Exercise. We all know we need it. But making time for it is a challenge, especially for busy moms. Knowing what type and how much exercise we need are not easily determined, either.
To me, one of the most overlooked areas of exercise for women is strength training.
I find this surprising because it’s easy to do, and being a mom requires strength. If you thought about how you spend your day, you would realize that you do a lot of pushing and pulling things and picking up and putting things down.
Within the world of strength training, I also think that manipulating your own body weight is an overlooked area. I find this especially true as I age. A long-term goal for me is to be able to support and move just my own body weight so that I can remain active and injury-free for as long as possible.
With that in mind, here are my favorite exercises that can be done with your own body weight to keep you in top shape for the pushing, pulling, bending, and squatting you do daily. The best part about each of these exercises is the variety of ways they can be adapted and modified to meet individual needs.
*Please note: I’m not an expert. I’m just a gal who exercises a lot. Always do your research and listen to your body and your doctor.*
The best exercise for strengthening your thighs, hips, and glutes is the squat. There are so many ways to do a squat, but here is the most basic:
Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, keep shoulders and chest up with back straight, lead with your bottom, and bend your knees as if you are sitting in a chair. Slowly come back to the original position, squeezing your glutes as you come to a full stand, and you are ready for another one. You should be looking straight ahead and do this in a controlled manner. This exercise, when done properly, should not hurt your back or knees.
I know that push-ups are a staple of upper body strength and endurance, but that doesn’t keep me from despising them; they never stop being hard for me. I do them anyway because they are the best overall upper body exercise a woman can do.
Doing a push-up requires as much skill as strength. It’s a full-body exercise that forces core stability along with back, arm, and chest power. I see a lot of women doing push-ups improperly. Learning proper form will prevent pain and injury. Thanks to an endless number of modifications (including triceps, knees, wall, stairs, incline, and decline), they’re also within reach for most exercisers. Be mindful of your wrists, elbows, shoulders, and lower back while doing push-ups.
For a basic push-up, place your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart on the floor, then extend your legs behind you with your feet together. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Keeping your core tight without arching your back or dropping your head, bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor. Be sure to maintain elbow alignment. Press back up, and you are ready for another repetition.
Another exercise that I truly hate but do anyway because it is so good for upper body strength is the pull-up. You will need a pull-up bar for this one. You can get a door jamb version, find one at a local playground, or do this on the ground.
Grip the pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you, and start with your arms straight; this is called a dead-hang position. Engage your arms and pull your body up toward the bar in a slow and controlled movement. When your chin gets close the bar, pause for a moment, and then slowly lower yourself to the starting position.
Every time you bend over to pick up something (or someone), you should be aware of protecting your back. You can best do this if you have a strong core that you engage when lifting with your arms and legs.
To do a proper plank, start on your hands and knees and place your forearms on the ground. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and align your shoulders over your elbows. Extend your legs straight out behind you, come up on your toes, push through your forearms and toes to raise your legs and core off the ground. To create a straight line from your head to your feet, pull your belly button into your spine, squeeze your shoulder blades together, push your heels back, and tighten your glutes. These steps will engage your core.
Before you get into position, set a hold-time goal and decide how you are going to time yourself. How long you should maintain a plank is an oft-debated topic; the most important thing is to not overdo it and risk injury.
I dislike planks only slightly less than push-ups and pull-ups, but I do appreciate the value of a strong core. There are enough modifications and variations to make this exercise doable for all able-bodied exercisers.
How often and how much should you do these exercises? I left that out on purpose because that is highly individualized and depends on your personal variables. I will say that a general answer is “not as much time as you might think” and you will see benefits from any amount of time you can devote to increasing your overall strength.
If you try these exercises, you will not only see the benefits of physically meeting your daily demands but will also see benefits such as better balance, coordination, posture, decreased susceptibility to injury, and possibly less stress and anxiety. So many positive benefits from a little movement and strength training!