Train like an elite

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Want to work out like your favourite athlete? Strength training is your answer!

Your goal doesn’t have to be to make it to the Olympics in order to get the most from your workouts.

Whether you’re training for a race or simply looking to stay active, why shouldn’t you at least be able to train like your favourite athletes? Fitness expert and coach Nick Grantham – who has worked with many top athletes and Olympians – thinks we should all be able to train to our full potential regardless of our individual goals.

His new book The Strength & Conditioning Bible: How to Train Like an Athlete is designed to give you everything you need to make it happen. ‘Anyone who wants to improve their fitness levels and is willing to invest some time and effort can optimise their training and performance,’ he says. ‘And that’s pretty much anyone!’

Gone are the days when you needed the most expensive training tools and elite trainers by your side to train smart. From guide books to online personal trainers, there are increasingly easy and effective ways to get training – but with Nick’s experience working in high-performance fitness and sport science, you can really count on The Strength & Conditioning Bible to not only explain what to do and how to do it, but also why you’re doing it.
‘As a coach I know the power of understanding,’ Nick says. ‘If you understand why you’re performing an activity, you’re far more likely to stick to the training programme.’

As well as giving you the chance to take exercises up or down a notch, it also preps you to continue your training confidently on your own. ‘It offers sample sessions, and appropriate progressions and regressions,’ he adds. ‘It also provides the reader with an understanding that will allow them to develop their own effective programmes.’

The workout over these pages, devised by Nick, will allow you to train your body from head to toe in a fuss-free, effective way. In Nick’s own words, no matter what your level or experience, ‘anyone can train like an athlete’.

Squat

Areas trained: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves

Technique

Holding the barbell resting on your shoulder muscles,

stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 

Bend at your knees and hips to lower your body until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor.

Reverse the position, extending your hips and knees to return to the start position.

Perform 8-10 reps of each move one after the other in a circuit, resting between sets if you need to. Once a circuit is complete, return to the start and repeat. Keep going until you’ve reached the time recommended for your level

Press-up

Areas trained: chest, triceps, core

Technique

Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Tighten up through your core, ensuring your back is flat.

Bend your arms to lower your body until your chest is about 1cm from the floor.

Drive back up to the starting position where your arms are extended.

Romanian deadlift

Areas trained: hamstrings, lower back, glutes

Technique

Hold the bar with an overhand grip approximately shoulder-width (your thumbs should brush the outside of your thighs).

Place your feet approximately hip-width apart, with knees soft and your feet straight ahead.

Maintaining a flat back position, bend forward at the hips, lowering the bar towards the floor.

Reverse the position, extend your hips and return to the start position.

Alekna

Areas trained: core, stomach

Technique

Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle with arms fully extended towards the ceiling.

Simultaneously lower your arms behind your head and your legs out fully until they are both close to the ground, without touching it.

Return to the start position and repeat.

Get-up

Areas trained: shoulders, core, glutes, sides

Technique

Lie on your back and hold a kettlebell in your right hand, straight above your shoulder, arm vertical. Position your left arm out to the side and bend your right leg so that your right foot is alongside your left knee.

Pushing off your right foot, roll onto your left hip and up onto your left elbow.

Push up onto your left hand and holding yourself up on your left hand and right foot, lift yourself up off the ground, then thread your left leg back to a kneeling position.

You will be in a kneeling position with your left knee on the floor, right foot on the floor and the kettlebell locked out overhead in your right hand.

From the kneeling position, move into a standing position.

Reverse the movements to come back down to the starting position on the floor.

Perform on the opposite side for the next rep.

Hip thrust

Areas trained: glutes, hamstrings, core

Technique

Set up in the position shown – your shoulder blades in line with the bench and holding a barbell to your hips.

Place your feet close to your bottom, so that at the top of the hip thrust, your calves are at 90 degrees to the floor.

Drive through your heels and focus on using your glutes to push your hips straight up. Finish with your hips as high as possible while maintaining a neutral spine.

Lower; repeat.

2-point dumbbell bent-over row

Areas trained: upper back, biceps

Technique

Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, start with your feet hip-width apart in an offset stance with your right foot slightly staggered behind the left.

Take up the same position as you would for a bent-over row (your knees slightly bent and your torso bent forwards at your hips at a 45-degree angle).

Row the dumbbell up to your ribcage and then return to the starting position.

Repeat all reps in the set and then switch sides.

Kettlebell swing

Areas trained: glutes, hamstrings, back, core

Technique

Hold a kettlebell with both hands and bend your knees so you are in an athletic position.

Bring the kettlebell through your legs, so your forearms are in contact with your inner thighs.

Swing the weight upward and out to eye level, using the extension of your hips to move
the load.

Return to the start position and go straight into another rep.

BOOST MOTIVATION

Top tips from the experts to keep your motivation sky high!

Gillian Reeves, National Group Exercise Manager at Virgin Active UK, says:

Change begins at the end of your comfort zone: challenge your body in a new and different way and you will achieve something you didn’t believe you could before.

You never know what life is going to throw at you – whether it’s having to bend further or reach higher, so use your time exercising to prepare yourself for those ‘what-if’ moments.

Don’t look back in a year’s time and wish you’d started earlier – the time is now; there is no time like the present.

If you’re exercising and feel like giving up, focus your attention on continuing rather than stopping. Remember that you’re still there and you’re still going – so focus on getting the most out of your move and you’ll hopefully do even more reps!

ARE YOU PUSHING YOURSELF HARD ENOUGH?

Jogging on the treadmill whilst having a gossip is not going to reap real results – it’s time to get down to business!

