7 Exercises you could (and should!) do everyday for a happier, pain-free and well balanced body

You'll come across all sorts of fitness and wellness advice. "Do 100 burpees a day for a better life," may resonate with some, but lets face it: some advice is just downright silly.


These 7 exercises where chosen by their functionality and accessibility. All can be done at home using your bodyweight, no equipment necessary. And every exercise can be adjusted to match your current state in your fitness journey. Whether you just started looking at where to start or you're a tried and true veteran, these 7 exercises will help maintain a happier, healthier, pain-free body.


The List:

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

  2. Glute Bridge

  3. Dead Bug

  4. Push Up

  5. Squat

  6. Chin Tucks

  7. Chest Expansion


1 - Diaphragmatic (belly) Breathing


How to:

  • On a flat surface (the floor) lay on your back, feet flat on the floor knees pointing up. Place your hands on your belly

  • Begin slowly breathing in through your nose. Inhale until you cannot possibly inhale anymore.

  • Let your chest and belly rise as much as they need. This may feel silly but, I promise you, its worth it. *note: do not force arch your back. Aim to keep your spine neutral on the floor

  • Once you've filled your lungs to the maximum begin exhaling slowly through your mouth. *note: purse your lips as if you are trying to blow bubbles or blowing out a candle

  • Engaging your abdominals by "squeezing" out every last bit of air you possibly can

  • Hold for a quick moment before inhaling again

  • Once you get more comfortable with this exercise you can aim to exhale for longer than you inhale

If you're new to diaphragmatic breathing, start by doing 5 good deep breaths. As you get more familiar with it you can do this as much as 5-10mins several times a day.


Why do this?


Diaphragmatic breathing has a plethora of benefits both physiologically and psychologically. It acts as a 'reset' for your body. It can help manage anxiety and many other stress related ailments.


By focusing on your breathing you activate you vagus nerve, your parasympathetic nervous system. This turns on your 'rest and digest' nervous system by lowering your body's stress response. By lowering the body's stress response, cortisol, it allows your body to properly relax and, in turn, heal itself. This is important for every body no matter their fitness level.


The majority of people breathe shallowly throughout their daily lives. It takes consciousness to really focus on taking deeper breaths. By practicing diaphragmatic breathing you are utilizing your entire lung space conditioning your cardiovascular system. This will result in more oxygen for your body to use. As you progress in your fitness journey, your growing muscles require more oxygen for ultimate growth. Your body also will enhance it's use of oxygen when synthesizing energy, fuel, during movement. This means that you could go longer during aerobic activity before 'gassing out' and needing a break. It also means that your rest time between activities will be shorter.


Also, when done correctly, diaphragmatic breathing is an excellent exercise for activating your transverse abdominis, your main core muscle that wraps around your entire abdomen, literally holding your core together. This muscle is incredibly important for our core stability in everyday life. From getting up off the chair, into your car, picking up your child or pencil off the floor, to laying down in bed at the end of the day. Every day we use this muscle. The majority of people suffering from back pain have a weak transverse abdominis. A weak TA allows the belly to fall or 'flow' out pulling on the lower back causing a lot of stress on your lumbar region.


Muscles worked:

  • Transvers Abdominis

  • Diaphragm

  • Pelvic Floor


Modifications:

  • play around with hand placement:

  • You can place one hand on your chest and one on your belly

  • place both hands on either side of your rib cage (fingers pointing down towards your hips). When you take your inhale, focus your breath out laterally (into your hands)

  • Place one hand on your sternum (chest) and the slide the other hand between your lower back and the floor. Focus your breath into your hands during your inhale *note: remember not to actively arch your back

  • Do this exercise sitting up. Finding a comfortable sitting position, either on the floor or on chair etc. This will also help bring awareness to your posture. A neat side exercise to try is to inhale with a slouched back and then again with a straight back. It's dramatic how much more you can inhale with better posture

  • Laying on your belly. On a flat surface you can lay in the prone position, belly down with your forehead rested on your hands, this is also called "crocodile breath". Think of a crocodile or iguana, if you've ever seen them breathe their bellies go out to the sides along the ground as they inhale


