Start right, start smart for the New Year
Tis the season... to get fit and burn off the added pounds post-Christmas! So what is the best way to start the New Year fitness plan?
One easy step is to simply train more effectively and not fall into the new year trap of overtraining (i.e. exercising for hours each day and failing to provide adequate rest, variation or systematic progression) until, 6 weeks later, you stop through limited gains due to overtraining or because of injury!
Incorportating more muscle groups into a given exercise and ensuring strict technique means a more 'functional' approach to exercise that will serve more of a purpose in everyday life (i.e. prevent injury and improve quaity of life) as well as burn more calories within a given period of time! So my New Year weight loss suggestion to you... isolation exercises out... multi-joint exercise in! Here are some such examples.
1) Walking lunge with lateral raises
Lunges are essentially a form of exaggerated walking that targets every muscle in the lower body. Combine that with a movement for the shoulders simultaneously, which forces the core (abdominal) muscles to engage, and you've got a very functional and high-energy demanding exercise.
Firstly, take a BIG step forwards so you are able to have only the toe of your back foot in contact with the floor (figure A). Keep your tummy drawn in (activate your core) as you take the step forwards and get your balance before then lowering your body downwards till you reach 90 degrees at both knees. Make sure the move is downwards and NOT forwards where your knee goes over your toe as this will cause excess stress on the knees and is the most common technical mistake people can make, often with resultant knee pain when lunging.
Once in the right position (figure B) clench your gluteals (butt muscles) to provide stabilty, then it's time for the upper body part. With the weight (books, cans, dumbells..left over mince pies?) pull your shoulders back, keep your chest proud and simply lift your arms from your sides up to parallel with your shoulders. Keep the arms straight but not locked at the elbow joint. Once lifted to parallel hold there for one second before slowly lowering the weights back to the original position by your sides. During this time the rest of the body should be maintained with good form and little movement in the static lunge position.
Then to move forwards, push through the heel of the front leg and squeeze the corresponding butt muscle as you slightly lean forward from the upper body. Try to avoid pushing off the back leg as this again can stress knees and is not ideal mechanics. Come up into a standing position and let your back leg now take the lead as you lunge with the other leg and repeat the whole process.
Lunges will produce fatigue felt in the thighs (quadriceps muscles) but should also be felt in the butt muscles if you consciously try to get and keep them involved. Aim for 8-10 repetitions per leg per set.
2) Up and Down plank
This fantastic exercise epitimises 'functional' and gives a real indication of your strength for your own bodyweight! It is a progression from the standard plank exercise designed for 'core strength' and incoporates shoulder stability and upper body strength as well as advancing the demand on the abdominal muscles.
For the starting position, have your elbows underneath your shoulders and feet tucked under your ankles, then lift your knees off the floor to leave only your forearms and toes in contact with the floor (figure D). Concentrate on drawing your tummy in towards your spine against the pull of gravity. If you can do this and prevent your lower back from activating and getting involved then your core strength is at a strong enough level to try the up and down plank so read on - if not then stick with trying to perfect this first position, holding for as long as you can without lower back assistance!
The 'up and down' part of the exercise relates to the arms and simply involves you placing a hand where the elbow was (figure E), followed by the same with the other arm so that you end up in a press up position (except with hands narrowly placed underneath your shoulders (figure F). Then reverse the movement to return to the original plank position.
The aim of this exercise is to do the arm movement and elevate your body using arms and shoulder strength as well as core strength to prevent any unwanted movement in the rest of the body as you do it. Ideally you would be lifting and lowering yourself while the rest of your body, controlled by your core, didn't tilt, drop, hike etc. Keep the movement slow and do as many as you can till you lose strict form. Repetitions don't really matter with this one, it's about the quality and control of the movement.
Happy new year to you, I hope next year will be a healthy, happy and functional one!