How to stretch and strengthen your muscles
Brad Walker explains how you can conduct strength training without any specialist equipment.
You do not need equipment or gadgets to stretch and strengthen your muscles, and there are a surprising number of exercises for endurance and strength that you can do at home, when you travel, or even at the office. You do not have to do them all at once, which means you can add to your health and fitness whenever you feel like taking a break.
Jogging in place is a simple way to raise your heart rate. A little more exciting and much more effective is stair climbing. Stairs are everywhere. Chances are you have some at home, in shopping malls and stores, at hotels, or at work. Since you have to work against gravity to step up, you burn calories at least twice as fast as just walking. This means you get a more significant aerobic benefit on stairs than most other endurance activities in the same amount of time. A 150-pound person burns about 12 calories per minute stepping up at one step per second (but less going down, of course), compared to 5.5 walking.
If you cannot find stairs, use a box or stool and step up and down, which is just as effective as stairs. About eight to 12 inches high is comfortable for most people. If you find this a tad tedious, you can watch TV or a video. Do not forget to switch legs now and then; you will end up sore on the step-down side if you do not change.
For upper body aerobic workouts, try arm circles. You can do these in several ways. Hold your arms out horizontally and begin with small circles, building to large circles and back down to small circles. You can start with your arms at your sides and perform vertical circles, too. Change direction for variety.
You can work on your shoulder and neck muscles with shrugs. Arms at your sides shrug your shoulder to an "I do not know" posture, then relax and let your shoulders drop. This is more effective with resistance, but you do not need to buy anything. Begin with food cans, held in your hands with your arms by your sides, and progress to buckets containing sand, soil, or anything you have handy that weighs a few pounds.
Push-ups are great for your chest muscles, and you can do them in several ways. There is the military way, with your body straight and nothing touching the ground except your hands and feet, or you can rest on your knees. For variety, try incline push-ups. You can do them with your hands higher by resting on a couple of books or a box, or you can have your feet higher, the same way. When these are too tame, try plyometric push-ups. Begin on the ground and push yourself up explosively so that your hands come off the ground. When this is a breeze, try to clap your hands while they are off the ground between push-ups.
Work your trunk with rotational moves. Stand with your hands on your hips and elbows pointed outward. From the waist lean your body one way as far as you can, then rotate so that your head swings forward at about waist level, across to the other side, and then back up.
You can get a great abdominal workout with bent leg sit-ups. Bend your knees enough that your feet stay comfortable flat on the floor, fold your arms across your chest, and raise your shoulders about a foot off the ground.
Work your upper back with scapular retractions. Sit upright and pull your shoulders back to squeeze your shoulder blades together, trying to make them touch in the middle of your back, hold a few seconds, then relax.
For your lower back, try prone lumbar extensions lying on your stomach with your arms and legs stretched straight out. Raise your arms and legs off the ground a few inches, hold a few seconds, and then lower them. As you repeat this move, try to get your arms and legs higher off the ground.
Do not neglect your forearm muscles which control wrist movement. Raise one hand as far as you can bend your wrist, and push your fingers back on the palm side, using the other hand. Now push the fingers of the first hand against this resistance until you feel it in your lower forearm muscles. Next, bend your hand down so that your wrist is fully bent in the opposite direction, and push on the backs of your fingers with the other hand. Push the fingers of the first hand against this resistance until you feel it in your upper forearm muscles. Hold each move for a few seconds with your wrist bent as far as it will go in each direction. Repeat each movement several times.
You can work out your biceps with biceps curls using cans of food for dumbbells or pushing with the other hand for resistance. Rest your upper arm down the front of your body and pull your lower arm up until the clenched palm is close to your shoulder. Dip exercises are good for the triceps at the back of your upper arm. Begin sitting on the ground in front of a chair, or stool. Reach your arms out behind you and grasp the edge of the chair, palms down. Raise your butt off the ground and straighten your body. Now lower and raise your body by bending your elbows. This is a kind of upside-down push-up.
Now, all we have left are your legs. For your front thigh, you can use the step up and step down we described in the aerobic group. You can also try wall squats. Stand with your back straight against a wall with your feet a thigh's width in front of your body. Slide your back down the wall until you are in a parallel squat position, thighs horizontal. Hold until your thigh muscles begin to burn, then push up to the starting position. Repeat a few times until your quads are tired.
Lunges are suitable for your legs and front hips, favouring the hamstrings and butt muscles. Stand upright and take a big stride forward. Your trunk should go down close to the floor, and your planted leg should trail straight and almost horizontal behind your body, raised on the toes. You can take several short steps to bring your front leg back to the starting position. Repeat for the other leg, a dozen times for each.
You can work on your calves with toe raises on a stair. Stand up, touching a rail for balance, on one leg with your weight on the ball of your foot at the edge of the stair. Put the other foot behind your heel so that it is out of the way. Lower your heel until it is as far below the stair as you can manage. Now slowly raise your heel until it is as high above the stair as you can reach. Lower and raise your heel through the full range of motion of your ankle. A dozen of these on each leg give your calves and Achilles tendons a good workout and are good for your ankles, too.
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About the Author
Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming, and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.