Strength training

Strength Training Tips - 4  Functional Exercises for Lifelong Fitness
By Joan Pagano

strength training, exercises

Learning to handle your own body weight is the first step to improving the way you move in daily life. These functional "4 for Life" exercises work the major muscle groups of the legs, upper body and core in an integrated way. Together they create a mini full-body conditioning workout that can be done in a few minutes, anytime, anywhere using just your own body weight.

The Squat works the large muscles of the legs and is the most functional of all exercises.
By working the muscles of the buttocks, thighs and lower legs, as well as using the abdominal and back muscles to stabilize the torso, the squat is the closest we can get to a full-body exercise.  It is the same movement that we need to rise from a seated position or to lower ourselves down to the floor, so it is a very functional exercise that helps to keep us independent as we advance in years.  It is also one of the best shaping exercises for the glutes and hamstrings, improving the bottom line! 

The movement:  Stand in front of a chair with your feet parallel, hip width apart.  Shift your weight back onto your heels.  Inhale, bend your knees and reach back with your hips, lowering yourself toward the chair as if you were going to sit down.  Tap the edge of the chair (don't actually sit down), then exhale and squeeze your buttocks to return to start.  Repeat 10-15 times.

The Back Extension is a primary exercise for good posture since it strengthens and lengthens the spine. Back extensions trigger the erector spinae group, strengthening the muscles that run the length of your spine so you stand taller and straighter.  They also improve mobility in the upper and middle back, reversing a forward slump.  As you lift your chest and arch your upper back, you open the front of the shoulders to create an open, confident posture.  The total effect is more youthful and slenderizing.

The movement:  Stand with your feel parallel, hip width apart.  Interlock your thumbs and reach your arms overhead, keeping your head between your elbows.  Tighten your hips, thighs and buttocks to protect your low back.  Inhale, lengthen through the torso, then exhale and reach up and back, maintaining the position of the head between the elbows as you arch your upper back.  Repeat 5-10 times.

The Push-Up targets the chest, shoulder and triceps in one move. While all three muscles are involved in the movement, the position of your hands determines which muscle you emphasize: wide for the chest, narrow for the shoulders.  All variations help firm the triceps in the back of the upper arm and are weight-bearing through the arms and wrists.  The core muscles of the abdominals and back are active in stabilizing the torso.  The level of difficulty is determined by how much weight you shift onto your upper body.

The movement:  If you are just beginning to do this exercise, try the kitchen counter push-up.  Stand an arms' length away from your kitchen counter with your arms straight, hands slightly wider than chest width apart, fingers pointing straight ahead.  Draw your shoulder blades down and together.  Inhale, bending your elbows out to the sides to form a "box" as you lower your chest to the counter.  Exhale and push back to start.  Repeat 10-15 times.

The Pelvic Tilt flattens the belly, strengthens the abdomen and stretches the lower back.  This simple movement combines a pattern of belly breaths with abdominal compression and a slight rotation of the hips.  Strengthening this deep abdominal muscle provides a corset-like effect of flattening the belly, narrowing the waist and supporting the low back.

The movement:  Although it can be done properly in many positions, start with the easiest - lying flat on your back – while you practice coordinating the breath with the abdominal action.  Breathe in, fill the belly with air, and then exhale forcefully as your draw the belly button in towards the spine and press the curve out of the lower back.  Release and repeat 10-15 times.

These fundamental movements never go out of style, strengthen the major muscle groups
and provide a basis for good body mechanics.  Even if you never do another exercise, your body will benefit from doing the "4 for Life" regularly.  Use them as the building blocks of your program and the baseline to which you return if you are short of time.  When life becomes hectic, they are the ideal "active rest" from your full program.  This small investment in time will serve your body for life.

Joan Pagano, former trainer to Jacqueline Onassis and Caroline Kennedy, is a best-selling author, a speaker on health and fitness topics and the owner of Joan Pagano Fitness in New York City.  For expert guidance, including step-by-step images of the "4 for Life" exercises and the muscles they work, please check out Joan's book Strength Training for Women at
Dynamic Living Magazine Issue Vol. 2  March/April 2011 The End

shirley maclaine