Over the past few columns, I’ve given you various ideas to improve your health while we work through this unprecedented time of lockdowns and social distancing. I started this series by highlighting an early study on COVID-19. This study showed that some of the pre-existing conditions that increase the case-fatality rate from COVID-19 are some of the most common conditions Americans have, including high blood pressure and diabetes. You can view those previous columns on southstrandnews.com. Considering that these and many other conditions are related to lifestyle, including diet and exercise, there is likely no better time than the present to start becoming more active and eating better.
In my last column, I covered cardiovascular exercise strategies. In this column, we’ll look at resistance training strategies.
Resistance training, also called strength training, involves exercise that is performed for the purpose of building muscular strength and muscular size. Most commonly, resistance training is performed using free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands. If you note, all three of those variations of resistance training require equipment. However, resistance training can also be performed using your body weight or other implements found around the house.
For example, filling up a half-gallon or gallon milk jug with water can provide a weight that you can hold in one hand or even both hands for resistance. There are also other items around the house that can serve as added resistance, depending on the exercise. Depending on your current level of strength, lawn equipment such as a shovel, sledge hammer, or possibly a rake can be utilized for various exercises such as bicep curls or overhead presses, with either both arms or one arm at a time. Or, for a family focus, you can even use your kids as resistance, as I’ve done. I have a decent gym in my garage; however, for some extra fun I’ll put my son or daughter on my shoulders and perform calf raises and squats. They view it as their “piggy back” time and will even help me count reps. After we’re done, they always ask when is the next time they’ll get to piggy back again.
These are just some ideas for different types of resistance. So now, which types of exercise should you perform?
First, let’s talk about building a strong base by building your legs. Your legs are, or at least should be, the strongest muscles in your body. Focusing on your legs can go a long way towards building muscle mass, strength, and even improving your resting metabolism to make it easier to lose those few extra pounds.
For a leg workout, you can perform standing squats while holding a half-gallon or gallon jug in front of you (or while putting your kids on your shoulders!). If your knees bother you, you may find it more comfortable to perform squats to a chair or couch. Simply sit down and stand up while maintaining good technique by keeping your chest up, sitting back, and keeping your knees in line with your toes.
Another great leg exercise is a lunge or split-squat. I prefer what is called a drop-lunge or reverse-lunge because it’s much easier on the knees. To perform a drop lunge, begin standing with both feet together. Next, take a large step back with one leg, and lower the back leg knee to the ground, or as low as you feel comfortable. Push back up to the standing position, then repeat on the opposite leg. This can be performed while holding a jug or jugs in one or both hands for added difficulty.
Next, for your upper body, we want to be sure to focus on both pushing and pulling movements. The most common no-equipment push exercise performed is probably the push-up. This can be performed standard, with hands and feet on the ground, or can be performed on your hands and knees to make it a bit easier. It can also be performed by placing your hands on the 2nd or 3rd step of a set of stairs or even on the wall for the lowest resistance. For added resistance, instead of placing your hands on the stairs, you can place your feet on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th stair for your pushups.
For pulling movements, you’ll likely need some of the previously mentioned resistance implements. Pullups serve as a great pulling exercise, however, not everyone is able to do a pullup or has access to a bar. Though, the pullup bars that now fit at the top of your doorway do work well. Besides pullups, you can perform bent-over rows. To do a bent-over row, find a chair or couch that you can place your hand on. Place a jug that you will use for resistance in front of the chair or couch. Then bend over and place one hand on the chair or couch while maintaining a bend in your legs and a flat and neutral spine position. Then, reach down and pick up the jug and bring up towards your lower chest. Then lower. Repeat for the desired number of reps on both sides.
Doing both pulling and pushing exercises can help to balance out your upper body as many tend to do far more pushing than pulling. Other exercises that can be performed with these household resistance implements include dumbbell curls, tricep kickbacks, over head presses, deadlifts, and more.
It’s probably best to take at least a day in between these exercises if performing multiple times per week. You can perform both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise in the same day, though resistance training should likely be performed first if choosing this method. Or you can alternate days of resistance and cardiovascular exercise throughout the week. Be sure to get out for a good walk on the days you resistance train to continue to maintain your overall movement.
Lastly, if a movement hurts to perform, don’t do it. And if you’ve been told by a doctor not to engage in strenuous exercise or that you shouldn’t exercise or perform certain movements, check with your physician first.
Nick McClary earned his doctor of physical therapy from the University of Tennessee. He also holds a masters in business administration. He is a native of Georgetown County and lives and works in Pawleys Island. Send him your health and fitness questions at: nmcclaryDPT@gmail.com.