Hello fellow Nexercisers! I have been asked to design a weightlifting challenge for February 2015 by my fellow Nex friends. As such, I decided to make it into a blog so others may join in if they wish – and to make the `part two` that I had promised when I wrote `part one` a while back (later than desired, but better late than never! :)).
First, why weight lift? Weightlifting builds muscle and muscle burns more calories. That means you can eat more! Muscles also help you move. So, the stronger you are, the easier movement is. This plays out in sports one may participate in, as well as in daily activities. In addition, muscles atrophy as we age. This is called sarcopenia. So, if you don’t work at keeping your muscle mass up, you will lose it and become weak and frail. Furthermore, weightlifting helps build up bone mass, slowing down bone loss that also naturally occurs with aging. The picture to the left1 is a cross section of different people’s upper leg muscle. It compares the physiques of a 40 year old athlete with a both a sedentary and athletic individual in their 70s. All three men have a similar body mass index (BMI). As you can see, working out preserved muscle and bone mass in the individual that remained active into his `silver` years. Guess which senior has better mobility?
That means *everyone* should do some form of weightlifting – even you ladies! Worried about bulking up? Don’t! First, women lack the testosterone that men have to get big (and even with testosterone, as many men will attest, it is darn difficult to put on muscle mass for many body types). Second, the female bodybuilders you see in the press have been lifting for many years in a specific way to gain muscle mass and eating a special diet to help hone in their physique. In addition, when they are on the stage, their body fat is really low and they are dehydrated, making them look very muscular – which means you may very well meet a female bodybuilder off season and not even know that is her profession/hobby. So, unless you are a rare individual blessed with the right genetics, lift and eat in the right manner, and use (illegal anabolic/horse) steroids you are not going to get big! Weights will accentuate your curves and improve your physique. The picture to the right shows the transformation of one woman pre- to post- weights physique2. A little more muscular? Sure. Less saggy and more curves? You bet!
So, you have never lifted before. Where to start? Below is a full-body beginner’s workout program. It is based off of compound functional movements. This means you will be using multiple muscle groups and doing lifts that will help you function better in day-to-day life. It is called a two-day split as there are two different workouts. It is also a push/pull two-day split program – which means you will be working muscles on the front of your body one day, and the next you will be working muscles on the back of your body. This is so you can do the workout multiple days in a row and still give the muscles the 24 hour rest they need before they are worked again. Ideally, you want to work each muscle group at least twice a week, so you want to do this workout four times a week. It doesn’t matter what days – whatever works best for your schedule. Each workout should take you less than 30 mins to complete.
Workouts are done in what is called sets and repetitions (aka “reps”). A certain number of repetitions are performed to make up a set. After a set, a rest period occurs before the next set is performed. These three variables, plus the speed that a lift is performed, can be adjusted to produce different results. In the program I have designed, lifts are done in a circuit. This means that you will be resting one set of muscles while you work a different set of muscles, completing each exercise after the next. When you have done all of the exercise, you start them over again for the prescribed number of sets. The program will get progressively harder and more complex over time. For now though, I want people to lift slowly and just get used to using their muscles and making sure that their form is right. Form is more important than amount of weight lifted! If you break your form, this is called failure. Once you understand how to properly do a move, when failure occurs, it means you have lifted as much as you can at that point in time and you need to stop and let your muscles rest before injury occurs.
If you need help to do the exercises, it is OK to help your balance by holding onto a door jam, stair rail, counter, etc. until you get used to the moves. It is also OK to use your arms, legs or a friend to assist you until your muscles can perform the weight on their own. In fact, weightlifters do this all the time! It is called spotting. There are other ‘cheats’ you can use to help you progress and get stronger but, for now, form is the #1 goal.
The basic design is as follows:
Split 1 (front):
Split 2 (back):
Step: For calf exercises, access to a step/stair is ideal for full range of motion, but not necessary.
Band: For pull-downs, unfortunately there is no easy way to do them without a resistance band or a pullup bar. If you do not have access to either, just repeat the rows.
Broomstick: For some exercises, a broomstick or equivalent makes the movement easier and will help perfect your form.
