May 8, 2000 -- So you're committed to the idea of strength training, but don't know where to start? With these six exercises, you can work all of the body's major muscle groups at home or at the gym. All you need are two or three sets or dumbbells (try 5-, 8-, or 10-pound weights) and a chair.
A few key tips:
- Warm up for five minutes with light cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking and arm circles, before lifting.
- Perform one set of 8 to 12 repetitions. Choose weights heavy enough so that the last rep is a real struggle (but not so much of one that you're forced to contort your body). You may need to use a different amount of weight for each exercise. With some of the moves, your body weight may be enough, so you might not need to add a dumbbell.
- Perform each exercise with controlled movements, taking a full two seconds to get to the extreme position and a full two seconds to return to the starting position. Rely on muscle power, not momentum.
- Rest no more than 30 seconds between exercises.
- Modified Push-Up (Works the chest, triceps, and front of the shoulder) Kneel with your ankles crossed, arms straight, palms on the floor a bit to the side and in front of your shoulders, and your face to the floor. Bend your elbows and lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Keep your abs tight so your back doesn't sag. Push back up.
- One-Arm Row (Strengthens the back, biceps, and back of the shoulder) Place a chair in front of you with its back to the left, out of the way. Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, stand with your right foot on the floor and your left knee resting on the seat of the chair. Lean forward and place your left hand on the seat in front of your left knee. Keep your back straight and parallel to the floor and your right knee slightly bent. Your right arm should hang straight down. Bend your elbow, lifting the dumbbell until your elbow is higher than your back and your hand brushes against your waist. Lower the weight slowly back down. After completing the reps with your right arm, switch sides.
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press (Works the front and middle shoulders) Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and abs tucked in. Raise your upper arms to shoulder height so that the dumbbells are at ear level. Push the dumbbells up and in until the ends of the weights are nearly touching directly over your head. Then lower the dumbbells back to ear level.
- Squat (Works the buttocks, quadriceps, and hamstrings) Hold a dumbbell in each hand or place your hands on your hips or on the tops of your thighs. Stand up tall with your abs tight, feet hip-width apart, and your weight slightly back on your heels. Sit back and down, as if you're sitting into a chair. Don't squat any lower than the point at which your thighs are parallel to the floor, and don't let your knees shoot out in front of your toes. Stand back up.
- Lunge (Works the buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) Hold a dumbbell in each hand or place your hands on your hips. Stand tall with your abs tight, feet hip-width apart, and weight back on your heels. Lift your right toe slightly and, leading with your heel, step your right foot forward about a stride's length. As your foot touches the floor, bend both knees until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your left thigh is perpendicular to it. Your left heel will lift off the floor. Press off the ball of your right foot and step back to the standing position.
- Crunch (Works the abdominals) Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place your hands behind your head so your thumbs are behind your ears, without lacing your fingers together. Hold your elbows out to the sides but rounded slightly in. Tilt your chin slightly toward your chest and tighten your abs. Curl up and forward so that your head, neck, and shoulder blades lift off the floor. Hold for a moment, and then lower slowly back down.
Suzanne Schlosberg, a freelance writer based in Santa Monica, Calif., is author of The Ultimate Workout Log, second edition (Houghton Mifflin 1999), and co-author of Fitness for Dummies, second edition (IDG Books Worldwide 2000).