Pump, Pound, Pushup, Plank…Pandemic Workouts

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Pump, Pound, Pushup, Plank…Pandemic Workouts

Pump, Pound, Pushup, Plank…is my mantra for pandemic workouts – pump on the bike for my heart, pound on the road for my bones, pushups for upper body and planks for core body strength.  Exercise should be effortful to be most effective; for example, you should feel your heart rate and breathing increase with cardio; your muscles pump up with strength training. That is why my mantra keeps me focused on why I am doing a particular exercise and how to get the most out of it.

Pump for your heart.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s 30-minute recommendation of moderate cardiovascular activity most days of the week is the minimum to reduce an inactive person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious conditions.  While walking is an economical, convenient, and healthful activity, it may not be enough to boost your fitness level. If you are just beginning to get with the program, however, this is a good way to build a base. 

If you are following a consistent cardio program, try varying your routine by creating a cycle of three workouts of different length and intensity.  Do each of the workouts twice a week using any cardio activity. Be sure to include at least 5 minutes easy pace for both the warmup and cool-down.

Use the “talk test” to gauge the intensity.  During the warm-up and cool-down, you should be able to converse comfortably. Remember that you must keep your heart rate elevated above resting level to benefit.

  • High Gear:  30 minutes total, sustaining the fastest pace you can for 20 minutes during which conversation requires quite a bit of effort.  Starting off too fast may leave you breathless, so find a pace that you can maintain.
  • Intervals:  45 minutes total, alternating between high intensity and recovery periods.

      Allow 10 minutes for the warm up and 5 for the cool-down.  For 30 minutes, do 5           intervals of 3 minutes each at fast pace (conversation requires a lot of effort) alternating with 3 minutes of recovery (converse with little effort).

  • Long, slow distance:  60 minutes total.  Use a steady moderate pace for the entire time, able to converse with some effort.  If you can’t do it all at once, break it up into 10- or 15-minute segments throughout the day – you’ll still get the same benefits.

And, as always, remember to consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program or becoming much more physically active.

Pound for your bones.

Exercise is a key factor in maintaining bone density. Like muscles, your bones get stronger when you make them work, training them to handle more stress or resistance.  After age 40, the goals of exercise are to maintain bone mass, offset or reduce bone loss and improve balance and coordination to prevent falls. 

Exercise should maximize the load to the bones with a progressive (i.e. gradual intensification) program of weight bearing aerobic exercise and weightlifting. Assuming your joints are healthy and pain free, you should aim for:

  • High impact aerobic exercise: defined as activities in which both feet are off the ground at the same time, as in running, jumping rope, and high-impact aerobic dance. Simply jumping up and down is effective, since you need to maximize the ground reaction forces, the force with which your body hits the ground. For more moderate impact, simply do a heel drop: rise up on your toes and drop your heels forcefully.
  • High intensity weightlifting: use the heaviest weights you can lift in good form for 8-12 repetitions with the last few reps being challenging.  Do 1-3 sets of each exercise.

To target bones throughout the body, do exercises for all the major muscle groups:  Hips and thighs, back, chest, shoulders, arms and abdomen.

  • Balance and stabilization exercises:  incorporate exercises using tools like stability balls, balance discs, and foam rollers, which recruit the muscles of the core body as you master unstable surfaces. Improving your balance reduces your risk of falling.   Being able to recover from a stumble or change direction can prevent a fracture.

Remember:   To protect your joints from injury, use good judgment regarding high impact exercise and high intensity weightlifting.  Be sure to increase the workload gradually. 

If you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis,downshift into low impact exercise (when one foot is always on the ground) to avoid jarring the spine and other vulnerable joints.

Pushup for your upper body.

You can do it anytime, anywhere – no equipment required!   The push-up is the classic strengthening exercise that works multiple muscle groups of the upper body in an integrated way, the same way your body moves in daily life.   This is the premise of “functional fitness: training the body in movement patterns that reinforce the way we perform our day-to-day activities.

Using your body weight as resistance, the pushup is an efficient and effective way to strengthen the upper body, firming up the chest, shoulders, and triceps.  All variations are weight-bearing through the arms and wrists. The abdominals and back muscles are active in stabilizing the torso.  The level of difficulty is determined by how much weight you shift onto your upper body.

  • The Wall Pushup is the easiest variation as you stand parallel to a wall with your arms outstretched in front of you.
  • Diagonal Pushup: The kitchen counter is the perfect spot for this variation, which is harder because you shift more body weight onto your upper body as you lower into a diagonal position. 
  • Half Pushup:This modification, done from your knees on the floor, is more difficult than the previous standing variations but easier than a full body pushup from the toes.  Be sure to pull your abdominals tight to support the spine.

Watch here as I demonstrate all three variations for Healthination.  https://www.healthination.com/fitness/push-up-modifications/

Plank for your core.

The plank is a core stabilization exercise that works all the major muscles of your torso in an integrated fashion, engaging the abdominals and spinal muscles as well as those of the pelvis and shoulder girdle. It is a full-body isometric as you hover above the floor (or against a wall), holding the position in proper spinal alignment. Again, there are different variations, according to the position of your arms – straight or bent at the elbow – and how much body weight you are supporting.

  • The Wall Plank is the easiest variation, performed with your arms braced against the wall with the elbows bent at 90 degrees, directly under the shoulders. Step back from the wall and lean into the position keeping your body straight from shoulder to ankle.
  • The Half Plank is performed on the floor from the knees to the elbows, reducing the amount of stress on the core stabilization muscles before moving on to the full plank.
  • The Full Plank engages the abdominals, spinal muscles, glutes and legs to hold the lifted position.

Build up to holding the plank for 30 seconds and then repeat. To advance, hold the plank for a full minute or two.  Watch here as I demonstrate plank variations for Healthination:  https://www.healthination.com/fitness/plank-modifications/


  • Exercise should be effortful.
  • Make it intentional. Focus on the benefit of each type of activity for your body.
  • Always consult with your physician or health care provider before beginning an exercise program or becoming much more active.

For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano at http://bit.ly/JPFSTEW

Joan also offers an online fitness and nutrition course, “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues” available on her website here https://www.joanpaganofitness.com/beat-belly-fat-bloating-bone-loss-and-the-blues.   

(c) Copyright – Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.



  • Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at: www.joanpaganofitness.com/

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