Day 1:You will need a chair & a step for today
Chair Squat – grab a kitchen chair. Put your feet at shoulder width and extend your arms out. Tighten you torso muscles – think about pulling your belly button/navel in. You want to make sure you don’t arch your back! You *always* want to keep your back flat/neutral. Your ab muscles will stabilize you. Specifically you will be using your deep core muscles (You will learn to feel the difference between these and your surface ab muscles over time). Next, like you are sitting, you are going to squat down until your butt just touches the chair (but don’t sit!) while breathing out, then, using your glute/butt muscles, push up from your heels (look up & lift your toes if you need to), breathe in, and stand back up. Make sure your knees are not collapsing in and that they aren’t going out over your toes. You should feel these movements in your butt.
Chair Dips – Grab your chair and secure the back against a wall so it does not go sliding off. Sit on the edge of the chair with your feet on the floor and put your hands on the chair at both sides of your hips. Pull in your stomach at your navel and tighten your core. Now, move forward off the edge the chair so that your weight is on your hands, and your knees are bent. To do a dip, lower your body by bending at the elbows while breathing out. Then extend your arms while breathing in to go back up. You should be feeling this in your triceps. The more vertical you are the easier this exercise it. Also the closer your feet are to your body, the easier the exercise is.
Straight leg calf raise – Find a step (this can still be done without a step, but you will not get the full range of motion). Put the balls of your feet on the step and let your ankles hang over the edge. Keeping your legs straight, lower your ankles down as far as they can go while breathing out. Pause. Then raise up on your tippy toes as high as you can go while breathing in. Pause. Repeat.
Crunch – Lie down, bend your knees and put your feet on the ground. You can place your arms crossed over your chest, out in front of you, or to the side. I don’t recommend putting them behind the head as, especially when people are new at this exercise, they will yank at their necks when trying to lift up – this is not good form and is not good for your neck. If you do put your arms behind your head, make sure your hands are only touching your ears, not interlocked behind your head. If you need help, you can spot yourself by grabbing your legs. Just remember your abs, not your arms, need to be doing most of the work. Next, make sure your back is flat on the ground by sucking in your stomach at the navel. Keeping your stomach sucked in (you want a flat stomach, not one that pooches out) roll your shoulders off the ground while breathing out, hold for a second, then slowly lower back to the ground while breathing in. You only need to go up about 4 inches. Keep the movements slow and controlled.
Day 2: You will need a resistance band and a broomstick for today.
Romainian Deadlift – Grab your broomstick and stand with your feet a little narrower than shoulder width. Pull your abs in at the navel, breathe in and, keeping your knees straight, bend down like you are touching your toes. Keep the broomstick against your shins using them to guide you down. You butt should move out slightly and your back should remain flat. Your arms should be relaxed. Once you are at the bottom, pause, and using your glutes, pull yourself back upright while breathing out. You want to feel this more in your butt and hips than your lower back. Think of pulling your hips forward to vertical while you stand back up.
Military Press – Stand with your feet at shoulder width. Grab your broomstick slightly wider than shoulder width. Position the broomstick on your chest in front of your neck. Your palms should be facing away from you (this is on overhand grip). Pull your naval in and stabilize your core. Lift the broomstick over your head as high as you can (stretching upwards) while breathing out. Return the stick to your chest while breathing in. You should feel this in your shoulders and your back.
Torso Twists – Stand with your feet at shoulder width. Put your broomstick behind your neck. Place your hands on the pole with your arms extended. While keeping your lower body stationary, you will be rotating your upper body left and right from the waist. This is a quick movement. One set is a full left to right rotation. breathe in while twisting left and out while twisting right. You should feel this in your sides/obliques.
Reverse Grip Pull Down – Get your resistance band and secure it over something high up – like shutting it in the top of a door, or over a stair rail (you can use a pullup bar for this if you have one; but, especially for women, chin-ups are hard to do. If you have access to a cable system, even better!), just make sure it is really well secured! Grab the band so that your palms are facing towards you. Your hands should be placed slightly less than shoulder width. This exercise can be done standing or kneeling – whatever keeps the band taut throughout the full movement. Pull your naval in and stabilize your core. Reach up as high as you can while breathing in (again, you want to stretch up). Then pull the band down towards your chest while breathing out. Watch that you are not rocking too much. This should be a slow, controlled exercise. You should feel this in the middle of your upper back.
