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Weight-Bearing Exercises: Start Resisting

They require little or no gear, can be done almost anywhere, and work lots of muscles at once

Trainer Bryan Johnson


En español | Bryant Johnson, a former military paratrooper who trains Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among others, is hip to the fact that you probably don’t like push-ups, planks, or squats. “I'm always asking my clients, 'Why do you hate push-ups so much?' ” he says.

As he tells it, such “compound exercises,” which employ lots of different muscles and use your own body weight for resistance, are something that everyone — whether age 86 (like Ginsburg) or 54 (like Johnson himself) — should enthusiastically embrace.

Why? They’re an incredibly efficient — not to mention gear-free — way to strength train lots of muscles all at once, some of which, Johnson notes, “You’re never even aware you’re using.” All this adds up to getting more bang for your time on that exercise mat in your living room.

Plus, such exercises are not hard for beginners to pull off, though it may be wise to try modified versions to start. Think: a push-up on your knees, or a very shallow squat instead of a deep one.

"You don't get weak overnight, so don't try to get strong overnight." 

Bryant Johnson

“These weight-bearing exercises can be as simple as sitting down in a chair and then standing up,” Johnson says, adding that he once had a client who claimed she wasn’t able to do a squat, yet drove a little sports car that, he struggled not to point out, required to her essentially squat every time she got in or out of the low vehicl

As you start something like modified push-ups, or your first, very brief attempt at holding a plank position, know that these moves are worth working at, even if they take time and effort to achieve. “Especially for the senior population, you don't want to have the first time you’re trying to get up off the floor to be after you’ve just fallen,” says Johnson.

But along with giving these moves your best try, it also pays to be patient. “Something I tell clients when they’re trying to get strong is: 'You don’t get weak overnight, so don’t try to get strong overnight.' ”

It takes about three weeks, Johnson says, for your body to get used to such exercises, but by the fourth week, “it’s starting to accept the habit, and to adapt.” That means it will also start to feel easier.

So hang in there. Getting strong is a marathon, not a sprint.