by Robert Maxwell
I can’t claim much, if any, credit for my continuous, burning desire to lift weights. For whatever reason, pumping heavy iron over my head, on my back using my legs, and up into the air, from my chest is what I really, really want to be doing almost all the time. Luckily, my responsibilities as a husband, father, and provider make working out constantly an impossibility. This is in fact a good thing, because if I gave in to my desire to lift more often than I currently do, I’d quickly become overtrained and probably succumb to severe injuries. I didn’t do anything specific to cultivate my intense desire to train. It came to me naturally. Sure, some days I feel more motivated than others, but on balance I don’t need discipline, because my desire to hoist heavy iron is so strong. Not everyone is like this. For many, and perhaps even most people, physical exercise is a dreaded chore. The level of dread varies from one individual to the next, but dislike is often the main emotion felt by typical trainees. This is understandable. Those of us who actually enjoy aching muscles and sweat pouring from our bodies are pretty weird. The good thing about this weirdness is that it keeps us healthy. If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy training, you may be in danger of giving in to laziness.
As a guy in my late 20’s, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s usually easier for people my age to get started exercising than those 30 years older or more. The reason is passivity. This trait has a habit of growing in strength with every year it’s allowed to exist. A 50 or 60 year old passivity habit is a lot harder to defeat than its 5 or 10 year counterpart. The irony is that as time passes and it becomes easier to remain passive, it becomes more important not to. Your body will complain much more if you begin exercising at age 60 than age 20, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Quite the opposite. Far better to suffer aches and pains on your own terms in the gym than to experience them tying your shoes and walking to the mailbox. One way or another, physical discomfort is inevitable. Strength training makes regular life easier, and saves you from many problems older, non-training people often have during everyday activities. If you don’t force yourself to do something more strenuous than regular living several times each week, regular living will become the most strenuous thing you can do. I don’t know about you, but I find this a frightening thought. So what should you do if your passivity habit is big, strong, and decades old? Slowly, gradually strangle it to death. Maybe you’re motivated enough and have your doctor’s permission to get started with barbell training right away. That’s great. If not, don’t despair. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, starting your journey of fitness, no matter how small that first step, is the most important thing you can do for yourself. To that end, here are 3 simple, bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere to get you going.
AIR (OR CHAIR) SQUATS
Find an open area of floor, and position your feet at shoulder width. Point your toes outward at about 30 degrees. If you’ve never squatted before and aren’t very strong, it’s a good idea to position a chair directly behind you that you can squat down onto. Once you’re in the correct position, take a deep breath and hold it. Stick your arms straight out, brace your stomach muscles, and sit back and down, as if there’s a chair behind you (whether or not there actually is). If you are using a chair, descent down until your butt hits it, but don’t relax and let it take your full weight. It’s mainly there as a safety device. If you don’t feel the need for a chair, squat down until the crease of your hips drops just below the top of your kneecaps. This is the optimal position for your legs to power you back up out of the squat. To keep your balance as you go down, you’ll need to lean forward a bit. Do this by hinging at the hips, not by rounding your back. Do you best to keep your spine straight throughout the movement. When you reach the bottom of the squat, power you way back up with your legs, and squeeze your glutes together as you reach the top. Let out your breath on the way up, then take another breath and repeat the process for your second rep. The number of reps you do will depend on your current strength and fitness levels. Try to choose a number that’s challenging, but doesn’t make you hate exercise.
PUSH-UPS (ASSISTED IF NECESSARY)
The push-up is a pretty well known exercise, but most people either don’t know how or are unable to do it correctly. Find an open area of floorspace, and get down on your hands and knees. If you’ve never done push-ups before or don’t think you’re strong enough to do a standard push-up, you can do an easier version from your knees. If you think you can handle a full push-up, stretch out to your full length, place your feet together, and balance on your palms and toes, while keeping your body straight and stiff as a board. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder width, and in line with your shoulder joints from top to bottom. Whether you’re on your knees or your toes, take a big breath, hold it, and brace your stomach. Then slowly descend down by allowing your elbow joints to bend. Don’t flare them out too much – they should be pointed slightly backwards, not straight out to the sides as you descend. Keep going down until your chest and nose are an inch or so from the floor, then push your way back up, letting your breath out at the top. Congratulations, you’ve just done your first push-up. Keep going until more reps would cause your form to start breaking down.
I’m including this exercise in the list because it’s a great and simple way to strengthen your back muscles, particularly your low back spinal erectors which protect and support the lumbar spine. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart or so, and place your hands on your hips. From there, the movement is simple. Hinge at the hips and lean forward, while focussing on keeping your entire back straight and braced. It’s helpful to think of sticking your butt back as you descend. This will help you hinge rather than bend and slouch. Try to get 10 reps, but if you can’t do 10 with good form, don’t sweat it. Do as many as you reasonably can, then call it a workout.