Considering the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in our bodies as well as the most powerful, it stands to reason to give it some attention while exercising. There are endless exercises to do which will strengthen the glutes and help you move about your day better, but the choices can be overwhelming for many of us. Simplicity is the key to help strengthen the important and dominate muscles of our bodies, so we’ll stick to one simple and effective exercise for the glutes and one for the quads.
To bring power and strength to the glutes we will focus on the kettlebell deadlift. It really is an easy exercise to perform, no machines to get into, no adjusting this or that, nothing to navigate. You just need one exercise tool, the kettlebell, which looks like a ball with a handle. The kettlebell deadlift is a compound exercise which means this exercise challenges several muscle groups at the same time. So, if you’re the type who likes to get things done in a timely and efficient manner then this exercise is for you.
How to do the kettlebell deadlift:
Straddle the kettlebell with it directly underneath you, feet shoulder width apart, a little more or a little less depending on you and angle your toes out ever so slightly about 10 degrees. The kettlebell should be centered right under you and lined up with your ankles.
Push the hips back into a hip hinge, keep the spine straight and give a slight bend to the knees, the shins stay vertical. Grab the kettlebell handle by hooking it with your fingers. Keep tension in the torso as you push through the feet to stand up. Lower the kettlebell back down by reversing the movement.
Do three to four sets of 6 to 15 reps.
Since the kettlebell deadlift is a compound exercise, you’re not only working the glutes, but you’re also working the hamstrings, the back of the legs. To keep muscles balanced we want to work opposing muscle groups, so next we’ll work the front of the legs, which are the quadriceps, with box squats. The box (or chair) squat is also a compound exercise working many muscle groups at once. It's a super easy exercise to do, simply sit down and stand up again. The quadriceps play an important role in our knee health. These muscles help keep the knees strong and injury free, which is important to our overall quality of life especially as we age.
How to do box squats:
Start sitting on a box or chair with quads parallel to the floor and knees lined up with hips. For an additional challenge, sit a little lower so the hips are below the knees. Start in the sitting down position and then stand up. Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell to hold while performing the movement to add some resistance.
Do three to four sets of 6 to 15 reps.
That’s it! Two exercises, one that primarily works the glutes and one that primarily works the quads. However, since they are both compound exercises you have the added advantage of working many other muscles at the same time allowing for an effective lower body workout!
Generally, any exercise is better than no exercise at all, but could we do ourselves more harm than good if our exercise technique or form is not ideal?
Our exercise movement doesn’t have to be perfect, after all we’re not robots, we don’t go through life rigidly. However, we should be conscious about the ways we are moving with exercise, notably how we are breathing and what our posture looks like. Over time, poor exercise movement can lead to muscle imbalances and unforeseen injuries.
Our posture or how we hold ourselves during exercise is of particular importance. If we’re going through movements carelessly, hunched over, or lacking tension in our torso, we could put our lower back, shoulders, and other areas in a vulnerable position. This is true especially when adding additional weight such as dumbbells or kettlebells. A common movement that is less than ideal is arching the lower back while pressing weight overhead. This leads to unnecessary strain on the lower back and could set us up for an injury. A quick fix could be signal arm presses instead of double, staggering the feet, and keeping the glutes squeezed.
Here are a few common examples of less-than-ideal form when performing basic exercises with added weight:
A) Rounding the spine while squatting or lunging.
B) Shrugging or rounding the shoulders or upper back while pushing or pulling.
C) Holding your breath while moving through each exercise.
D) Overarching the lower back while performing core exercises on the floor.
There are tons of generic exercises available to us in an instant, but we are unique individuals and exercise movements look different on each of us. Nevertheless, the basics of proper form remain the same for fundamental exercises when done with added weight:
A) Keep the spine straight when squatting or lunging.
B) Keep the shoulders down and back with the lats engaged when pushing or pulling which will prevent rounding of the upper back and stress in the neck.
C) Exhale during the challenging part of the exercise.
D) To prevent overarching the lower back while on the floor keep tension in the core along with a slight pelvic tilt.
It is simple to modify any exercise we can’t do properly until we can perform that movement correctly. Efficiency in movement is key in using our time wisely during exercise and gaining the best results. The more we exercise the greater body awareness we develop, which will help us move easily and effortlessly without much thought. When all is said and done, we could simply make better use of our time, stay injury free and gain greater results from our effort and energy if we did our exercises correctly and with more care and thought.