2 - Glute Bridge

How to:

  • Laying on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees pointing up, your arms down by your sides

  • You ankles should be close enough that you could tickle them with your fingers but not close enough that they are touching your bum

  • Tightening and engaging your lower abs by tilting your pelvic up towards the sky

  • Press into your heels *note: you should be able to wiggle your toes

  • Squeeze your glutes (butt cheeks)

  • Slowly begin to raise your hips up off the ground *keeping the squeeze in the glutes

  • Only raise your hips high enough to make a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Your back should be neutral and not arched *it is all about control and not height!

  • Aim to keep your neck neutral and your gaze slightly up. You should not feel any strain on the back of your neck

  • Hold at the top for a quick moment while maintaining a tight squeeze in the glutes

  • Slowly lower your hips back down moving through the spine vertebrae by vertebrae until your back is on the ground *again, this is all about control. Do not let gravity take the credit here

Practice doing this 5-10 times three times a day/set.


Why do this?


The glute bridge is an excellent no impact exercise that works your gluteal muscles. You have three butt muscles. Gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and everyone's favorite: Gluteus maximus. All three work together to help protect and stabilize the hips. The maximus' job is to extend and externally rotate the hips. The medius and minimus abduct the legs (lift them to your side) as well as hold everything together.


Due to our modern lifestyles, many people's glutes tend to be weak and elongated. With the amount of sitting we do each day at our desks, during transit, or on the couch, our glute muscles don't get the amount of proper conditioning to help prevent pain and/or injury.


Much like your transverse abdominis we discussed in the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, the glutes help relieve stress and pressure in your lower back. Weak glutes can also be a leading cause of knee pain. Underdeveloped gluteals can cause your leg(s) to internally rotate, which is a lot of bad stress on you knee joint.


Muscles worked:

  • Gluteus Maximus

  • Gluteus Medius

  • Hamstrings

  • Transverse Abdominis

Modifications:

  • Arms:

  • Arms can remain down by your sides on the floor, bent at a 90 degree angle from the elbow, or straight up into the air *note: do not let your shoulders release from the floor. This will put strain on your upper back/neck. Keep both your shoulders evenly pressed into the floor

  • Add some resistance:

  • If available to you adding a resistance band around your thighs while doing the glute bridge exercise can add a bit more

  • Squeeze a small ball or yoga block between your legs. Really focus on squeezing the object throughout the entire exercise

  • Legs:

  • You can intensify this exercise by alternating lifting one leg up in the air, like your taking big (controlled) stomps

  • Similar to lifting one leg at a time, you can slowly walk your feet out further away from your body and back towards your bum again *Note: It is very important that you are able to do a glute bridge before adding any advanced modifications. Your glutes should remain engaged and backs straight while moving your legs. It is very easy to lose the proper engagement in your glute muscles and have all the strain and stress dumped into your lower back. Like all exercises make sure you can master the basic move before advancing.

3 -Deadbug

How to:

  • Laying in the supine position, flat on your back facing up, start with your arms and legs up into the air *note: knees can be bent

  • contracting the transverse abdominis by tightening your core and pressing your lower back into the floor

  • Now is a good time to incorporate the diaphragmatic breathing we discussed. Inhaling through the nose during the lowering phase and slowly exhaling through the mouth while you lift your arm and leg back to the starting position

  • slowly lower opposite arm and leg. So, left arm up by your head and right leg down, moving at the same time down towards the floor.

  • Go only as far as you can while maintaining the tension in your abdominals and your lower back pressed into the floor *the moment you feel your lower back arch off the floor you’ve gone too low with your arms and your legs. Also! Aim to keep your rib cage in a neutral positon. Don’t allow them to splay up

  • With an exhale slowly return your arm and leg up in the air to the starting position

  • Repeat the motion with the opposite arm and leg (now right arm, left leg)


Start with 5 on each side and slowly progress up a full minute or so of work.


