Five Strength-Building Home Work-Outs

You don't need to join the gym to become stronger. Instead try these five strengthening exercises at home


Posted: 21 June 2005

You know that adding some weight training to your programme will help your running by making you more stable and powerful, but what if you don’t fancy joining a gym? Here’s the answer: stay at home and use your own body weight for all-round strength building.

It’s important that you keep each exercise slow and controlled, and concentrate on technique to reduce your chances of injury. Take nice deep breaths, and exhale during the active part of the exercise. And keep your joints ‘soft’ – don’t lock them out.

For all of the exercises, start with one set of up to 10 repetitions, with 30 seconds recovery between sets, and gradually work up to three sets of 20 reps.

Press-ups

This old favourite is great for developing strong chest muscles, but a lot of people claim that they simply can’t do press-ups. Here’s an easier version. Place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and rest on your knees. Simply lower your upper torso slowly towards the ground. Don’t look up; keep your nose pointing downwards at all times. Then straighten your arms to push yourself back up. That’s a press-up. To make your press-up harder, extend your legs to shift your weight up onto your toes and move your hands either further apart (emphasising the chest) or closer together (emphasising the triceps).

Dips

You don’t need parallel bars or an expensive machine to work your triceps: A couple of stable chairs will do. Place one with its back against a wall, and the other opposite it at a comfortable distance. Grip the sides or front of the chair by the wall with your hands, and rest your feet on the other one. Lower yourself in between the chairs until your elbows are at 90 degrees, then push up until your arms are straight, but don’t lock your elbows. Keep the movement slow and steady and don’t bounce up and down.

Sit-ups

You don’t actually have to sit all the way up to perform the perfect sit-up. Instead, slow, concentrated movements are called for. Lying on your back with your feet on the floor, bend your knees to 90 degrees. Keep your back flat to the floor and cross your hands across your chest. Keep your chin three or four inches away from your chest. Then simply tense your stomach muscles and raise your shoulders off the ground. Press your lower back into the ground as you lift up and breath out. Take a big deep breath on the way down and relax your shoulders and neck after each repetition.

Upright row

You need some sort of weight for this, but if you don’t have a set of barbells, don’t worry. A big (full) bottle of squash with a handle will do. Stand with your back straight and your knees slightly bent, your arms hanging in front of you and your ‘weight’ held with both hands. Raise the weight straight up along the mid-line of your body to just below your chin, moving your elbows out on the upward movement. This exercise works the trapezius muscle in both the upper back and shoulder.

Squats

An all-round work-out for runners wouldn’t be complete without some leg strengthening, and no-weight squats are surprisingly effective. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and put your hands on your hips. Keep your back straight and your chin up, then bend your knees to around 90 degrees, but no more, and then return to the starting position. Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up. You can increase your leg work-out by speeding up your repetitions or by pausing in the 90-degree position for a count of 5-10 seconds before extending your legs again.


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Please take this sort of article with a very large dose of salt (or a low sodium alternative!).  Whilst it´s always hard to give good generic advice, it´s difficult to believe that it can get this bad!Very quick comments on each exercise:
  • Press-Ups.  This is not just a “chest exercise” and its effectiveness is very much compromised as soon as you put your knees down.  Better option:  Stay off your knees, but shorten the depth of each repetition.  Start with 5 shallow reps (very shallow if necessary).  You will quickly progress to full reps; then you can build from there.
  • Dips.  Don´t try elevating your feet until you are comfortably doing 20 reps with your feet on the floor.  If you find this exercise too tough, compromise on the depth of each rep.  (As described for the press-ups.)
  • Sit-Ups.  If you have no postural or back issues, enjoy your sit-ups.  Otherwise, stick to the plank.  (Which is often lauded as a great exercise in this very magazine.)   Find the plank boring or easy?  Get a trainer to explain how to construct a fun and challenging circuit of plank exercises.
  • Upright Row.  This is a very controversial exercise that many experienced trainers advise against, due to the (apparent) high incidence of shoulder injuries.  At the very least, do the exercise with a separate object in each hand, so that each shoulder has greater freedom of movement and you are less likely to trap any nerves.
  • Squats.  It´s has been accepted for a long time that you don´t need to stop at 90 degrees of knee flexion.
Nice photos though! 
Posted: 26/11/2009 at 18:28

Thanks for your curiosity.  Taken from my profile:

Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, Biking & Hiking Guide.  Run RFH Fitness Holidays in Andalucia, Spain.  (www.rfhfitness.com)  Former subscriber to Runner´s World!


