When I received my friend Joan Pagano’s new book, Strength Training: Exercises for Women, I was impatient to crack it open and read her latest fitness tips and tricks. To my delight, I found that she had written an inscription on the title page. It read: “Aging gracefully takes muscle!”
If anyone is the expert on aging gracefully, it would be Joan. Having completed seven marathons in five years—and all while in her 40s—Joan has fitness prowess that most of us only dream of. Though her success might seem intimidating, she admits that she herself “fell off the wagon” years ago after first moving to New York City—something I think most New Yorkers can relate to!
What I like best about Joan’s book is that it tackles a method of exercise that many women have long been apprehensive about—strength training. When I think of strength training, I picture grunting men with disproportionate muscles, lifting huge dumbbells in a smelly gym. Many women share this belief and are scared off from lifting weights, fearing that they’ll gain too much muscle and develop a bulky appearance.
Joan challenges this idea by developing a whole book of exercises specifically tailored to tone and strengthen the female body. She knows that as a woman ages, she will lose muscle mass often without realizing it, because her clothes fit similarly. Joan explains, a twenty-year-old woman who does not lift weights will lose about six pounds of muscle and gain about five pounds of fat by age fifty.
That was enough to convince me! I laced up my sneakers and tried out some of Joan’s exercises. Easy to follow, beautifully illustrated, and clearly explained, I could see Strength Training being used by experts and beginners alike. And what do you know—I lifted weights and I didn’t turn into the Hulk!
Here are a few of my favorite strength training exercises from Joan’s book:
- Chair Stand: You could do this at your desk! It is very similar to just getting up from a chair, but the trick is keeping your knees at a right angle and positioned over your ankles, so you really feel it in your glutes and thighs. (No weights needed!)
- Wall Push-Up: This exercise is so easy, all you need is a wall! Joan tells her clients to designate one wall in their house as the “push-up wall” and to do a few reps every time they pass the wall. In this exercise, stand facing the wall with your palms flat against it. Inhale and bend your elbows as you lower your chest towards the wall, as if you’re doing a push-up, but standing!
- Dead Bug: Though the name sounds gross, this is actually an effective lower ab exercise. You start by lying on your back with your arms outstretched and your knees bent, feet in the air. Then, you touch your right knee to your left leg and vice versa. It sounds simple, but afterwards I could really feel it in my lower abdominal muscles.
For more exercises, with illustrative photographs and Joan’s expert insights, check out Strength Training: Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano.