While sports can keep your kids fit and active, they can have the opposite effect on parents: All the shuttling to and from soccer, football, marching band and other practice fields can mean less time for exercise—especially the kind that requires a gym. It's no wonder only 21.7 percent of American adults met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities last year.|
And that's too bad because getting just two to three strength sessions per week can increase muscular strength and endurance, of course, but it can also improve cardiovascular function and metabolism, lower heart disease risk, and improve your "psychosocial well-being."
Those benefits of strength training aren't the opinions of just anyone: They're the conclusions of the American Heart Association, in their 2000 position paper on resistance exercise. Strength exercise has also been shown in some preliminary studies to increase your productivity, which is great whether you're pushing for a promotion at work or regularly conquer a list of chores at home.
When you're busy at practice or games, though, even fitness professionals have trouble finding time for a workout.
"I have a 12-year-old daughter who has been involved in sports since she was three," says Erin Studdard, owner of Burn Boot Camp in North Carolina. "Oftentimes, the only way I could fit in a workout was while she was involved in her activity."
But why should the kids getting their sweat on prevent you from taking care of yourself, too? Repeat after me: You don't need a gym to fit in a strength workout and get all the aforementioned benefits. Right at the practice field, there's a tool to make you stronger: a bench.
"A bench gives you so much versatility. For instance, jumping up on a bench and stepping down works your legs, which are large muscles," says Mike Whitfield, a trainer and weight loss coach, and author of "Rise and Hustle." "You can improve your strength in your core, glutes and pushing muscles with decline pushups. [There are] so many options!"
Of the many, here are three options: Three quick workouts for beginners, intermediate strength trainers and advanced exerciser to do when you're near a bench and have a few minutes to spare. So the next time you're waiting for practice to finish, get your butt off the bench—and get into gear!
Bench Supersets for Beginners
At her boot camps, Studdard focuses on total body, compound movements that work lots of large muscles at once for an efficient strengthening experience. For beginners or people just coming back to strength work, the bench can help—providing balance support as something to grab onto for exercises like squats, or as a platform to raise the body and make other movements easier.
Studdard's bench for beginners workout is designed around two exercise pairs or supersets. For each exercise pair, perform the first exercise in the pair for one set, then move to the next exercise in the pair for one set. Rest for 30 seconds after the superset, and then repeat. Once you've finished all the prescribed sets for that pair, move on to the next pair.
Exercise Pair 1:
Perform eight to 12 repetitions of exercise A, then eight to 12 repetitions of exercise B. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat the pair one to two more times for a total of two to three supersets. Then, move on to exercise pair 2, performing in the same manner.
Exercise A: Incline Pushups: Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders on the bench, and make your body form a straight line from head to heels. Maintain this rigid body line as you bend your elbows to lower your chest to the bench, keeping your elbows fairly tight to the sides of your body. For a safer pushup for your shoulders, your arms and body should form the shape of an "up" arrow, not a "T."
Exercise B: Seated Bodyweight Squats With Calf Raise: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out from parallel, with the bench behind you. Push your hips back to initiate the squat. Bend your knees to descend until you sit down on the bench, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels. Keep the weight of your body in your heels and press back to standing. At the top of the squat, go up on your toes using the strength in your calves before returning to start.
Exercise Pair 2:
Exercise A: Bodyweight Stepups: Stand with the bench in front of you, or in front of a flight of stairs. Keep your torso upright as you place your right foot on the bench and press through your heel to bring your left foot up so you're standing on top of the bench seat. Return to the ground with your right foot coming down first, and repeat with the other leg.
Exercise B: Triceps Bench Dips: Sit on the edge of the bench and place your hands on the front edge with your fingers facing forward. Position your feet slightly away from the bench, with your feet flat on the ground, knees bent. Straighten your arms and slide your butt off the edge of the bench. Lower your body by bending your arms at the elbow until you feel a slight stretch in the chest or shoulder, or if your butt touches the ground. Press down on the bench to straighten your arms and return to start.
Exercise 3: Lying Glute Bridge: Lie face up on the bench or ground with your knees bent and feet flat. Place your arms at your sides, palms up. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, squeeze your glutes to raise your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Pause for a second at the top of the exercise, then slowly return to the start position. Note: As you're raising up, don't let your heels come off the floor! Perform this exercise two to three sets, 15 to 20 repetitions with a 30-second rest between sets.
Exercise 4: Upper Body-Elevated Plank: Assume the top of the elevated pushup position by placing your hands directly beneath your shoulders on the bench, making your body form a straight line from head to heels. Maintain this rigid body line as you squeeze your core as if you're about to take a punch. Hold this position for one set of 30 seconds to two minutes.
After this strength session, if you've still got time and energy, perform a high-intensity session of half-burpees, a version that does not include a full pushup: Do three rounds of 30 seconds, resting 15 to 20 seconds between rounds. To use the bench to make the burpee easier, Studdard says face the bench and squat down before placing your hands on the bench instead of the ground in the plank position. Then, jump or step your feet out to an elevated plank position. Return to the bottom of the squat, press through your heels to stand up, and repeat.