If you’re pottering along to the gym two or three times a week, but don’t feel you’re seeing real results, the answer may be simple. The workouts you’re doing may not be very effective, or you may not be working hard enough! But don’t worry, if you think you’re guilty of taking your foot off the gas, we’ve got four sure-fire ways to give your workouts the boost they’ve been waiting for!

Up the intensity While a 30-minute steady-state run has long been the fall back of many a fitness fan, research is now stacking up to show that these sorts of workouts are considerably less effective than those of a higher intensity and shorter length.

Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a bike with about a minute’s rest between, three times a week, is as effective at building muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously, according to research conducted by scientists at McMaster University in Canada. So ditching your slow and steady sessions on the treadmill, cross trainer or pavement for a shorter workout of sprints and rests should help you see results in no time.

Get a personal trainer
Sometimes there’s nothing like a scary ex-marine shouting at you from across the park to get your backside in gear. We’re all guilty of giving ourselves an easy ride now and again, so getting a personal trainer could be your route to the body you’ve always wanted.

Sometimes we simply underestimate our own physical ability and it can take an outside with an objective viewpoint to make us see what we’re capable of. ‘A personal trainer will mix up your routine with a variety of exercises and challenge your body in new ways, which should kick-start your metabolism. Having someone else pushing you to achieve will also increase the intensity of your workout, helping you to overcome the plateau,’ says London-based personal trainer Mollie Millington (www.ptmollie.com). ‘Be sure to let your trainer know what your goals are so they can tailor the workout accordingly.’

If you’re going to get a trainer, find someone who’s registered with REPs, and who is prepared to offer a free first session to see if you like it before you commit to more. Try to find someone who you can afford to train with at least once a week so you can really get the most from them.

Get a heart rate monitor
Getting feedback about how hard you’ve pushed yourself in a session is a great way to monitor your progress and identify where you’re doing well and where you might be slacking. Heart rate monitors, usually comprising of a belt and a watch, are a great way of doing this.

MYZONE (www.myzone.org) monitors are the next generation of this and can display your effort levels live in real time, when used in a class, or store your effort levels (in the memory of the belt) when you’re working out independently. This information can then be wirelessly uploaded and accessed by an online user account, letting you check out how you did post-workout.

H2 Bike Run (www.h2clubs.co.uk) offer spin classes using the MYZONE heart rate monitor, which allows you (and the rest of the class) to see your effort levels projected onto a wall at the front throughout the class in the form of a coloured square with a percentage in it.

MYZONE effort points are awarded for each minute that you spend within each heart rate zone so, under 50 per cent of your maximum heart rate equals 0.5 points, 50-60 per cent of your maximum heart rate equals 1 point, 60-70 per cent of your maximum heart rate equals 1.5 points 80-100 per cent equals 2 points and so on.

As your effort increases, your square changes colour from blue to green to yellow and finally red, so everyone in the class (and your instructor!) can see if you’re really putting the work in! You wouldn’t want to be lagging behind with your square lit up in blue if the rest of the class are powering ahead with their squares on red!

And it can be used in other forms of exercise aside from spin. ‘I use MYZONE as a way of carefully tracking the intensity I am putting clients through during their SGUT (Sol Gilbert Ultimate Training) sessions,’ says Sol Gilbert of ZT Family Fitness (www.ztfamilyfitness.com). ‘Using MYZONE has definitely helped to show clients in real-time how hard they’re actually working. I often tell them to work out within a certain heart rate zone, so if I tell them to work out in the yellow zone they can actually see if they’re in it, or if they need to work harder to get into it.’

Lift heavier weights
There’s a common misconception that if women use heavy weights they will end up looking bulky, but doing fewer reps with a heavier weight could actually be the key to seeing real results from your workouts, particularly for weight loss.

‘Lifting heavy weights will not make you huge! You simply don’t have the testosterone levels in your body to build big muscles!’ says Rory James Manning, personal trainer and managing director of RJ Fitness (www.rj-fitness.co.uk). Rory says this is one of things he has most difficulty getting female clients to understand.

‘Lifting light weights will not get you nearly as toned as lifting heavy weights and there is no such thing as toned or un-toned muscle, muscle is muscle.  It can be big or small, but not “toned”. The best way to appear lean or “toned” is to have as much muscle as possible, while having the lowest body-fat percentage possible,’ says Rory.

If you’re doing lots of reps with light weights, it’s time to change up your game plan. ‘Are you guilty of going too light? If you are completing 15 reps or more you almost certainly are, as this won’t be heavy enough to split the muscle fibres! And you won’t see the same kind of fat loss you would if you increased your weight!’ says Rory.

And having more muscle will burn more fat. ‘A pound of muscle burns about 20 calories a day while a pound of fat burns less than five calories. Therefore the more muscle you build, the more fat you burn!’ says Rory.

If that sounds appealing to you, put down the light dumbbells, swap them for a weight that will really challenge you and take the number of reps you’re doing right down. ‘Take your rep range down to between six or 10 reps per set and increase your weight so the last two reps are almost impossible to get out (while keeping good form)!’ says Rory.

Beginners Guide

A Beginners Guide To Protein Shakes

It’s the #gains aid that has gone from specialist health store to supermarket aisle; in today’s gyms, bros can’t stop bending their elbows over protein shakes, but some are all gear, no idea.

It’s understandable, given that the range of products on offer can be overwhelming to anyone without a PhD in sports nutrition. The confusing line-up is a real concern when you consider that using the wrong one can affect whether or not you actually achieve your fitness goals. Plus, with tubs of protein costing anywhere from £15 to £60+, making the wrong call can also be a colossal waste of money.