It makes sense to have a plan when we want to get something done, especially when it comes to an exercise routine, but exercise often feels like a daunting task, it overwhelms many of us and more times than not often results in a complete shutdown which leads to skipping it altogether.
If we look at exercise as something we can enjoy, rather than dread, we may be more willing to spend our time doing it. To be successful though we need to find a routine we can realistically do physically and one we can stick to each week without it draining all our energy. We should stay away from extreme exercise routines that may cause us to feel queasy or become so sore we can’t move the next day.
There are many workout routines available to us instantly on the internet, the choices are endless, which also makes it extremely overwhelming, but by sticking to the basics we can’t go wrong. And the basics won’t require unreasonable, impractical workout sessions, or an unrealistic commitment.
Start with a basic strength training program three times a week which includes these five key moves, a push (chest press), pull (row), squat (or variation of, such as a step-up or lunge), hinge (deadlift), and press (shoulder press). Include an anti-rotation such as a Pallof press or kettlebell suitcase carry, and some core work such as the dead-bug. Start by doing each exercise 12 to 15 times for two or three rounds.
In addition to strength training add a basic cardio program that takes about 30 minutes to complete, a little less or a little more, depending on the days schedule. Any type of cardio that is realistically doable is best such as, but not limited to, brisk walking, elliptical, treadmill, rowing machine, cycling, hiking, or walk-run. The goal is to raise the heart rate above what it normally is and breathe a little heavy. We need to challenge our cardiorespiratory system a little to see results.
As you get more comfortable with an exercise routine start to add some stretches or foam rolling at the end of each workout to help keep your muscles happy.
When all is said and done however it remains up to us to commit to a practical exercise program and make it part of our daily lives, or not. The benefits from a consistent exercise routine do nothing more than improve our overall quality of life, well-being, and mental health. That’s not such a bad trade off.
Start with a plan, write it down, and keep moving forward even if you miss a workout or two, it doesn’t matter, as long as you get back into it again.
Think about an average day and all the ways we move throughout the day. Possibly there are some movements we feel weakness in, such as putting something heavy or awkwardly shaped up on a high shelf, or sliding the couch over to vacuum under it, or pulling weeds in our garden, or squatting down to pick up the grandkids. And maybe our endurance level is on the low side, and we tire easily. As we age strength and stamina decrease unless we challenge our muscles and cardiovascular system through exercise.
There are many exercises we can do to improve our overall self, but I’m going to focus on three kettlebell movements, the kettlebell deadlift, goblet squat, and suitcase carry. These three exercises also encourage grip and forearm strength which is important to maintain as we age.
One of the fundamental movements in kettlebell training is the kettlebell deadlift. This one exercise strengthens the entire posterior chain, the forearms, grip, and core.
How to do it
Stand with the kettlebell directly underneath you between your feet with the feet about shoulder width apart, a little more, or a little less depending on you, and angle the toes ever so slightly out, about 10 degrees. The kettlebell should be centered directly beneath you and lined up with your ankles.
Push the hips back while keeping the spine long (hip hinge), give a slight bend to the knees, keep the shins vertical and hook the kettlebell handle with the fingers. Be sure the hips are not above the shoulders while in this position. Keep the upper body engaged, shoulders down and back, and spine straight, chest and eyes forward, and push through the heels to stand up while squeezing the armpits and glutes on the way up. Stay braced in this tall position as if getting ready for a punch and do a quick exhale.
Reverse the movement to lower the kettlebell to the starting position, push the hips back, give a slight bend to the knees, spine long, chest and eyes forward aiming the kettlebell towards the ankles keeping the armpits squeezed and shoulders down (do not shrug). Don’t allow the shoulder blades to separate by rounding the upper back on the way down, keep the armpits tight and chest forward. Repeat for desired number of reps, about ten to fifteen, letting the kettlebell touch the floor each time.
Goblet squats are a great way to build leg strength while also strengthening the upper body, grip, and core.