Why do this?


The deadbug exercise is a wonderful ‘go-to’ ab exercise, especially if you’re short on time. It triggers strong transverse abdominis activation. We briefly discussed the importance of the TA in the belly breathing and glute bridge sections, but I cannot emphasize it enough: a stronger transverse abdominis muscle is crucial for activities from everyday life to intense training athletes. It is the epitome of our core muscles. It holds us together, keeps your guts in, and your spine stable. Of course, there are a few more muscles that help with core stability, but without a well conditioned TA there will be undesired compensation by some other muscles.


Having a strong core has many benefits aside from looking good in the mirror. A well conditioned core helps reduce if not eliminate back pain. If the core muscles are underdeveloped the abdominals will pull forward thanks to our friend gravity. This has a direct effect on the lower back. Especially when paired with a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, the belly mass will increase, intensifying the pull and strain on the lower back muscles as they strive to keep everything together.


Posture. Having a strong core can help improve your posture. We’ve all heard the importance of having proper posture, but really, all that nagging your parents, and/or dance instructors, did had good meaning behind it. Maintaining good posture helps reduce pain by reducing unwanted stress on certain muscles and joints. Interestingly, practicing good posture can also make you appear more youthful!


Muscles worked:

  • Transverse Abdominis

  • Pelvic Floor

  • Erecter Spinae (back muscles)


Modifications:

  • If you’re new to this exercise or need to tone down the intensity you can start off with moving just your legs. Keeping the arms down by your side, bend your knees up at a 90 degree angle so your shins are parallel with the floor. Same rules apply, contract the abdominals and press your lower back into the floor, if your back arches at any time you’ve lowered your leg too far. Slowly straighten one leg then return to the 90 degree angle before slowly straightening the opposite leg.

  • Arms are optional! You can either keep them down at your side (as described above) or you can have them straight up in the air

  • If you are ready to add a little bit more to this exercise you can use a yoga block or pilates ball. Squeezing your block or ball between your arm and the top of your thigh while you carry out the exercise will add some extra ‘oomf’ to your core engagement

  • If you do not have any extra pieces of equipment you can lay on the floor with your head a few inches or so away from the wall. Assuming the start position, place your hands on the wall above your head. Your arms will be at a 90 degree angle. Actively push into the wall with your hands as you alternate moving your legs *start with bent legs and when you progress lower straight legs


4 - Pushup


How to:

  • Laying face down on a flat surface bring your hands up to your sides, slightly wider than shoulder distance apart, until they are approximately in line with your shoulders

  • with you palms flat on the floor, spread your fingers, your middle finger should be pointing straight forward

  • Legs out straight behind you

  • curl your toes under (or you can go from your knees)

  • engage the abs keeping your back and neck neutral

  • pressing into all four 'corners' of your hands push your body up

  • Actively press your heels back

  • Once at the top *Note: do not lock your elbow begin to slowly lower your body back down

  • maintain a straight line from the tip of your head down to heels throughout the entire exercise*Do not allow your belly to come down or your booty up in the air

Try for 5-10 pushups three times a day/set.


**There has been some discussion as to where your elbows should be pointing during a push up. Different angles will work different muscles. With your elbows pointing out to the sides, making a 90ish degree angle, you are getting more work out of your pectoralis major. However, there is a lot of stress on your shoulders. With your elbows closer to the body, you are getting more work out of your triceps. This is more difficult to do for most people. Some trainers swear by 'meeting in the middle' so by having your elbows point approx 45 degrees, between shoulder level and down by your sides, you can work the best of both worlds


Why do this?


Although eyes may roll when push-ups are brought up during a workout session (I'm guilty!), they are a tried and true full body compound exercise. They work your arms, core, back, and even triggers your proprioceptive muscle fibers which help improve your balance!


Shoulder strength. Your shoulder joints are one of the most mobile in the body. The unfortunate trade off for mobility is stability. By keeping your shoulder stability muscles, the rotator cuff, strong you help reduce the chance of injury.