That’s why we asked fitness industry experts to cut through the marketing jargon and give us the top line facts about everyone’s favourite post-workout ritual.

Why Drink Protein Shakes?

Let’s cut to the chase, “shakes aren’t strictly necessary,” reveals personal trainer Chris Hall. “Protein-rich foods such as meat and fish can be munched post-workout to get the amino acids your muscles need to repair and grow.”

Where shakes have the upper hand is mostly convenience, but also per serving they work out cheaper than ‘real’ food.

Verdict:

Convenience is king. Protein powders promise superior muscle-building powers, but the real reason to drink a shake is that it’s easier than inhaling chicken breasts or mackerel fillets post-workout.

Protein shakes

What’s In A Name?

The main two types of protein powder are whey and whey isolate. The difference? “Aside from price, very little,” says clinical performance nutritionist Martin MacDonald.

Whey isolate is more expensive, but that doesn’t mean your six-pack will suddenly come out of hiding. You might hear bro-science types going on about it being a better quality protein, but the actual difference is irrelevant to most people. “The lactose is removed, making it better for those with an intolerance,” explains MacDonald.

A third type, casein, is a slow-releasing protein that’s recommended before bed to ensure a steady release of essential amino acids to your muscles overnight.

Verdict:

Unless lactose intolerant, there’s no point wasting money on expensive whey isolate. According to MacDonald, most products are a blend of both anyway. Only use casein if you’re serious about packing on a lot muscle, and going to the gym the morning after.

Types of Protein shakes

When Should You Have Them?

Most people rush to neck a shake right after their last rep, but there’s actually no need. A recent study by the International Society of Sports Nutrition discredited the idea of a muscle-building window.

“As long as you’re having enough protein across the day and eating within a three-hour window before and after training, having protein within the ‘magic’ hour after exercise has little to no advantage over muscle growth,” says Hall.

Verdict:

Don’t worry about hitting a special muscle-building window. It doesn’t exist. All that really matters is getting enough protein throughout the day, which bring us nicely to the next question…

Protein shakes

How Much Should You Have?

The government’s protein RDA is currently set at 0.8g per kilo you weigh (so, an 80kg guy would need 64g), but that’s not going to help you get guns worthy of any kind of show.

“For anyone who trains three to five times a week, a protein intake between 1.9g and 2.5g per kilo of bodyweight is what I recommend all my clients,” says body transformation expert Chris Walton.

Verdict:

All the PTs and nutritionists we asked recommended amounts within the range suggested by Walton. Of course, this must be paired with a solid exercise plan, otherwise you can end up putting on weight rather than muscle.

Protein Shakes

Anything Else To Consider?

You already know the importance of building an effective approach to the gym, but as well as training smart you should take time to check the ingredients label of any powder you’re looking to buy.

As a general rule of thumb, the less carbohydrates – especially sugar – the better if you want to get lean and ripped, rather than turn into a beefcake like Cartman did in South Park.

Most contain artificial sweeteners to keep the sugar content low. Studies seem to show these are fine unless consumed by the bucketload. If you’d rather avoid them, wholly organic whey powders are available, and if you’re vegan there are other products derived from plant sources.

Overall Verdict:

Just like body-sculpting products, protein shakes aren’t totally necessary but there’s no harm in calling on a little extra help in the pursuit of shoulders like boulders, if used correctly.

Pair the right drink for you with a solid exercise plan and achievable fitness goals to get Judy Dench (hench) in no time.

Build A Warrior’s Body

5 Ways To Build A Warrior’s Body

The world of white collar fistfights is probably something you were first introduced to by Brad Pitt’s abs in the Fight Club basement. But for most, the closest you’ve probably come is a few forward rolls in an ill-fitting judogi; taken to the local sports hall by your mum to try martial arts as a kid, to get you away from the TV.

However, the UFC and, let’s be honest, the irresistible rise (and now decline) of Conor McGregor, has inspired a new generation of fight fans. Add to this the fact a fighter’s body – one that promises functional lean muscle and flexibility, not barbell bulk – is the physique of the moment and it’s clear to see why the popularity of martial arts classes is on the rise.

Freddy Brown of KO Muay Thai Gym believes the higher intensity fighter’s workouts (rather than your standard steady-state run every morning) is the most efficient, effective way to burn fat while building muscle. And he’s right.

A study by Colorado State University researchers found short bouts of intense exercise, like sparring, can burn an extra 200 calories over 24 hours of rest thanks to a roundhouse kick up the backside to your metabolic rate.

Not only that, the Journal of Sports Sciences revealed this type of workout boosts HGH production by 450 per cent. It’s a hormone that’s great for fat-burning, but will also help repair and build lean muscle after a tough session.

At a time when mental strength is viewed in parity with physical, the fact martial arts can boost both brain and body is an added boon. For the stressed and downtrodden worker it’s the ideal elixir, since The BMJ discovered deploying your fists of fury increases self-esteem. One Physical Educator study even revealed it reduces symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Knockout.

It’s a notion backed up by Luiz Ribeiro of London Fight Factory, who explains: “You’re really not going to have a chance to stress about work or anything else when someone’s attempting to punch you in the face.” Can’t argue with that.

To help you harness this host of heavy-hitting health benefits, here are five fighting disciplines you need to try. Come and have a go. If you think you’re hard enough, that is.

Muay Thai

Best For: Flexibility and speed.

