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Ah, summer is here. As a student, you may be looking forward to some time off from school, a summer internship or job, a few more classes, or some adventures in the sun.

In a recent Student Health 101 survey, 83 percent of respondents said they want to “get into shape” for summer. But this means more than aiming for a certain size of bathing suit. It’s about building strength and endurance so that you can enjoy summer activities and maintain your health.

Staying active will keep your energy levels high and your brain clear to focus on whatever your goals are for the next few months and beyond.

Gym and Equipment Optional

While some students like to get their physical activity in a gym, many others choose options that build on their interests or can be done at home or right outside their doors.

Many students like it when they get exercise “by accident” through activities that are fun. For example, an impromptu game on the quad lawn or a walk around town on a sunny day can really get your heart pumping.

Other students choose activities that they enjoy, but take a more deliberate approach. Samir S., a student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, credits his healthy lifestyle to dance and basketball. “With dance, [the schedule] is structured, which makes it easier to do,” he says.

Building a Strong Body

Cardio
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests that adults engage in 30 minutes or more of moderately intense physical activity on most days. You know an exercise is moderately intense when it raises your heart rate and causes you to sweat. Another rule of thumb for figuring out the intensity of your workout is to test your ability to talk. If you’re working really hard, you won’t be able to carry on a conversation.

What makes this recommendation very doable is the fact that the total goal–about 2.5 hours a week–can be broken down into increments that fit your schedule. Plus, things you already enjoy doing (or have to do, like rake leaves or walk around campus to get to classes) can contribute to your efforts.

The aim is to push your body to a point where the heart is working hard to supply your cells with oxygen and energy. Aerobic exercise can help you reduce stress, strengthen your immune system, manage your weight, and improve endurance. Some examples are fast walking, biking, swimming, dancing, water aerobics, and hiking.

Strength Training
It’s also important to do activities that build muscle strength. Instead of focusing on heart rate and pulse, as cardio does, this kind of training strengthens specific muscle groups through repetitive exercises.

The ASCM recommends that adults train all of the major muscle groups two to three days each week. Dean M., a personal trainer and fourth-year kinesiology student at University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Ontario, Canada, explains, “It’s important to also do activities like yoga and Pilates, which complement building strength and promote flexibility, coordination, and core stability.”

The Basics of Building Strength

Strengthening your muscles doesn’t have to mean aiming for a bodybuilder’s physique. Frankie R., a personal trainer and junior at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, says, “Strength training makes you stronger. Many confuse strength training with muscle building. Strength training builds muscle, yes, but that’s among the supplemental benefits.”

Exercises that use your own body weight, resistance, or weighted materials all contribute to a leaner body, more efficient energy usage (calorie burning), increased bone density, and improved balance.

There are two main models of strength training:

  1. A smaller amount of weight or resistance with more repetitions of an exercise.
  2. Fewer repetitions of an exercise using a more taxing amount of weight or resistance.

For example, you could do bicep curls with 2-lb. weights, lifting them 15 times (15 repetitions or “reps”) on each side and do this 4 times (“4 sets”). Or, you might use 10-lb. weights and lift them for 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

The ACSM suggests working until your muscles are fatigued but you’re not exhausted. Frankie says, “If you use a more taxing amount of weight, wait 2–3 minutes between sets. If you use a less taxing amount, wait 60–90 seconds. Resting allows you to regain energy, maintain proper form, and build muscle.”

It’s also recommended that you wait at least 48 hours between sessions of strength training. As Frankie explains, “This allows your muscles to rest and recover. Adequate sleep and nutrition will minimize delayed onset muscle soreness and maximize the benefits of your workouts.”

Keep It Simple

There are a few simple strength-training exercises that can be done just about anywhere. Adjust the amount of weight used, number of reps, and other modifications based on your individual needs. For example, you can do an exercise for a particular amount of time rather than a certain number of sets.

To fit exercise into your day, create a schedule that works for you. For example, focus on your arms and abs on Mondays and Wednesdays, legs and gluteals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Kate B., a sophomore at Winona State University in Minnesota, shares, “I find it works to make a weekly schedule of my workout routines. This way I’m prepared and I’m more likely to do it if I write it down.”

Sticking with a consistent schedule of physical activity will help you make progressive gains and get into an exercise habit. Before long you’ll feel stronger and more energized for all of your summer activities.

Simple Strengthening Routine

Materials Needed:
  • Free weights, resistance bands, or homemade alternative (such as full water bottles or two textbooks of similar size and weight)
  • Towel or exercise mat, if desired
  • Chair, if needed for balance
During all exercises, engage your abdominal and gluteal muscles to keep strain off your back and strengthen your core.

Arms

Bicep Curls
  • Stand with your legs hip-width apart and your arms hanging down.
  • Hold your weights or position your resistance bands and flex your elbows, lifting your hands toward your shoulders.
  • Do 12–15 repetitions on each side.
Lateral Raises
  • This is one of the simplest arm exercises, helping to build shoulder strength.
  • Stand up straight with your legs together.
  • Holding your weights or resistance bands, extend your arms out to your sides, level with your shoulders.
  • Hold for 20 seconds and lower.
  • Repeat five times.

Abs

The Plank
  • Get on the floor and balance your weight on your forearms and knees or balls of your feet. Make sure your back is straight and your neck long.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then lower.
  • Work up to holding for a minute.
Bicycles
  • Lie on your back and bring your knees close to your chest.
  • Place your hands behind your head.
  • Raise your neck and head to your left knee while extending the right leg and vice versa. Don’t pull on your head, but use your abdominal muscles to raise and lower yourself.
  • Alternate legs like you’re riding a bike.

Legs & Gluteal Muscles

Leg Raises
  • Get down on all fours. Keeping your weight centered (to avoid straining your wrists), extend one leg back while the other remains bent.
  • Lift the extended leg in the air 10 times.
  • Repeat with the other leg. To increase difficulty, while extending your leg, reach forward with the opposite arm.
  • Lower both at the same time, then switch sides.
The Classic Lunge
  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, hands at your sides or on your hips.
  • Take one large step forward with your right foot and bend your right leg into a right angle, making sure your knee doesn’t go past your ankle.
  • Keeping your torso upright, lower yourself until your back leg forms a right angle at the knee.
  • Using your leg muscles, slowly raise yourself back up.
  • Repeat on the other side and do 10–15 reps.
Squats
  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, angled slightly outward.
  • Lift your toes and keep them lifted.
  • Hinge your hips and lean your butt backward. Press your knees outward as they bend. Keep pressing your knees forward as you straighten your legs and come out of the squat.
  • To make this easier, lightly rest on the edge of a stable chair when you squat.
  • To increase difficulty, raise your arms above your head, alongside your ears, as you squat.
Frankie R., a personal trainer and junior at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, explains, “Lifting your toes, hinging your hips, and pressing your knees out engages the gluteal muscles and hamstrings rather than predominantly the quads.”

Keep in mind that these are just a few options. For more, check out the FitnessU section of Student Health 101 or search online for workouts that look fun to you and focus on the areas you’d like to strengthen.

Take Action!

  • Integrate both cardio and strength training into your physical activities.
  • To increase flexibility, coordination, and core stability, also try activities like Pilates.
  • Learn proper technique to minimize the risk of injury. Check out online tutorials or speak with a coach or trainer.
  • Develop a routine that you can do anywhere, with little or no special equipment.
  • Aim for 2.5 hours of exercise each week. Split this into segments to make it more doable.

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