I’m a fitness guinea pig. I’m always excited to try the newest exercise trends, whether a new class, piece of equipment or training routine. Some exercises are so foundational to fitness that I make sure they are always a part of my regimen. These are my desert-island exercises, the ones I would choose if I could only do six exercises for the rest of my life: step-ups, squats, push-ups, IYT raises, hip raises and hollow core holds. This simple, efficient and nearly perfect set of exercises prepare you for all the things you are planning in the year ahead, from learning pickleball to loading a Costco haul.
They may also help prevent common issues that come along with aging, including a decline in balance, posture, agility and speed. Here’s to creating a strong body that carries you through all of life’s adventures! (PLEASE SEE YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO START A NEW EXERCISE ROUTINE. BACK INJURIES AND OTHER ISSUES COULD PREVENT ONE FROM SAFELY PERFORMING THESE EXERCISES. AFTER CHECKING WITH A DOCTOR, START SLOWLY.)
This is a brilliant move to add to your repertoire. You encounter stairs, hills and curbs daily, and step-ups are beneficial to everyday functionality. They target your glutes and thighs. Plus, they’re low impact, making them easy on the joints. In addition, as we age, balance becomes more challenging and more important. The midway pause will improve balance bilaterally, balancing out the tendency to rely on one side of the body more than the other.
· Stand on the ground, facing the platform. Place right foot on elevated platform and lower into a lunge. Push up through right heel, and lift the left leg up onto the platform.
· Slowly, controlling the movement, flex the right knee as you step the left foot down to the floor.
· Alternate legs.
· Repeat 10 times.
· Challenge: Pause on top of the box on one leg and challenge your balance.
We move from sitting to standing all day long: getting out of a car, using the toilet or leaving the couch during a snack attack. As mundane as it seems, it’s a complex move worthy of your undivided attention. Squats are controlled by the legs and glutes, the most powerful muscle group in the body. But not all squats are created equal. There are times when inches do matter, and squats are one of them. You’re wasting your time if you are not using the full range of movement when doing this exercise. Touching down on a seat or bench will ensure that you do it correctly, and holding a weight at the sternum helps you keep your chest lifted as you squat. (IF YOU HAVE ANY LEG OR BACK ISSUES, PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE DOING THIS EXERCISE.)
· Stand in front of a chair, holding dumbbell at chest height.
· Lower down until seated.
· Maintain pressure in your heels.
· Engage the core and keep torso slightly forward.
· Keep knees directly over toes by squeezing glutes.
· Engage glutes and stand back up.
· Repeat 10 times, 3 sets.
· Challenge: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and add a bicep curl.
Women’s upper-body strength is often not as developed as their lower-body strength, so they get intimidated by push-ups. Let’s change that. A push-up is an amazing exercise. It’s a compound move that uses many important muscle groups — chest, shoulders, arms, core and glutes — that become stronger by working together. Building up to a perfect push-up takes time. A dead-stop push-up with knees down is a beginner-level move that breaks up the momentum and allows you to reset your core, glutes, and back to keep your hips from sagging as you push through the full range of the move.
· Start in pushup position, with knees on floor. For those more advanced, start on toes.
· Lock hips in place, engage glutes, and keep body straight.
· Lower to the ground.
· Lift hands slightly off the floor and pause.
· Place hands back on floor and push back up.
· Repeat 10 times.
· Challenge: Add a side plank. This turns it into a true full-body exercise, increasing core strength and stability.
WHY IYT RAISES?
Our backs hurt. The amount of time spent driving, typing, scrolling, or sitting slouched in a chair is killing our backs. Modern life has left us in a perpetual slouch. In addition, age adds to the decline of back and shoulder strength. IYT raises are the perfect antidote to the banana-shaped posture that’s attributed to being older. The special cushions, supports, braces, pillows and heating pads will not help to create a stronger, more supple backside. That’s why we need IYT (or posterior chain) exercises, and that’s why this is one of the exercises at the top of my list.
· Lie face down, arms extended overhead, thumbs to ceiling.
· Engaging shoulder blades, lift arms while forming the letter I. Pause, then lower.
· Engaging shoulder blades, lift arms while forming the letter Y. Pause and lower.
· Engaging shoulder blades, lift arms while forming the letter T. Pause and lower.
· Return to starting position.
· 5 Rounds.
· Challenge: Lift the legs in unison with the chest. Even the tiniest lift will engage the entire posterior chain, taking this exercise to a whole new level. Enjoy your flight.
WHY HIP RAISES
Have you ever wondered, Where did my butt go? You probably left it on a chair somewhere. If you sit for long periods, and most of us do, you may be suffering from glute amnesia: your butt muscle’s inability to activate. That’s bad news for the biggest and strongest muscle in the body. Wait, there’s more. Sitting also tightens the muscles on the front of your hips and weakens your backside, causing your pelvis to tilt forward, leading to low-back pain and making your belly pooch out. Hip raises are one of the best exercises for reactivating the glutes and making them powerful again. Because it is the largest muscle in the body, they are also great calorie burners.
· Lie on the ground, knees bent, feet flat on floor and shoulder-width apart.
· Press into heels, squeeze glutes and push hips toward the ceiling. Pause.
· With core engaged, form a straight line from shoulders to knees.
· Slowly lower hips without touching the floor.
· Repeat 10 times.
· Challenge: Add a single leg raise. This shifts the weight onto one leg for maximum effort in the glute and hamstring area.
WHY HOLLOW CORE HOLDS?
There is no athlete in the world that doesn’t incorporate abdominal work in their conditioning program, because there is no physical activity that isn’t improved and made safer by a strong core. Hollow core holds are a genius and safe way to work your abs. They’re an isometric exercise that creates a strong line of tension from the bottom of your chest to your hips. If it helps, imagine preparing to get punched in the stomach.
· Lie on back, extending arms overhead.
· Engage the core to press lower back flat on ground.
· Lift feet and shoulder blades slightly off floor. Keep chin neutral.
· Lock position and brace the core.
· Once comfortable, rock slowly to the front and the back like a seesaw.
· Don’t swing arms or legs.
· Abs and back will work in unison.
· Repeat 15 seconds.
· Beginner: Arms by side and legs at 45 degrees.
· Challenge: Hold a dumbbell with one hand without tipping to that side.
This group of six exercises target balance, strength, posture, flexibility, agility and range of motion. These are all aspects of fitness that are important to maintain, especially as we age or if you need to survive on a desert island. If I were to pick a seventh exercise, it would be a very small muscle group, incredible for its ability to create a strong chemical reaction in the brain, releasing hormones that may help reduce stress and increase happiness — a smile.
Eager to get fit? Check out AARP Online Fitness, which can help you achieve your fitness goals with free expert webinars and access to personalized workouts for every fitness level, as well as live small group and 1:1 coaching sessions.
Is there an exercise you try to do every day? What is it? Let us know in the comments below.