Getting strong for the summer

This month I’m taking you back to where it all began: With exercises you can do at home to build and preserve your strength. Summer is at the door and all of us longing for a long, warm, hopefully confinement-free season – you might find yourself wanting to shape up, while still being in the comfort of your home.

To be strong is not just to look muscular or fit; to me it has more to do with trusting your body to have the strength to do all the stuff you like to do, from having finger strength to open up jars, strong arms to kneed bread, core and shoulder strength to go surfing. In short, it’s about different strengths for different purposes.

To build up strength or to preserve it, you need consistency more than anything else. It’s like with everything in life: If you want to be good at something, you need to do it on a regular basis, be consistent. And to get better, you’ll need to challenge yourself once the routine starts to feel easy.

A good summer look is a strong silhouette. You’ll need a strong back and a strong back will also give you a good posture, which will give you a healthy looking attitude to life and a strong silhouette. 

Here are a few of my favourites for back training strength exercises you can do at home or outside in your garden or in a park.

To get visible results, I will suggest a minimum three sessions a week. If you keep the breaks between sets short, you should be able to start and finish within 15 minutes.

Standing: Bend over Rows are wonderful because they target all the big muscle groups; besides the primary upper body, they also work legs, core and triceps. Stand on the floor with feet shoulder width or a little further apart. Slightly bend your knees and pivot a little from the hips, so your upper body is leaning slightly over. Keep your back straight and core engaged. Hold the weights in your hands, arms straight down. Lift the weights up to the chest, while keeping legs and core engaged. Lower weights to straight arms for a full movement. Use anything from water-filled bottles to dumbbells for this exercise. Do three to five sets with 10-12 repetitions depending on your level.

Floor exercises: Supermans and back/leg raises. Put a mat on the floor; lie tummy-side down, arms over your head, legs straight. For Supermans, raise upper body and legs simultaneously. Clear both upper body and thighs as much as you can from the floor. Let yourself down gently and controlled to complete the movement. 

If the Superman is too difficult, you can divide the exercise into two parts: Upper body lifts and leg lifts. Do the same movement, but for only one part of your body at a time. Three to five sets with 15-20 repetitions.

Standing: Overhead Squat. Feet shoulder width or a bit more apart, stand up straight, hold arms above your head. Keep them up, as you squat down; engaging your core to keep the back as straight as possible. Squat down to horizontal and stand back up, with arms above your head to end the movement. Use weight, such as a water-filled bottle or a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate if you can carry it (if you’re just starting out, use something light, that won’t hurt or ruin if you drop it). Again three to five sets, 10 -12 repetitions. 

Hanging: Pull-ups/Chin-ups. This exercise needs a pull-up bar or a solid tree branch you can hang from. It’s the king of back exercises, but it takes solid work to build up the strength and technique. If you are new to this and find it’s impossible to pull yourself up, regardless how your grip is on the bar, I suggest just hanging to begin with. Get used to carrying your own weight by holding on to the bar for any amount of time you can. Maybe it’s five seconds. Then hang for five seconds twice the first week or two of training. After it becomes easy or you are getting used to it, you can either add extra seconds or more reps. Once hanging becomes natural, you can start working on the pull movement. The underhand grip is the easiest. It primarily uses biceps and upper back in the pull. Grab the bar with your palms facing you. Bend your arms by the elbow, as you pull yourself up, chin over the bar, to perform a proper chin up. Lower yourself in a controlled movement to finish the exercise. Once you have learned the pull, you can start thinking in reps and sets.

I hope this has inspired you to train or to keep training. Going about your life, working, studying, cooking, writing, reading – everything we do, shapes us. Don’t forget to shape your body too. You need strength to lift your children, to swim, bike and run, to play ball, climb and dance, and you need it to carry you through life, into your senior years, so you can remain agile to do what you want. 

Covid-19 evidence appears to support regular physical activity that can prevent you getting badly sick, which is another good argument for prioritising health. 

There is beauty in strength and it’s ancient wisdom to take care of your body; remember this as we walk into summer. It’s the best time of the year for staying active, eating well and being outside. Go for it and make it your summer. 

Comments and questions are always welcome via mail of via Instagram

Tania Presutti

Tania Presutti is a Danish freelance journalist and fitness professional who now resides in Clonakilty.

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