Intermediate: 10 Minutes on the Bench
"A lot of quick workouts are all about just making you breathe heavy and sweat," says Whitfield. "That's great, but when you do both strength and conditioning, you burn calories both during and after exercise, making your time invested way more valuable."
Whitfield designed this intermediate bench workout to do both. To make it easier to concentrate on the movements and less on counting, Whitfield designed the workout to be based on time: "When someone is doing a quick workout at the park, it's tough to keep up with sets and reps. More than likely, they won't have a notebook or journal with them," he explains. "That's why I like to keep it simple and do a density style circuit where you do a circuit as many times as you can in 10 minutes, resting only enough to catch your breath."
To perform this workout, do each of the four exercises for six repetitions, then move to the next exercise. After you've done all four moves, rest just long enough to catch your breath a bit, then continue. Keep going for 10 minutes.
Exercise 1: Bench Jumps: Stand in front of the bench with feet about hip-width apart. Load your hips by pushing your butt back, then jump up onto the bench, landing softly on the balls of your feet. Jump or step back down, and repeat.
Exercise 2: Decline Pushups: Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders on the ground with your toes up on the bench behind you. Make your body form a straight line from head to heels. Maintain this rigid body line as you bend your elbows to lower your chest to the ground, keeping your elbows fairly tight to the sides of your body.
Exercise 3: Bulgarian Split Squats: Place one foot behind you on the bench, with your other foot in front so you're in a position similar to a lunge. Keeping your torso upright, push your hips back and bend your front knee to descend into a split squat. Press through your front heel to return to the starting position. Complete six reps with each leg.
Exercise 4: Cross-Body Mountain Climbers: Assume the classic pushup position, but with your feet up on the bench, forming a straight line from head to heels. Maintaining this rigid body line, lift your right foot and bend your knee to bring it up toward your left shoulder. Return to the starting position, and repeat with the left leg. That's one rep. Rapidly exchange in this way. If this is too difficult, move your feet from up on the bench down to the floor. Perform six repetitions total.
If you've still got some gas in the tank after 10 minutes, Whitfield suggests some high-intensity jumping jack intervals. "They burn calories, improve shoulder mobility and your heart health," he says. If you're up for the challenge, perform 40 seconds of jumping jacks, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat five times.
Speed Changes for an Advanced Session
If you're an advanced exerciser, a park workout that isn't part of your plan may not measure up to your gym sessions, but they're still better than sitting on the sidelines.
For people who are already fit, Mike Wunsch, a strength coach and co-owner of Next Level Physical Therapy and Athletic Performance in California, suggests making your bench time advanced with tempo changes—either slowing the exercise down considerably or speeding it up. For a slowed-down tempo on an exercise like a split squat, he says, this would mean performing the exercise for three seconds going down, pausing, and then two seconds on the way back up.
"That's going to fry most people," he says. "It may sound easy, but if you do 10 like that on each leg, it's humbling."
Wunsch's tempo workout has just four exercises, but the length of each repetition means each set will last almost a minute. To do the workout, start with your watch at the beginning of a minute. Perform one set of 10 repetitions of each exercise, then rest for the remainder of that minute before moving on to the next exercise. After you've performed all four moves, do a second round of each move, for a total of eight minutes.
Exercise 1: Bodyweight Split Squat: Stand with your feet together, about shoulder-width apart. Take a large lunge step forward with your right foot so that your feet are about three feet apart, with your feet still parallel. Bend your knees to descend for three seconds, until both knees form 90-degree angles. Take care to keep your front knee in line with your ankle. Press back to the start position. Perform 10 reps, then switch and do the exercise with your left foot forward. Tempo: Three seconds down, two seconds up.
Exercise 2: Pushup (on the ground, or feet elevated on bench): Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders, and make your body form a straight line from head to heels. Maintain this rigid body line as you bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor, keeping your elbows fairly tight to the sides of your body. Tempo: Take two seconds going down, hold for one second at the bottom, and then press back, taking two seconds to return to start.
Exercise 3: Bodyweight Squat: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out from parallel. Push your hips back to initiate the squat. Bend your knees to descend, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels. Hold at the bottom for five seconds. Keep the weight of your body in your heels and press back to standing. Tempo: Hold the bottom of the squat as low as you can go for five seconds.
Exercise 4: Bird Dog: Assume a tabletop position, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips. Your back should be flat, core drawn in. Maintaining this posture, and keeping your chest and hips parallel to the ground, raise your right arm off the ground and reach forward until your shoulder is in line with your ear, while simultaneously lifting your left leg off the ground and back until it is straight and parallel with the ground. In this position, you'll be in a "half flying" position like Superman, with one arm straight out and one leg straight back. Hold this position for three seconds, then simultaneously return the arm and leg to the start position, and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Perform 10 reps on each side. Tempo: Hold your arm and leg up for three seconds on each rep.