With a new year just a few weeks away, you might already be thinking about setting your New Year’s resolutions. There’s no need to wait until the new year to get a jump on your fitness goals. With the weather getting colder, it might be a great time to switch up your normal routine and outside activities and try something new. Strength training is an option for your “off-season” training. It is a great way to stay strong and fit so you are able to return to your outdoor activities in the summer.
While most of us have resistance exercises that we might already enjoy, there are certain exercises we try to avoid. As uncomfortable as those exercises might be, they are important to include into your resistance routine because of their everyday application and balance in your everyday strength. Think of it as training for life.
- Warm up. I know, warming up seems like a waste of time and energy when time is limited as it is. However, it is important to warm up, especially before you start lifting heavy weights, running at race pace or hiking up a steep incline. It gets your muscles and tendons loose and ready to go. Think of a rubber band: It stretches and recoils easier when it hasn’t been in the refrigerator. A warm up can be something as simple as moving all your joints in their range of motion. I like to work on mobility of the joints that I’ll be using that day during my strength work out by moving those joints in different directions. It doesn’t take long and it’s great to get blood to the muscles and tendons before they are taxed with heavier exercise. Even a small warm up can help prevent injury.
- Squats. Have you ever wondered why — even when you’ve been exercising your legs — it is still sometimes hard to get out of a chair? The reason may be as simple as your form. It’s necessary to practice squatting to the depth of a chair or anything else you sit on that seems particularly low. It’s true that squatting improperly can hurt your knees, so keep in mind that proper form is with your weight on your mid-foot and heels as you sit your hips down. Your knees should not be the first thing to bend. Do this motion as if you were sitting in a chair with control all the way to the bottom trying to avoid the “plop” at the bottom. Try hovering over the chair for a count or two before standing back up, just for added strength and control.
- Plank holds. Perhaps the most dreaded of all exercises is the plank hold. While they may not be fun, they are important. Planks strengthen your core — and most importantly — increase the stability of the core muscles that support your spine and keep you upright. A proper plank looks like you are a tabletop. Your hips need to be at the same level as your shoulders. Planks should never be done with the hips sinking down, creating a sway in the lower back. This position puts tension in your lower back instead of engaging the abdominal muscles. If you can place something on your back without it rolling off, you’re on the right track.
- Deadlifts. These might sound intimidating and like something only a body builder would do, but deadlifts are a great exercise for just about anyone. They work a number of muscle groups in the glutes, hamstrings and the mid and lower back. Deadlifts are a safe exercise and a necessary motion to help keep our bodies strong for everyday things like climbing stairs and picking things up. Start with just the barbell or dumbbells in each hand and work your way up in 5-pound increments. With your eyes looking directly ahead and your feet a natural width apart, lower your hips until the weight meets your shins. You want to keep the weight close to your legs as you move through the movement. When you stand up, make sure you have your shoulders over your hips. If you feel unsure about your form, ask a trainer for help getting started.
- Physical therapy exercises. In my job, I see many people after they’ve just completed physical therapy. Many are surprised when I have them do the exercises they did while still in therapy. Whether it was last week or last year, those exercises were given to you for a reason and are still important. You can still incorporate them into your warm-up.
- Mobility work. Twists, multiplanar movement and stretches are all part of mobility work — which, as I like to explain it, is making sure all your joints are able to move through their full range of motion. As I work with more and more people and do my own research, I’m realizing that everyone needs to do some sort of mobility work on a regular basis. Mobility includes being able to squat to parallel, twisting your torso so your spine doesn’t stiffen up and moving your hips in different directions from your normal activities (side to side and backward).
Sticking to a fitness routine can seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that we call it training for a reason. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to be in training. Winter, spring, summer or fall, you’re training for life.
Zoe Carr, HFS, is a certified health fitness specialist with Mount Nittany Health Fit for Play.