With minimal equipment, gym closures, and virtual classes, gaining muscle strength can be difficult at home. Gyms have been closed for a while, and we don’t know how much longer these closures will last. Some of us have started using YouTube videos, apps, and simple routines as guides for our at-home workouts and strength training. At The Medium, we’re beginning a new exercise series where we talk to personal trainers for targeted muscle group exercises. Each week we plan to share professional advice on keeping active without access to a gym. 

This week’s article targets the upper body. How do we gain strength in our arms? Our shoulders? Which at-home exercises provide us with the best alternative to using gym equipment? In an interview with The Medium, certified personal trainer and UTM student Gjilliane (Jill) Alcanar helps answer those questions and shares her tips for at-home strength training. Alcanar was certified and trained at the UTM RAWC. She is a fitness instructor/personal trainer at Towne Fitness Shelburne, and an instructor for Titan Athletics Sports Hub. 

Alcanar says that push-ups are one of the most effective exercises you can do to strengthen your entire upper body. Push-ups, she says, “can help increase arm, chest, shoulder, and back strength, as well as improve posture all at once.” One can easily add variations to the push-up to change its level of difficulty, and to target different muscle groups in the upper body. Diamond push-ups, for instance, largely target your triceps, while wider push-ups put more emphasis on the chest and shoulders. An article from Greatlist suggests 82 fun different variations of the standard push-up to target every muscle in the upper body. 

As an alternative to weights, Alcanar suggests investing in a pair of resistance bands. They are cheaper, less bulky, and still effective. They provide almost the same amount of resistance as weights when used correctly. By varying the intensity and frequency of your band exercises, you can work your upper body muscles the same way you would have done at the gym. Alcanar recommends that you “start slow, at your own pace, and gradually introduce [band exercises] to your regular routine.”

Alcanar stresses the importance of warming up, stretching, and cooling down before and after any workout to ensure safety and to avoid injury. She says that even stretching or warming up on days you don’t workout is important, as it “keeps the blood flowing and the muscles active.” Stretching throughout the week also helps you avoid tight/sore muscles and reduces your risk of injury; “even just walking helps,” she says. With her clients, she usually warms up with boxing punches and kettlebell swings for the upper body. She suggests that doing a kettlebell swing, even without any weights, can be a good warmup and overall body movement. 

After the warmup, Alcanar also ensures that she incorporates many planks and shoulder raises/presses to target the shoulder muscles. She recommends repeating exercises while changing the tempo and varying their level of difficulty to get maximum results.  

Alcanar also encourages staying consistent with upper body strength training and continuously challenging your muscles with new variations of push-ups, planks, shoulder raises, and resistance band exercises. To keep up the motivation at home, Alcanar suggests exercising in a place as far away from your bed as possible and setting your intentions with a plan/schedule (that includes your workout routine) on the night before for the following day. 

Alcanar also recommends Zoom workout sessions or classes with friends. You can also make the exercises something you look forward to by incorporating good music, new athletic wear, or even just a comfortable yoga mat. Additionally, a good cardio workout doesn’t have to involve you following a boring video or circuit, it can simply be skipping rope. According to a reference on Science Daily, only 10 minutes of skipping is shown to be equivalent to running an eight-minute mile (one-point-six km). 

Lastly, Alcanar says to “find what works best for you and listen to your body.” She discusses that many people can be left frustrated after copying many different workouts and not achieving goals. A good way to combat this is to “make sure to take things at your own pace and really enjoy the journey,” and to “focus more on how you feel.” She says that when she works out and eats healthy, she does it because she feels good. It makes her feel awake and productive, which is confirmed in many scientific studies, as the benefits of exercise are endless. 

Alcanar can be found on Instagram @jillalcanar. Her email for Personal Training is [email protected]. You are able to email/dm to request her as a trainer and find her on @townefitness and @titanxath on Instagram. Her virtual Zoom session schedules are: 

Virtual Zoom Fitness Schedule for UTMAC: 

  • Thursday & Saturday Evenings at 7:30-8:30pm 

Virtual Zoom Fitness for Titan Athletics: 

  • Tuesday & Wednesday Evenings at 7:30-8:30pm 

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