Focus on Fitness: Get a solid workout with four tried-and-true exercises

By Gloria Schwartz

If you want to improve your strength but you don’t have access to a fitness centre or exercise equipment, you can follow my back-to-basics workout. Whether you’re a beginner or an athlete, these traditional exercises will challenge you and develop your muscles. If you have health issues, consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program. There are many variations of these exercises as well as thousands of other exercises that can give you similar results. You may benefit from working with a personal trainer who can modify the exercises based on your individual health issues and goals.

Begin with an injury-preventing warm-up of five to 10 minutes. You can do some dynamic stretching such as swinging your arms, shrugging your shoulders and swinging your legs; or you can do light exercise such as walking or jogging on the spot. The warm-up should not be intense and should slightly elevate your heart rate. Once you’re warmed up, you can begin.

Squats will work many muscles including your glutes (buttocks), quadriceps and hamstrings (front and back of thighs). It’s important to get the form right. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and lower your buttocks as if you’re sitting down on a chair. Your knees should be above your ankles and bent to 90 degrees. Most of your weight should be supported by your heels. You may find it helpful to slightly lift your toes. If you’re unable to get down into a well-formed squat, you can practice on a chair. Lower yourself into the squatting position just until your glutes barely touch the seat, then immediately use the strength in your lower body to push yourself back up into standing position. You can keep your arms straight out in front to help with balance.

Stationary lunges are another exercise that strengthen many muscle groups in your lower body including glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. Abs and back muscles will also be activated as they stabilize and balance your body. Place your right foot in front and take a big step back with your left foot. Check your form. Your feet should be aligned and only the front part of your left foot should touch the floor, with your back heel elevated. Your body should face forward and chest high. To lunge, bend your right knee to 90 degrees. Your back leg will automatically go downwards. See how close to the floor you can lower your back knee. Next, straighten the right knee to get back into the starting position. Perform a set then switch leg positions. Perform a total of two sets per side.

Push-ups strengthen your upper body including deltoids (shoulders), triceps, pecs (chest) and even back and abdominal muscles. You can perform military-style push-ups with your legs fully extended. If you’re not yet strong enough to do that, you can do push-ups on your knees. Check your form. Start with your body on the floor facing down with your hands under your shoulders. If you’re doing push-ups on your knees, make sure your knees are far back so you’re pushing up your body weight and not just lifting your rear end. Push up until your arms are straight then bend your elbows until your nose almost touches the floor. See how many you can do with correct form.

Planks are an effective exercise for your abdominal muscles as well as your lower back and glutes. Planks are much safer for your spine than sit-ups or crunches. Begin on the floor facing downwards. Bear your weight on your forearms and toes. Elbows should be on the floor under your shoulders. The rest of your body should be lifted off the floor and in a straight line with your spine, including your neck, in its natural, neutral position. If your stomach or hips start to drop, realign yourself or end the plank. Make sure your rear end is not sticking up. If you’re not yet strong enough to hold a plank position, you can do it on your knees.

The side-plank is a bonus exercises that will target your obliques (the abdominal muscles on your sides). Hold the plank with your body facing a wall and one forearm on the floor. Feet can be stacked or both feet on the floor. Try a plank on each side.

Once you’ve completed two sets of eight to 15 repetitions for each exercise, stretch your tired muscles. Start-to-finish including the warm-up and stretching should take approximately 30 minutes.