How you should be working out: a mansplanation
Brendan Rolfe, DipA, PTS, NWS
You do it because it’s your routine, or maybe you don’t do it because it’s become routine. Either way, you don’t enjoy working out anymore. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s make exercise great again (MEGA)—hats not included.
Let’s face it: some of us are no longer young bucks. And, if you’re like many of us new dads, your motivation to work out may be waning, if it’s not gone altogether. Rainbows and unicorns aside, adding a little isometric fire to your workouts might be just what the doctor ordered.
There are three kinds of contractions that work your muscles.
It’s likely you’re familiar with the first two, if not by name, then at least by deployment. But isometric muscular training is far less commonly practised at the gym, though it can offer some serious benefits. Isometric exercises have been shown to reduce pain, increase muscle volume, and help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Isometric training can increase your peak muscle strength by more than 25 percent.
You’re already doing it. Seriously though, if you’re holding this magazine, your biceps are in a flexed isometric position. If you’re sitting upright without the support of a chair while you read this article on your tablet, your back muscles are isometrically contracted.
Look at you, exercising and you didn’t even know it! Of course, these are things that we do on a daily basis. But our bodies adapt to these movements and they eventually provide us with little to no added health benefit. If we pair isometric contraction with other exercises, though, or add a little extra resistance, we’ll be cooking with fire.
You know that burning sensation you get in your muscles when walking up a long flight of stairs? Or when you have to hold your luggage overhead while someone struggles to find their seat on the airplane?
Well, as the kids used to say in 1991, that’s going to be “our jam.” This workout embraces the burn and may even “put some hair on your knuckles”—Grandpa, circa 1987. Here’s the best part: you don’t even need a gym to do it!
Muscles targeted: quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core
Do you ever sit down or stand up? Of course you do! All day, every day. This will not only strengthen and grow those muscles, but also create a little more stability in your joints. The isometric contraction in the quads is associated with improvements in knee pain, even for those with osteoarthritis!
Squat down as low as you can, maintaining ground-heel contact. Jump as high as you can, tucking your knees up as close to your chest as possible at the peak of the jump. Land as softly as possible with bent legs, going right into your next squat and jump.
Much the same as when you load into your squat jump, ensure your heels stay down and your knees track over your toes. To get added depth to your squat, let your arms drift out in front of you for counterbalance.
Find a wall. Lean against it. Slide down until you are in a seated chair position. Knees over toes, head and back pressed against the wall. Don’t move.
Muscles targeted: chest, triceps, shoulders, core
Remember the last time you helped push a stranger's car out of the snow? OK, so maybe chest push exercises aren't the most functional. But muscular balance is important in terms of body function, and the ability to properly tighten our core while resisting a force is critical to avoiding injury (plus, who doesn't like to be a winter hero?).
Get into push-up position. If you're feeling strong, you can try this from your toes, but I recommend starting with knee push-ups so the floor doesn't give you a facial. Go chest to floor, like a normal push-up, but explode up as fast as you can, pulling your hands off the floor at the peak of the push-up, clap, then land in your starting position and immediately go down for another push-up.
Like normal push-ups, but decrease the distance between your hands to body width, and instead of your elbows winging out to the side, tuck your elbows in against your ribs. Again, this can be done from either knees or toes.
Start in regular push-up position, but when you get to about an inch (2 or 3 cm) off the ground, hold that position. Focus on keeping your core tight and chin tucked. Do on either toes or knees.
Muscles targeted: glutes, quads, hamstrings
Lunges might be the most underrated exercise in fitness. They help to bring muscles through their full range of motion, they challenge our balance, and theyíre safe. If I had to choose one exercise only to give a client: Squats? Deadlifts? No sir, give me a well-performed lunge any day.
Start in a lunge position. Drop your back knee to just off the floor and then jump as high as you can, switching leg positions and landing in a lunge position. Immediately go into the next lunge and jump. Do this six times per side.
Start in a lunge position and simply drop your back knee to just off the floor, and then raise it back up. Go slowly and try to keep your weight in your front foot.
Start in a lunge position. Drop your back knee to just off the floor. Hold this position and try to keep your upper body as tall as possible.
Muscles targeted: core
The key to an on-point dad bod is a soggy midsection. If that's your goal, don’t bother with this next group of exercises. If, however, you want a flat stomach and less potential for chronic back pain, carry on.
Get into a push-up position, on your hands and toes (don't worry, no more push-ups). This time, drive one knee forward and across your body, bringing it as close to your chest as possible. As you return that foot, drive your other knee forward. Do this as fast and as forcefully as possible.
Start on your back, fingers touching your temples and with knees and feet in the air. Extend your right leg to straight, bring your left knee across your body, and crunch your right elbow across to touch your knee. Then extend your left leg to straight and bring your right knee across to touch your left elbow. Do this slowly and with special focus on keeping your core tight.
Get into a push-up position, but instead of being on your hands, hold your weight on your forearms. Raise your hips up slightly above shoulder height while you scoop them toward your chest. Don’t. Move.
Work out outside—at the beach, at a playground, in the pool—take a class, or try a new sport. Just try something new!
The quickest way to get motivated is to feed off someone else’s energy. Add some of their professional knowledge, and you’re back on track!
Accountability, new exercise potential, motivation, and most of all fun, working out with a buddy is a classic win-win.
Muscles targeted: lower back, upper back, lats, glutes
Sitting in a chair for hours on end (at work) and then sitting on a couch when you get home (to relax) is probably one of the worst things you can do. And yet, we all do it. It creates a lazy core and shortens muscles like you wouldnít believe, setting us up for injury and dysfunction. The remedy? Activating and strengthening your posterior chain.
Imagine yourself lying face down on a sunny tropical beach with your hands under your chin. Now get to work! Keeping your chin tucked, arch and lift your chest, thighs, and feet off the ground as high and as quickly as you can. Lower to starting position. That’s one.
Start in the same sunny position, but this time extend your arms out in front of you (yes, like Superman flying) and point your toes back behind you. Do the same arching motion, but this time slowly, smoothly, and with a little pause at the top.
You’re probably starting to understand the theme here. Same same, but hold at the peak of your extension.
Brendan Rolfe, BA, DipA, PTS, specializes in functional movement and athletic training in Penticton, BC, where he strives to bring healthy lifestyle choices to every household. @brendanrolfe; healthaholicsunanimous.com