Simplest easy strength training routine
May 22, 2020 9:48 PM   Subscribe

I do not enjoy exercise, and I particularly don't really enjoy weightlifting. However, I need to build a bit of all over muscle so that I don't become frail as I age, and also I am told it may help my blood sugar.

Currently, every other day or so I am doing squats hanging on to my balcony railing (no weights, I figure my considerable body weight should suffice for now); wall push-ups; and "Sumo Deadlifts With High Pull". My goal is to hit the most major muscle groups with the least number of exercises. Do these three come close to hitting that? Is there another exercise or two I should be adding to work a major body part the above neglects?

Things to note:

I'm not trying to body-build in the sense of trying to create the most aesthetically pleasing body shape possible. My goal is to build a bit of all over muscle for health purposes without having to do a dozen different exercises to specifically work biceps, triceps, forearms, calves, etc.

I can't do much in the way of abdominal exercises due to an umbilical hernia.

I get a modest amount of cardio through walking and pedaling an exercise bike.

My body seems to hate exercise in general. If I overdo in the slightest I hurt, more than I think I am supposed to, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by fatigue. So I need exercises that can be done in easy mode, that aren't inherently "killer" moves.

I can't stress enough how out of shape I am and the general decrepitude of my body. Like, somehow walking 7000 steps a day ruined my left ankle. My hips and elbows often hurt for no apparent reason except that I grocery shopped. I need a two hour nap when I come home from the store. You get the idea.

So to restate the original question: squats, wall pushups and kettlebell deadlifts... does this about cover major muscle building or do I need something else?
posted by Serene Empress Dork to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Since the start of the lockdown I've been using a rowing machine four days a week, and without significantly changing my diet I've lost about four kilos so far, where a lot of people are struggling to not gain as much.
The advantages as I see (and feel) them are that it works on a lot of muscle groups, resistance is futile settable, and you can slow down or stop at any moment. Started with 10 minutes, a short pause, then another 5, now 2x 10. And it's assisted by viewing episodes of (currently) a sci-fi comedy series.

Before the lockdown most of my exercise was from my commute: five minutes cycling, a short walk to chance trains, five minutes from train to bus and another five from bus to office.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:21 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]

My first impression is, you're doing great. If you look at the recent research into where the largest gain in benefit from physical activity is, it's pretty much when you go from being completely sedentary to exactly where you are--a modest but reasonable and regular amount of cardio & weight-bearing exercise.

You're reaping the largest possible return from a modest effort and honestly that is a great place to be. Everything beyond what you are doing is diminishing returns--more work, less relative benefit.

So there might be some simple refinements you can incorporate, but in general it sounds to me like you've found a pretty good routine that works for you and really does hit the main points you need to.

I personally love to walk and bike and other cardio, for long times & distances. Weight lifting etc is OK but not really my favorite. But . . . for various reasons I've discovered that in certain life circumstances, you just have to cut it back or it becomes self-defeating. You're doing more damage to your body than good. Or, even if more would be really nice for your heart, your ankle or your toe or your foot or hip or back or whatever just can't take it. So--if you're sensible at all!--just just have to know where to draw the line. And make it well before the point of negative returns.

So if walking 7000 steps is too much for you right now, then what you're doing is just right. You're way better off doing something that is sustainable and doesn't injure you, even if it's just a fraction of 7000 steps or whatever. Recommendations like 5000 or 7000 or 10000 steps a day are generalized and if they are not right for you as an individual, then they're not right for you. Give them up without any worry whatsoever.

The two things that occur to me that you might consider working into your routine:

- Some simple bits of easy stretching, maybe something like Half Sun Salutations from a yoga routine (except those models in the photos in that article are going to be like 400X more flexible than you or I are, so sort of ignore them. The basic idea is reach for the sky and then reach for your toes a couple different ways; repeat a couple of times; stretch only as far as you are comfortable doing in an easy and completely pain-free manner; definitely 'under-do it' rather than overdo; listen to your body and only gradually, gradually increase any stretching).

- I've been working to try to break up long periods of sitting. So set a timer or your cell phone or whatever to remind yourself to get up every hour (or whatever interval works for you) and move a bit. Maybe it's just walk from one end of your apartment to the other and back; maybe it's do two sun salutations or one of your other regular exercises. It doesn't really matter exactly what--just something for a minute or two to get you moving just a bit and break up the long periods of sitting that many of us tend to fall into in the modern world.
posted by flug at 12:19 AM on May 23 [8 favorites]

This sounds like a perfectly lovely plan to do consistently for six to eighteen months. Good for you for establishing a complete system.

