Keeping in Shape

Activity levels throughout the winter are reduced in many ways, especially in northern climates when there’s very little gardening and other physical labor to do.  If you aren’t using your muscles daily like you are over the summer, you’ll lose strength and muscle mass.  When the time comes to begin working outside more frequently again, those muscles will be sore.  I’m going to share my secret.  It is a workout I saw in a magazine (can’t remember which one) a several years ago that I liked and modified a little.  No extras such as weights are needed for this ten step routine.

Go through each of the ten exercises with no rest in between.  Once done with the tenth, rest three to five minutes and start the next set.  Three sets total.

1. Twenty Hindu Push Ups.  These are hard to get the hang of because they feel funny.  I found a link that show pictures on how to do this.  As you progress, add a few more to each set.

2. Fifteen Squats.  No weight necessary.  Trust me, you will feel the pain if you do this right.  The link above also has some notes about squats without free weights.

3. Fifteen abdominal crunches.  After doing this for a few weeks, the crunches don’t seem to do much, so I switch to the jack-knife (a.k.a. “v-up”).  For that, start with your back on the floor, feet outstretched and arms pointed straight above your head.  Simultaneously raise your feet and hands until they touch above your head. Lower your arms and legs, but don’t let them touch the ground before raising them to touch again.  Do this ten times.

4. Calf raises.  Fifteen on each leg, individually.  To maintain balance, hold both hands on your stomach.

5. Headstand for 30 second count.  I always lean against a wall.  After you do this for a while, you may feel comfortable with your balance that you don’t need the wall.  Start by placing your hands about 24 inches from the wall so that your body is kept at a wide angle.  As you get more comfortable over time, you can move closer to the wall.  The first time I did this, I came crashing down and broke the drywall.

6. Fifteen bicep curls per arm.  No weight needed.  One arm at a time.  Start with your right arm, and go through the motions of doing a curl with the full range of motion.  Using your left hand, press on your right wrist in the opposite direction and provide as much resistance as you can.  You will notice results, as silly as you may look.

7. The plank.  Get down on the floor, face down.  With your toes pointing downward on the floor, get up on your elbows, with your forearms flat on the floor providing support.  Make your body as straight as you can between your shoulders and your ankles.  At this point your body should be parallel to the floor, elevated about 12 inches or so above.  Hold this as long as you can.   Shoot for 20 or 30 seconds at first.

8. Twenty lunges.  Stand with your feet together.  Now step forward with your right foot and touch your left knee to the floor.  Come back up.  Alternate.  Ten times on each foot for a total of twenty.

9. Ten push ups, clapping in between.  In between each one, you’ll need to push off the floor rapidly enough that you can clap your hands before landing to do the next push up.

10. Fifteen shin raises.  I’m not sure what this one is called exactly, but I did it a lot in high school for track and cross country because I got shin splints a lot.  I was told that I needed to strengthen the muscles on the front of my legs.  Lean with your back to the wall, with your feet together.  Your feet need to be 12 inches or so from the wall.  Raise your toes as high as you can and set them back down again.  Repeat.  Your heels act as the pivot point.  Feel free to replace this exercise with the one that focused on your own biggest weakness.  Burpees or chin ups are great alternatives for this slot as well.

As with any of these exercises, start slow and focus on the motions.  There are lots of websites that show pictures and videos on how to properly perform these workouts.  Crossfit is one I’ve found very valuable in that respect.  Increase the intensity or reps of each exercise as you see fit.  You’re only cheating yourself when you cut corners and you’ll pay once the time comes to be working outside again.

I do these at the end of my work day before dinner.  Usually I’m watching our 18 month old son and our 9 month old English Shepherd “Cowboy” (they’re brothers) while Courtney prepares dinner.  Our son loves doing this with me.  For added challenge, try doing the push ups with a 25 lbs toddler clinging to your back.  Hold him in your arms while you do the lunges.  They love it, and the fact that they are squirming forces you to work your balancing muscles as well.  And speaking of balance – try doing all of this while a 9 month old puppy is getting excited and weaving between your legs!

If your goal is to be mistaken for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980’s, then look elsewhere.  These exercises are not for bodybuilding but rather conditioning your body and especially focusing on the muscles that you use.  Utility and functionality over style and looks.

Thanks.  Robert.

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3 responses to “Keeping in Shape

  1. Harold Dean

    I don’t worry about any of that anymore and just keep my eye muscles and my jaw muscles in use during the winter.

  2. Great advice Robert!
    Many people just don’t realize what the mild physical activities of their daily lives do to keep them in shape. Many people also may not realize exactly what muscle atrophy is and what it means to them. Common knowledge tells us that “work” will create tiny tears in our muscles. These tears will heal and create a larger mass of muscle fibers that will give us more strength potential. However, muscle atrophy (the degradation or wasting away of a muscle) can begin in less than 48 hours after the habitual muscular activity has ceased. It’s important to stay active EVERY DAY.

    I also have one addition to your post to help people stay healthy. Lunges (step 8) are a phenomenal exercise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to do them wrong. People with knee problems need to be especially careful. As you step your right leg forward and squat down to touch (or almost touch) your left knee to the ground, it’s VERY important to pay attention to the placement of your forward (right) knee. The forward leg should be bent as close to a perfect right angle as possible and the knee of that leg CANNOT be farther forward that the ankle beneath it. If this knee is too far forward and over the ankle, it will strain the ligaments of the knee.
    I have two personal friends and former teammates who now have permanent knee problems because they were not careful of knee placement while we were doing lunges. (we also used extremely heavy weights)

    Everybody should be doing some type of exercise 4 to 6 days a week to keep their body and mind healthy!

  3. Robert @ hisandhershomesteading

    Harold, I should have mentioned, but I also try to do a bicep workout daily which involves a pint of homebrew.

    Drew, thanks for the input.

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