womenTALK: Blog

Tuesday, Aug 16th 2011

The Only Upper Body Exercises You'll Ever Need...Without Stepping Foot in a Gym!

authored by Sheryl Kraft

Combining different types of exercise is most effective at preventing spinal bone loss in postmenopausal women.

When I see 20-somethings suffering through so much self-doubt, soul-searching and peer, career and other pressures, I celebrate the fact that those tough times are—for the most part—behind me. Yes, that's one of the positive sides of aging: the freedom to move unencumbered and without regard to those pesky inner voices of doubt.

But here's the thing: to remain unencumbered is not only a challenge for the mind, but a challenge for the body as well. And the best way to stay unencumbered, body-wise, is to exercise. Plain and simple. If you want to stay free of osteoporosis, fractures and falls—and these are real possibilities as we age and as our bone mass decreases—you have to challenge and strengthen your muscles.

You might be nodding your head in agreement, but at the same time your inner voice is nagging at you, saying things like, "I don't have time!" or "I hate to lift weights," or "Bone loss? That'll never happen to me," or even "I'd rather have a root canal without anesthesia than lift weights."

What if I told you there are only a few exercises that can help keep your bones strong—and all of them can be done without ever setting foot in a gym?

When I visited the beautiful and serene Miraval Spa in Tucson, Arizona, a few weeks ago, I met a member of their extraordinary fitness staff, Signe Elwick. I had just finished a lively spin class with Signe (pronounced "SIG-NEE) and she was heading off to teach another class, this time water aerobics. Impressed with both her energy and her knowledge, I scheduled a meeting with her later that day. When we met at 4 p.m. (I was ready for a nap, but somehow she was still raring to go), I explained my goal: to offer my readers a few easy-to-do strength exercises that they could do at home without complicated or expensive equipment. "Easy!" she said.

We met the next morning. With me as the model and the luminous desert as the backdrop, we shot some photos to prove the point.

Here's the first installment. Try them tonight when you're watching TV and tempted to act like your favorite spud. Later this week, I'll post the second installment—a few more exercises to strengthen your upper half. Once you get those, you can go over what you learned from today's post and put them all together. Before you know it, you'll have a do-it-yourself, low-tech and highly effective workout that will keep you unencumbered for years to come.

Still not convinced? Here's what some experts have found:

  • Even short periods of exercise can help loosen up tight muscles and help bring the body into better alignment. A recent study found that office workers who had frequent neck and shoulder pain but were otherwise healthy, reported on average a 1.4-point decrease in pain on a 10-point scale when they did lateral raises for 2 minutes a day over 10 weeks.
  • An updated Cochrane review confirms that strength exercises boost bone density in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis when compared to their sedentary peers.

Before you begin, you might want to consider scheduling one meeting with a personal trainer or physical therapist to help you become familiar with proper form (remember: the better your form, the better your results). If done incorrectly, you risk sprains, strains or other painful injuries—not to mention scrapping the whole idea.

1. Chest Press (with anchored resistance band)
Muscles worked: Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids (shoulders), triceps
Why you need these muscles: For any "pushing" activities (like pushing a heavy door open)
Tip: Don't lock elbows.
How to: Wrap the band around a strong base, like a pillar or pole. Face away from the anchor in a shoulder-width stance. Press arms forward. Perform two sets of between 8-12 repetitions, resting for 30-60 seconds between sets.

     

2. Row (with anchored resistance band)
Muscles worked: Rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, triceps.
Why you need these muscles: To maintain proper posture
Tip: Don't arch back or lock elbows.
How to: Face anchor, feet shoulder-width apart. Pull arms back, squeezing shoulder blades together.

     

3. Lat Pull (with resistance band)
Muscles worked:
Latissimus dorsi
Why you need these muscles: To keep chronic shoulder and back pain at bay.
How to: Hold band with hands approximately shoulder-width apart. Pull band wide and around head to top of back. Slowly return to start position.

     

4. Single Arm Overhead (with 3-8-pound dumbbells)
Muscles worked:
Shoulders
Why you need these muscles:
To reach overhead (i.e., get something heavy from an overhead shelf).
How to: Can be seated (on a chair or balance ball) or standing. Start with the dumbbell next to the shoulder; palm facing forward. Press the weight from the shoulder past the ear straight up toward the ceiling.

     

You might also want to read:
Start Strength Training for Good Health

To read some dos and don'ts of strength training, click here

And here's an example of what a resistance band looks like and a couple of places to purchase home equipment:
At Amazon.com
At Gaiam.com

Comments

Sep 03, 2011 02:Sep 2 | sherry steiker said

upper arm

I love the suggestions for exercises to strengthen the upper arm but I cannot raise my arms up, I have shoulder problems. One thing that works for me is rowing.. my arms are stronger and it gives me an overall great workout.

Aug 25, 2011 20:Aug 8 | Kris @ Attainable Sustainable said

I've been doing some much

I've been doing some much overdo core exercises, but adding an upper body workout is probably a good idea!

Aug 25, 2011 11:Aug 11 | sarah henry said

Built in resistance to

Built in resistance to resistance training = LOL.

Gonna print and keep this and just do it.

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

Lila, Hope you'll report back

Lila, Hope you'll report back to let us all know how it went. And go easy on yourself...maybe compare yourself after two or three weeks ? :)
And yes, maintaining good bones and muscles is so important for posture and balance.

