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Building muscle and staying in shape go hand in hand when it comes to fitness. There are common misconceptions like: just purely lifting weights will enhance your muscles in a faster way - that can really hamper your success rate.
Throughout my earlier years in fitness training, I thought the more I worked out, the larger I would get and the faster I would grow. I would constantly do chest and arms, very confused as to why I wouldn’t see the gains of many other lifters in the gym.
I finally broke down and decided to teach myself by actually asking several other people around me. As time went on I learned from them how to build muscle properly and was shocked at the simplicity and variety of methodologies you need to apply to get the best results for muscle building. I have highlighted a few areas below that, I believe, made all the difference in my workout:
Remember, if you don’t exercise your muscle can’t grow, and it’s how much rest and recovery you applied to that body part after it has been worked that will give you the dramatic results that have been eluding you.
[Ed. - For a further perspective, including the idea of the 'minimum effective dose' of strength training, check out Tim Ferriss' new book The 4-Hour Body ]
Exercises using swiss balls and other gym training tools like dura discs and wobble boards are frequently prescribed to help train the core muscles. This instability training is often viewed as a great way to enhance core strength.
However, a recent review of the research by Behm et al. 2010 (Appl. Physiol. Metab. Nutr. 35(1): 91-108) identified that while instability training can increase core muscle activation, it may not be the best choice in all situations. Unstable training can reduce overall muscular power output, which may have important implications if the goal of a given training program is to maximize the output or physiological stress on a given muscle, as is the case in certain types of athletic training.
The authors are not against unstable training, saying that "Training programs must prepare athletes for a wide variety of postures and external forces, and should include exercises with a destabilizing component."
"While unstable devices have been shown to be effective in decreasing the incidence of low back pain and increasing the sensory efficiency of soft tissues, they are not recommended as the primary exercises for hypertrophy, absolute strength, or power, especially in trained athletes."
"For athletes, ground-based free-weight exercises with moderate levels of instability should form the foundation of exercises to train the core musculature. Instability resistance exercises can play an important role in periodization and rehabilitation."
1. Overload : You must gradually work the muscles harder and harder to get stronger. Gradually add to your training – weight, number of repetitions, variety and/or number of sets.
2. Overhaul : Every 4 weeks or so you should revamp your program to give the muscles completely new exercises and loads.
3. Specificity : Your strength gains are specific to the movements and speed of movement you do in training. If you need high arm speed and moderate strength to pull up a kite, then your gym training should reflect this movement speed and muscle groups used.
4. Progression & periodisation : Sequence training such that you start with a period of building muscles, then move towards very sport-specific exercises, loads and movement speeds. As an example, given a period of, say, 6 months to develop your strength, begin with 1 build-up month of 3 x 12-15 reps, followed by 2 months of gradually heavier weights and fewer reps to get you really strong (eg 3-4 sets x 6-10 reps). Then turn towards endurance with a month of 3 x 15-25 followed with a month of circuit-style exercises (40s on, 20s off). Finish with a month of pure strength/endurance work – higher reps of very sailing-specific exercises (see below for examples).
5. Recovery : Allow 48 hours between strength sessions.
And, talking of sailing, these are the two key things are especially important when weight training for sailing:
1. Include exercises that improve posture, balance, joint stability, abdominal and back muscles.
2. Be prepared to modify and fine tune your training each day to allow for not feeling 100%, persistent windy weather (meaning harder on-water training) and a desire to add variety.
I recommend these exercises as fundamental parts of sailors’ weight training. A few more will be needed to round out a session, especially abdominal/back/core exercises, but these are mainstays. My book, Sail Fitter: Sailing Fitness and Training , has information on how to put these exercises together into a weight training session for sailing.
1. Bench pull – Lie on a high bench with a barbell underneath. Pull the bar up to touch under the bench and then back to the ground. Excellent and safe isolation of the muscles of the arms, shoulders and back that pull ropes.
2. Swiss Ball leg extensions – Sit on a Swiss Ball, roughly in a hiking position, with your toes under something heavy. Straighten your legs at the knees, lifting your trunk. Lean back for a little more resistance. The way to do 60 reps is to do 15-20 in a row, followed by a 5-10s rest, then 15-20 more, etc. A safer and more specific alternative to a leg press.
3. Chin-ups with towel – Sling a towel over a chin up bar, grip it firmly and do chin-ups. Slightly harder than a normal chin-up, the towel will also help develop your grip strength.
4. Swiss ball leg curls – Lying on the ground with a Swiss ball under the heels, straighten your body (shoulders and head remain on ground) and then draw the ball in towards your bottom by bending your knees. Leg curls work the opposite side of the body and provide balance in muscle group development.
5. Back extension – Bend over a Swiss ball (with feet anchored), face down. Slowly raise your trunk so that your body is flat, not above, and lower. A top choice of the many back exercises that sailors need to do to maintain back stability, strength and health.
1. Chin-ups with towel – As per hiking sailors.
2. Upright row – Standing, pull a barbell up to near your chin, aiming to keep your elbows level. Your legs should be comfortably bent. Avoid swinging your trunk. The upright row works the muscles you’d use when handling a sheet flat out on trapeze.
3. 3-way shoulder work – Lie flat and face down on a high bench with a couple of relatively light weights in each hand. Keeping the arms straight, swing them forward, like superman, then out to the side, like you’re trying to fly, then behind you, like you’re skiing. Your hands should reach bench height at the top of each rep. Great exercise for the large shoulder muscles that stabilize and move the arms.
4. Skipping – Good for developing the calves to help you extend fully on trapeze.
5. Side bend – Lay on the floor, on your side, leaning on an elbow, with your feet up on a Swiss Ball. You can use your left hand to balance while lifting your whole body off the floor. Raise and lower your hip area, so that your body does side bends up and down at the waist. A tough stability and abdominal exercise that’ll improve your core stability.
