Gentle strengthening exercises
October 25, 2010 2:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm after some exercises to strengthen my legs and lower back.

A few years ago I lost quite a bit of weight - maybe 40 kilos - and was into biking and walking most days. Well, as usual, I "fell off the wagon" so to speak and I have put about 75% of it back on. I'd really like to get back to exercising again, but even when I walk a few hundred metres I get nagging lower back pain and sore calves. FWIW I was like this a few years ago before I lost the weight - but the problem was I wasn't able to exercise until I'd lost about 20 kilos. This time however I'd like to exercise right away - ideally walking - so if there's a few quick strengthening exercises (or stretching or whatever) that I can do first for a few weeks, that would be great.

I would really rather not got to a gym as I can't afford it - I'm more after a series of exercises that you can do at home if possible.

I am a total novice when it comes to exercise and working out so please be gentle! Oh and also (if it matters) I had a complete cardiac workup about two years ago (including a stress test) and my heart is fine - the doctor told me to "go exercise!"
posted by humpy to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If walking is affecting your back, it's possible your gait and or your posture is what's causing you pain, not the weakness of any muscles. There's a good Authors @ Google presentation by Esther Gokhale discussing what good posture really is. Also search for some Escogue Method videos on Youtube, you'll get some good stretching exercises there.
posted by holterbarbour at 2:21 AM on October 25, 2010

Sounds like the issue could be in your shoes. Calves and lower back is exactly where I hurt if I walk around too much in crappy shoes or shoeless, or even when I just change from one heel height to another.

What shoes do you wear for walking/exercising and do they differ at all from your regular day-to-day shoes?
posted by Jacqueline at 2:25 AM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: I just wear my normal shoes, which are like sneakers I suppose. Perhaps that could be part of the problem?
posted by humpy at 3:23 AM on October 25, 2010

I would try better shoes and possibly orthotic inserts before assuming it's anything else (especially since good shoes are good for you regardless). The only drawback is good shoes cost $100+ and inserts can cost a couple hundred more. But it's worth it.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:30 AM on October 25, 2010

I frequently fall off the upper-body-muscle-tone wagon. Whenever I get tired of the pain and actually start working out again, I first spend a week or more just doing crossover toe-touches before then starting into leg lifts then crunches after. If I don't, the crunches hurt my lower back way too much.

Stand with legs spread and arms straight out from shoulder to the right and left. Keep your back straight as you bend over and reach your right arm to your left toe/instep/mid-shin/whatever. Stand back up, switch sides, and keep going until you get tired or bored.

And I'm no doctor, but nagging pains once you start exercising after a long period of no exercise seems like something normal you should expect. Hell, right now if I do 15 pushups against a counter then I'm sore for like two f@#$ing days. I don't take it to be an indication of serious medical whatever, I take to be an indication that I've let my upper body muscles shrivel into shoelace string.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 5:30 AM on October 25, 2010

Mix it up.

Walk, jog, hike, interval sprints, boot camp, sports conditioning, core exercises...just not all in one day.
I belong to a gym and take part in most of the classes offered. Here's the thing, there is nothing I do at the gym with the exception of squats that cannot be done outside or in a room with enough floorspace. Except I would not be able to motivate myself to do it consistently by myself.

When you mix it up, you can do more, recover faster, are less prone to injure yourself, and are less likely to get bored. The other thing I would do if I did not go to an actual gym would be to get a partner.
posted by MrMulan at 5:53 AM on October 25, 2010

Do squats.

Here's a video demonstrating technique (mov file) for unweighted squats. Obviously, the demonstrators in that video are pretty athletic, so you're not going to be able to go as fast as some of them. But, it's not a race. Even if you have to start by lowering yourself to a park bench and standing back up by pushing through your heels at first, keep in mind the tips in the video. Hands out in front, push through your heels, stand tall, keep lumbar curve.
posted by phoebus at 6:41 AM on October 25, 2010

I'd n-th good shoes and possibly arch support. It all depends on your feet, but I do really well with Superfeet insoles which aren't terribly expensive (just regular expensive)

Also, when I'm about to build up to new activity, I try to spend a few minutes here and there on my balance and all the little muscles that go into that. So when I'm waiting for the bus, or washing dishes, or other such things, I'll stand on one foot for ten or fifteen seconds. It helps strengthen up all those little muscles in your leg that you don't think about until they hurt. Also helps the back.
posted by advicepig at 7:39 AM on October 25, 2010

Are you paying attention to your posture? Most people have terrible posture. Stand tall, shoulders back, core tightened.

A lot of people that have lower back pain experience it because they have extremely weak cores.

So with no equipment, at home type things. I would say body squats, planks and bridges would be pretty efficient and fixing imbalances.

Best lower back + Leg exercise are Deadlifts and Squats.
posted by zephyr_words at 8:45 AM on October 25, 2010

If your lower back and legs are weak, pick up a bar and plates off of Craigslist, buy rubber mats so you don't damage the floor, and set up a program of Romanian deadlifts and regular deadlifts. I think you should start a comprehensive strength training program, but if you just want to strengthen your lower back and legs, deadlifts are the number one way to do so. If you don't have the space for a rack, you can incorporate front squats into your workout. You can bring the bar into position for front squats by power cleaning it to your shoulders.
posted by Gandhi Knoxville at 9:04 AM on October 25, 2010

Best answer: Supermans. At first, you may want to work up to them by just doing one arm and leg at time.
posted by Dano St at 9:17 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Supermans, bridges, planks, squats, a mix of crunches and bicycles (for the core that's needed to support that low back), calf-raises on a step - these are all great exercises that should help, along with good shoes (omg, good shoes! Would have saved me a lot of PT!).

Mainly, though, start small - do a few reps of a few exercises, a few easy stretches, and go for a short walk. Then, as others have said, mix it up: two days later do a few reps of a few exercises, a few stretches, and go for a Short bikeride (like 2 miles, tops). If you build up gradually you'll start to get to know Good Sore from Bad Sore, and should have the strength and endurance to do more. And go to a Good shoe store/running store and have them fit you to cross-training or walking shoes that are right for your ankles!
posted by ldthomps at 9:55 AM on October 25, 2010

Bird dog

Anything to strengthen your back, abs and butt (basically - your 'core' muscles, the ones that keep you stable most of the time).

And then:

Squats and deadlifts. These are awesome.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the great suggestions so far, keep em coming! I'm going to try them all...but slowly!
posted by humpy at 5:27 PM on October 25, 2010

If you are going to do squats, read this. Many of the people teaching this on popular fitness websites do not have good posture at all. Pay particular attention to feet alignment.
posted by davar at 6:01 AM on October 27, 2010

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