Posted: 26/11/2009 at 18:46

"Squats.  It´s has been accepted for a long time that you don´t need to stop at 90 degrees of knee flexion."

.... but you may want to consider how many psi(or whatever units) go through your patellofemoral joints if you do get down that far.


Posted: 26/11/2009 at 18:55

This circuit isn´t great but, especially with the amendments I have mentioned, it would work.  The most important points here (for most people) are: leave out the sit-ups, be careful with the upright row and, unless you are already pretty strong, keep your feet on the floor for the dips.


Posted: 26/11/2009 at 18:57

in RW's defence ... this article was written in 2001 so

Please take this sort of article with a very large dose of salt (or a low sodium alternative!).  Whilst it´s always hard to give good generic advice, it´s difficult to believe that it can get this bad!Very quick comments on each exercise:
  • Press-Ups.  This is not just a “chest exercise” and its effectiveness is very much compromised as soon as you put your knees down.  Better option:  Stay off your knees, but shorten the depth of each repetition.  Start with 5 shallow reps (very shallow if necessary).  You will quickly progress to full reps; then you can build from there.
  • Dips.  Don´t try elevating your feet until you are comfortably doing 20 reps with your feet on the floor.  If you find this exercise too tough, compromise on the depth of each rep.  (As described for the press-ups.)
  • Sit-Ups.  If you have no postural or back issues, enjoy your sit-ups.  Otherwise, stick to the plank.  (Which is often lauded as a great exercise in this very magazine.)   Find the plank boring or easy?  Get a trainer to explain how to construct a fun and challenging circuit of plank exercises.
  • Upright Row.  This is a very controversial exercise that many experienced trainers advise against, due to the (apparent) high incidence of shoulder injuries.  At the very least, do the exercise with a separate object in each hand, so that each shoulder has greater freedom of movement and you are less likely to trap any nerves.
  • Squats.  It´s has been accepted for a long time that you don´t need to stop at 90 degrees of knee flexion.
Nice photos though! 

if this was re-writen today the advise may be slightly different.

I may not be a PT but I am a qualified gym instructor and the only one I would have a big issue with is the dips as I would have said work up to what they have described rather than start there.


Posted: 26/11/2009 at 19:06


ALD

1. No problem with the sit-up, in fact the explanation offered in this article is a crunch not a full sit up which won't place excessive stress on the lumbar spine.

2. Our bodies are build to move, lift, bend and squat. We should be able to squat fully, lift weights to our shoulders (if not too heavy) and press our own body weight up. It's just that 21st century lifestyles prevent the majority from using these capabilites fully, thus we lose the ability to do so. No dangers of injury if done progressively.

3. The knee press up for those with weakness in arms, chest and shoulders is a good alternative. I'd prefer to teach this then move to the partial pressup progression.


Posted: 26/11/2009 at 19:59

I believe there are good and bad points re. these exercises, it depends on what you are trying to achieve. For every exercise there should be a counter balance e.g situps should be abdomen led not spinal and counter balanced with back extensions, bicep and tricep etc.


Posted: 26/11/2009 at 20:32

But you didn't actually answer KK's question, Riofrio - what are your qualifications?


Posted: 27/11/2009 at 10:25

To be fair do we need to have everyone's qualifications on here before they comment - I'd rather people were judged on what they said rather than who they were.    
Posted: 27/11/2009 at 10:37

Wilkie-I've seen a few Personal Trainers and instructor giving "bad" advice, I'm a fairly keen runner, fairly fit, gym user, 57 year old who trains with some of the top people in the fitness industry and the stories they tell of so called "Qualified" people is quite interesting. So, like all disciplines, whether you have pieces of paper or initials after your name, it doesn't matter,  there are good instructors and bad instructors. 
Posted: 27/11/2009 at 11:13

Hmm, perhaps popsider, but criticising an exercise article does kind of open you up to that question, and (more to the point as far as I was concerned), the OP had avoided answering the question when KK asked it.
Posted: 27/11/2009 at 11:30

Well maybe - I suppose it's fair enough to ask if someone does have qualifications - but they are at liberty to ignore it. 

I mean if we are talking politics do we ask if the person has a politics degree - if we are talking about society and culture would we want Corinth shoving his PhD down our throats every discussion ?   I just think as a general principle it's better to leave qualifications out of it.   Like a lot of people I have a first aid qualification through work but if you are relying on me to save your life you are in trouble.


Posted: 27/11/2009 at 12:01

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