If I were to get really nitpicky, I'd...still say it's a good mix. Nothing needs to change. I have only two optimizations I would suggest even in nitpick mode.

First is to start with some whole-body limbering up. Five to twelve circles, swings, bends, or twists of each joint is what I like: wrists, ankles, shoulders, hips, neck, trunk. Takes two to five minutes and is a good check-in to make sure I'm not surprised by something creaky during an exercise.

The second suggestion, quite optional, is to drop the high pull portion of the deadlift, and just focus on getting the deadlift portion smooth, correct, and — eventually, slowly — heavier. (Our lower bodies are so much stronger than our upper bodies that whatever challenges us for the high pull portion is often not noticeable for the deadlift portion.)

In a year or so I'd consider adding something like a Turkish get-up, starting with no weight. But I'm serious that you don't need to add that anytime soon. Consistency with the existing plan is the important thing.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:27 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]

You might like shovelglove, I find it way more fun than most things with weight, and it works lots of muscles at once.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:18 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]

I think overall you have good coverage - the lunges in the link in your post would be a decent addition, although depending on your current fitness and size you might find them challenging (im speaking from experience). you could try stepping up onto a solid surface 16-24 inches off the ground, theres a lot more technique to a step-up than you would think, to get the most out of it its really important not to launch yourself off of your bottom leg, and try to fully extend the top leg before putting down the foot you are raising.

Could you work on squatting without assistance? even if you cant do many or it doesnt feel great at first, you'll end up working through limiting mobility instead of working around it. One squatting cue that always really helped me was to think about screwing your feet into the ground (imagine trying to rotate your big toes outward and bringing the insides of your heels together) and press through the floor to activate your posterior chain - you want to feel the backs of your legs light up and to do that you have you create the right tension in your legs, its more than just dropping and rising repeatedly.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:41 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]

Try squatting into a chair, and then maybe holding a moderately heavy weight, as your next progression.
posted by shaademaan at 6:08 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]

If someone said they wanted a strength training routine with only three exercises in it, squats, deadlifts, and some type of press is exactly what I'd suggest, so I think you're on the right track there. Squats and deadlifts in particular have had the biggest quality of life benefits for me personally, in terms of battling that 'out of shape' feeling and reducing insulin resistance. And consider that a sub-optimal program you actually do is going to be way more effective than a perfect program that you never do because you hate it.
posted by FishBike at 6:25 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]

I also think that you are on exactly the right track though agree with the comment that regular deadlifts might be a little better. I would also add in something for your back, which in general terms means an exercise that pulls rather than pushes. In my experience this is a bit harder to do at home/with a single exercise but I think that the rows at the link you mention in your post would be a good one to add in.

If you want to try squatting without using the balcony rail, you could try to squat onto a chair. You have to be careful to squat rather than just sitting down, but having the chair under you might help you feel safer going further down into the squat, eliminating that feeling of "ack, I may fall!" - because the worst that would happen is you would sit into the chair. I do squats both with and without a chair/box under me, but I tend to go further down if I have the security of having something there to "catch" me just in case.

re your hips, I (female, early 50s) also have had some hip issues the last few years even while doing some weight training. I finally ended up in PT and have a couple of simple stretches that helped me and may help you. I emphasize may since everyone's body and issues are different, but if you want a starting point I'd happy to give you mine if you memail me.

I 100% agree with the idea that barring doing something dangerous (which you're not) the imperfect program you do is better than the perfect one that you don't do, so please take - from me or other responses - only the comments that work for you.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 8:40 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]

When this coronavirus is gone consider swimming. I works the whole body but is easy on joints, etc.
posted by mareli at 10:11 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]

Sumo deadlift is great, but leave out the high pull--high pulls are not good for your shoulders. Maybe try one-arm presses and bent over one-arm rows (support yourself on a table or chair)?
posted by schroedinger at 11:05 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]

You're doing damn well.

I've found problems with my back - and my mood! - are fixed by lifting heavy things.

Specifically, in my case, I do three sets of five repetitions of the following, with a two minute break between sets:

- push something forward Monday and Friday. (Bench press)
- push something upward Wednesday. (Shoulder press)
- squats monday and wednesday
- dumbbell rows monday
- chinups or pullups or something wednesday

And I do one set of five repetitions of a deadlift, on fridays, while drinking a beer or two.

That's no more than three exercises a day, three days a week.

I'd avoid the high-pull, as it's bad for your joints. I'd try to raise the weights over time; progressively make it harder, but not brutal. If you're feeling extra-chipper, add either cardio work (rowing) or abdominal work (situps) on off days.

It's simple, it's a wee bit repetitive, and it's honestly good for you.
posted by talldean at 7:45 PM on May 30

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