Tale Of The Tape: You can’t expect to land a kick to the head with tight hamstrings; so increasing flexibility is a key part of training. “Plus, training for Thai boxing enhances speed and your explosive high intensity capacity,” says Brown. This melts fat to create a modern athlete’s physique that shuns size for practicality.

It’s A Knockout: Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism research revealed Muay Thai improves both your aerobic metabolism and anaerobic glycolysis to boost stamina gains in tandem with increased muscle power. Translation, you’re fitter in every sense of the word.

Muay Thai

Krav Maga

Best For: Practical muscle and self-defense.

Tale Of The Tape: Real world workouts designed to prepare and train you for what might happen in dark alleyways. You’ll build the agility, coordination and strength to cope with any situation. Expect to be put under pressure by surprise attacks, coupled with lots of kettlebell training that will enhance your quick-fire anaerobic fitness.

It’s A Knockout: “It’s fitness training that also gives you a life saving skill, as opposed to fitness for fitness sake, providing calmness in adversity and boosting confidence,” says John Aldcroft, chief instructor at the British Academy of Krav Maga.

Krav Maga

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Best For: Pain free (sort of) fighting and total body strength.

Tale Of The Tape: Being entangled on the floor trying to figure out your opponent’s weakness will provide a mental workout, improving your problem solving ability. Plus, wrestling requires the use of every muscle and its emphasis on body position will improve proprioception, which is transferable to your lifting technique when you’re back in the gym.

It’s (Not) A Knockout: “BJJ training can be done at full power with little chance of injury as there is no striking, and ‘tapping out’ means you can stop before anything hurts,” explains Richard Martin, chairman of the UK Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Association.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Boxing

Best For: Fat burning and knockout power.

Tale Of The Tape: “Boxing blends the perfect package of cardiovascular high intensity fitness, but also improves core strength,” says Shannon Jewell of Alex Fitness Gym.

This will help you absorb body blows and swing stronger haymakers; the side order of six-pack abs is pretty sweet, too. Exercising at this intensity also burns off the stress hormone cortisol to improve your mood and help you feel energised.

It’s A Knockout: The Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal measured the calories burned by an hour of exercise and found boxing melts around 900 kcals per 60-minute session, more than any other martial art. Or that half-hearted go on the cross-trainer.

Boxing

MMA

Best For: Jack of all trades (and mastering them too).

Tale Of The Tape: This global phenomenon can kickstart muscle growth and choke out fat. Its strength is its variety: “Classes have a focus of either striking, wrestling or sparring; each one paired with an insane warm-up,” explains Ribiero.

Combining different styles like BJJ, Muay Thai and boxing, the variations ensure every class is entertaining and you’ll learn more skills than any other combat sport. Plus, build a knockout body.

It’s (Not) A Knockout: University of Alberta researchers found that while you’re more likely to receive cuts and bruises in MMA – which, admit it, you’d probably enjoy pairing with your suit as a badge of honour – the risk of suffering loss of consciousness or serious eye injury is around half that of boxing.

MMA

5 Things Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals

5 Things Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals

When the warm weather arrives, so do your insecurities about being seen with your top off. Hence adverts that promise fat-burning potions, shakes that build muscle overnight, and gym equipment salvaged from the Spanish Inquisition that promises to turn beer belly to washboard in six easy payments.

But ignore these drastic interventions. If you’re no stranger to the gym, then the best route to a better body is to fix the missteps that undermine your sweat. So switch off the infomercials and start crafting that beach physique.

You’re Disciplined In The Gym, But Not The Kitchen

Your beer belly is, to grossly simplify human physiology, the result of some basic maths – calories consumed minus calories expended. But the left-side of that equation is punchier than the right. If you run a marathon, you’ll torch around 2,500 calories, in four hours of nipple-rubbing, toenail-losing torture. But all that work’s undone by one pepperoni pizza, which clocks in at 2,570 kcals. In, let’s face it, half an hour (or less).

Your body has, over millennia, developed all manner of methods to keep you alive. And when it senses an energy imbalance because you’ve suddenly dusted off that gym membership, it tries to ramp up calories ‘in’ to counter the sudden increase of calories ‘out’.

(Related: How to lose your belly without running)

A study from the University of Ottawa found that people ate more after intense exercise than when they hadn’t worked out, in some cases counteracting their sweat session entirely. Remember, your body is built in the kitchen. Even if your brain thinks an hour of kettlebells buys a large stuffed crust.

Your fix is to eat slow-release carbs before you hit the gym, to give you enough energy to work hard, then a high-protein snack – think tuna or some chicken breast – once you’re out of the changing room, which provides fuel to rebuild torn muscle and kills hunger pangs. And remember – if you buckle to Just Eat, you’ve wasted an hour of agony.

You're Disciplined In The Gym, But Not The Kitchen

Your Workout Routine Is Too Routine

Your January gym membership came with a free PT session, which you accepted gladly, but were too savvy to fork over £30 an hour to continue. I’ve got the routine now, you thought. I’ll just do it on my own. But after some quick results, your progress has flatlined.

Exercise forces your body to adapt to something new. Practice makes perfect and, if you do the same exercises every week, your body learns to do them perfectly. A study from California State University found you need to overload your muscles to see physical change – which means if you’re doing the same regime as when you started, you’ll look the same as when you started.

It can be as simple as increasing the weight you use, the speed you run at, or adding a new move into your routine. But every time you leave the gym with something left in the tank, make sure your next visit is a step up.

