You don’t have to be an athlete to face daily athletic challenges. Whether it’s lifting your luggage into the overhead compartment of an airplane or squatting on the floor to play with your kids, many daily movements require a combination of strength, stability and flexibility.
Like an athlete, if you want to do these things well without risking injury, you have to train. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, and two weekly sessions of strength training that target all the major muscle groups.
But life is busy. If you only have 10 minutes, there’s still a lot you can do, using just your body weight, that can ward off creaky knees, stiff backs and aching necks.
One way to create a fast and effective workout is to focus on mobility, which involves increasing strength, stability and flexibility, said Cedric Bryant, the president of the American Council on Exercise.
“When we think of mobility, we think about movement,” he said. This means strength training using moves like lunges, that work groups of muscles, rather than individual ones, like, say, a bicep curl. “The body never does just a bicep curl” in daily life, said Jessica Valant, a physical therapist and Pilates instructor based in Denver.
Another way to build strength for everyday life is to do exercises that target important moving body parts, like the shoulders, hips and spine, by strengthening them while going through their ranges of motion.
“Your spine is the center of your torso, the hip is what connects your legs to your torso, and the shoulder is what connects your arms to your torso,” Valant said. “These are the main areas that you use to reach and lift and pull. If you can work to keep those mobile, you are going to help yourself with 90% of the activities that you do every day.”
Mark Lauren, a fitness expert and former trainer for the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, said that in his own fitness routine, he methodically exercises the shoulders, spine, hips and legs, incorporating the full movement of each joint. This lets him work out quickly and efficiently to build strength and mobility.
If you are developing a full range of motion for these body parts, he said, “everything else tends to take care of itself.”
To create the most efficient body-weight routine for increased strength and mobility in everyday life, we talked with experts about what exercises they recommend and why. The five exercises they settled on build full-body strength and will leave you feeling more capable and agile.
This workout targets the hips, shoulders and spine. Take breaks as needed, but try to work up to the point where you don’t need them. As you progress, you can also add light weights, but focus on mastering the movements first.
“If you don’t take the time to feel safe and strong, that’s when problems can occur later,” Valant said.
Start by jogging, marching in place or other dynamic warmups, then do two one-minute rounds of the following exercises:
Lunges: 10 to 20 reps per minute.
Squats:10 to 20 reps per minute.
Glute bridges: 10 to 15 reps per minute.
Pointers: Six to 10 reps per minute.
Y-T-W-L formation: Three to five reps per position, with five positions per minute.
Squats and lunges for lower body
Squats and lunges are the best exercises for improving hip mobility. They strengthen your legs, hips and spine, and develop your hips’ range of motion. Although the exercises are similar, Valant said, it’s important to do both. Squats, which target the glutes and quads, will help you get down on the ground and back up with ease.
“We were made to do these deep squats,” Valant said. “It’s good for the pelvic floor, it’s good for the hips.” Squats also work the body evenly, with both legs doing the same motion.
For body-weight squats, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your toes pointed out at a slight angle. As you squat, your knees should move in alignment with your toes, going down as far as comfortable.
Lunges, on the other hand, are asymmetrical, requiring balance and stability, and cover many other daily movements. “That’s how we live,” Valant said, with one foot often in front of the other or out to the side. Lunges target the glutes, quads and hamstrings, which help with hiking and climbing stairs, but also build balance.
For lunges, take a wide stance, with the back heel lifted. “Don’t be afraid to use the counter or a chair when you’re just starting,” she said. For both squats and lunges, as you progress, you can start to add some weights, but when it comes to improving mobility, “deeper is better,” she added. Aim for 10 to 20 repetitions of each.
Pointers and bridges for the spine
The major movements of the spine are forward, backward, side to side and twisting — so those are the movements you should train. Lauren recommended pointers, which move the spine forward, backward and from side to side.
Get on your hands and knees in a crawling position, fully extending your right arm and left leg out, just as you would in a bird-dog exercise. Then bring the arm and leg into the center of your body, trying to touch your right elbow to your left knee. Repeat that, using the left arm and right leg.
“That’s a really good exercise for breaking up a long day of sitting at the computer,” Lauren said.
The next exercise is the glute bridge, which works the lower part of the spine. To do a glute bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press your hips upward off the ground, contracting the glutes as you do so. Avoid arching the back, but keep it straight. Then, bring your hips back down to the ground. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Four movements for the shoulders
To develop and maintain strong, agile shoulders, Bryant recommended the Y-T-W-L formation, which takes the shoulders through their full, three-dimensional range of motion, in four separate movements, and works to build muscles that are crucial to everyday life but are often overlooked.
This exercise can be done either lying down or in a bent-over position. The goal is to move the arms and shoulders through four movements that mimic the four letters, doing three to five reps for each.
To start the first movement, hold your arms above your head in a Y position. Bring them down to the thighs and then back up above your head, as if lowering a large ball from above your head to your waist.
Then, do the T position by holding your arms out at a 90-degree angle to the body and bringing your hands together, as if clapping, keeping your arms straight.
For the W position, hold your arms out at a similar 90-degree angle to the body, but bend the elbows to create right angles and hold your hands up, forming a W. Bring the arms above the body, touching the fingers together, then bring them back down to re-form the W shape.
For the L position, hold your arms out to your side in a similar bent position so the two arms form the shape of an L. Move the forearms down in a half-circle motion to the hips, keeping the upper arm stationary.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times