All the research and supported evidence on the benefits of exercise don't make a difference if you have no time to spare in your day for a workout. In our increasingly busy lives, finding ways to fit in getting healthier can sometimes feel like a task, especially when it involves the gym or group fitness classes. Instead of doing away with exercise altogether, why not try to implement an easy at-home workout for when you're in a pinch, seeking creativity, or simply to cut travel time to the gym. Here are some quick exercises to get you moving at home or at work:
1. Straight-arm shoulder/deltoid lifts.
This move is simple to set up and a good move for anyone who spends a lot of time texting or typing. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body; however, even though there is a lot of flexibility in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, those muscles still can get tight and shortened. Think of how much time people spend looking down over their computers and their cellphones and for moms, looking down at our babies. This continued action of rounding our shoulders reinforces a "hunched" look in the body, lengthening and weakening our upper back/upper trapezius muscles and tightening the chest, pecs, and shoulders.
This exercise strengthens and sculpts the front of the arms, shoulders, and deltoids but also helps to counteract the "rounding effect" in the upper body from habitually gazing down into screens. If using weights, start with 2- or 3-pound hand weights.
- To set up, bring your feet to hip distance and parallel. If you are using weights, have your weights in your hands, with the head of the weights facing upward (toward the sky).
- Extend both arms in front of you to shoulder height; your palms will be facing each other, and your arms will be straight. While doing this exercise, it is very important to have stability in the upper back and bell. The key is to focus on drawing the shoulders away from the ears and squeezing the shoulder blades toward each other (think of the drawing down and inward of the shoulders as an opposite action to rounding in the shoulder). Having a stable stomach can help to activate core muscles and support the lower back as you move your arms.
- Lower the right hand toward the right thigh, keeping the left arm at shoulder height.
- Engage the core muscles as you lift the right arm back toward shoulder height while at the same time lowering the left arm toward the left thigh.
- Alternate lifting and lowering the arms while trying to keep the arms as straight as possible and shoulders blades toward each other and down the back. Repeat 20 times and work up to three sets.
2. Modified situp.
I find so many of my students are conditioned to believe that crunching is the key to flat abs, but that is not necessarily the case. In fact, I've moved away from teaching traditional methods of core work that rounds the upper body forward (reinforcing that hunched shoulder position) and shortens the abdominal muscles.
My favorite go-to abs exercise primarily focuses and exhaling to really engage and move (even if it’s a tiny movement) the abdominal muscles so the muscles can be activated and strengthened.
For this exercise, I recommend using a small playground ball, bolster, or pillow to support the lower back.
- Sit on the floor, knees bent, hip-distance apart, and parallel; feet are flat, pressing into the ground.
- Place ball in a position to support the lower back; lengthen the spine, lifting the body up and out of the waist; relax the shoulders away from the ears; draw the shoulder blades toward each other and down the back; pull the abdominal muscles in and up.
- Hold on to the upper thighs (avoid holding underneath the knees, which will encourage rounding the shoulders forward).
- Focus on breathing the belly in toward the spine, deep inhales and exhales. The goal of this movement is to see/feel the abdominal muscles moving with the breath strengthening and toning the core muscles. Hold in this position breathing in and out for 30 to 60 seconds.
- This exercised can be progressed by releasing one or both arms and extending palms to hover over the knees. Alignment is key to effectiveness, so if you start to lose your form, hold back on behind the thighs to reset the position.
3. Wall sits.
Wall sits are known for strengthening the quads, and when done properly, this move also engages the hamstrings, lower back, and core.
- Stand with feet hip-width distance and parallel; feet should be about a foot from the wall.
- Rest the shoulders lightly against a wall; hands can rest on the hips; slowly bend the knees, sliding down the wall until your knees are about at 90-degree angles and knees are in line with the hips; thighs remain parallel; knees are directly over the toes.
- Stay in this isometric hold for 30 to 60 seconds, activating your core, firing up the quads and hamstrings.
- To add in an upper-body stretch, lift the arms up into a goal-post position; the elbows are shoulder height, bent to a 90-degree angle; the wrists are directly stacked over the elbows, keeping the forearms and shoulder blades pressed into the wall to deepen the stretch to the upper back, and open the chest.
4. Chair squats.
Chair squats are great for strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps and can be easily done at the office or at home.
- Stand in front of a sturdy chair or bench; feet are slightly wider than hip-distance apart and are parallel, arms straight out in front of you.
- Slowly and with control, sit the hips down and back until your seat/butt taps the chair; maintain an active core and natural curve to the lower lumbar spine.
- Press through the heels and come back to standing. Repeat 20 times, working up to three sets.
Need a good lower-body strengthening routine? Here's one for the muscle you're probably underworking.
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