(Related: How to train less but get better results)

Your Workout Routine Is Too Routine

#TeamCardio V #TeamLifting

Most people have a preference for either cardio or weight lifting. But a better body comes from combining the best of each. The further you can run, the quicker you recover between squat sets. And the stronger you are, the more efficient your body becomes, meaning you can go further, and faster, for longer.

You’ll burn your belly off faster too; according to a study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, people who pair aerobic and resistance training eat 517 fewer calories a day than those who do only cardio. That’s nearly a whole Big Mac.

The best way to combine both forms of exercise is through high intensity interval training (HITT). HIIT cycles between short bursts at maximum effort, then brief rest periods. Because you’re working for time, as your fitness improves, so does your performance. Which means that each session you run faster than before, or lift more weight than before, and ensure that all-important overload.

Set up a circuit that cycles between cardio and resistance moves – think sprinting, deadlifts, step-ups, press-ups, squat jumps and shoulder presses – and do 30 seconds at max effort, rest for 30, then move onto the next exercise. Rotate through the entire circuit four times to burn blubber and build muscle, plus ensure that your regime never gets a chance to stagnate.

The best way to combine cardio and weight lifting is through high intensity interval training (HITT)

Burning The Candle, Not Your Love Handles

You might fancy just one more episode of The Walking Dead, but besides shuffling around like one of its extras the next day, late nights are bad news for your physique.

Not getting enough sleep increases stress levels, spiking the levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and causing leptin – which makes you feel full – to flatline. Your willpower also nosedives, according to a review in Frontiers In Human Neuroscience, which makes a McDonald’s breakfast that much more tempting than scrambled egg whites.

If you’ve hit the gym, sleep is also vital for transforming that work into results. Your body rebuilds when you’re out cold, so every hour shaved off the eight it wants is less time to turn sweat into pecs. Shut the laptop and get some shut-eye. You’ll sleep easier seeing your middle firm up.

(Related: 4 tricks for better sleep)

You need to get enough sleep to see your fitness increase

You’re Looking For A Quick Fix

The biggest culprit that kills progress is expecting too much, too soon. Don’t believe the shopping channel: no supplement will burn your beer belly in weeks; no electric belt will build a six-pack without you having to work. Results come to those who are persistent and consistent.

Punchy expectations mean you’re doomed to disappointment. Exercise starts with flexing your willpower, and if you’re not seeing the progress you want, it becomes easier to skip an evening in the squat rack for a night in the pub. This ‘false hope syndrome’ makes it harder to continue, according to a study in American Psychology. Every failure makes it tougher to get back on the pommel horse.

The key is to set achievable goals based on concrete targets. ‘Build a better body by summer’ is nebulous and impossible to stick to. But ‘lose 4kg in a month’ is trackable and, when you hit, provides impetus to keep going. Each win encourages you onto the next one, according to research presented to the American College of Sports Medicine. So your summer physique is a handful of small steps away. Not one giant leap.

Set realistic fitness goals

The Six-Pack Moves

Image result for 6 pack abs

Though we wouldn’t quibble with Patrick Bateman in the arenas of business card design or dissecting prostitutes, his workout needs a tweak. That washboard stomach is in spite of, rather than thanks to, a 1000-crunch-a-day regime that’s more likely to leave him with lumbar problems than a six-pack.

It’s faulty logic that sees a sit-up as the abs version of a bicep curl. A six-pack is, as the name suggests, not one muscle. So it needs more than a pump. There’s all manner of engineering under there and you need to work smarter if you want a core that ripples like a bag of puppies. And, if you want to keep hitting the gym. That’s because, according to research by sport science OG Stuart McGill, sit-ups and crunches put so much force through your spine that you’re more likely to get popping discs than popping abs.

So switch out for the moves proven to pump up that six-pack – without trading in your PT for chiropractor.

Ab Rollouts

Why It Works

It’s telling that the dudes in white coats recommend flipping the crunch over to get your abs on show. A 2010 study found roll-outs hit your rectus abdominis – that’s the muscle that pops to give you those six distinct paving stones – harder than either sit-ups or crunches. Without snapping your spine.

How To Do It

Think of the roll-out as a dynamic plank. If your gym has an ab rollout wheel, ideal. If not, use a barbell, or a towel on a slippery floor.

Rest on your knees with your hands in front of you, then slowly push your hands and shoulders forward. The lower you can go, the more effective the move, although it’s best start slow and build up; if you can’t keep your hips locked and back flat then you’re risking injury.

At full extension, pause, then contract your abs to pull yourself home. Catch your breath and repeat for 10 reps.

Goblet Squat

Why It Works

As a training rule of thumb, ditch moves with no real-world application for ones that mimic things you’d do outside the gym. So a move that hits every muscle in your body and trains you to lift heavy things is, arguably, more valuable than flexing your midriff like a flipped turtle.

Holding the weight in front of you is a better six-pack builder than racking it on your back – your core’s job is to support your spine, so shifting the downforce forward makes it work overtime to pull you upright. Meaning a side of back pain relief served with your washboard.

How To Do It

Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands and hold it in front of your chest, elbows tight against your torso. Push your hips back and sink into a deep squat, keeping your weight on your heels.

Focus on locking your core and pulling your shoulders back to keep your chest up, and back straight, as you push to standing. Repeat for 10 reps.

Standing Russian Twists

Why It Works

A granite six-pack doesn’t just look good from the front. For all-round core strength you need to hit your obliques too – the muscles that flank your rectus abdominis and which ensure that your gains are more than just skin deep.

But don’t be tempted by the ol’ sit-up with a twist – Canadian research found they work your bones more than your muscles. So switch to rotation in a standing position, which keeps your spine in line and hammers everything that keeps it there.

