With the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealing that on average, more than 2 in 3 adults in the US are overweight or obese, it is imperative that we share more information on what diet and exercise changes can be made safely, to empower people to change their lives and improve their health naturally. It can be intimidating to walk into a gym period, but especially so if you feel out of place to begin with, potentially judged, and excruciatingly aware of your lack of exercise knowledge. Here are ten recommended exercises to get you started, boost your confidence, and keep important things like your knees and back healthy and happy!
- Squat to Bench/Chair
Squats are a great functional exercise for people of all sizes. We use this movement pattern daily, getting in and out of the car, siting on a chair, and sitting to the toilet, are just a few examples. Those with knee issues can use hip bridges in lieu of squats if squats cannot be performed without pain. Squats target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and require your core. For beginners start with squats to a box, chair, or bench.
- Stand with feet about armpit-width apart with slight turnout of the toes
- Brace your core
- Reach your hips back and pull down to the box keeping your shins as vertical as possible
- Ensure you keep tension throughout as you pull down and back into your squat position, barely touch the box, and come back to standing position
- Hip Bridge
Hip Bridges are another lower body exercise that is great for those with knee issues. They target your glutes, hamstrings, recruit your core, and erector spinae muscles. There are many variations and ways to progress hip bridges, but the classic hip bridge is a good place to start.
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Brace your core making sure you flatten your back against the floor
- Drive your heels down into the floor, as you push your hips up as high as you can, squeezing the glutes throughout the exercise.
- Plank on Knees
Plank is a staple core exercise for anyone looking to have a stronger body. The core is integral to your everyday function and stability, it is what protects and stabilizes your back, therefore it is especially important for those with back pain to strengthen this area. Planks target your abs, glutes, hip adductors, and obliques.
- Start on your elbows and knees (or straighten your legs to progress to a regular plank)
- Hold as much tension as possible in your core, glutes, quads, and tuck your pelvis to maintain a flat back.
- Crawl/Leopard Crawl
Bear or Leopard crawling may not be in your everyday routine, but it is an excellent addition to it! Crawling targets your core and since you are moving it requires more work to keep you stable. In addition to your core, crawling works your arms, shoulders, and chest.
- Start with your hands and knees on the ground, elevate knees and keep them about an inch off the floor
- Keep your head up, back flat, and use opposites to crawl forward and/or backwards
- Seated Band Row
Seated band rows are a safe and convenient way to target your back muscles. The bands are great for the gym, home, and traveling alike. Rows are especially good for those who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or are generally prone to kyphotic posture.
- Start seated on the ground with legs extended and exercise band wrapped around the arch of the feet, the ends of the band in the right and left hand, or wrapped around the wrists.
- Keeping the chest tall and back straight, pull with your back and arms, to bring elbows by your side
- Squeeze shoulder blades together behind you as you perform each row
- Band Pull-Aparts
Band pull-aparts are another great exercise for mid-back, shoulders, and help to strengthen the scapular retractors. Band pull-aparts target the traps, rhomboids, and rear deltoids.
- Start standing, gripping the two ends of the exercise band with arms straight out in front of you
- Keeping the arms straight, pull arms out to the side to create a “T” position
- Squeeze shoulder blades together behind you as you fully extend the band with arms out to the side
- Farmers Carries
Carries are a deceivingly simple but are as effective and functional as they get! Farmers carry activates nearly every muscle group, the entire core, back, hands, wrists, and forearms are all engaged, the legs propel your walk, while the cardiovascular system is at work throughout – burning fat and creating lean muscle stores.
- Select 2 dumbbells you can hold safely, but that are still a challenge for a fifty yard walk
- Brace your entire body, as if in a plank, and slowly walk forward. Stand tall, core braced, pulling the shoulders down, and squeezing the dumbbells hard, for the entirety of the exercise.
Birddogs are one of the best exercises for safely strengthening and stabilizing the core and back. These primarily use the abs, erector spinae, and glutes.
- Start quadruped, on hands and knees, and brace your core to maintain a flat back
- Slowly extend one arm straight out from the shoulder, and opposite leg straight out from the hip, ensuring that your back stays flat and both hipbones stay level to the ground
- Return to start position and repeat on other side
Deadbugs are a great option because they build abdominal strength while minimizing pressure on your low back. Main muscles used are transverse abdominals, multifidis, diaphragm, and pelvic floor.
- Start on your back, with palms towards the ceiling, and knees in towards your chest
- Pull stomach to spine and tilt pelvis up to flatten your entire back against the floor
- Maintaining a flat back, slowly extend opposite arm and leg out, barely touching the back of the calf to the floor, and come back to the starting position. Repeat on other side.
Downdog is a staple in yoga and for good reason! It is a gentle way to stretch your spine, shoulders, hips, hamstrings, and calves, while opening your chest, encouraging good posture, and improving mobility.
- Start quadruped, on hands and knees
- Straighten legs and reach heels toward the ground, while pressing palms into the ground, and punching your chest towards your knees
- The goal is to reach an inverted “V” position with hips in the air, straight legs, and a flat back
National Strength and Conditioning Association: Essentials of Personal Training, Coburn & Malek