance apart and slightly facing outwards. Hold the dumbbells at your shoulders with your elbows out in front of you, and forearms in line with your shoulders. Brace your core and start bending your knees while pushing your glutes backwards. Continue to bend your knees and squat down until you reach just above 90 degrees. Use your glutes and leg muscles to push yourself back up to standing. Once standing, push the dumbbells straight over your head, ensuring to keep your palms facing each other and your hands/dumbbells in line with your shoulders the whole time. Your biceps should be near your ears and your arms outstretched above you, and you shouldn’t allow your shoulders to tense up towards your ears. Return the dumbbells to the returning position at your shoulders slowly.
- Pushups – start by laying belly down on the ground. Place your hands flat on the ground next to your shoulders with your elbows up towards the ceiling. With either your legs outstretched and straight and feet flexed on the ground, or knees bent and on the ground, push yourself off the floor. Ensure you are flexing your core, glute and back muscles in order to get off the ground. Make sure whatever position your legs are in, the line from your knees to your head is flat and straight, no bend should be in your lower back. Slowly bend your elbows again and return to your starting position on the floor.
- Reverse lunges with bicep curls – start standing with feet together holding one dumbbell in each hand. Slowly take a step back with the right foot, bending at 90 degrees in both knees. The right foot going backwards should be just far enough away that the left leg in front is at at 90 degree angle, without your knee going over your shoe laces or foot (in other words, when down in the lunge with both knees at 90 degrees, you should still be able to look down and see your toes on your front left foot). Once down in the lunge position, complete a bicep curl on the right side by pulling the weight in the right hand up to your chest. Ensure you are keeping your elbow at your side against your ribs and bending your elbow completely, closing the angle between your elbow and your hand. The bicep curl movement should be done completely in front of your body. Return the weight slowly to your side by using your bicep muscle to lower the weight at the same angle you did to raise the weight. Once the bicep curl is complete, start straightening your knees, step forward with the right foot, and return to the standing position. You should be using your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps to push your body up and forward towards the original standing position.
Each exercise involves using multiple muscle groups, giving you the ability to work more during less time. By doing exercises like these you are improving bone strength, coordination, and muscle tone that will help improve your metabolism by increasing your body’s ability to burn calories and fat. These are easy to complete in the comfort of your own home, or in a gym. Incorporating these movements along with other strength movements and the use of strength machines should be done at least two times a week, according to the American Heart Association.