How To Do It

Grab a weight plate or medicine ball and hold it in front of you with both hands. Clench your abs and glutes to keep your spine locked then rotate explosively to one side.

Pause, then reverse, going equally as far in the opposite direction. Repeat for 10 reps.

Interval Sprints

Why It Works

Here’s a secret – everyone has a six-pack. It’s just that most are hidden under a layer of fat. If you’re carrying too many extra kilos, your abs will stay swaddled. Which is the main reason sit-ups aren’t an effective six-pack move – they burn next to no calories, so the abs-cloaking belly remains.

By adding high intensity interval training to your workout you spike your body’s ability to torch the wobble. Which gets your six-pack on show quicker.

How To Do It

Pick a cardio exercise and switch between 20-second bursts at 100 per cent effort and 10-second rest periods. Repeat for eight rounds total at first, then build up to longer stints.

It’s all the blubber-burning benefits of a 45-minute run, in a quarter of the time. Although be prepared to become reacquainted with your lunch.

5 Best Apps for a Better Body

The 5 Best Apps For A Better Body

The clothes may make the man, but you can’t ignore what lies beneath. Yes, being fit will make you live longer, feel better and, you know, happier. But more importantly, it also makes that overcoat you just dropped a paycheck on look fire. There’s a reason Tom Ford asks Lucky Blue Smith to model, not John Goodman.

But an enviable body doesn’t come from being screamed at before sunrise by a wallet-bruising personal trainer. These apps have everything to help you look amazing in your clothes – and out of them.

Nike+ Running – Free

At first, running is horrific. Then, satisfying. Until you discover you’re evangelising about your new barefoot shoes to a cab driver who’s long since shut off the rear microphone. That transition comes courtesy of the Nike+ Running app, which makes those early miles more bearable by putting a cheerleader and coach in your pocket.

The app tracks your burned calories, times and routes, plus syncs with with your music, so you can get a push from Diplo (or Britney – we’re not judging) to get you through that final mile.

For sneakerheads, the app can even track your Nike collection and how far you’ve travelled in each pair. Although we’d advise checking resale prices before tackling that 10K in your Air Yeezys.

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Nike+ Running

StrongLifts 5×5 – Free

Sick of not even lifting, bruh? If you’d rather fill your clothes than be a human hanger, you need to hit the bar. StrongLifts 5×5 explains the weightlifting basics better than that incomprehensibly angry dude in the gym, walking you through the five key moves – squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press and barbell row – to take you from flab to firm.

You also get a built-in schedule, to chase you when pizza and Netflix seem more tempting than steel, and in-depth form videos, to ensure injuries don’t send you straight back to the sofa. Neck braces are not a trend this season.

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StrongLifts 5x5

Fitness Builder – Tiered Payment Options

Ever find the juice bar that much more tempting than the second exercise on your gym programme? Or sign up for a marathon, then decide on your first long run that cardio just wasn’t for you? Fitness Builder will help rest your indecisive mind.

It packs in over 1,000 workouts, covering everything from strength training to pilates, ensuring you finally find a regime you can stick to. The app even taps PTs for custom-built plans, which tick off the things you actually enjoy.

It also integrates with your iPhone’s Health app, making it easy to track your progress and see where you need to focus. And the price tag’s justified by the money you’ll save on smoothies.

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Fitness Builder

Endomondo – Free

If your day encompasses a dawn run, bike to work, lunchtime weights session and evening game of five-a-side, then Endomondo is the app for you (also, stop showing off). Aimed at the fitness freak looking to step things up – rather than couch potatoes after slimming down – Endomondo is a supporter for all your workouts, tracking everything from duration to heart rate and calorie expenditure across a range of activities.

Competitive sorts can challenge friends, or compete for community records like most weight lost or distance covered. And those who prefer private sweat sessions can build plans to hit bespoke goals. The app also plays nice with MyFitnessPal and Under Armour apparel, ensuring you always look as good as you feel.

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Endomondo

MyFitnessPal – Free

One fitness cliché deserves attention: you can’t out-train a bad diet. Hours in the weights room won’t undo that post-workout Big Mac meal. Enter MyFitnessPal. The app tracks everything you consume, keeping you on track of your calorie, macronutrient and hydration goals, and the database is all-encompassing enough to log that McDonald’s favourite, making cheat meals harder to stomach.

One of the biggest benefits of the app is the MyFitnessPal community. Losing weight is as hard on your brain as your body, but other app users provide a much-needed willpower boost when you’re flagging. And at the end of every day, the app tells you how long you’ve got left until you hit your ideal weight. Because seeing progress is the best motivation.

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MyFitnessPal

6 Practical Tips For CrossFit

So you have been doing CrossFit for some time now, and you have made noticeable gains in your fitness. That is great! Now, you should take some time to stop what you are doing and reflect on how incredible it is that you are improving your body’s health and capabilities. Getting your first chin up, muscle up, or handstand push up is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
But as you continue to progress in CrossFit, you might reach a point where you find yourself pushing harder and harder to get extra reps and rounds to the detriment of your form and technique. This is not the way to go. If the quantity of reps you perform only increases by sacrificing the quality of said reps, then your body is likely to reach a plateau, or worse, incur an injury.
Rather, you should prioritize quality over quantity so that in the future you may continue to make gains in strength, work capacity, mobility, and overall fitness. Here are some practical tips for how to do that in a CrossFit setting.
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1. Breathe

What a simple thing that we all do everyday. However, mid-WOD, it suddenly becomes apparent that you have not been breathing adequately. How about this: focus on inhaling. Long, slow, controlled, and in through the nose.
If you are doing a twenty-minute AMRAP, then I want you exclusively breathing through the nose for at least the first ten minutes. Heavy mouth breathing should be reserved for sprints, short efforts, and the ends of workouts. While you initially might need to slow down in order to breathe through your nose, in the long run your body will experience positive aerobic adaptations.

