Don’t Skip Muscle-Building Workout

3 Easy Exercises to Get You Started With Strength Training
Happy senior couple doing push-ups at home. (Getty)

Women often skip muscle-building activities, but they're crucial to your long-term health and independence.

If you're like most American adults who work out regularly, you may squeeze in a daily walk or a quick run, or take a Zumba or aerobics class. But strength-training exercises usually don't make the list.

A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that only about 30% of American adults ages 18 to 80 are doing strength training twice a week, as recommended. And almost 58% of those surveyed said they did none.

It's a mistake to skip strength training. "People lose between 2% and 5% of their muscle mass every decade after age 30," says Dr. Beth Frates, clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

"If you lose 2% per decade, that means you've lost 4% of your muscle mass by the time you are 50," explains Dr. Frates. "That number could be as high as 10% if you lose 5% of your muscle mass per decade."

Maintaining muscle strength is more than just a vanity issue. Having adequate strength helps you do everything from going up and down stairs to carrying your own groceries. People who don't have enough muscle are more likely to fall, get injured, and have to rely on others as they age.

"Moreover, strength training is the best way to change your body composition. If you really want to feel and look different, you can do that through strength training," says Dr. Frates.

Many adults may be skipping muscle-building exercises because they think they need a gym membership or special equipment. Or perhaps they feel intimidated, or simply don't know where to begin. With this in mind, Dr. Frates designed a quick beginner strength workout to get you started. You can do it entirely at home, without equipment, using just your own body weight.

Try to squeeze in this easy workout at least twice a week. Keep it up for the next few months and you should see an improvement in your muscle strength. We'll include another batch of slightly more challenging exercises that you can use to ratchet up to the next level in later issue.

1. Boost your arm strength

Push-ups are an easy way to improve your arm and upper-body strength, says Dr. Frates. You can do these in a standard push-up position, or with your knees on the floor to make the exercise a little easier.

Set a goal: Aim to start with five push-ups. Once you've mastered that, move up to eight to 12 push-ups. If you can do that, do another set. Ultimately you should strive for three sets of eight to 12 push-ups twice a week.

2. Strengthen your legs  

For stronger legs, try performing a reverse lunge. Stand up straight with your feet together and your arms by your sides. (It's okay to keep one hand on a wall to help balance.) Then step back onto the ball of one foot and bend your knees, while keeping your back straight and your front knee over your ankle. Stand up and repeat. Once you've done the desired number of repetitions, switch legs.

Set a goal: Start by doing one set of eight to 12 repetitions on each side. Over time, increase to two sets, and ultimately to three.

3. Shore up your core

We talked about the benefits of the plank before, because it's a great way to build upper-body and core strength. You can do this exercise on your elbows with your legs extended in a traditional push-up position, or on your elbows and knees.

Set a goal: See how long you can hold the plank initially and then work to increase your time. If you can only do 10 seconds starting out, work your way up to 20. The ultimate goal should be to hold it for a minute at a time.