Adult | Functional Training

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8 exercises to aid in keeping flexible, building strength

By Nuhar Jaleel

There seems to be a different exercise every time you thumb through a magazine or scan through the internet. We asked Nuhar Jaleel, physical therapist and founder of The Pilates Principle in Latham* to help us identify a few key equipment-free exercises to help you build strength and flexibility. Here are eight to get you going. As always, please check with your healthcare provider as to your condition in taking on these or other exercises.

Lying Hip Bridges: These work your glutes, your body’s largest muscle group, while also opening up the hips. The hips can get especially tight in people who find themselves spending hours sitting throughout the day.
Instructions: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Flatten your lower back against the floor, squeeze your bum and push your hips up into the air. Make sure to push through your entire foot, almost as if you’re trying to push your toes out the end of your shoes. Pause, then slowly lower to start. 

Squats to Chair: Among the most functional exercises around, squats strengthen the entire lower body and core to help you take stairs.
Instructions: Stand with your feet hip-width apart directly in front of a chair. Keeping your chest upright, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body toward the chair. Either touch your bum to the chair or sit down on it. At the bottom of the squat, your upper body should be leaning forward only slightly. Pause, then push through your feet and squeeze your bum to return to start.  Wall Push-Ups: Improve your whole upper-body strength, especially your arms and chest.  Instructions: Stand about two feet away from the wall (move closer to the wall to make the exercise easier), and put your hands against it at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart. Keeping your body in a straight line, bend your elbows diagonally to your sides to lower your chest to the wall. Let your heels come off of the floor. Pause, then slowly press through your hands to straighten your elbows and return to start.

Side Lying Circles: This little move has big benefits: It strengthens your hips while improving mobility through the joint.
Instructions: Lie on one side on the floor with your body in a straight line, your bottom arm extended straight past your head. Rest your head on your bottom arm and squeeze your abdominals to pull in your belly. Keeping your hips directly over each other, lift your top leg to about hip height and move your leg in small clockwise circles in the air. Pause, then perform the circles in counter-clockwise motion. Lower your leg to return to start, and repeat on the opposite side. 

Quadruped Opposite Arm and Leg Balance: This exercise is great for improving balance, coordination and strength in the back and abdominals.
Instructions: Get on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Keeping your back flat and abdominals tight, lift one hand to reach straight in front of your shoulder while lifting your opposite foot straight behind your hip. Hold for three breaths (or as long as you can maintain balance), and then lower your hand and foot toward the floor to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side.

Deadbugs: They have a funny name, but they’ll seriously help you improve your core stability for greater balance and all-over strength.
Instructions: Lie flat on your back with your arms and legs up in the air, your knees bent. Maintaining contact between your lower back and the floor, lower one leg until your heel just about touches the floor while also lowering the opposite arm toward the floor above your head. Lift them back up to return to start, and repeat on the opposite side. You can make this exercise harder by keeping your legs straight rather than bent.

Side Planks: This plank variation will improve side-to-side core stability as well as strengthen your shoulder, a joint that can give many older adults problems.
Instructions: Start by lying on your side, propped up with your elbow directly below your shoulder. With either the sides of your feet or the sides of your knees stacked on the floor (do what’s comfortable for you), squeeze your core and lift your hips off of the floor so that your body forms a straight line from your ears to either your feet or knees. Hold for as long as you can while maintaining good form. Lower your hips to return to start, and repeat on the opposite side. 

Wall Angels: Ease back pain and improve your posture by opening your chest and working your shoulders with these simple against-the-wall moves. 
Instructions: Stand with your back flat against a wall and your feet about three to six inches from the wall. With the back of your head touching the wall and your arms straight down by your sides, tuck your chin to your chest. Then turn your palms out and slowly raise your arms, maintaining contact with the floor or wall. Raise your arms as high as you can without your elbows bending or feeling any discomfort. Pause, then lower your arms to return to start.
*Nuhar Jaleel is a physical therapist and founder of The Pilates Principle in Latham, a fully-equipped studio for Pilates and Gyrotonic® exercise with a staff of 16. 783-1678; pilatesprinciple.com.

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