You don't need a gym membership to build muscle. These strengthening exercises from trainer Samantha Montpetit-Huynh of Toronto's Core Expectations are easy to do at home. The payoff? You'll burn more calories, protect your joints and help your bones stay healthy. Here's how to do it.
1. Squat with shoulder press
Standing with feet a little more than hip-width apart and holding weights at shoulder level with arms bent and palms facing forward, inhale and slowly bend at the knees into a squat. Exhale and stand up, extending your arms straight overhead. Do eight to 12 reps.
Tip: This is a compound movement, which means you're working more than one muscle group at a time to maximize the rewards.
Works: Quads, hamstrings, glutes and shoulders
2. Reverse lunge with knee up
Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and holding weights at your sides, inhale and lift your right knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Then, swing that leg behind you and plant your toes on the floor, bending both knees until they form 90-degree angles. Exhale and push off your toes to bring your knee back up. Do eight to 12 reps with each leg.
Tip: Swinging your leg elevates this lunge to a dynamic movement, which helps get your heart rate up.
Works: Quads, hamstrings and glutes
3. Biceps curl one leg
Standing with feet together and holding weights at your sides with palms facing forward, bend your right knee, keeping both knees together, until your calf is parallel to the floor. Balancing on your left leg, exhale and bend your elbows to bring the weights toward your shoulders, keeping your wrists straight. Inhale as you release back down. Do eight to 12 reps on each leg.
Tip: Standing on one leg forces you to engage your core muscles for balance.
Works: Biceps and core
4. Triceps dip
Sitting on the edge of a chair with your hands on either side of the seat and your feet together on the floor, scoot forward a bit off the seat, supporting your weight with your arms. Inhale and bend your elbows to lower your body, keeping your knees directly above your ankles and your shoulders dropped, until your arms are at a 90-degree angle. Exhale and straighten your arms, pushing yourself up. Do eight to 12 reps.
Tip: For an added challenge, rest your feet on a step or a chair instead of the floor and extend your legs.
Works: Triceps and shoulders
Do one of these plank positions and hold for 20 to 30 seconds, progressing to one minute once you get stronger. When you can do the easiest plank position for one minute, move on to the more advanced positions.
A. Easy: Hover plank
On your hands and knees, with your back flat, abs tight and arms straight with shoulders aligned directly over your wrists, lift your knees to hover about two inches off the floor.
B. Intermediate: Knee plank
Support your weight on your forearms and knees, with your feet crossed in the air behind you. Keep your shoulders directly above your elbows, your back flat and abs tight.
C. Advanced: Full plank
Support your weight on your forearms and toes, with legs extended. Keep your shoulders directly above your elbows, your back flat and abs tight.
Tip: If you're feeling the burn in your lower back, your hips are too low. Make sure your back is straight.
Works: Core muscles, including the transversus abdominis (the innermost
abdominal muscle that stabilizes the pelvis), obliques (muscles along the sides that allow you to bend sideways and twist) and rectus abdominis (the outer muscles—sometimes called the six-pack— which help you bend forward)
On your hands and knees, straighten your arms, keeping your shoulders aligned directly over your wrists, then scoot your knees back and lift your feet behind you, dropping your hips so your torso forms a straight line. With your neck straight and abs tight, inhale and slowly bend your arms to lower your chest toward the floor. Exhale and push yourself up. Do eight to 12 reps.
Tip: When you can do 12 to 15 knee pushups, you're ready for the regular pushup. Remember to keep your torso lengthened and straight.
Works: Chest, shoulders and triceps
Lying on your stomach with arms and legs extended, raise your left arm and right leg a few inches off the floor without rotating your spine and hold for two or three seconds. Return to start position, then repeat with your right arm and left leg. Alternate from side to side, exhaling as you lift your limbs and inhaling as you lower. Do four to six reps per side.
Tip: These movements are small but effective; don't try to lift too high or you'll risk injuring yourself.
Works: Erector spinae (the muscles that run along the spine, which bend and extend the back and let you move from side to side)
Lying on your back with arms relaxed at your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, exhale and lift your hips, squeezing your glutes and keeping your back flat. Inhale as you lower your bum to the floor. Do eight to 12 reps.
Tip: For an added challenge, extend one leg as you lift and lower your hips.
Works: Hamstrings, glutes and lower back
Check out the full workout for these strength-boosting moves.