Day 3: You will need a step.
Lunge – Stand with your feet at shoulder width. Pull your navel in to stabilize your core. Step forward landing on your heel first. Next, while breathing in, lower your body by bending the front knee and by bringing the knee of the back leg down to just touch the ground. Make sure you are moving straight down (similar to the sitting motion in the squat, you should feel this in your glutes), so that your front knee does not protrude out over your foot. Pause. Then, using your front leg, push your body back upright and return to standing position while breathing out. This is a quick movement. You should feel this in your quadriceps and glutes.
Wall Pushup – put your hands against a wall a little wider than shoulder width and lean in at an angle. Tighten your torso again, you don’t want to arch your back or flop about while doing these. Extend your arms, pushing body away from the wall while breathing out. Lower your body back to the wall while breathing in by bending your elbows. You should feel this in your chest and triceps. Like chair dips, the more vertical you are, the easier this is.
Bent Knee Calf Raise – Same movement as the straight leg Calf Raises, except instead of keeping your knees straight, bend them slightly. This works more of your deeper calf muscles.
Knee Tucks – Sit on the floor and put your hands on the floor behind you to stabilize you and push yourself upright. Pull your knees up to your chest, lifting your feet off the floor. Now kick both legs out in front of you while breathing in, hold, then bring them back up to your chest while breathing in. Your upper body will rock a bit for balance. This is fine but don’t use that momentum to do the movement. Your lower abs should be doing the work. If this exercise is too hard, or you want do to a different variation, you can kick out one leg at a time vs both (like a bicycle crunch). You can also stabilize your upper body better by doing this on a bench or chair and holding on to the edges.
Day 4: You will need your broomstick again
Bridge – Lie on your back, knees bent and feet placed hip width apart. Yep – stabilize your core by pulling your abs in at the belly button. Using your glutes, lift your hips up off the floor while you breathe in. You want to keep your back flat. If you are arching, you are lifting up too high. You should have a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold, then drop your butt back down to the floor while exhaling.
Bent-over Row – Put the broomstick on the floor in front of you. Stand with your hips at a little less than shoulder width. Keep your knees slightly bent. Pull your naval in to stabilize your core and bend forward at the waist like you are trying to touch your toes. The form on this is similar to the Romanian Deadlifts, except you are going to stay bent over – so make sure your back stays flat! Grab the broomstick with an overhand grip (with your your palms facing towards you). Pull the bar towards your upper waist while breathing in. Then, while breathing out, lower the pole, letting your arms stretch forward. You should feel this in the outer part of your mid-back.
Arm Circles – Stand up and stabilize your core (you’ve got the drill down by now). Lift your arms out to your sides with your palms facing down. Keeping your arms out, make small circles. First, circle your arms around in a forward motion for the prescribed number of repetitions, then circle your arms backward for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Side Bends – Stand up and drop your hands to your side. Stabilize your core. While keeping your back straight and your head up, bend sideways at the waist (like you are trying to touch your outer ankles), until you feel a good stretch. First, to the left, then to the right. When you bend down, breathe out, when you come back upright, breathe in.
Sets and Reps
As this workout is to designed to be a circuit, all exercises will be done one after the other with no rest period (For example, on Day 1, you will do one set of squats followed immediately by dips, then calf raise, then crunches, and then immediately go back to doing squats again). You will be doing 3 sets total – so you will do the circuit three times. So that you progress and get stronger, you will be increasing the number of reps you do each week as follows:
Week 1: 6 reps
Week 2: 8 reps
Week 3: 10 reps
Week 4: 12 reps
*Disclaimer: As with any fitness program, please use discretion when performing any activity. Follow the advice of your doctors and trainers. If you cannot do an exercise, please find a different one you can do. If you abnormally hurt, please stop and see your doctor. These exercises are guidelines and may not be suitable for you. Do not overexert yourself and make sure you get plenty of rest for recovery.
*Note: To find videos and descriptions of these and alternative exercises, exrx.net, bodybuilding.com and You Tube are excellent resources. Also, February is the best month to find deals on fitness gear! Look around!
Special thanks to my ‘editors’ – you know who you are 🙂