Strong core. A push up is essentially a moving plank. By maintaining a contraction in the abs to keep the back neutral


Muscles worked:

  • Pectoralis Major

  • Anterior Deltoids

  • Triceps brachii

  • Serratus anterior

Modifications:

There are MANY different modifications for push-ups. A quick Google search can get your head spinning. Aiming to keep this article on the shorter side, I'll only name a few:

  • When starting out you can start by pushing up (or away) from the wall. Standing against the wall assuming the same position (hands at shoulder height and a bit wider than shoulders) keeping the body a straight line throughout the whole exercise

  • Inclined push-up: place your hands on a stable object like a table, counter, bench, etc, and your toes on the ground, push up applying all the same rules (straight line from head to heels, etc)

  • Lowering the knees to the ground *not: do not cross your ankles!

  • Bring your hands closer to your body and your elbows close to your body


5 - Squat


How to:

  • Standing with your feet a little bit wider than hip distance apart and toes pointing forward *Note: if you are taller/have longer legs you may have to point your toes out a bit

  • Check in with your posture. Keeping your shoulders down by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down your back.

  • Abdominals are contracted and tight. Keeping your back and neck neutral

  • Lower your body by bending your knees, ensuring they stay over your toes the entire time. Do not let your knees fall in towards the center or out to the sides rolling your feet.

  • Keep that contraction in your abdominals and not arching the lower back

  • Push your bum back as if you're trying to sit on a chair that's just a touch too far away, all while keeping your shoulders down your back and your chest 'proud'

  • Weight should be in your heels the whole time

  • Aim you get your thighs parallel with the floor *This may not be achievable for all bodies depending on knee and ankle mobility

  • On the up phase drive through your legs and really squeeze your glutes the entire way up

Aim for 5-10 squats three times a day/set (remember! Slow and controlled. Quality over quantity)


Why do this?


Squats have a big reputation for forming big butts. And while squatting does indeed work the bulbous muscle (gluteous maximus) it also has a much more practical application.

We squat everyday. Several times, in fact! Every time you sit down or stand from sitting you are technically squatting. Your computer chair, your car, and yes, the good ol' potty.

Conditioning the muscles worked during a squat can help maintain or prevent pain in the lower back, knees, and ankles.


Muscles worked:

  • Gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus

  • Quadriceps femoris

  • Hip adductors

  • Soleus (calf)


Modifications:

  • Ball squat: facing away from the wall, place an exercise ball between your back and the wall. Press your back into it and maintain a neutral spine *No arching the lower back. Keep your shoulders down and squat down. The ball will roll along the wall and your back. Actively press back into the ball during the entire exercise.

  • No ball? No problem! Another excellent alternative for squat beginners (or those simply wanting to test out their posture). Stand close to and facing the wall. Close enough that when you're bent down in the squat your knees are an inch or so away from the wall. Raise your arms up and place your forearms on the wall. Aim to squat up and down while keeping your arms on the wall, maintaining that 'proud' chest and shoulders down

  • Sumo Squat/2nd Plie position: To work a different angle of the buns step your feet out wider so you can bend your knees and get your thighs parallel to the ground. Toes will be pointed out. Same rules apply though! Do not let your knees roll in by externally rotating the legs from the hips. Keep your shoulders over your hips as if you're a pop tart in the toaster. Don't lean forward and burn the boobs, or stick the booty out and burn the booty!

  • Add some weight: Once you have mastered the proper posture of the squat you can start adding some progressive overload with some weights! A couple ways to do this: Holding onto one dumbbell (or kettlebell) in close to your torso you can goblet squat *works best in a wider stance. Another way to incorporate weight into your squats is to hold into equal weight in either hand and have your arms fall on either sides of your legs with throughout the entire squat exercise


6 - Chin Tucks

How to:

  • Place your finger on your chin

  • Without moving your finger pull your chin back

  • Imagine as if someone is pulling your head straight back (like a from the ponytail)

  • Do not tilt your head down. This isn't a front facing phone camera angle

  • Hold your head back for a moment or so before returning your chin to you, unmoved, finger

10-15 times as many times a day as you can!


