Welcome to our second Fit Club workout challenge! If you missed Week 1, you can check it out here! And if you’re just getting started, be sure to check out this post and follow us here on Instagram!
We want to introduce you to our featured Fit Club trainer, Claire!
Claire graduated from BYU-Idaho with her BS in Exercise Physiology with an emphasis in fitness and training. After graduating, she was hired on as an adjunct Anatomy instructor where she taught for a year. Her training varies from geriatrics to High Intensity. She taught Senior exercise classes for the Public Health Department as well as CrossFit. Claire and her husband welcomed their first baby five months ago and she is just coming back into the fitness industry since her little boy was born. Her fitness philosophy is that we were blessed with high functioning bodies that were meant to move and not meant to suffer from aches and pains. All persons, in every stage of life– from pregnancy to Seniors–can and should exercise to keep their bodies happy!
Hi, there! Today we are going to do a quick overview of two of the most basic but fundamental exercises. With my background in geriatrics I have found that EVERYONE can do both squats and push-ups, whether your are 8 or 88, pregnant, or postpartum, you just have to start somewhere practical, and build up to something more difficult. My goal with this post is to help everyone know that they CAN do more than walk. Our bodies are meant to be used, so don’t be scared to do something you thought you couldn’t do!
First, we are going to start with squats. As I started my training in Cross Fit a few years back, one of my trainers said, “Women, listen up. Squats are the best exercise that you can do for yourself. So do them well, and do them often”. I still believe every word. There is a lot of physiology behind why women have a tendency to suffer from hip problems compared to men, but simply put, as you strengthen the muscles around your hips your chances of suffering from a hip injury decrease dramatically. Better yet, if you can build up to doing weighted squats, you will actually strengthen the bones and really prevent injury.
We are going to start with the basics: proper squat stance. Think about when a basketball player goes to jump–do they have an extra wide stance? Nope. Jump up and down a few times like you are shooting a basketball. The way you land is going to be your power stance; this is the stance in which your legs are the most powerful and can lift the most weight. If you are worried about balance, go ahead and widen your stance for extra support.
Chances are growing up in PE, your coach always said “DON’T LET YOUR KNEES GO OVER YOUR TOES!”. If you were like me, then you and your other seven year old pals really had no clue what exactly what he meant. So, we are going to make sense of that worn-out statement to make sure no one injures himself or herself. As you go down, make sure your are pushing your glutes backwards, and always put your weight into your heels, like you are trying to lift your toes off the ground. To get the full benefit, as you come up from a squat, push your hips all the way forward and clench your glutes together. If this is new to you, try to really dramatize pushing your hips forward; it may feel funny at first, but it ensures that you are getting the full benefit of the squat.
You can modify this squat a few ways. With every modification you are going to follow the same form as above.
Beginner: Chair squat.
This is perfect building block for anyone who may not have the strongest leg muscles and are worried about balance and falling. Start by finding where your feet should be placed. Do this by sitting on the edge of your chair with a straight back and your feet in “power stance.” Stand up and perform your squats, barely touching your rear to the chair. If you need the extra assistance, you can sit all the way on the chair, but the goal is to do consecutive squats without resting on the chair.
Intermediate/Advanced: Air Squat.
This is just your basic un weighted squat. As you come down, make sure your thigh breaks parallel with the ground. If you were to put a marble on your knee, it should roll backwards towards your hip. This ensures that you are going down far enough in your squat.
Deep Squat (widely known as a third world squat): This squat is more of a stretch that will help the flexibility of your hips. If you are into Olympic weightlifting, or any weightlifting in general, this will really help your range of motion and flexibility, and thus helping you with gains. Chances are if you look at any kid under the age of 5, you will see them doing this squat when they are playing with toys. As we age and use our hips less, we lose their flexibility and strength, and this stance becomes more and more difficult to do.
To perform, go down into a squat, but keep going down until your glutes are touching your ankles or calves. Keep your weight in your heels and don’t come up onto your toes. If you need assistance, use a pole or your bed frame to help with balance. Try doing this for 1 minute a day, in 20-30 second increments.
Chances are, if you are currently doing push-ups, you are probably doing them right. Below are the three variations of the push-up. For each push-up, lower down in 3 count, touch nose to ground/wall, and push yourself up to a full elbow extension, keeping your core tight. To get the full benefit of this exercise, you need to work towards touching your nose to the ground and coming up to a full elbow extension (straightening your elbows). If you are unable to do either of those, try to step down to one of the modified push-ups for a while.
Beginner: Wall Push-Ups
If you are currently unable to do a push-up or if you are uncomfortable getting on the ground try starting off with a wall push up. The closer your feet are to the wall, the easier it will be. If you are new to this, start with your feet closer to the wall, and every few days, try stepping back a little bit!
Intermediate: Knee Push-Ups
Similar to wall push-ups, the closer your knees are to your hands, the more difficult it will become. The key for knee push-ups is to keep a straight back. Don’t let your rear stick in the air!