How to do it
Stand tall and hold the kettlebell with the handle facing up in front of the chest keeping the arms and kettlebell close to the body. Feet are about shoulder width apart, find a stance that feels best for you as you squat down. Lower the body as far down as is comfortable while maintaining proper form which is to keep the spine straight and chest forward. Pause at the bottom, lengthen the collar bone by pushing the shoulders back and down, keeping the chest forward. The spine stays long from neck to tail bone, do not round the back, don’t tuck the tail bone, or stick it out, find your neutral spot. Pause a second or two in this position then stand up and do a quick exhale. Repeat for desired number of reps, about ten or twelve.
The suitcase carry is a moving exercise which builds strength with anti-rotation, while strengthening the core, forearm, and grip.
How to do it
Grab a kettlebell with one hand and stand tall while walking forward for 20 to 30 seconds. Stay tall throughout the movement keeping the shoulders back and chest forward. Do not let the weight of the kettlebell round the back or bend upper body to one side, the key is to stay tall and resist the pull of the kettlebell to get the full benefit of the movement. Breath normally and complete two or three times with each hand.
Now that you know how to do these simple and effective exercises aim for three to five sets a few times a week. Or perhaps put 30 minutes on the clock and do what you can within those 30 minutes.
We know it is not only difficult to find time for exercise but often we lack the energy to get it done, especially if we work a full-time job outside the home and have a family to take care of.
But over time the absence of a consistent exercise routine will lead to muscle loss and decreased mobility which leads to an unfavorable quality of life.
But we can stop this from happening or slow it down drastically by adhering to a basic strength training and cardio fitness program.
Below are five easy exercises to improve overall strength and body awareness which can be done in a short amount of time and when energy may be lacking. Include some cardio such as walking or hiking, or any activity you enjoy that will raise your heart rate a little higher than it normally is, it doesn’t take much effort to improve your fitness level and strengthen your body, the secret is consistency.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds resting for 15 to 30 seconds between exercises. Complete two to four rounds and aim for three to four times a week.
Box Squats – Sit down on a chair and stand back up again, keep the chest forward and push through feet to stand up.
Push Ups – On your knees or hands on a counter, or a full push up from the floor. Keep hands under shoulders and keep elbows at about a 45-degree angle.
Reverse Fly Squeeze – Stand tall with arms out in front of body shoulder height and palms facing up. Keeping arms straight move arms back and actively squeeze the shoulder blades together. Don’t let shoulders shrug during movement.
Plank Knee Taps – Get into a plank position on forearms, legs straight, keeping body straight bend knees and lightly tap knees to floor then straighten legs.
Four Point Arm and Leg Extension – Four-point position with hands and knees on floor and back flat. Extend right arm forward as you extend the left leg back pushing through the heel of the foot. Keep hips pointed towards the floor during the movement, alternate right, and left side.
1) Everybody starts at a different fitness level
Don't compare yourself to other peoples’ fitness level. Each of us are unique with our own body shape and abilities. Embrace who you are and do the best you can do.
2) Move forward from where you are right now
Set a short term attainable goal. If you want to run two miles without stopping, and you're at one mile now, then you just need to practice running more. Work towards adding a little extra distance each week until you get to your two miles. Progression takes time in anything you choose to do and patience is your friend.
3) Don't exercise like a maniac
When most people begin a fitness program they usually overdo it by exercising at a high intensity every workout. At that high rate it won’t take long before you burn out and quit altogether. We don't have to exercise hard every workout. It’s important to give your joints and ligaments time to adjust, otherwise an injury is not far off from taking you down. Ease into your exercise routine, you want to make this a habit that sticks.
4) Pay attention to how your body is feeling
If you're getting overly tired or overly sore it's time to lay off a bit and rest up. Recovery time is needed and good for you, so don't view it as a set back, or something negative. Rest up by doing less strenuous workouts during this time such as moderate walking or simple mobility work. A gentle yoga or mat Pilates class would also be great, and can help you get more in-tune with your body. Positive things happen when you allow your body to heal and rest a bit. Sometimes what we take out of our fitness program leads to greater results in the long run.
By keeping these simple tips in mind you will experience greater success in sticking with your exercise program. Strive towards having your exercise routine become a healthy achievable habit by staying safe and injury free so you‘ll get the most from your workout and time while improving your health and well-being.
What do you want to achieve through exercise? Most of us want to be healthy, fit, and strong. And don’t we want to feel successful and accomplished when we are done exercising? I know I do.
