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Strength Training for Seniors (Beginners, Too)—No Gym Needed

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Being strong is essential for good health and vitality. Here is an easy muscle-building routine suitable for seniors and newbies. Best part: You can do it at home with just one inexpensive piece of equipment.

You have a lot to gain from this simple routine. Strength training not only builds muscles, it also improves bone density, speeds up metabolism, promotes balance and even boosts brain power. You’ll also gain mobility, said Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise, who designed the workout below. Translation: This routine will help make everyday movements—such as getting in and out of a car, reaching overhead, bending and climbing stairs—much easier for you.

And not to worry…you won’t be straining under heavy barbells. All the exercises below use just your own body weight or a simple elastic tube for resistance. Recommended: Opt for a light-resistance tube with handles, available at sporting goods stores and online for about $10 (I like the durable SPRI brand).

What to do: Get your doctor’s OK first, as you should before beginning any new exercise routine. Perform eight to 15 reps of each of the following moves two to three times per week on nonconsecutive days—muscles need a day between workouts to repair and strengthen, Dr. Bryant noted. Always move in a slow, controlled fashion, without jerking or using momentum. When you can easily do 15 reps of a particular exercise, advance to the “To progress” variation.

No-equipment-needed exercises…

Wall Squat—for legs and buttocks. Start: Stand with head and back against a wall, arms at sides, legs straight, feet hip-width apart and about 18 inches from wall. Move: Keeping head and torso upright and your back firmly pressed against the wall, bend knees and slide down the wall about four to eight inches. Knees should be aligned above ankles—do not allow knees to extend past toes. Hold for several seconds. Then, using thigh and buttock muscles, straighten legs and slide back up wall to the start position. Repeat. To progress: Bend knees more, ideally to a 90° angle so thighs are parallel to floor, as if sitting in a chair.

Wall Pushup—for chest, shoulders and triceps. Start: Stand facing a wall, feet hip-width apart and about 18 inches from wall. Place hands on wall at shoulder height, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Move: Tighten abdominal muscles to brace your midsection, keeping spine and legs straight throughout. Slowly bend elbows, bringing face as close to wall as you can. Hold for one second, then straighten arms and return to the start position. Repeat. To progress: Start with feet farther from wall…and bring face closer to wall during pushup.

Supine Reverse March—for abdominals, lower back and hips. Start: Lie face up, knees bent, feet flat on floor, arms out to sides in a T position, palms up, abs contracted. Move: Slowly lift left foot off floor, keeping leg bent…bring knee up and somewhat closer to torso…when left thigh is vertical to floor, stop moving and hold for five to 10 seconds. Then slowly lower leg and return foot to floor. Repeat. Switch legs. To progress: As knee moves upward, raise both arms toward ceiling…lower arms as leg lowers.

Moves with tubes…

Seated Row—for back, abs and biceps. Start: Sit on floor, torso upright, legs out in front of you, knees slightly bent, feet together. Place center of elastic resistance tube across soles of feet and hold tube handles in hands, arms extended in front of you, elbows straight. Move: Bending elbows, slowly pull handles of tube toward chest (do not lean backward, arch back, shrug shoulders or bend wrists). Hold for several seconds, then slowly straighten arms and return to the start position. Repeat. To progress: To increase resistance, rather than placing center of tube across soles of feet, anchor it firmly around an immovable object one to three feet in front of you.

Lateral Raise—for shoulders. Start: Stand with feet hip-width apart, anchoring center of elastic resistance tube under both feet. Hold tube handles in hands, arms down at sides. Move: Keeping elbows very slightly bent and wrists straight, slowly lift arms out to sides so palms face floor and hands reach shoulder height (or as high as you can get them). Lower arms to the start position. Repeat. To progress: To increase resistance, widen your stance on the tubing.

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Source: Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, is chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. He has written more than 250 articles and columns in fitness magazines and exercise science journals and is author or coauthor of more than 30 books, including Strength Training for Women. AceFitness.org Updated Date: March 29, 2018 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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