With a full push up, the goal is to keep a straight line from your heels to your head. Don’t let that rear come up, we aren’t doing a downward dog! 🙂
Variations: A regular “wide stance” push up is done with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders will primarily focus on your chest muscles. Since your chest muscles are bigger, it results in an easier push up. A “narrow stance” push up is done as you bring your hands directly under your chest, with your elbows close to your sides. This will focus more on your triceps (back of your arms), abdominals, and shoulders. You can do a narrow stance with all three types of push-ups!
Thank you, so much, Claire! Check out this week’s workout (and don’t forget to print out last week’s workout as well!). We’re challenging you to do push-ups and squats every day this week. Add them to your current routine, or start of slow with these basic moves for the week! Print these out and add them to your collection!
Download the Printable Quick-Card Workout Here
I just have a questions about the push ups. I have been told to do the push ups with your elbows against your body and to not put the elbows out. Is there a benefit from doing them one way or the other? I know that I was at a class and when some did them with the elbows out they said that was the wrong way to do a push up. Just want another take on that. Thanks
Kim, I am just seeing this! Sorry to be responding so late. So you can do push up’s both way. When you put your elbows next to your body so they’re touching your ribs (also known as diamond push ups), it’s working your triceps. Since your triceps aren’t as strong as your biceps (for the majority of people) these make push ups MUCH more difficult. I was actually just doing them today and can already feel my triceps burn!
I’ve been doing these exercises for years, but realize I have room for improvement! Thank you for putting this tutorial together!
I’m doing lots of these within my regular workouts this week! I think I’m at the intermediate level for both. 🙂
Added them today! Love these workouts that I can do at home with my little ones running around!
Thanks for the great explanations. I would also love to know what you recommend for strengthening all the muscles in the tummy region. Is it better to do sit-ups or crunches? Or is there something better than either? And an explanation of how to do whatever you recommend with the right form would be awesome.
Also, when I was working up to being able to do regular push-ups, I used to do them with hands on the bathroom counter & feet on the floor, then moved down to the side of the tub, then down to the bottom step of my stairs. It felt like an easier way than knee push-ups to keep good form while I built strength. I just thought I’d mention it in case it might help anyone else.
Thank you for the help with squats- I always worry that I am doing them wrong. And I like the extra challenge of doing them deeper- its killer!
Question: If you have been diagnosed with arthritic knees should you do squats, especially the deep ones? If the answer is no, is there a substitute that would produce the same results?
Anna- if you have arthritic knees I would steer clear of the deep squats, just to be safe. If you would really like to try them I would consult your doctor first, as he knows more about your situation than i do 🙂
As for just the normal squats, it really is an incredibly functional movement (think getting something from the cupboard, picking something up and putting it on a shelf, sitting up and down, etc) so the goal is to strengthen those muscles so you won’t suffer from pain in the long run. Most people will compensate by bending their backs to pick something up instead of squatting which will injure their backs in the long run. If it gives you pain in your knees to do a lot of squats, try doing a static wall squat (bend so your thighs are parallel with the floor, and your back against the wall). It will help strengthen the same muscles without all the joint movement.
My last suggestion is to do straight leg lifts. They are really good for people with knee arthritis because it also strengthens the muscles around the knees. Simple sit against a wall, keeping your back straight, put your legs straight in front of you and lift up one of your legs at a time, and try and pulse it 10 times, then switch legs. You can also do this on a chair (remembering to keep your back straight).
Sorry for the lengthy response! I hope it helps.
Thanks for the tips! I always struggle with push-ups, but this makes them totally accessible
Thanks for the tips! This works great at the end of my regular workout!
Have done 25 of each both yesterday and today and am working toward 6 days in a row. So far, I’ve chosen to add them to the end of a cardio session. Great idea, thanks for the inspiration!
Hi Claire! I also was wondering if it was better to do the advanced push-ups with breaks to reach 25 or do them on my knees until I am strong enough to do all 25 on my toes. Also, should I feel very sore from the strength workouts?? I find myself getting frustrated if I don’t have any soreness the day after I do strength training, even when I feel like I am working my muscles to exhaustion while I am doing the workout. Then I end up giving up and just focusing on cardio because that is what I know… Thanks so much for all of your advice!!
Alyssa- Addressing your first question, it seems like (based on the rest of your comment), you would like to build strength more but more often you revert to cardio? With the push-ups if you really are focusing on trying to build the strength I would do as many as the 25 you can as full push-ups, take a 20-30 second break and try and pump the rest out in segments. If you want to use the push-ups as more as a mix of cardio and strength I would do as many as you can in a full position, and then go to your knees to finish the 25 you have left with out stopping. This will keep your heart pumping and will help you finish faster (this is beneficial if you are doing a HIIT, like last weeks challenge, that involve push ups!).
As for your second question, I completely understand where you are coming from. Weight training was hard for me because I wanted to feel sore after every session, because it makes you feel like you are going to see results! Simply put, soreness occurs due to your actual muscle tissue breaking down from the stress, and then it rebuilds stronger muscle tissue so your body can handle the load next time. Ideally, my goal is to be pretty sore about 1-2 days a week (If I am lifting everyday). Next time you are doing weights (like bench press, weighted squats, push press, etc) try doing this, it’s my go to strength set when I am trying to make gains.
