Joel Harper, celebrity fitness trainer based in New York City. He is creator of the workout DVD series Fit Pack, the PBS programs Slim & Fit and Firming After 50 and of the workout chapters in The New York Times best-selling YOU book series and accompanying DVDs. He is author of Mind Your Body. JoelHarperFitness.com
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5 exercises to improve your strength, balance, flexibility and posture…
Forget crowded gyms, clunky dumbbells and fancy exercise machines. If you have access to a wall, you can get a great strength workout using nothing more than the weight of your own body. Bodyweight exercises are a simple, no-frills way to improve strength, flexibility and posture. Because you use a wall for balance, you can hold the positions longer—important for improving endurance as well as strength.
Wall workouts are particularly helpful for those who aren’t accustomed to exercise…for people with physical limitations (such as back pain or knee arthritis)…or when you’re recovering from surgery or other physical problems.*
The workout below is designed to use every major muscle. To further improve your balance and foot strength, you can also do the routine barefoot. Aim to do these exercises every other day for two weeks…and if you feel the benefits, continue at the same frequency thereafter…
• Imaginary chair. It’s a great exercise for increasing thigh and gluteal (buttock) strength, which is needed to support your spine. Unlike traditional squats, which involve lowering your body and rising back up, in this exercise you hold one position—helpful for those with knee pain or limited knee strength.
What to do: Stand with your back against a wall. While keeping your back in contact with the wall, slowly slide your back down the wall while simultaneously walking your feet forward until your legs are in right angles. Go only as far as it feels comfortable for your knees. If your knees start to ache, stop moving forward…a “higher” position is easier for beginners. Once you’re “sitting,” count for as long as you can comfortably hold the position. Each day, try for 10 more seconds. To help improve your posture, keep your stomach taut, your chin up and your shoulders pressed against the wall.
• Push-ups. They strengthen the chest, biceps, triceps and shoulders—all of which promote good posture. Traditional, on-the-floor push-ups are often too difficult for beginners…or for those with limited upper-body strength. Wall push-ups involve the same basic movements but with less resistance—and they’re good for people with back problems because they don’t stress the spine.
What to do: Place your palms on a wall at about shoulder height, spaced slightly wider than the width of your shoulders. Back your feet a foot or two away from the wall—stepping farther back increases the difficulty…standing closer to the wall reduces it. Start with your elbows bent. Your face will be close to the wall.
Slowly extend your arms—while exhaling—to push away from the wall. Then inhale while returning to the starting position. Repeat as many times as you comfortably can—ideally, for 30 to 60 seconds.
• Calf stretches. Strong calves will improve your ability to walk and climb stairs.
What to do: Stand facing the wall, with both hands on the wall and your arms extended but slightly bent—keep this position throughout the exercise. Step back with your right foot. While holding this position, bend your left leg until you feel a stretch in your right calf. You can also slightly bend your right knee and drive it toward the same toe to increase the stretch. Relax into the stretch, and hold it for 10 seconds or more. Then switch legs and stretch the left calf.
• Ankle strengthener. Ankles are a commonly injured body part. People with weak ankles are more likely to have sprains. They are also more likely to have balance problems—the ankles are involved in proprioception, the body’s ability to orient itself in space.
What to do: Stand facing a wall, with your feet about hip-width apart. Put both hands on the wall for support. Rise up on your toes, going as high as you can. Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your heels back down. Do this 25 times.
• Bridge. It strengthens the entire midsection, along with the hamstrings, glutes and lower back—all needed for good posture.
What to do: Lie on your back, with your buttocks 12 to 18 inches from the wall. Start by planting the soles of your feet flat against the wall so that your legs make a right angle. Then, while squeezing your abdominal muscles, lift your hips while keeping your shoulder blades flat on the floor. Lift all the way up so that there is a straight line from your knees to your shoulders, then drop down one inch. This is the height to rise up to each time. Hold the pose for about 10 seconds, then lower back down—but don’t let your bottom rest on the floor. Keeping it slightly elevated between movements will increase the intensity of the workout. Do this 25 times.
*Check first with your doctor before starting this—or any new—exercise program.