2. Break Up Sets

Have you ever stopped and thought about why 21-15-9 is such an effective rep scheme? One reason is because each set can be broken up into three distinct sub-sets: 3 sets of 7, 3 sets of 5, and 3 sets of 3. Another great way to break up this rep scheme is: 11 and 10, 8 and 7, then 5 and 4. So the next time you do “Fran,” “Diane,” or “Elizabeth,” strategize a bit beforehand and see if that helps you set a new personal record.
Another way to state this is that you should not push yourself to failure every round of every workout. Rather, choose a sub-maximal number of reps that you are confident you can complete, and aim to keep yourself just shy of the danger zone for the majority of your workouts.
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3. Rest Between Sets

Rest?! Are you not supposed to go all out as fast as you can? Okay, yes, I get it – the workouts are done for time. But you might end up with an overall faster time (and thus greater work capacity) if you actually plan to rest between sets from the get-go. 
For instance, next time you do “Cindy” (AMRAP in 20 minutes of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, and 15 squats), try to do one round at the top of every minute. If you succeed, you will have accumulated twenty rounds. It will feel very easy in the beginning and very not-so-easy at the end. 
If twenty rounds of Cindy is out of your reach, then try one round every ninety seconds. Or, vice-versa, if your old personal record is higher than twenty trounds, try one round every 45 seconds or so.

4. Prioritize Mobility

You know you are supposed to do it, but somehow you only manage to hit the foam roller or grab that stretch band once or twice a week. How about this: you are not allowed to do a WOD unless you have first done your mobility work for the day. 
Have you ever set a timer for five minutes and then rolled out your thoracic spine? Or what about grabbing a lacrosse ball and hitting your entire shoulder girdle? Check out Kelly Starrett’s awesome MobilityWOD for more ideas.
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5. Scale Movements and Weights Efectively

If you only take one principle away from this post, please pay attention here. You want to make optimal choices in your life, correct? If you could take two routes to your destination, but one of them was longer and riskier, what would you decide? You would take the optimal route. Duh!
Similarly, learning to scale movements and weights effectively is how you optimize CrossFit workouts to fit your individual fitness level and needs. Refer to Prilepin’s Chart (a guideline for what percentage of your 1RM to lift for each given rep range) when choosing what weights to do for WODs. Hint: it might be lighter than you think!
twitter birdClick To Tweet: How to determine the ideal weight to use in a CrossFit WOD

6. Take Individual Accountability

How can you reach your own goals when someone else is planning the workouts for you? This is when you need to take individual accountability for your own CrossFit practice. If the WOD has back squats for strength, but your goal is a double-bodyweight deadlift, then explain to your trainer that you are focusing on the deadlift that cycle.
Similarly, if you want to get your first strict chin up, then reduce the reps of banded chin ups, kipping pull ups, or ring rows in the WOD and do a few super-slow negatives each round instead. It might be different than what is written on the whiteboard, but I am willing to bet that you (and your goals) might be a little different than everyone else in the class around you, as well.

CROSSFIT 10 Misconceptions About CrossFit

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SINCE CROSSFIT CAME onto the fitness scene back in 2000, it has morphed into one of America’s fastest growing sports. The Crossfit Games, now sponsored by Reebok, dole out more than $2 million to top-place finishers each year. More than 12,000 CrossFit gyms operate worldwide. 60 Minutes just ran an exclusive interview with CrossFit’s creator, Greg Glassman. And everyone has something—usually all good or all bad—to say about CrossFit. But all of that media exposure, jibber jabber, YouTube videos, and tyrannical bloggers come with a lot of misconceptions and pure misinformation.

Those misconceptions are especially rampant in those people who have never completed a CrossFit workout, says Kevin Hughes, C.S.C.S, a certified CrossFit coach and owner of FTF Fitness in California. After all, they have nothing else to go off of. Meanwhile, as CrossFit becomes a sort of fitness cult, with people tied to and emotionally invested in their gyms, they often never see CrossFit outside of the scope of their gym’s little corner of the CrossFit community, he says. More misconceptions arise.

To put those myths to bed, we talked with CrossFit trainers, doctors, and gym-goers about the top 10 misconceptions surrounding CrossFit, what it is, and how it can affect your body—both for the good and the bad.

 

1. If You Do CrossFit, You Don’t Need Any Other Workouts

CrossFit is all about promoting general fitness that carries over into every aspect of your life. But that doesn’t mean you might not need other workouts to hit your specific fitness goals, says Hughes. That’s because the number-one rule of training, called the principle of specificity, still stands: Your workout needs to match your goal. So, if you want to run a marathon, CrossFit can certainly improve your VO2 max, overall strength, and reduce muscular imbalances, but you are still going to need to go on long, tiring 20-mile runs if you ever want to cross the finish line. The same goes for triathlons, basketball competitions, football tournaments, you name in. Many CrossFit gyms even offer other forms of training to supplement your CrossFit workouts.

