Top Ten At-Home Strength Exercises

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In uncertain times, it’s helpful to establish routines that give you a sense of being in control. So, while we are being advised to shelter in place, avoid crowds and keep our hands clean, it’s a good time to re-evaluate your exercise routine and develop a workout you can do at home.

As a proponent of at-home fitness routines, I’ve been training clients in their homes since the beginning of my career.  You can definitely get an effective strength training workout with minimal equipment in the privacy of your own space.  There are many types of resistance tools that are affordable and easy to store – beginning with your own body!

Calisthenics are exercises that use body weight alone, like push-ups and squats. A shift in body weight can increase or decrease the level of resistance.  For more on this, please see the Aging Gracefully post with video “Push-Ups are for YOU” here:

Other forms of resistance include free weights, toning and medicine balls, stretch bands and tubes.  There are many advantages of using this type of equipment as opposed to gym-based machines, including:

  • Using your own core muscles to stabilize instead of relying on an external structure
  • Training in a more functional manner, using movement patterns that reinforce the way you perform your daily activities
  • Spotting asymmetries in the body and correcting these imbalances, bringing the body into better alignment
  • Challenging your balance and coordination, making strength training more of a sport

Confused about how to get started on a strength training program?  Overwhelmed by all the choices of exercises and equipment?  All you need for a full-body strength training workout are two sets of dumbbells (one light and one 2-5 pounds heavier) and a sturdy chair.  Perform one set of each of the exercises for 8-12 repetitions.  Do the routine two to three times a week on non-consecutive days, allowing one day of rest in between.  Here are the top ten exercises to target all the major muscle groups:

1)         Squat:  Stand in front of the chair with your legs parallel about hip width apart.  Shift your weight back on your heels.  Bend your knees and reach back with your hips, lowering yourself toward the chair as if to sit down.  If you are just beginning, go partway down and then squeeze the buttocks to return to the start position.  As you become more experienced, continue to bend your knees until you tap the edge of the chair with your hips.  When you are ready, hold a weight in each hand, arms by your sides, palms facing in.

2)         Stationary Lunge:  Stand sideways to the chair, feet parallel.  Take a giant step back with one leg.  Keep your hips square to the front and your weight centered evenly between your legs.  Bend both knees, keeping your front knee directly over the ankle, allowing the back heel to lift off the floor. Straighten both legs and return to start position.  The motion is up and down, not forward and back.  When you are ready, hold one heavy weight in the hand opposite the front leg.

3)         Calf raise:  Stand behind the chair, holding on for support, legs hip-width apart, feet parallel.  Lift up on the balls of your feet as high as you can, then slowly lower your heels back to the floor and repeat without resting.

4)         One-arm lat row:  Place one hand and knee on the edge of the chair; other foot on the floor.  Lengthen your spine and keep your back parallel to the floor.  Hold one heavy weight in your free hand, hanging directly below the shoulder.  Draw your shoulder blade toward the spine; then bend your elbow, pulling the weight up to your waist, keeping your elbow close to your side.  Release slowly and repeat.  Do all reps, then switch sides.

5)         Shoulder raise: Stand with your legs hip-width apart, feet parallel.  Hold a light weight in each hand, palms facing in.  Pull your shoulder blades down and together.  Lift both arms out to the sides to shoulder level (no higher), with your elbows in line with your shoulders.  Keep your arms straight but not stiff, with palms facing down at the top of the movement.  Return to start and repeat.

6)         Biceps curl:  Standing, hold a heavy weight in each hand, palms facing forward.  Bend your elbows to bring the weights up toward your shoulders, then slowly straighten your arms back to the starting position.  Repeat without resting.

7)         Push up:  Kneel on the floor with your arms slightly forward of your shoulders and 3-4 inches wider than shoulder-width apart.  Drop your hips and shift your weight forward so there is no direct pressure on your knee caps.  Your torso should form a straight line from shoulder to knees.  Draw your shoulder blades down and together, then bend your elbows out to the sides to form a box as you lower your chest to the floor.  Straighten your arms and push up.  To progress, extend your legs and perform the movement from your toes.

8)         Back extension:  Lying flat on your stomach, bend your arms and rest your forearms on the floor, palms down.  Lengthen the spine by reaching forward with the top of the head.  Draw the shoulder blades down and together.  Lift your head and shoulders off the floor without using any strength from your arms.  Keep your nose down.  Pause, then release down to the floor and repeat without resting.

9)         Pelvic tilt:  Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.  Rest your arms by your sides, palms up.  Inhale, fill the belly with air.  Exhale forcefully by pulling your abdominals in tight – think “belly button to spine” – pushing the air out.  With one fluid motion, flatten your low back into the floor.  Release and repeat.

10)       Crunch:  Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Cradle your head in your hands, elbows wide. Tighten the abdomen before you move, then lift the shoulders no more than 30 degrees off the floor (do not go into a full sit-up), drawing the ribs toward the pelvis.  Keep your chin up.  Pause at the top, then slowly lower your shoulders, but not your head, to the floor and repeat.

As you progress, you can add one to two sets of each exercise, use heavier weights and incorporate new exercises.  Remember that you should periodically change your routine to keep your muscles stimulated. 

© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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

For more about Joan and her services please visit


  • 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:

2 Responses

  1. Karen says:

    I watch everything Joan Pagano is nice enough to share with us.
    I am a Senior Fitness Specialist, and know that I am getting the
    best information from her. Thank you, Joan.

  2. Joan Pagano says:

    Thanks for checking in, Karen, and for your support!

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