Why do this?


Gimme aaaalll your chins!!

With todays lifestyle highly influenced by modern technology we have adapted what's affectionately called "Text Neck" Or "iNeck" or any other clever term to indicate that we have let our necks go.


Either it's from sitting on our computers all day or from looking down at our devices, or a wonderful combination of the two, we have unfortunately developed over stretched and under worked neck extensors. This can lead to a plethora of unwanted consequences. Affecting our posture to being one of the leading causes of acute headaches.


One of the best things about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere any time, multiple times a day! You might look like you're doing a familiar dance, which may garner you some funny looks when on public transit. But it is totally worth any sort of critiquing you may receive!


Muscles worked:

  • Neck extensors

Modifications:

  • There's not much to modify for this simple yet effective move. You can practice it sitting or standing.

*One note that may help you be more mindful of your neck placement: When sitting at your computer (or seated anywhere for that matter) pay attention to where your ears are. Are they jutted way over your shoulders? Think about maintaining good posture with your ears closer to or aligned with your shoulders.


7 - Chest expansion

How to:

  • Either sitting in a comfortable position or standing bring your arms at shoulder height out to your sides

  • Keeping a slight bend in the elbow and your palms up to the sky

  • Shoulders are down away from the ears and scapula, shoulder blades, are squeezing together and pressed down your back

  • slowly and gently pull your arms back past your torso by focusing on squeezing the rhomboids, and shoulder blades together *you should feel a nice stretch in the front of the chest, your pectoralis major muscles

  • Hold for only a moment and return arms back to the starting position

This exercise you can also practice many times daily. Aim for 5-10 per session and work your way up.


Why do this?


To go along with our 'tech necks' we have adapted to a position of rounding our shoulders. A vast majority of us sit with our shoulders protracted (rolling forward) and out upper back hunched. This weakens and elongates our upper body 'postural' muscles. This is the leading cause for poor posture, and again, ailments like headaches.


Practicing chest expansion also has another great impact: it can increase your respiratory capacity. Try this right now: Sit as you would 'normally' with your shoulders slightly slouched and back rounded. Take a deep breath in. Exhale. Now, straighten your back, roll the shoulders back and down by focusing on externally rotating them. "Proud" chest, and take another deep breath in. Did you notice a difference in how much air/how much easier it was to inhale? By practicing proper posture with chest expansion you help allow more space for your lungs to expand, thus allowing for air in. And that is a great thing!



Muscles worked:

  • Rhomboids (the muscles between your shoulder blades)

  • Intercostal (muscles between your ribs)

  • Lower/inferior trapezius

  • Posterior deltoids


Modifications:

  • You can play around with the arms (as long as you focus on keeping the shoulders out of the ears and scapula squeezing together): Try extending your arms to the side and lifting them up and down, as if making a snow angel

  • With the arms bent at 90 degrees you can do this exercise in a 'cactus' pose


 

Biggest things to keep in mind are:


  1. YES! You can do this!

  2. Quality over quantity, doing more doesn't mean you're doing better if not practicing good form and

  3. Sometimes you need to regress to progress. Touching base with point 2, when practicing an exercise without proper form you are only doing yourself a disservice. You need to get a certain amount of experience points before you can level up. And this is not a negative thing!


You can do all these exercises everyday in this order or however you can fit it in! Do it once through or a couple of sets in a circuit.


My goal is to help inspire and motivate to help you keep up with your body maintenance. After all, it is a fine working and moving machine! It needs some (or a lot) of TLC sometimes (or all the time). I thoroughly understand we all lead some pretty hectic lives these days, but by making a little bit of time to oil your hard working machine, you're one step closer to a happier, pain-free body. After all, it does so much for you!


Please reach out to me if you have any questions, comments, or concerns! I'm here for you ❤


**As with all exercise, if you have any underlying issues please talk to your health practitioner if you feel any major discomfort or if you need clearance for exercise (ie. Postpartum).


Safe moving friends!