middle age woman doing yoga on rooftop

How do I become stronger physically without going to the gym?

I don’t have (or want) a gym membership. What can I do every day to get stronger?

Muscle mass naturally decreases with age, about 1% per year from your mid-30s onward. Strength decreases along with that loss. This is easy to ignore – when you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, it’s easy to not notice any losses, or feel like you’ve got plenty of time to make them up. And there’s no shortage of people that say they figure it’s just part of getting old.

While these losses are indeed part of the aging process, that doesn’t mean you just have to sit there and accept them. There’s lot that can be done to maintain strength and muscle mass regardless of age. And you definitely do not need a gym. Instead, get creative and find ways to move your body against resistance. Some of the examples commonly discussed with our personal training and exercise physiology clients include:

Do some pushups. For easier versions, choose an incline option, with hands on the wall, the kitchen table, counters or benchtops, back of the sofa etc. The lower you get to the ground, the harder the exercise gets. You’ll want to find the balance between the difficulty of the exercise and your ability to maintain good technique – if your back hurts or you can’t maintain a straight line while doing it, find something easier.

Carry your groceries in a shopping basket or bags, rather than a cart. This will help build upper body strength and perhaps surprisingly, core stretch – the core muscles will work hard to counterbalance the external weight and keep you in an upright position. It’s important to alternate which side you carry items on, only using one can actually create an imbalance in core strength and muscle tension. Bonus: If you park farther away, you’ll carry grocery bags for a longer period (building upper body and core strength) and get more steps.

Take the stairs. This may seem more like cardiovascular work, and climbing stairs does count as aerobic exercise, but it’s also a great strength builder for the lower body. Minimize your risk of knee pain by taking your bodyweight through the back of the foot, not just the toes. Bonus: Carry things while you’re doing it for increased resistance.

Squat down to pick things up. Instead of bending over from the waist to pick something up off the floor, squat down by reaching down and back through your hips and sitting on your heels. NOTE: This move is often stiff and uncomfortable for people who sit a lot, especially at first. Squat as low as you can and keep your chest lifted to minimize back strain. Even if it’s not a large movement, this will actually help you regain joint mobility and movement ability through the hips over time.

Do some sit-to-stand squats. Find a chair, sofa, stool, etc. that is slightly lower than what you normally sit on. Reach backwards with your hips and slowly lower yourself down to the seat, controlling your movement all the way. Push through your heels to stand back up. Repeat 10-15 times per set.

Daily activities can be safe strength builders as long as you keep two key points in mind. Anything you do need to be pain-free, both during and after the movement (noting that there is a difference between the muscle burn from 1000 crunches and the catching, stabbing, sharp pains that often go along with acute injuries). The first rule is always “Stay Pain Free”. The second point: Strength building still takes effort, regardless of where you do it. That means that whatever you’re lifting, moving, or carrying will still need to be heavy enough to feel like effort. There are many many ways to achieve this, so get creative. What can you come up with?

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