1. Swiss ball squats – Put a Swiss Ball inside the cage of a Smith Machine. Carefully step onto the ball. Take your time to stand fully upright, holding onto the bars of the machine or a barbell which is racked in the machine. When ready, still with a light grip of the machine for balance, slowly and surely perform normal, unweighted, squats. It’s fairly gentle work for the quads and gluteus but heavy work for your lower legs and feet to maintain balance. Eventually you won’t need anything to help balance.
2. Body pulls – Lie under a bar or table and put your feet on the floor or a Swiss Ball. With hands about shoulder width on the bar, pull your chest up to touch the bar and lower until arms are straight. A simple, but specific exercise for the arms and back, also training balance through the use of the Ball.
3. Forearm plank – Lay face down on a mat. Support your body by your elbows and toes. Hold that position, body as flat as possible, for 30s, thinking ‘pull my belly button towards my spine’. Board sailors need lots of core stability and this one encourages a strong, stable position.
4. Scapular retraction – Set yourself up on a seated rowing machine. The action starts with you gripping the handles, arms straight, then squeeze the shoulder blades (scapular) together firmly while keeping the arms straight. Finish the repetition by letting the shoulders forward again. Excellent shoulder stability exercise that’ll help make your arms work better.
5. Split squat – With a dumbbell in each hand, step forward about 50cm with one foot and regain your balance there. Carefully lower your weight straight down by bending at both knees and drive back up. Change legs. This exercises your balance a little more and requires uneven force from each leg, as often happens sailboarding.
1. Push up on Swiss Ball – Face down, arms straight, hands are spread wide as possible on the Swiss Ball, toes are on the ground and the body is straight. Ease your chest down towards the ball and then drive back up. Avoid bouncing your chest off the ball! A great chest, tricep and shoulder stability exercise.
2. Bench pull – as per ‘Hikers’.
3. Reverse back extension – Using a back extension machine or similar, mount it the other way around, so that our legs can be raised (to horizontal) and lowered. A handy exercise to develop your neglected back and hammies.
4. Bent leg raise – Lay on the floor on your back with knees bent. Tighten your abdominals (‘draw your belly button towards your spine’), then slowly lift one leg off the floor and hold 10sec. Breathe normally, maintain abdominal control and don’t allow your lower back to arch further. Rest, then change legs. A good, well controlled abdominal exercise.
5. 3-way shoulder work – as per Trapezers’.
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For a few years you’ve been able to download and listen to MP3 audio tracks that take you through a running or gym session. Now, with the increasing development of applications for the iPhone there are a whole lot more ‘wow’ tools for athletes and coaches to help you plan, carry out and record sessions. Here are the main players.
PumpOne.com has hundreds of workouts, including exercises for strength training, weight loss, flexibility and endurance that you can download to your iPhone or iPod. There are plenty of sample videos on the site which give you a feel for the product. Once downloaded, press play on device and the video will guide you in a series of exercises. You watch, then pause and do it yourself. There’s no sport-specific workouts, but if you’re fairly new to formalized training you may well value the opportunity to be lead through hotel room, core strength, swiss ball, pilates or yoga routines.
iTrain.com has over 200 workouts in their library by personal trainers plus Olympic swimming Champion Natalie Coughlin. Each of the categories of cycle, treadmill, climber, boxing, swimming, stretching, sculpting and cardio has a long sample you can download and try yourself. Tracks are in MP3 format and run from 20-60 mins. There’s no video, so you have to use your imagination a little more than with PumpOne.
RunKeeper.com allows you to track your runs and map and view your progress in your running history. The App uses the built-in GPS in the 3G iPhone to track your performance. You’d wear your iPhone on your arm and you can cycle, or dance or whatever with it. There’s no mapping, per se, on the phone, but you can send your data to the website to save and map it there.
iFitness is available through the iTunes App Store for just $2.49 and has over 110 fully illustrated exercises with accompanying text. You can make a list of favorite exercise to create your own custom routine. You can use preset routines that their experts have made for reaching different goals. The exercises, illustrated with written descriptions are organized by the muscles they target.
iMapMyRun and iMapMyRide are powered by the popular site MapMyRun.com and, clearly, uses the iPhone’s GPS to track your outdoor activities. You can record distance, speed, pace, etc. and load the data back to their website or view it on Google Maps. With Google having just released the iPhone version of Google Maps, expect the application to be upgraded to allow you to view your run overlayed on google maps on the iPhone. However , at this stage you can’t change your tunes and run the App. Arrg!
TrailGuru is another iPhone App and does much the same thing as iMapMyRun, only better, according to users. You can also post your activity to the www.trailguru.com site and boast about your endurance. The developer updates the App often. It’s free too.
GymGoal Lite on the iPhone is another App available through the iTunes Store that provides prompting for your weigh training, but, significantly, also allows you to record what you’ve done - reps, sets and weight. You can also create a custom routine in which it’s real easy to add, delete or re-order exercises. There’s an inbuilt list of 210 illustrated exercises and you can add your own. Just don’t sweat too much on the phone. GymGoal Lite is $5.99.
iWorkOut , for your $2.99, gets you a pretty slick App featuring 100+ exercise videos narrated by a certified fitness and exercise expert. You can sample the videos on YouTube and you’ll see they focus on technique, which is good if you need help in this area. However, for regular athletes, it lacks the session recording functionality of GymGoal Lite.
Fit Phone is just a little more pricey at $5.99, but the developers boast about its recording and reporting ability, which are of most use to regular athletes. You can set your own workouts, add new exercises, enter actual weights lifted, and even email the data to your coach. Worth a look.