As the winter thaws and new life bursts from the ground at every turn, it is a perfect time to dust off the ol’ bones and muscles of the body. Most of us are more sedentary during the cold months, hunkering under thick sweaters and blankets, and staying inside where it is warm. Now that we can get outside and stretch our legs, it makes sense to give the body a once-over to make sure all the main pieces are in working condition!
Here are 4 simple exercises you can do to maintain the major joints and muscles of the body. These movements will help build range of motion and strength in your spine, hips, knees and shoulders. And none of them require any equipment, so you can do them at home, in the office or even at the airport.
- The squat. This is a fundamental movement for all humans, right up there with walking. It strengthens the thighs (quadriceps) and butt (glutes) while also helping balance and flexibility in the lower body.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand and separate your feet to about shoulder width. Raise your arms in front of you like a zombie (this helps with balance). Then bend your knees and squat down as low as you can, keeping your heels on the ground. If you can sit all the way down, great. If not, just go as low as you can. Then stand back up. Do 20 squats, take a brief rest, then do 20 more.
- The pushup. A simple but valuable exercise for your arms, shoulders, chest and abdominal muscles. Most of us really need to strengthen our upper body because we don’t do much lifting or carrying of things in everyday life. Weak shoulders can lead to neck pain, upper back pain and shoulder injury.
HOW TO DO IT: Kneel on the floor and place your hands down in front of you. Make sure your hands are about shoulder width apart. Step your feet back so your knees are off the ground and you are holding yourself on the toes and hands only. Now bend your elbows, keep them away from your body, and lower down until your chest touches the floor. Then push back up, straightening your arms. If it is impossible, you can put your knees on the floor while you do it. Do 10 pushups, take a brief rest, then do 10 more.
- The cobra. This exercise is pure gold for all of us who sit in front of a computer all day, which is most of us. Our backs need strength to hold us upright, and this is helpful for a lot of back pain.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on the floor on your belly, with your hands resting underneath your shoulders. As you inhale, lift your head and shoulders. Be sure to use your back muscles and not your arms. As you exhale, lower your head and shoulders back to the floor. Do this 10 times, take a brief rest, then do 10 more.
- The sit-up. Most of us have weak abdominal muscles, and that can lead to back pain and poor digestion. It is hard to overstate the value of strengthening the abdomen. This exercise is simple and effective.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your hands by your sides with your palms down. As you exhale, lift your head and shoulders, pulling your ribs toward your hips. Keep your low back on the floor the whole time, so you are making a crunching motion. Your fingers will reach toward your heels. As you inhale, come down. Do this 10 times, take a brief rest, then do 10 more.
If you do this little set of exercises—squat, pushup, cobra and sit-up—every day for a week, you will go a long way to building strength and range of motion in the major joints and muscles of your body. It takes less than 10 minutes to do it all, and the benefits are definitely worth the time commitment. This way, you will be able to take full advantage of the outdoor physical activities that arrive with spring. Your body will be stronger and more mobile, and you will be more stable and relaxed.
Pubisher’s Note: Scott Lamps is a Yoga Acharya (Master of Yoga) and a head teacher of Ghosh Yoga.