C is for carrying a load. Strength or resistance training is vital for many reasons; besides the obvious muscle-building, it can help burn more calories and shore up bones, among other benefits. Here are 10 exercises from our 10-week workout program that can help you get and stay strong:
- Leg abduction
- Leg adduction
- Side plank
- Short arc squats/wall slides
- Straight leg raises
- Wall shin raises
- Heel step downs
- Arm raises
- Internal and external rotation
Here's why and how to get started with load-carrying exercises, adapted from Fitness Over 40 by Vonda Wright, M.D.
"Carrying a load" simply means resistance training or weightlifting. Resistance training is important because of its role in building and maintaining muscle. You truly will lose it if you don't use it; to stave off muscle decline, you must carry a load. Maintaining and building muscle is good for your metabolism, makes you strong, prevents falling, prevents injury, and lifts your mood.
Lifting heavier weights is better than lifting light weights. But you do not have to do endless repetitions of heavy weights to receive a benefit. There are a lot of different ways to carry a load. It is not necessary to have access to a weight machine. Dumbbells, exercise bands, and your own body are excellent. One of the best "loads" to carry is your own body weight.
There's not enough room here to describe the exercises that would work all of your muscle groups. There are four key areas that represent the most common areas of complaint I see in my office.
The key to your back is your front, and the most important way to prevent the misery of low back pain is to concentrate on your core muscles. Your core is the belt of muscles that wraps around your midsection. Place your hands just above your hips and tighten the muscles under your palms. Engaging this natural weight belt is called "bracing." Once you start bracing these muscles frequently, you will notice them getting tight. If you can do only one of the exercises, choose the plank.
1. While lying on your side, brace your abdomen.
2. Bend your top knee, and place your top foot in front of your bottom knee.
3. Raise your lower leg off the floor (photo). Do not let your trunk bend backward.
4. Concentrate on keeping your core engaged, and feel this on the inside of your lower leg. Repeat 10 times, and switch to the other side.
1. Lie down on your stomach and brace the core muscles.
2. Raise your body up on your toes and elbows.
3. Lower your buttocks down until level with your shoulders. Squeeze your navel toward your spine. This is the key to this exercise and really works the core. Make sure your buttocks are not sticking up (photo).
4. Hold for 30 seconds, and increase the hold to two minutes as you improve. Alternatively, you can hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. (The plank can be modified from toes to knees.)
1. Lie on your side and brace your core muscles.
2. Raise yourself up on the side of one foot and your elbow.
3. Raise your trunk off the floor. Do not let your middle sag. Squeeze your obliques, the muscles that cover the sides of your body (photo).
4. Hold for 30 seconds, and increase the hold to two minutes as you improve. Alternatively, you can hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. (The side plank can be modified by supporting your legs with your knees.)
Your knees are biomechanical wonders. Key to your knees are your quadriceps, the four large muscles in the front of your legs.
Straight Leg Raises
1. Lying flat on your back, engage your core.
2. Bend one leg up at the knee, and keep the other leg straight.
3. Still lying flat on your back, tighten the quad muscle of your straight leg, and raise it up off the floor until your thighs are parallel. Hold this position five seconds, and then lower your leg until it almost touches the floor. Be careful not to let your back sway up off the floor. Repeat 10 times. Do two sets, and switch to the other leg.
You may not even notice the muscles in the lower part of your legs—that is, until one of them is irritated or inflamed. While I have other exercises in my book that require exercise bands, you can strengthen your lower legs (and prevent muscle imbalance and shin splints) without any equipment at all. You can do these exercises in your office, at the airport, or in the kitchen while cooking.
Wall Shin Raises
1. Stand with your back and shoulders against the wall with your feet shoulder width apart and about 1 foot in front of the wall.
2. Raise your toes as high off the ground toward your body as you can with your weight on your heels.
3. Slowly lower your toes until they are almost but not quite on the floor, and then flex them up again. Repeat this 10 times. As you get better at this exercise, you can "pulse" quickly from flexing up and extending your ankle down.
Heel Step Downs
1. Stand with your feet together, and take a natural step forward.
2. As your heel strikes the floor in front of you, prevent your foot from flexing down as you transfer your weight forward.
3. Return your foot to the starting position, and repeat on the other side.
4. Perform 10 of these step downs on each side. When you have mastered this with short strides, you can increase your stride length to make the exercise more difficult.
You can perform these with exercise bands or light weights. The resistance should be enough that you feel a slight burn in your muscles but not more. If you are using so much resistance that you find yourself using your whole back to pull the band or lift the weight, it is too much. You will know you are using your back and trunk if they move or jerk when you are lifting your arm.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Engage your core. Place one end of an exercise band under your right foot and hold the opposite end with your right hand. (If you are using weights, hold the weight in your right hand.) Slowly raise your arm to the side until your arm is level with your shoulder (photo A). Hold for five seconds. Slowly lower your arm. Repeat this 10 times. Do two sets.
2. Repeat the arm raises with your arm raised in front of you (photo B). Be aware of your back. You should be using only your shoulder to raise the band and not leaning backward to raise your arm. Hold five seconds, and lower slowly. Repeat 10 times. Do two sets.
3. Next, place the band under your left foot and continue to hold the band with your right hand. Raise your arm across your body in a V motion until it is parallel with your shoulder (photo C). Hold five seconds, then slowly lower your arm. Repeat 10 times. Do two sets.
4. Repeat these three exercises with the band in your left hand.
Arm raises A
Arm raises B
Arm raises C
External and Internal Rotation
1. For external rotation, place one end of an exercise band around a sturdy object, such as a doorknob, and stand with your left side toward the door. Place the other end of the band in your right hand (photo A).
2. Pull the band away from your body with your elbow against your left side. Repeat this 10 times. Do two sets.
3. For internal rotation, place the band in your right hand and pull it across your body with your right elbow against your right side (photos B and C). Repeat this 10 times. Do two sets.
4. Turn your body so that your right side is toward the door, and repeat with the other arm. Keep your elbows close to your sides.
(rotate arm out-external)
(rotate arm internally across body)
Excerpted from FITNESS AFTER 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age
by Vonda Wright, M.D., with Ruth Winter, M.S.
© 2009 Vonda Wright and Ruth Winter
Published by AMACOM Books