A couple of months ago I hurt my knee and I found that the processes of sitting down and standing up were very painful. My mother is in her late eighties and I often saw how she struggled to sit down and then to stand from a seated position. I had never realised what she was going through until I was put in the same position.
What I realised was that when we are fit and healthy, before we have a knee or leg problem there are things we can do so that as we get older we can keep our muscles strong and avoid problems caused by weakness in the knees or legs – without expensive equipment!
Here’s what Al Sears, MD, says about functional strength…
It means you have ability to get yourself up a flight of stairs. It means you can lift your groceries and load stuff into your car. Functional strength is the power to live your daily life. But as you age, that power starts to fade.
My older patients ask me about this all the time. When you’re young, you never think about it. But when you get older, it hits you: Losing the ability to lift, pull or stand up means you lose your independence.
Work the big muscles
When my patients ask me for advice on building functional strength, I tell them to work the big muscles – legs, hips, buttocks and lower back. About 85% of your muscle mass is below your waist, and this is where your functional strength comes from.
The simple act of getting yourself out of a chair is a good example.
Try this quick experiment
- Sit on the edge of your chair.
- Put your hands in your lap.
- Lean forward, push up with your legs and stand up without using your arms.
Was that difficult? If it was, you may be losing muscle mass in your legs. And that’s a problem. That functional strength in your legs keeps you agile, balanced and mobile.
Building those muscles doesn’t take a lot of work
The good news is that building those muscles doesn’t require a lot of work or sacrifice. And the payoff is huge! You can use body weight exercises and never have to set foot in a gym – or even leave your home. As an added bonus these activities are also great stress busters and mood lifters!
Easy strength building exercises
So what’s the best way to train your body for this kind of functional strength you can really use? Well, remember that in real life, you muscles have to handle your own body weight. So you want to use movements that mimic what you would do in real life. Bending down, standing back up… real movements that build strength and balance.
Do these in short bursts of only two or three minutes at a time, and use muscle groups in the patterns of movement they were designed for with simple maneuvers.
Here are a few of my favorite body weight movements… they seem simple, but will give you a real strength-building workout:
- Push-ups: Start face down on floor, palms against floor under shoulders, toes curled up against floor. Push up with arms keeping a straight line from head through toes. Lower to within a few inches of floor and repeat. This exercise is great for your entire upper body.
- Squats: Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Squat as far as possible bringing your arms forward parallel to the floor. Return to standing position. Repeat. Lean a bit forward to work your buttox and straighten up to work your
- Knee bends: These are great for balance. Start with your feet almost together and arms at your side, head straight and level. Lower your body by bending your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor, rising up on your toes, while simultaneously swinging your arms forward until they are parallel to the floor in front of you, fingers together and palms facing down, and back remaining perpendicular to the floor. Without stopping, reverse this motion and return to your original starting position. Repeat.
- Jump squats: Start with your body crouched, feet together, arms at your sides, head straight and level. From this position, quickly straighten your legs and jump upward as high as you can into the air, simultaneously extending your arms and reaching upwards overhead. Once you have landed, quickly return to your original startin g position, taking care not to lose your balance throughout the exercise. Repeat.
Start slowly and build stamina
It will take you a few sessions to build up your stamina. Start slowly. Take plenty of time to build up your strength, endurance and balance gradually. Rest and recover between sets. At first you’ll have to take longer breaks, but they’ll get shorter as you rebuild your natural strength.
Build strength in only 7 minutes, 3 days per week
If you like to exercise with someone guiding you and showing you exactly what to do, we recommend the 7 minute exercise program that you can do online with videos showing you exactly how to do all strength building exercises safely and effectivley. This program is designed and delivered by fitness experts, is based on scientific principles and is far less expensive than a gym membership! Just ignore the introduction to the business part of this video program and focus on the exercises – you choose your own level and get very clear help all the way.
Remember to let me know how you go with this program by leaving a progress report in the comments box below this blog post.
Wishing you success,