The world of fitness and exercise is full of charlatans, pseudo-experts, and experts – often the same people at any one point in time. I know: I have been one of these at some point in time, the difference between these characterizations and how I’ve played them is that I seriously have tried not to mislead, esp for my own professional let alone financial benefit.
That said, I can tell you in all honesty that things I used to say, share, discuss etc with clients re exercise(s) was often so wrong not because I was making it up but because it was not yet open sourced valid. That is, as a fitness geek, I’ve tried staying current with the research literature, not the lay literature, and would not be so ready to jump onto a bandwagon if I’d not heard/read that there was validity to it.
I often do say I don’t know when a client asks something, and I often make up answers to the best of my reasoned knowledge in order to test both my knowledge and my reasoning skills. But, on my own behalf, I don’t claim to be an expert – just more of one than many of my peers.
That said, this is one question about which my humble but knowledgable reasoning is expertly offered: are there any exercises we should all be doing? My answer is yes. Which ones you ask: squats, rows, curls, bridges, and maybe something more challenging for the core but I’m not really sure.
Now of course, not everyone needs to go to the gym or find a trainer to do these. For real life, esp as we age, some version of the above exercises will help sustain functionality as well as resistance to injury and pain. Others may claim that you need this or that muscle group, and I do believe you can do so with much gain to physique, self-confidence, sport, and other non-health related aspects of life. The ones I listed are essential. Here’s why.
Squats, or lunges or step ups, condition the lower body. This aids in gait, in picking things up, in moving about your home, mall, parties, vacations, etc. There are many variations of which most folks can incorporate at home if they prefer, from simple wall sits to sit-stand from a chair. You can start with a lower range of motion and build up but going down deeper, or you can stay isometric – with wall sits – if you must due to injury. You can work to fatigue or not. You can add extra weight – combine with dumbbell curls if you want to kill two birds with one stone – but at the least, the ability to do a squat moderately well will allow you to use the toilet, get up and down from chair or sofa, and all kinds of other normal life activities.
So squat – and if you don’t feel you know how to do so properly, go to YouTube and type in ‘squat’ and watch and learn.
Rows are harder to do at home – a set of elastic tubing will be good to have but you could do bent over rows with a weighted implement. Their value, esp if done standing as with a tube, is for posture and shoulder function and safety. It can be a hi rep or hi load exercise but it does need to be done right to be of value. Furthermore, if done standing, and even bent over supported on the other arm, it helps with core strength, especially low back. No you won’t get a six-pack, but you might save your back in the long run.
Curls are for the biceps, the muscles in the front of your upper arm. They pick things up by bending the elbow. The ability to pick up a weight includes the ability to grip so it actually enhances grip strength – both of which help with chores from cooking to doing laundry to yard work. an easy exercise to do with, say, a half gallon jug of water (4#), it will be most valuable in your life if you can stay strong.
Bridges, or hip lifts done lying on your back, even in bed, keep the butt and low back somewhat strong. It’s a core exercise that is used in rehabbing low back, hip, knee, balance and butt toning routines. I put the latter in there for you ladies out there who keep asking how you can keep it from sagging. These and squats are a good start – but so is keeping your weight down.
Finally other core exercise -esp for the abs. Yes, these are very important muscles, and I highly support finding an exercise that works for you. Everything from crunches to simple ab contractions even sitting around watching tv will work for life’s purposes. Mostly for supporting the spine, abdominal work has been overly promoted for physique – want a six pack? Stop drinking them!!! – and sport. but I’d contend that all the great athletes of the past, pre-1970s, probably skimped on these muscles and still performed well. Now, honestly, to compete at the levels athletes are doing today, one needs to emphasize core, not just ab, strength in training. The average joe or joanne can get by with a modicum of ab exericses depending on low back (and osteoporosis) status. So don’t jump into these til youve met or disucssed them with a pro, but do consider them at some point.
Now, that’s my expert opinion. As I said, you can add more – esp cardio but I’m not addressing that here – but it depends on your goals. Your specific needs impact your goals, of course, but these 4-5 exercises will keep you functioning a lot better and a lot longer, and require a lot less gym time or equipment, than the many others that are available.
So consider the source – it’s just me, Dr. Irv – and consider your time availability, your commitment to fitness, your commitment to health, your commitment to function, your commitment to your independence, your commitment to living better if not longer – and then consider adding these into your weekly routine at least twice per week. If you have questions about the ‘somehow’, then contact a qualified trainer – me??? – to get a more precise prescription.
But, as Nike would say, JUST DO IT!