The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Getting Stronger Without a Gym

I often hear from trainers, and read in exercise books, that you cannot get stronger without lifting weights. They say that body weight is not enough. Then I watch the trainers and read what the exercise books say to do to strengthen. Often the weights they teach to lift are far lighter than the resistance your muscles get from moving your own body during a real life activity.

I see women in exercise classes lifting little two and five pound hand weights, then bend over wrong to put the weights down and bend over wrong again to hoist up their 20-pound handbag. I see knee pain patients in rehab centers with two and three-pound weights strapped on their ankle, sitting down to do little leg raises. Or, they pull stretchy bands with their leg. Then they get up and walk away with injurious body mechanics, letting their knees and ankles sag inward because they are not using their leg muscles to stop it. The unhealthy sagging grinds away joint cartilage and prevents full use of the leg muscles. They don't understand why their knees, ankles, and feet still hurt even when they "Do their exercises."

Your body weight is the most important thing you need to lift. Following are things to start with, to strengthen without a gym or equipment. The main idea of these activities is not to "do" them as an exercise 10 times, but to use them to retrain your muscles how to hold your body in healthy position, then use that healthy positioning for all daily life:

1. Hold a pushup position, called the plank, described in the post Change Common Exercises to Get Better Ab Exercise and Stop Back Pain. Understand that the point of the plank is to learn how to hold your spine straight without sagging under your body weight. I see people doing the plank all the time in gyms and fitness classes, with their bottom hiked up in the air and their low back looking like a hammock, sinking under their body weight. That is not the normal lower back curve. It is injurious overarching. Done poorly this way, the plank does little to strengthen and just pressures your lower back. Done well, the plank is excellent to strengthen your wrist. The wrist is neglected in fitness, and the resulting weakness is a common source of injury. I will post more about wrists. Do the plank every day - that is how helpful and important it is. If you can't even hold up your own body weight, you may have serious weakness.

2. Use the squat for daily bending, described in the post How Good Would You Look From 400 Squats a Day - Just Stop Unhealthy Bending. The point is to use this healthy bending all the time instead of bending wrong. In posts to come, I will show another way for healthy bending using a lunge position with one leg in front and the other in back.

3. If you can't sit and rise from the floor without your hands, you are too weak and tight for ordinary daily life. Try Quick and Easy Strength and Balance Exercise. Also practice getting up from your chair (safely) without using your hands or leaning forward.

4. Stand to put on your hosiery, pants, and shoes: Better Balance by Christmas.

5. Hang from a chining bar, a branch, a pipe, a doorjamb, or any secure overhead. Don't worry if you cannot do full pull-ups, just hold on and hang. When you can do that, hang for as long as you can from a bent-arm position, and begin trying to raise yourself (do a pull-up). Maybe you will need to start by stepping up on a box to help raise yourself, and letting yourself slowly lower without using the box. Work up to full pull-ups. If that is easy, use fewer fingers to hold on.

6. Try the Quick and Fun Arm and Body Strengthener.

When the above body weight activities become too easy, do them carrying functional weight, such packages, children, books, and other common things. It is crucial to health and independence to be able to lift and move your own body weight. In posts to come I will show you how to do more with these body weight activities for more strength and fun being active. Until then, do these every day and send your photos and stories of how you got stronger and happier.

Make it your New Year's Resolutions to be strong for real life in real ways.

Photo by quailwood

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.