Aug 19, 2011 15:Aug 3 | ruth pennebaker said

upper body

what a smart premise for a post. i know you're right. i'll try to be better about this ... but i have built-in resistance to resistance training.

Aug 18, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Merr said

Awesome to have this on hand.

Awesome to have this on hand. Thanks, Sheryl!

Aug 17, 2011 21:Aug 9 | Kristen said

I'm with Lila--I'll try these

I'm with Lila--I'll try these tonight. I try to do push-ups every night, but they're getting dull. Great modelling here. I'm wondering, if I do all the exercises with hand weights instead of a resistance band, is that fine? My resistance band popped apart beyond repair awhile back.

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

Well, I'm no expert (like

Well, I'm no expert (like Joan, who left a comment), but I'd say that any exercise that places a demand upon a part of your body will strengthen your bones.

Aug 17, 2011 13:Aug 1 | Susan said

@Donna: As I'm sure you know,

@Donna: As I'm sure you know, some hotels have hand weights in their gym, but I used to travel with a resistance band so I could do some resistance training in my hotel room (it's also super light weight and takes up zero space). I also know people who pack hollow plastic weights that you can fill with water or sand. Another little travel fitness tip.

@Sheryl: Love how you posed against the desert. Thanks for sharing these and for demonstrating!

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

Thanks for your feedback,

Thanks for your feedback, Susan. Traveling with a resistance band is a terrific idea. I've done this, too. I'm glad you mentioned it, as well as the hollow plastic weights that are out there to make our lives easier.

Aug 17, 2011 13:Aug 1 | jeanine barone said

exercises

I love resistance band exercise. I do a handful of upper body exercises with them most mornings. They're easy to do and it's easy to travel with the bands.

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

The nice thing about

The nice thing about resistance bands is that they can easily go anywhere with you. Do you do similar exercises with yours, Jeanine?

Aug 17, 2011 11:Aug 11 | Joan Pagano said

Looking good, Sheryl!

Thanks for offering simple strengthening exercises that anyone can do at home with minimal equipment. Another one of my favorites in the push up, very efficient and versatile: you can do it standing against the wall, diagonally against the kitchen counter, or of course, on the floor either from your knees or toes. A classic winner!

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

thanks for your comment about

thanks for your comment about push-ups, Joan. Many people don't realize these can be done against a wall or kitchen counter. Good to do when you're waiting for the pot to boil!

Aug 17, 2011 08:Aug 8 | Nancy Monson said

Love the routine, Sheryl!I

Love the routine, Sheryl!I only hope I look as good as Signe (who I met at Miraval too)when I'm in my 60s. She's so inspiring.

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

Agreed; it's hard to believe

Agreed; it's hard to believe Signe is in her 60s. She has the energy of a 20-year-old, doesn't she, Nancy?

Aug 17, 2011 07:Aug 7 | nora Baskin said

...I take a class three times

...I take a class three times a week..very light weights..two or three pounds.and very similar movements..the results are amazing. you are so right...it makes a tremendous difference..

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

Good to know that you've seen

Good to know that you've seen such a difference with such light weights. I'd think that the number of repetitions is what makes such light weights have such a profound effect. Keep up the good work, Nora.

Aug 16, 2011 23:Aug 11 | LeeAnn Langdon said

Don't Forget the Push Ups!

It's sometimes hard for women to see themselves doing push ups, but it's one of the best upper body and core exercises you can do. You'll engage shoulders, chest, triceps and abdominals all with a single move and no equipment.

I'm so glad to see posts focused on the importance of resistance training to prevent bone loss. Thanks!

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

Hi LeeAnn, Nice to "see" a

Hi LeeAnn, Nice to "see" a new face here. Agreed about the push-ups; they are often seen as a male-type of exercise. But you are right - they do work so many parts of your upper body. And as Joan's comment above states, they can be done anywhere; not just on the floor on all fours.

Aug 16, 2011 18:Aug 6 | Jane Boursaw said

Time to dust off my hand

Time to dust off my hand weights! I really do like these types of upper body exercises - so easy and even fun to do.

Aug 16, 2011 18:Aug 6 | Living Large said

Thanks for the nudge. I need

Thanks for the nudge. I need to do more exercise. I am starting yoga tomorrow, so that is a plus.

Aug 16, 2011 15:Aug 3 | Jennifer Margulis said

We let our gym membership

We let our gym membership lapse (because we couldn't afford it) and now we do these kind of No Gym Workouts. Looking forward to adding some of your suggestions into the routine!

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

@Jane @LivingLarge

@Jane @LivingLarge @Jennifer,

I hope I've inspired you to do some of these!

Aug 16, 2011 14:Aug 2 | Donna Hull said

Great exercises. As you know,

Great exercises. As you know, I'm on a mission to improve my boomer travel fitness. These exercises are perfect for the road!

Aug 21, 2011 19:Aug 7 | Sheryl said

Hi Donna - Hope your next

Hi Donna - Hope your next packing list will include some resistance bands! You're on a great mission; good luck.

Aug 16, 2011 14:Aug 2 | Lila said

Great post

I'm going to try these tonight. There is also an article in today's NYT that stresses the importance of muscle strengthening to prevent falls.

Love you as the model, too! If I do them, will I look like you by next week?

Best,
Lila

Post new comment

If you do not wish to leave your name, please leave the "name" field blank.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.