July 16, 2013

The Only Exercises We Truly Ever Need to Stay in Shape.

Here’s a thought: How about we take only the simplest of measures, go outside, use accessible resources, and get in shape in the process?

I have found in the many years of the fitness business that exercising is nothing more than moving your body every single day for as long as it takes to get the heart pumping. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It has to feel good. It has to give you that sense of accomplishment on some level. It has to coincide with what your body is telling you to do.

There are numerous ways to experience an exercise of choice. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all method. I wanted to highlight what might be a way to stay in shape, feel stronger, and not have to shell out lots of dough in the process.

These are my exercise choices. They work your entire body. They don’t require anything more than the outside elements. If you can find a playground at some middle school, all the better. There are more things to hang onto at a playground and have fun with, but it’s not mandatory. If you have a jump rope, what better way to get the heart rate going, have some child-like fun, and use some coordination and agility?

1. Squats

I’m talking the regular old body squats sans barbells, dumbbells and any other weighted implement. Just you and your self. Perform them properly, go low enough (don’t go too low and upset your knee joints), and do as many as your body feels comfortable. Squats use about every major muscle group, and are a great exercise to start with on this resourceful routine.

2. Walking Lunges

Giant steps forward with one leg in front of the other (making sure the knees don’t cross over the toes) is a positive enhancement to your overall balance, flexibility and strength. Without any added weight, I will sometimes secure my arms behind my back in prayer pose, just to have the feeling of a non-gym exercise, and a more peaceful yoga pose, while moving forward. Or, stretching your arms overhead can give you a sense of alignment. They get pretty tired without using any added weight, and can definitely add to the lunge. Arms in any position other than your hands-on-waist, or outstretched to the side (which is similar to a tightrope walker) will challenge your balance. Throw down about four passes of walking lunges on sidewalks, at the gas station while pumping gas, or wherever you see a clearing. They are so effective for the butt, legs, upper body stability and even abs. Heart rate city!

3. Pull ups

This is probably my nemesis, but I try to do them more often, as they are the most difficult to perform. If you do them from a dead hang, and only do about four or five on your own, that’s more effective than the “cheats” pull ups, whereby you never achieve full range of motion. I can even do those, which is saying a lot. Pull ups work every damn muscle group except the legs. I say it with vim and vigor, as I’ve been known to avoid them due to their difficulty. But boy do I need them! And if you can find someone to spot you, all the better. Use strong tree limbs, pull up bars at playgrounds, or low swing sets. Basically, find something to hang on where your feet have clearance, and pull yourself up. Sounds so easy, but I’m telling you, pull ups are by far the hardest exercise, yet the most effective at keeping you in shape.

4. Push ups

These are the kin to pull ups. The alter-ego. They seem easy, and most times are, but most times we do them incorrectly. The back and shoulders sag, the abs are relaxed, the head dips to touch the floor, without the chest actually going anywhere near it. I’ve seen it all! Straight leg/medium width arm push ups work everything from the back, to the chest, to the triceps, shoulders, and especially the abdomen. The stability needed to perform these with great form is how you can reap the benefits. Lowering yourself until the triceps are parallel to the floor, leaving your neck and head in its place (no craning of the neck!), and keeping the lower back intact—this is a quality push up. If you did about 10 solid ones in a row, you would really feel all the muscles I mentioned. If your form breaks, time to stop the exercise. The more you push through bad form, the more you risk hurting anyone of the aforementioned muscle groups (chest, shoulders, triceps, lower back, abs). The beauty is that push ups can be done anywhere, any time. And I mean anywhere, any time. So cool.

5. Dips

These are like the little cousin to a push up. They work the triceps mainly, but the shoulders and forearms and chest muscles are activated as well. Find a bench, a chair, a rock ledge, a low wall, anything where you can do some “bench” dips. The upright dips are a bit tougher, and work primarily chest and triceps, but they can be considered more like a cousin to the pull up. They’re tough to do; you may need a spot. You can only perform so many until your body feels like it’s going to collapse, and you need parallel bars. Bench dips, on the other hand, are a great way to keep the upper body strong, and you can throw these down pretty much anywhere, any time. Just like a push up.

6. Ab work

This can involve quite a bit. You have already accomplished the pull ups, push ups, squats, walking lunges, why do you need more ab work?

Well, for one thing, this can be a bit more focused. And, it’s an excellent way to launch you into some relaxing stretches post-exercises. My favorites, using nothing more than your body, are the hover, basic bicycle-type crunches lying on your back, seated tucks on the edge of a bench or ledge (the same one where you just did your dips!), and boat pose from yoga. These work those hip flexors quite a bit, but the abdomen is engaged even more. A quality hip flexor stretch afterwards will give you that “ahhhh” feeling.

These six exercises are what makes the body healthy and happy. No expensive memberships. No need for anything other than some strong will, and possibly a partner to help with the pull ups. Using the outdoors, taking the time out of your day, and working with the elements is so incredibly satisfying. If you have to walk or bike to a playground, all the better. If you are on a beach vacation, there’s always that long stretch of sand to lunge and squat and do push ups on. If you are away in the mountains, use those trees and rocks and other tempting natural elements.

Being in shape doesn’t have to take too much time and effort. Just get outside and play! And do it safely. Knowing your limits is definitely bonus. Movement, in all forms, is the epitome of getting, and staying, healthy.


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Ed: B. Bemel

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