What’s your exercise routine like, do you mindlessly go through each movement, or do you stay engaged? It matters, first in the time you spend exercising and second in the way your body moves during exercise. All in all efficiency in movement matters because really, who wants to waste time, and having body awareness by engaging the muscles we are working has a positive influence on our bodies as a whole. It transfers over to other parts of our lives, such as our posture by the way we carry ourselves throughout the day, as well as our breathing, and also improves other activities we may enjoy.
When you take the time to exercise mindfully and efficiently you’ll receive benefits you haven’t even considered simply by going through your exercise routine with more thought and care.
Great news to share with you!
I will be posting workout videos very soon so you can workout with me! My focus will be on strength building specifically with kettlebells. I'll have how-to videos plus workouts that will take 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or 45 minutes to complete.
Stay tuned, workout with me, and let us get strong together!
Did you know that the average person strength training on their own goes about it incorrectly?
To help you get the most from your workout embrace the fact that there is a learning curve and awareness to strength training that has to do more with your body position, breathing, and core engagement.
Strength training with sloppy or careless form could set you up for injury and prevent you from moving forward and reaching your healthy living goals. If you pay attention to how your body feels during exercise you may come to enjoy it much more.
So keep these two often overlooked thoughts in mind while going through your strength training routine
Having a sense of body awareness keeps you in-tune and engaged in what you are doing, so be aware and alert to how your body is moving through space while exercising. Pay attention to your posture whether you’re standing tall or bending at the hips, be sure not to hunch over, and maintain core engagement as if bracing for a punch as you go through each exercise.
Focus on the movement you're doing and breathe. Typical breathing during strength training is to exhale while you’re pushing, pulling or lifting the weight or when the movement is most difficult and inhale on the return. And always keep in mind that if something hurts don't do it.
Speed is not always your friend. When the average fitness enthusiast speeds up movement it turns sloppy. Going through an exercise quickly just to get it done, or partially by not using your full range of motion makes that movement not only less effective but possibly a waste of your time. Don’t give in to sloppy movements which will eventually get worse as time goes on.
Exercise is part of a well-balanced healthy-living lifestyle, so one of our goals is to stay injury and pain free especially as we age.
We can be kinder to our bodies, more proficient with our energy, and get the most out of our time and workouts by taking our time.
In general spend between 30 to 45 minutes on your strength training workout using correct form and a pace that allows you to finish each movement properly. By focusing on your body awareness and slowing down a little you'll establish good habits that will stay with you long after your exercise session is done.
To your health
While I was in the middle of my workout today I was taken back a little by how challenging it felt, and the first thing I thought was gheeze I’m not in my 50’s anymore! Ha! I got through it just fine, but it was challenging and I had to push myself to continue. Which made me think that maybe it’s time to slow down and not expect so much out of myself, and as soon as that thought entered my head I gave it a swift powerful sidekick out the door! That is a slippery slope I don’t care to go down because it’s so darn easy to back off and slow down!
So what if my workout is a little ambitious, and seriously it is within reason, it’s okay. In order to stay strong and active in our lives we have to continually challenge ourselves, but we know there is a fine line between challenging ourselves and overdoing it. The goal is to have the health benefits of our exercise routine outweigh the risks, not the other way around. We don’t want to overdo it, especially as we age, but we have to make sure we’re doing enough to challenge ourselves so we receive those health benefits. The key is to listen to your body and be aware of little changes that may be happening that could signal that you’re overdoing it, like not sleeping well, or excessive soreness, or maybe some irritability. I know for me personally my body goes through uncomfortable changes when I don’t exercise regularly, I feel lethargic or my body aches and feels stiff. A challenging exercise routine, within reason (which by the way will look different for each of us because exercise is a journey, and we each have a unique fitness level), will help us stay engaged in our lives and may very well be our fountain of youth.
So what’s the take away? Don’t let a demanding exercise routine, whatever that is for you, intimidate you into slowing down or backing off. And I know as we age things do get harder, but we just need to simply do the best we can during each workout (which as we know, some days will be better than others), and just keep moving forward, because every single day we have a new opportunity to prioritize our health and wellness and embrace the positives that are given to us through a challenging but attainable exercise routine.
Useful practical information and a workout or two...