Ask the Trainer
Simple Strengthening Exercises
Exercise physiologist Derek Walczak answers our readers' questions about different ways to build strength and endurance in the arm, leg, and abdominal muscles.
Q. I mostly use a wheelchair. I am able to walk a few feet,
but with other comorbidities (including obesity), it makes it hard to accomplish more than five minutes of exercise. Are there any exercises I can do to strengthen my muscles and tolerance levels? - Tribora
A: The best way to increase endurance is to begin with a workout that is easily completed and slowly add to it. You can break a workout up into two sessions throughout the day, resting in between. As you get stronger and your endurance increases, you can add repetitions and sets and decrease rest time.
Start by sitting up straight with your arms hanging by your sides. Perform the following three exercises from this position; start by doing each for one set of 12 repetitions. As you get stronger and your endurance increases, you can add reps and sets.
- Raise arms by your sides to shoulder height, keeping elbows extended and palms down. Make small circles forward and then backwards. Return arms to starting position.
- Raise arms straight out in front of you to shoulder height, elbows extended and palms facing the ground. Hold for a second and then return to starting position.
- Raise arms in front of your body to shoulder height, elbows extended and palms facing up. Now curl both arms in by bending your elbows until your hands touch your shoulders. Reverse movement to starting position.
Once you have mastered these movements and can do additional sets, you can do them while holding light weights or even small objects found around the house (soup cans, water bottles).
From a seated position, perform the following three exercises. Begin by doing one set of 10 repetitions, holding each rep for 3 to 5 seconds. As you build strength and endurance, you can add reps and sets.
- Lift up one leg and hold. Return to start, repeat nine more times, and then perform with the other leg.
- Lift one leg up with your knee extended (but not locked) and toes pointed forward. Return to start, repeat nine more times, and then perform with the other leg.
- Place feet on floor and perform a heel raise by pressing up on your toes. You can do this on both legs simultaneously or one leg at a time.
Q. Can you recommend several abdominal exercises?
A. Here are some exercises you can try to strengthen your abdominal muscles, ranging from simple to more difficult. If you have had weight loss surgery, you should be able to begin these exercises safely six weeks to six months post-surgery — but, of course, only with your doctor’s permission.
And, while these exercises can help you tone and tighten your stomach, remember that the best way to lose belly fat is to burn calories and increase your metabolism through proper exercise and nutrition. Consult your doctor when starting any new exercise or diet program.
Difficulty level: Easy
Complete: 5 to 10 repetitions of each exercise at a time
- Pelvic Tilts
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. (You can put a pillow or towel under your head to support your neck.) Slowly breathe in and push your lower back into the floor while tightening the abdominal muscles. When tightening the muscle, breathe out for a count of 5 to 10 seconds, then relax.
Lying in the same starting position, slowly raise your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes (buttocks). Be careful not to forcefully push your head and neck into the floor, and keep your feet flat.
- Windshield Wiper
Lying on your back, keep your knees bent and elevate your feet while placing your arms out to your sides. Your head and shoulders should be firmly on the floor. Slowly lower your legs, keeping the knees together, to your side so that the knees are pointing away from your body. Make sure to keep your shoulders and upper back in place. Bring the knees up to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Difficulty Level: Medium
Complete: Gradually increase to 10 repetitions for 10-second holds on each side.
Kneel on the floor on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly under shoulders, with fingers pointed forward and arms straight. Your knees should be directly under your hips (bent at 90 degrees). Tighten your abdominals, being careful not to round your back.
Slowly lift your right arm of the ground an inch or two, hold for a few seconds, then return to floor. Repeat action with left arm, then right leg and left leg.
That was your practice! Once you can comfortably perform this on each arm and each leg, you are ready to advance.
Now you want to extend your right arm out in front of your body so your hand is the same height as your shoulders. Simultaneously extend your left leg backwards in the same manner. Hold for a few seconds and return.
This counts as one repetition. Repeat by lifting your left arm and right leg simultaneously.
Difficulty Level: Hard
Complete: Start by holding this position for 5 seconds at a time. Gradually increase the time as you get stronger.
Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat or floor with your elbows tucked to your sides and directly under your shoulders, palms down and fingers facing forward. Engage your abdominal/core muscles by pulling your belly inward. With your legs out straight behind you, flex your ankles; you should be on your toes.
Slowly push your entire body off the mat or floor, keeping your torso and legs rigid. You should be on your elbows and toes. Do not allow any sagging in your ribcage or low back. Your hips should be straight and parallel to the floor. Avoid bending at the knees. Keep your shoulders directly over your elbows with your palms facing down. Pay close attention to your breathing and do not hold your breath.
Please consult a physician before starting any exercise program.
Derek Walczak is an Exercise Physiologist at BIDMC's Tanger Be Well Center. He holds a BS in Kinesiology from UMASS Amherst and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted April 2013