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Seven Exercises for Total Fitness

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Co-Written with Todd Broxmeyer

There are many aspects of exercise that are exciting and productive, but one of the many components has to be the accessibility of the actual movements. No matter where a person is, whether it be the comfort of the home you grew up in, a hotel halfway around the world, or the Spartan confines of a 6′ by 9′ prison cell, accessibility is a must. These movements, or exercises, can be done alone or in any size group. So, if exercising is so easily within reach of the vast majority of the people on the planet, why aren’t more of us doing it?prison-cell

There are many answers to this question, but we think the primary barrier is that people tend to think that exercise and fitness need to be harder than they really do. Please understand, we are not saying that effort and dedication aren’t needed when attempting to get in shape. What we want everyone to understand is that the movements themselves should not be intimidating. Fear of engaging in the actual muscle movements should never stop someone from engaging in them in the first place.

Every exercise in this article can be modified to make it harder or easier. Just because you cannot do a pull-up does not mean you shouldn’t work out your back; find the movement you can do that uses the same muscles, thus fulfilling the same exercise goal as a pull-up. We are going to present seven movements that can be done anywhere in a safe, controlled, and reasonable manner, whether it’s the home, a hotel, or even a prison cell. The point is to simply try each on for size and see where they take you.

Exercise #1: Squats (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes)

If you have no time for anything else, DO SQUATS! A more specific breakdown will be provided later, but for now, use a chair. Simply act like you are going to sit down, and when your bottom touches the chair, stand up. During your descent, focus on keeping your hamstrings (back of your legs) tight. As you stand up, squeeze your quadriceps (front of your legs) and your glutes (your bottom). When squatting, ensure that your back is flat and your descent is slow and smooth. Full range and continuity of motion are essential to get the full benefit of each repetition.

Exercise #2: One Arm Row (Latissimis Dorsi, Biceps)

This one will require some type of weight. It can be anything; even if you can manage only one book or a bag (or even a pillowcase) of water bottles, just find what works best for you. Bend over at the waist, hold resistance in one hand, and perform a motion similar to pull-starting a lawnmower. Keep the elbow close to the body and tighten your back muscles (Latissimms Dorsi) through the movement. Repeat with the other side. If a bench is handy, it can be helpful to place one knee and one hand on the bench, bend over, and use the opposite hand to lift the weight. This is particularly useful when lifting heavier weights.

Exercise #3: Pushups (Pectoralis Major, Triceps)

Lying face down on the floor, place your hands at or near your shoulder and straighten your arms. In a standard pushup, only your hands and toes are on the ground. If this is too difficult, place your knees on the ground instead of your feet. If this is still too difficult, no problem: Simply perform a pushup motion from a standing position, using a counter, desk, or bed to push against at an angle. This will lighten the load. When doing pushups, it can be helpful to do several sets of regular, shoulder-width pushups, then to widen your hands and do several sets of wide pushups. This will help to hit the outer area of the chest, while giving the center area of the chest a break.

Exercise #4: Lateral/Front Raises (Deltoids)

With your arms flat at your sides, simply bring both arms flat up to your shoulders, like making a “T” with your body. Return them to your sides, then bring your arms up so that they are straight in front of you, like a zombie on the prowl, then back to the starting position again. Add weight using whatever you have available. Again, books or a bag of water bottles will suffice. Always remember that the shoulders do not require much weight, so don’t overdo it.

Exercise #5: Tricep Kickbacks (Triceps, Rear Deltoids, Limited Forearms)

Start at a standing position with your arms at your sides. Keeping your elbows flat against your sides, bring your hands up to your shoulders in the front. Bring your arms back down while tightening the muscles in the back of your arms. Now that you have the arm motion down, bend over at the waist, keeping your elbows at your waist, and repeat the motion. Hold a weight in your hands to add difficulty. As the name suggests, your arms will kick back, engaging the triceps. The idea is to fully extend the muscles when the hands touch the shoulders and to fully contract when your hands extend back down.

Exercise #6: One-Arm Curls (Bicep Femoris, Partial Forearm)

If there is one exercise everyone knows, it is this one.

Starting with your arms by your sides, simply bring your hand toward your shoulder by bending at the elbow. When the hand approaches the shoulder, make your pinky finger rotate to the shoulder and squeeze the bicep. This results in additional muscle contractions which provide for a more complete curl. Again, add weight as necessary.

An alternative motion to consider is called hammer curls. To employ this technique, simply hold the weight in your hands, keeping your thumbs facing forward, raise your hands up to your shoulders. As your hands approach your shoulders, your thumbs with touch the shoulders. This is a helpful addition to the regular curls noted above, but shouldn’t be used as a replacement for them since the muscles are not contracted as much with this curling technique.

Exercise #7: Calf Raises (Gastrocnemius, Soleus)

Put an object under your toes and the balls of your feet so that there are three to four inches of clearance below the heel. This could be several sturdy books, or better yet, a stair. Stretch your heel as far as you can downward, then contract the gastrocnemius (calf muscles) so you are standing on just the balls and toes of your feet (ideally as far upward as you can manage), then return to the stretched, downward position. Make sure to stretch the heel as low as possible during each downward movement and raise the heel as high as possible during each upward movement to enjoy the full motion and benefit of this exercise.

There are several terrific alternatives that can be employed with calf raises. If you find that regular calf raises are too easy, try alternating sets between keeping your knees slightly bent and straight, this will change the focus between the soleus and the gastrocnemius (they are two separate calf muscles). You can also try pointing your toes inwards or outwards. Likewise, one-leg calf raises can also be thrown into the mix to significantly increase the intensity.

Bonus Exercise: Laughing (Abdominals)

You may have noticed that we left out the abdominal area, but in reality, we did not. When your body moves through all these movements, your core muscles will be engaged; thus the abs are being worked out continually. This does not mean you should ignore abdominal-specific movements, but in the beginning, simply stand and sit up straight; take deep breaths and laugh a lot. If you do that, along with the movements listed above, these core muscles will receive a thorough workout while engaging in the other profiled exercises.

Intensity and Duration: Finding the Right Fit

The big question is how many of each of these exercises one should do. Anything one-size-fits-all is simply not going to work. With that being said, it is always better to err on the side of caution. We recommend two sets, consisting of 10 repetitions, for each of these exercises. If you find that you need to add weight, then do so. Start small and gradually add weight until you find the right fit for your unique fitness needs. For example, if you can only do five squats, then only do five; if 10 squats are too easy, increase accordingly. The same principle should be applied to all other exercises. Going too heavy or engaging in too many repetitions doesn’t help, it only maximizes the risk of injury.

Success: A Solution for the Long Term

Remember, where you start is not as important as where you end up, and being successful in the long run is what counts. In the beginning, achieving some reachable goals will help you to continue exercising and building a healthier lifestyle. Success means continuing on with the workout regimen. This version of a full-body workout is geared to give everyone the confidence to start a workout regimen by providing a better understanding of the movements and just how easy they can be to engage in. And with this newfound confidence, more advanced and increasingly strenuous workout components can be employed to help you reach your fitness goals.

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About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Education Behind Bars (Sunbury Press, 2012), the Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2014), and the forthcoming College for Convicts (McFarland and Company, 2015) and United Blood Nation: The Story of the East Coast Bloods (Headpress, 2015). He can be found online at Prisoneducation.com, Prisonlawblog.com, and christopherzoukis.com.