What is the most simple, effective exercise for getting and staying in shape? We asked three Chicago fitness experts to name one thing that everyone should be able to do easily and successfully, and got this trio of essentials that you can do anywhere, anytime, even without equipment.
Exercise: The Flawless Plank
Expert: Ali Asadi
Elite personal trainer, Lincoln Park Athletic Club
Why: This body-weight exercise is a static movement; all you do is hold a position. It’s ideal for building and maintaining strength and endurance in your core muscles — the abdominals, lower back, hip flex or sand stabilizer muscles.
How: The most basic version is a four-point plank — all four limbs have contact with the ground. Lie face down; raise your body on your elbows and forearms with your palms against the floor, keeping your elbows directly under your shoulders. Then raise your entire body up on your toes and forearms, making a plank and keeping your back flat and parallel to the floor and your neck neutral so you aren’t looking up or down. Hold the position for 30 seconds, rest and repeat three to five times.
Exercise: The Multipurpose Squat
Expert: Sara Rhul
Group fitness instructor, Lakeview Athletic Club
How: For a basic squat, put heels under your hips, push your hips back while bending your knees, keep your chest upright and squat down like you are going to sit in a chair — making sure to keep your belly button pulled back toward your spine, knees aligned over your feet, and shoulders down and away from your ears. You can put your hands on your hips or out in front of you. Do three sets of eight and work up to four sets of 12. A midstance squat with your heels under your hips will targetquads, hamstrings and glutes; turn your toes out to target inner thighs; and hold weights to involve arms and make it more of a full-body exercise.
Exercise: The Perfect Pushup
Expert: Jean Jourdain
Master trainer, East Bank Club
Why: It’s good for building and maintaining strength, endurance, core control and shoulder mobility. One of the best ways to fight arthritis is to keep joints active and mobile, and there’s a pushup for every level. If you have shoulder, flexibility or core-support issues, you can do it standing against the wall, on your knees and not take it all the way to the floor.
How: It’s done incorrectly more than any other exercise. Form is critical. Position hands at chest level, slightly outside your shoulder width. Elbows should come down at an angle, aligned with your chest, and go out on a 45-degree angle as you lower your body. Spine alignment from head to toe is straight; it’s like doing a plank. Squeeze in your abs so your back doesn’t cave; look straight down; maintain your plank; squeeze your shoulder muscles together to get the most work out of your pectoral and chest muscles; and inhale as you go down, exhale as you go up.