2. Everyone Gets Seriously Injured

We aren’t going to sugar-coat it—CrossFit-related injuries do happen—and they can occasionally be serious. But they are far from a given, and CrossFit is far from the “most dangerous workout” that some claim it to be. In one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Researchstudy, 73.5 percent of regular CrossFit participants reported having sustained some type of injury during training, 7 percent of them requiring surgical treatment. That averaged out to only 3.1 injuries per 1,000 hours of training. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too bad. Study researchers noted that CrossFit injury rates where similar to those seen in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics and lower than those seen in competitive contact sports. “Injury comes from not CrossFit itself. What injures people is not listening to coaches, performing moves incorrectly, or receiving poor coaching,” says Hughes. And, a lot of times, just pushing too hard. “Some people are getting biologically fatigued and doing too much all at once. It has to be something you build up to slowly,” says Wayne Stokes, M.D., director of sports medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Rusk Rehabilitation. “Every individual has to take responsibility for himself. Don’t let ego get in the way,” says Wendy Hurd, P.T., Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist with Mayo Clinic and CrossFit participant.

3. It’s All Like the Games

In the last few years, the CrossFit Games have gotten huge. But the CrossFit sport and the CrossFit workout aren’t the same thing. It’s like the difference between the Super Bowl and tossing the football around in the back yard with your friends. “We will do some of same movements in the gym as competitors do during the Games, but some are less complicated or technical, others will be completely different, and some of the moves in the Games we may never touch in the gym,” Hughes says. “The movements in the Games aren’t anything I would prescribe to 99 percent of my members.”

4. It’s a Brand-New Workout

“I was doing CrossFit before CrossFit existed,” says Mike Costello, 59, a Chicago-based CrossFit coach. “One day, several years ago, I was working out and someone in the gym said, ‘oh, you do CrossFit.’ I didn’t know what CrossFit was, but it turned out I was doing a lot of the same stuff.” That’s because CrossFit is, in a nutshell, is a high-intensity workout that combines exercises from weightlifting, gymnastics, agility work, calisthenics, and traditional cardiovascular workouts, Hurd says. All of those have existed for decades. CrossFit fuses them together.

5. It’s Only for Crazy-Fit Folks

“People think that CrossFit is somehow only for athletes or people who are already in shape. It’s only for people who have some masochistic desire to train,” says Russell Berger, head trainer and spokesperson for CrossFit. And while you probably will spot a few of those people in a CrossFit gym, that’s far from the average. You’ll find anyone from young to old and fit to former couch potato, says Costello, who coaches children as young as third grade with CrossFit workouts. “Everything about CrossFit can and should be scaled to that person’s body, fitness, and abilities,” he says.

6. You Can Just Jump Into Any Class

Just because anyone can do CrossFit, it doesn’t mean you should be doing full-blown, super-intense workouts during your first class, Hurd say. The better your base is, the better your results and the lower your risk of injury will be. She recommends starting with an introductory class. Not all gyms offer them, but they are a great way to learn the basics before you start hammering out workouts for time. Usually, they contain a quick overview of CrossFit and guided bodyweight workout. “On-ramp” and “Elements” courses teach you about CrossFit’s fundamental movements and about proper form. Only after completing these should you get into regular classes, she says.

7. It’s the Same Everywhere

CrossFit isn’t a chain. It’s a brand. “Every CrossFit gym is independently owned and operated without intervention from the actual company of CrossFit. Each gym pays a yearly fee to be an affiliate of CrossFit and use the name,” explains exercise physiologist Dan Casey, C.S.C.S., a CrossFit coach at Windy City Strength & Conditioning. Currently, more than 12,000 CrossFit gym affiliates operate worldwide. “This means each individual gym has its own programming, its own coaching style, its own training philosophy.” So, the workout you get in one CrossFit gym can be radically different than what you would experience in another one. Try out gyms to find the best fit for you before you join.

8. You Can’t Go Wrong With Any CrossFit Instructor

Just as CrossFit gyms vary widely, so do the skills that each CrossFit instructor brings to coaching. For example, to earn a CrossFit Level 1 certification, coaches have to take a two-day course and pass an exam covering the principles and movements of CrossFit. “You want someone who has an understanding of human anatomy, exercise science, and can analyze and help you improve your movement patterns,” says Hughes. He recommends looking for an instructor who has either multiple years of experience coaching or who has multiple certifications, both in CrossFit and in other specialty areas, such as personal training or strength and conditioning. When looking for the gym and coach for you, don’t hesitate to ask about their certifications, says Hurd, who also recommends watching coaches in their element before deciding on who you want guiding your workouts. “Ask to observe a class. Is the coach giving people feedback and helping them improve their technique, or just acting as a ‘ra ra’ cheerleader?”

9. It’s Competitive

The Games are competitive, but in the gym, everyone is way more competitive with themselves than they are with everyone else. In fact, the community aspect is probably the best part about CrossFit, Hughes says. It’s what really hooks people on the workouts and turns people into die-hard fans. “It’s a very tight-knit, supportive group. The support system grows from people wanting to see their peers do well,” Casey says. People get excited to see fellow members achieve new personal bests. They cheer each other on, he says.

10. It’s the Ideal Workout for Everyone

Some people don’t like to run. Others don’t like CrossFit. That’s OK. However, the only way you’ll know one way or the other is by trying it. “CrossFit isn’t for everyone, but it can expose you to what is right for you,” Casey says. “CrossFit has allowed many of my current and former clients to be exposed to Olympic Weightlifting, power lifting, Athlete Performance Training, and other disciplines. Because CrossFit training includes so many different training styles in smaller bits, people can figure out what types of training they do enjoy.” After all, the best workout is the one you enjoy doing and will stick with over the long haul.