Muscular Fitness Exercise

Building muscle is important at all ages, but older people who have already lost muscle can benefit greatly from strength training. The muscular exercises that follow can be carried out with a minimum of space. They can be used to work on muscular strength and endurance at home (or in a work break). You can aim either to do the number of sets recommended for each exercise, or to do just a few exercises whenever you have a few spare moments, remembering to incorporate some warming-up and cooling-down stretches to avoid muscle soreness.

If you suffer from back problems, some of the muscle exercises, such as the back extensions on and ankle circling. Do some standing straight leg lifts: face a wall and place the palms against it, then clench the buttocks while bringing one leg backwards a few centimetres. Repeat several times, then work the other leg.

If you sit down all day at work, you may feel stiffness in the shoulders, chest and neck because you habitually tense the muscles in these areas. Repeating the following suggestions throughout the day will help to release tension. Stretch the upper body and arms. Shrug the shoulders up, then release. If you work at a keyboard, free the muscles in the arms and hands by bending the hands backwards at the wrists (palms up), circling the wrists, and opening and closing the fingers. Release tension in the back and shoulders by reaching forwards and placing your hands at the side of your computer monitor; hold briefly and release. Circle the ankles to stimulate the leg muscles.

If your eyes feel dry and tired, rest them every ten minutes by looking away from the computer screen and focusing on an object in the distance; blink slowly ten times. This exercise rests the eyes and helps to limit the strain caused by computer work and reading.

EXERCISES TO BUILD MUSCULAR STRENGTH

Depending on the time available, an individual may work on the whole body every other day, or work the upper body on one day and the lower on the next. Each muscle group should be rested for at least a day between sessions (with the exception of the abdominal muscles, which can be worked daily without risk of injury).

Press-ups

This exercise strengthens the chest, arms and shoulders; it works the deltoid muscles in the shoulders, the pectoral muscles of the chest, and the triceps muscles in the back of the upper arms. Strong, toned chest and shoulder muscles promote good posture which, in turn, promotes good breathing. When you can do three sets of ten box press-ups, progress to three-quarter press-ups. When you can do three sets often of these, progress to the full press-up.

Box press-ups

1 Kneel on all fours with your knees hip-width apart and your hands directly below your shoulders, fingers pointing forwards. Keep your back flat, your head in line with your spine and your abdominal muscles squeezed in throughout.

2 Breathe in as you bend your arms to lower your upper body (your nose should almost touch the floor). Hold briefly, then breathe out and push up with the arms to lift the body. Do not lock the elbows.

Three-quarter press-ups

1 From the same starting position as for the box press-up, extend your legs so that your weight is resting on your hands and just above your bent knees. Cross your ankles to stabilize your body.

2 Squeeze your abdominal muscles in and keep your back straight and your head in line with your spine. Lower your body until your chest almost touches the ground. Hold briefly, then breathe out and lift without locking the elbows.

Full press-ups

1 From the same starting position as for box press-ups, extend your legs fully so that your body is in a straight line and your weight is resting on your hands and toes.

2 Lower the body until your chest almost touches the ground. Hold briefly, breathe out and lift without locking the elbows.

Triceps dips

This exercise works the triceps muscles in the back of the upper arms. Strong arms are essential in many everyday activities, including lifting and carrying. The stronger and more flexible you are, the lower you will be able to dip. Work up to three sets of ten.

1 Sit upright on the edge of a stable chair. Place your hands on the edge beneath your buttocks, hip-width apart, fingers curling forwards. Shift your buttocks forward off the chair, with your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, knees bent. Keep your back straight, your chest lifted and your abdominal muscles squeezed in throughout.

2 Breathing in, lower your body by bending your arms. Your elbows should point backwards and your back should be straight. Breathe out as you lift to the starting position again. Do not use your legs to push up, and do not lock your elbows when you straighten your arms.

Biceps curls

This exercise works the biceps muscles in the front part of the upper arms. The biceps work with the triceps so it is important to strengthen both sets of muscles. Work up to three sets often using light weights (if you do not have dumbbells, improvise using cans of soup, bottles of water or packets of sugar) and progress by using heavier weights.

1 Stand with your knees soft, your abdominal muscles pulled in and your shoulders back. Hold your weights (fingers facing forwards) beside or just in front of your thighs.

2 On an out-breath, lift the weights up to your shoulders. Lower the weights on an in-breath. Do not swing the weights or use momentum. To establish a good rhythm, lift to a count of three and lower to a count of four.

Shoulder press

This exercise works the deltoid muscles in the shoulders. Strong, flexible shoulders contribute to good posture and make everyday lifting and carrying easier. Work up to three sets of ten using light weights and progress by using heavier weights. 1 Stand with your feet facing forwards, your knees soft, your abdominal muscles pulled in and your shoulders back. Hold the weights, fingers facing forwards, so that your upper arms are extended to the side at shoulder height, parallel with the floor, and your forearms are pointing straight upwards. 2 On an out-breath, lift the weights upwards so that your arms are straight, but your elbows are not locked. Lower the weights on an in-breath. Do not swing the weights or use momentum. To establish a good rhythm, lift to a count of three and lower to a count of four.

