Bodyweight exercises are strength-training exercises that don’t require free weights or machines. Instead, a person’s own weight provides resistance against gravity. These exercises are a simple, effective way to improve balance, flexibility and strength. Whether you called it bodyweight training or not, you probably are already familiar with some of the most common bodyweight exercises, such as jumping jacks, push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, lunges, planks and squats.
One of the best things about bodyweight training is that you can do them in the privacy of your own home and there is no investment involved except of your time and effort. There are also many variations of some of the basic exercises making them flexible and helping keep your workout from getting monotonous.
Crunches Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You can place your hands behind your head, crossed over your chest, or on the floor alongside your body. Slowly lift your head and shoulders off the ground. Hold briefly, then lower your torso back down slowly.
Planks Lie face down with your weight supported on your elbows and your toes. Keeping your back straight and your core tight, hold for 30-60 seconds (or as long as you can). You can modify this movement by putting your weight on your hands, like in a pushup.
Push-ups Start with hands flat on the floor shoulder width apart, arms straight, and toes on the ground hip width apart. Bend at elbows until the chest reaches the ground, and then push back up. You can modify this by putting your weight on your knees instead of your toes.
Squats Stand with the feet parallel or toes slightly out. Slowly “sit back” by bending the hips and knees until the thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Keep your heels on the floor. Press through the heels to return to a standing position. You can modify this movement by placing a bench or chair behind you and squatting just until you touch the bench.
Lunges Stand with your feet hip width apart and your hands on your hips. Step forward with your right leg and lower your body until your right knee is bent at 90 degrees and your left knee is touching (or close to) the floor behind you. Return to the starting position and repeat the movement, this time stepping forward with your left foot. You can alter this movement by stepping backwards (a reverse lunge) or continuing to move forward in a walking lunge.
If you have any injury or underlying health condition, before starting any new exercise program, talk to your doctor to be sure it is safe for you. If you have been out of the habit of vigorous exercise, start slowly and build your strength and endurance.
Strength training is not just for bodybuilders and marathoners. It’s for anyone who wants to be healthier, feel better, and stay active. Bodyweight strength training is ideal for seniors who want improve strength, balance and flexibility.
The benefits of resistance training, and subsequent strength gains, in older adults include better control of symptoms of chronic disease, pain and depression, as well as prevention of falls, maintaining existing muscle mass, improving posture and stability, increasing bone density and remaining functional. A 2015 Experimental Gerontology study of men and women ages 65 to 97 in retirement care facilities found that performing strength exercises just two times a week for six months significantly improved participants’ mobility and functional performance.
The following instructions for common bodyweight exercises have been adapted for beginners of any age, from 30-something to seniors.
Squats to Chair Stand with your feet hip-width apart directly in front of a chair. Keeping your chest upright, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body toward the chair. Either touch your bum to the chair or sit down on it. At the bottom of the squat, your upper body should be leaning forward only slightly. Pause, then push through your feet and squeeze your bum to return to start.
Side Planks Start by lying on your side, propped up with your elbow directly below your shoulder. With either the sides of your feet or the sides of your knees stacked on the floor (do what’s comfortable for you), squeeze your core and lift your hips off of the floor so that your body forms a straight line from your ears to either your feet or knees. Hold for as long as you can while maintaining good form. Lower your hips to return to start, and repeat on the opposite side.
Wall Push-ups Stand about 2 feet away from the wall (move closer to the wall to make the exercise easier), and put your hands against it at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart. Keeping your body in a straight line, bend your elbows diagonally to your sides to lower your chest to the wall. Let your heels come off of the floor. Pause, then slowly press through your hands to straighten your elbows and return to start.
Sources: Livestrong.com; U.S. News.