It's easy to get comfortable with a tried-and-true workout routine. But if it's results you want, you'll need to shake things up occasionally.By: Linda Melone, CSCS
It's easy to get comfortable with a tried-and-true workout routine. But if it's results you want, you'll need to shake things up occasionally. "Changing your routine around every 4 to 6 weeks keeps muscles challenged so you continue to see results," says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, author of Beat the Gym (William Morrow, 2011). Swap out your regular exercises with these moves to get more bang for your workout buck. (Search: What's the ultimate workout plan for me?) Start with 2 sets and work up to 3 when it feels easy.
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Works: Back and biceps
What you need: Medium to heavy resistance tubing with a handle on one end
How to do it: Attach the end of exercise tubing high up on the door hinge above your head. Stand in a semi-lunge (for balance) with one foot about six inches in front and to the side of the other, knees slightly bent, and pull the handle straight down with one arm; pause and slowly return to starting position. Do 12 to 15 reps on each side.
Why you need it: A traditional rowing exercise using both arms at once allows the dominant side to take over, which can lead to injury, says Holland. This move strengthens muscles equally on each side of the spine, which reduces the risk of low-back pain.
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Works: Chest, shoulders and core
What you need: Stairs or an aerobic step
How to do it: Facing a set of stairs, place hands shoulder-width apart and in a push-up position approximately 4 to 5 steps up. Tighten abdominals, keep torso rigid (avoid hiking up hips or letting them sag) and "walk" one hand up to the next step, bring the other hand up, and then walk the first hand and then the second back down to the starting position. Continue walking up and down 15 times on each side.
Why you need it: This move strengthens many different muscle groups, including the core, which you use in sports such as tennis and golf and even walking, says Kristina Volkmer, MPH, ACSM clinical exercise specialist, exercise physiologist at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
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Works: Legs, core, butt
What you need: A forgiving landing surface (a rubber mat or grass field)
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart; begin to lower yourself towards the ground until your heels start to lift off the floor, keeping your back flat and eyes straight ahead. Pause only briefly at the bottom of this phase and then jump up quickly, fully extending your legs, then land softly on your mid-foot and roll back towards your heels. Keep your abdominals engaged and your back straight throughout the movement. Start with small jumps for 10 to 15 reps.
Why you need it: As we age we tend to do fewer activities quickly, which results in diminishing fast-twitch muscles fibers, says Holland. This exercise uses those fibers and keeps them functioning.
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Works: Legs, butt
What you need: A clear stretch of floor
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Keep chest high and abs tight as you step forward with your left foot, landing on your mid-foot and lowering yourself until the knee is at a 45-degree angle. At the same time bend the right leg until your right knee almost contacts the floor; continue stepping forward with each lunge (keep your torso erect, not leaning forward), alternating legs. Repeat 20 reps on each leg.
Why you need it: These lunges increase core strength, flexibility, and endurance, and they benefit the cardiovascular system, says Volkmer. "It helps when walking up stairs or hills."
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Works: Rotator cuff
What you need: Light resistance tubing with a handle on one end
How to do it: Stand with your left side towards the door hinge to which you have attached the tubing. With your right arm bent at a 45-degree angle next to your side (your elbow is at your hip and your forearm is parallel to the ground in a handshake), grasp the handle of the tubing with your right hand and rotate your arm at the elbow, pulling the tubing out towards the right side (without pulling your upper arm away from your body), keeping your arm bent, like a door opening on a hinge.
Next, stand with your right side towards the door hinge. With your right arm bent at a 45-degree angle next to your side, grasp the handle of the tubing with your right hand and rotate your arm at the elbow, pulling the handle in towards the center of your body. Repeat 12 times on each side.
Why you need it: This helps strengthen the rotator cuffs-the muscles that keep your shoulders in their sockets, which often tear with age. People over the age of 60 experience rotator cuff injuries more than any other age group, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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Works: Core, chest, shoulders, abs
What you need: An inflatable fitness ball, 55 to 65 cm
How to do it: Kneel in front of the ball and roll out over top of it, walking on your hands, until you're in a push-up position with the ball under the shins/ankles. Keep your body straight, back flat and abs engaged. Squeeze your abs and lift your hips up towards the ceiling, rolling your feet onto the top of the ball; keep your legs straight. You'll be in an inverted V shape. Slowly return to starting position and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Why you need it: This move works the entire body, strengthening the abs, obliques, core, back, and hips, and is also cardiovascular, says Volkmer.
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Works: Front of arms
What you need: Dumbbells, 5 to 10 pounds, depending on strength
How to do it: Stand with feet hip width apart, holding dumbbells with arms straight down at your sides. Rotate your right hand so palm faces forward, bending your elbow and bringing the weight up towards your right shoulder using a 3-second count; pause and use a 10-second count to slowly return the weight to the starting position. Repeat on each side for 10 to 12 reps.
Why you need it: The slow downward movement recruits a greater number of muscle fibers, says Volkmer. "It gives you strength for carrying groceries and kids."
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Works: Backs of arms and chest
What you need: no equipment
How to do it: Get into a push-up position (either on your knees or up on the balls of your feet) with your hands in a triangle position with thumbs and forefingers touching. Lower yourself by bending your elbows until upper arm is parallel to the floor; slowly push back up and repeat 12 to 15 times. (This may also be done against a countertop or wall.)
Why you need it: The American Council on Exercise ranks this move as the "gold standard" for triceps exercises , reporting the greatest muscle activity among all triceps exercises. "In everyday life, strong triceps help you pull open heavy doors and get up out of a chair," says Volkmer.
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