Back extensions

This exercise works the erector spinae muscle, which runs down the back. Strong back muscles are less prone to injury during everyday activities such as lifting (provided that the correct lifting technique is used) and carrying. If this exercise is too difficult, keep your hands at the level of your head and use them to support yourself as you lift your head and shoulders off the ground.

1 Lie on your front, legs together, hands above your head, head facing down. Keep your abdominal muscles squeezed in throughout.

2 Breathe out and lift your head, shoulders and arms off the floor. If possible, raise your feet off the floor, too. The movements should be small; do not come up more than a few centimetres. Breathe in and return to the starting position.

Bench crunches

This exercise strengthens the rectus abdominus, the large muscle running down the front of the body. Strong abdominal muscles support the trunk and help prevent lower back strain. Aim for three sets of ten, then progress by holding a light weight behind your head.

1 Lie on the floor on your back with your calves resting on the seat of a sturdy chair, knees bent and thighs at right angles to your torso. Place your fingertips at your temples. Ease your lower back down on to the floor and pull in your abdominal muscles; keep the abdominals pulled in throughout.

2 Looking up at the ceiling, breathe out as you slowly raise your head and shoulders, keeping your neck in line with your spine. Breathe in and lower, but do not completely lower the head to the ground.

Oblique bench crunches

This exercise works the oblique muscles, which define the sides of the abdomen. Strengthening the obliques improves support of the spine. Aim for three sets of ten on each side, then progress by holding a light weight behind your head.

1 Lie as for bench crunches. Ease your lower back down on to the floor and pull in your abdominal muscles; keep the abdominals pulled in throughout.

2 Breathe out as you slowly raise your head and shoulders, twisting your upper body and aiming your right shoulder towards your left knee. Keep your neck in line with your spine and your elbows held back out of your line of vision. Breathe in and lower without letting your head return completely to the ground. Repeat, this time twisting your left shoulder towards your right knee.

Reverse curls

This exercise works the lower part of the rectus abdominus, the large muscle running up the front midline of the body. Strong lower abdominal muscles help to keep the lower back stable, reducing the risk of lower back pain. Aim for three sets often, then progress by straightening your legs above your hips as you lift.

1 Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Lift your legs so that your thighs are perpendicular to your hips, knees bent. Ease your lower back down on to the floor and pull in your abdominal muscles; keep the abdominals pulled in.

2 Lift your pelvis slightly off the floor so that your knees move towards your chest. This is a small movement; the pelvis should not come up more than about 3cm (1-1/2in). Lower the pelvis and repeat.

Squats

This exercise works the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thighs, the hamstring muscles in the back of the thighs, and the gluteal muscles in the buttocks. These muscles are used in many everyday activities (including walking, sitting and climbing stairs), so keeping them strong is very important in terms of overall health and fitness. The deeper the squat, the harder you work; start by going halfway down and progress to the full squat, where the thighs are parallel with the ground. Do not go any lower. Aim for three sets often, and when you can do this with full squats, progress by holding weights on your shoulders or using a barbell.

1 Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forwards, abdominal muscles squeezed in, chest lifted and hands at the temples.

2 Breathe in as you bend your knees, pushing your buttocks back and out so that your knees stay directly above your ankles. Breathe out as you straighten to come up. Do not lock the knee joints when you straighten.

One-legged pelvic tilts

This exercise works the gluteal muscles in the buttocks and the hamstring muscles in the back of the legs. Strengthening muscles in this area of the body provides better support for the hip joints, and helps them to bear the force of activities such as walking and running. Aim for three sets often on each side.

1 Lie on your back with your head on your hands. Bend the left leg so that the foot is flat on the floor and place the right ankle across the left thigh. The raised knee points outwards.

2 Holding your abdominal muscles in, breathe out as you raise your hips off the floor and squeeze the buttocks. Breathe in and lower.

Outer thigh lifts

This exercise works the abductor muscles of the outer thighs. These muscles work in opposition to the adductor muscles of the inner thighs so it is important to exercise both sets of muscles. Aim for three sets of ten on each side. Progress to using ankle weights.

1 Lie on your side, legs bent at right angles at hips and knees, head resting on your hand with the other hand in front of you for support.

2 Keep your hips vertical, one above the other. Pull in your abdominal muscles, flex your top foot and breathe out as you slowly lift your top leg to just above hip level, parallel with the other leg. Hold briefly, then breathe in as you lower the leg.

Inner thigh lifts

This exercise works the adductor muscles of the inner thighs. These muscles join the front of the pelvis to the femur (the thigh bone) and need to be strong to help support the torso. Aim for three sets often on each side. Progress by using ankle weights.

1 Lie on your side with your lower leg extended and your top leg bent with the foot on the floor behind the thigh of the lower leg. Rest your head in your hand and place the other hand in front of you for support.

2 Keeping your body in a straight line, squeeze your abdominal muscles in and breathe out as you raise the bottom leg as high as you can. Hold briefly and breathe out as you lower the leg again, bringing it almost to the floor. Keep the thigh parallel and stable throughout the exercise.

Calf raises

This exercise strengthens the gastrocnemius muscles in the calves, which are used in all standing activities. In many people, these muscles are shortened by a combination of inactivity and high-heeled or badly-fitting shoes. Aim for three sets often.

1 Stand facing the wall with your palms against it at about shoulder height and your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forwards.

2 Breathe in as you lift yourself on to the balls of your feet, then breathe out and lower.