Find Your Place: Rev Up Your Fitness Density

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

The squat press is a total-body exercise that requires you to move in different ways. Try these variations.

Question of the day: How much good stuff can you put into your fitness activities?

Answer from SilverSneakers fitness expert David Jack: A lot!

“Many of us talk about wanting to have better bone density and better balance to prevent falls. Or we’re looking to be stronger and more powerful,” he says. “When we pick the right exercises, all of those things get covered.”

The key, he says, is to include total-body exercises that require you to move in different directions and at different levels: up and down, side to side, front to back—and any combination in between.

These types of total-body moves help you rev up what Jack calls your fitness density. “Just by changing levels, using different body parts, being on our feet, and using gravity and resistance to produce power and force will give you everything you’re after in your fitness goals—and make getting around in everyday life better.”

One of his favorite ways to build fitness density involves a series of variations of a classic squat. The squat is an ideal exercise for older adults because it mimics the up-and-down movement you do countless times a day. Plus, it’s so versatile, meaning you can stick with the basic pattern, or switch it up with arm movements, knee lifts, side steps, and more.

How to Use These Exercises

Just starting with the squat or need a refresher? Check out our beginner’s guide to the squat, which includes instructions for how to use a chair to make a squat easier.

If you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat, it’s time to add a challenge. These three squat variations include arm and shoulder presses using different fitness props for resistance: your own bodyweight, a medicine ball, or a set of dumbbells. Start with the first variation, incorporating it into your workouts as you’d like. When that feels easy, try the next variation.

If you’re at the gym, choose a medicine ball and dumbbells that are light enough to allow you to complete 10 to 12 reps while maintaining good form.

Doing the workout at home? Don’t worry if you don’t have these props on hand. You can always grab a book to stand in for the medicine ball, and a pair of soup cans or water bottles to sub in as dumbbells.

As always, safety is key. These exercises may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Squat Press Variation #1: Bodyweight

Do 10 to 12 reps

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold your arms down and in front of your body, palms facing in, and brace your core. This is your starting position.

From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Keep your chest lifted, core engaged, and arms inside your legs.

Pause, then push through your heels to return to starting position. As you come up, bend your arms and bring your hands to shoulder level, pressing up toward the ceiling with your palms. That’s one rep. Perform 10 to 12 reps.

Make it easier: Skip the arm movements, and focus on your lower-body pattern first.

Make it harder: As you come up, press your hands as high as you comfortably can—in front of your face or above your head.

Squat Press Variation #2: Medicine Ball

Do 10 to 12 reps

How to do it: Perform a squat while holding a medicine ball or book between your legs. Bend your arms and lift the medicine ball to shoulder level as you return to standing.

Make it harder: As you come up, press the ball as high as you comfortably can—in front of your face or above your head.

Squat Press Variation #3: Dumbbells

Do 10 to 12 reps

How to do it: Perform a squat while holding a dumbbell, soup can, or water bottle in each hand, keeping your arms outside your legs. Bend your arms and lift the weights to shoulder level as you return to standing.

Make it harder: As you come up, press the weights as high as you comfortably can—in front of your face or above your head.

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