1×5 (1 set, 5 repetitions at a fairly pretty easy weight)
rest for 3 minutes
2×3 (2 sets of 3 repetitions.)
3×1 (3 sets of 1 rep, this weight should be high enough so you can only do 1-2 repetitions before you max out)
Also, one other pointer is to mix in some cardio with your weight training! This is one of my favorite go to workouts:
3 rounds (as fast as you can)
8 push press (try about 25 lbs, if you can do a full barbell that would be great!)
10 box jumps
Claire, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. You are exactly right, I would like to build strength I just usually resort to cardio because I am more familiar with it. Thank you for helping me get out of my comfort zone and push myself, I cant wait to try your suggestions!
Claire, I have a question. I can do full push-ups on my toes but can not do all 25 at one time. Is it better to do them all the advanced way with breaks in between (10, rest, 8, rest 7) or do as many as I can the advanced way and switch to my knees to finish without a rest. Thanks!!
Amy, I would definitely do them split up as full push-ups. Full push ups are more beneficial than knee push ups (while they are both great!) because it also works your core at a higher level.
Claire, I’m wondering if you had any classes from my dad while at BYU-Idaho. He just retired from the PE department and his name is coach Sonderegger. Just thought I’d check!
Diane- No I didn’t have an classes from Coach Sonderegger! I was supposed to take a class from him but at the last minute it went to another professor.
Gotcha-I’m guessing it was probably bc he had to have surgery. That’s happened a lot the last few years (due to weightlifting in excess when he was younger!).
Thanks for the squat tips. My Zumba instructor always covers this with new people, but some are still over-working their knees when they squat.
Thanks for the continued motivation to keep up on the exercising! I wanted to share something my mom shared with me over the weekend. She went to a women’s conference where two ladies spoke about beauty, or rather redefining beauty. Their website is http://www.beautyredefined.net . I browsed around last night and it is a wonderful message about woman and body image and their overall perspective of themselves. Anyway, I thought this might be helpful to all women so I thought I’d share here. Thanks again for all your efforts to keep your site going and for the extras you add in like this fit club!
Also, if you were going to add weights, how would you hold them?
Hi Cindy, Claire here (the trainer from above:). It depends on what kind of weights you are using. If you are using a large barbell then you would rest it on your shoulders. If you are using free weights you have a few options. If you would like to purely work your legs, then hold them next to your thighs, or hold them right next to/above your shoulders (this will still work your arms a little bit). If you want to add a nice arm work out, hold the weight straight out in front of you (keeping your arms straight) this will work out your shoulders. The last option is if you are at home and don’t have free weights you can find a heavy-ish object that you can hold with two hands (kind of like a kettle bell), and hold it near your chest.
I really like this series. What kind of routine is a good amount for squats and pushups?
this is good info. Some of those push-up position pictures aren’t proper form, need to keep your head in line with your spine and push your shoulders down (in the pic they are scrunched up and her head is hanging down and her bottom is a little high) but that’s the perfectionist in me. For beginners it’s a good place to start Great series. Keep it up!
This is such a great series. Thank you! I was wondering if you could include some information about the emotional aspect of eating, as I know this is a HUGE hurdle for a lot of people as they are trying to change habits. I myself went to counseling for an eating disorder a few years ago (it manifested itself as both gross underrating and gross overeating over the course of ten years–always in an effort to control my emotions and often as a result of my perfectionism). My counseling was SO HELPFUL in my efforts to overcome the urge to starve myself or overeat when I was stressed out. How have you two ladies addressed the emotional component of eating in your own lives? I recorded a podcast about what I learned in my counseling for the website Power of Moms. Here is a link if anyone is interested in some strategies that I learned for dealing with my emotions WITHOUT turning to food: http://powerofmoms.com/2014/11/unhealthy-stress/
Thanks again, and I look forward to learning more about health this year with you ladies! You are awesome!
A couple of tips I’ll share that have helped me with correct push-up form and to get the most benefit…my trainer took a long pole (a broomstick with no brush at the end) and rested on my back. Correct form is when the stick touches your upper back between your shoulder blades, your booty, and your legs/calf muscles, you know you are in a straight line. Also, you should focus on squeezing your glutes and using your core muscles so you don’t move like a snake when doing the push up:) Keep your head in line with your spine, too.
After last week and now this week’s workout, I don’t think my thighs will ever stop hurting 🙂
Great post! I keep thinking that I will do some squats each day, at random times during the day. Guess I need to put a reminder on my phone because I keep forgetting!! 😉
Thank you! The instructions on how to do these properly will really help now and in the future!
Also I wanted to add posts like this are great! I love learning the proper way to do these basic exercises that I can do at home to build my confidence to do them at the gym.
Thank you! I never knew how to do either properly & will start doing both today & now the right way!!
Thank you!!! This is a great explanation of two of my exercise staples! 🙂