Spring is upon us, and soon we are going to hear the “summer body” workout plans, and everyone panicking about showing some skin on the beach. Nothing inspires confidence like a little advance preparation, but who has the time? And where should you start?
As we all know, it’s pretty damn hard, and borderline dangerous to abruptly step into a rigorous workout routine without establishing some basic training to get into it. It’s also hard to rationalize getting out of the bed when it’s cold and dark outside, but we all know it needs to get done, so I put together a plan that can help you ease into it with, let’s say, a “graduated
One of the things I try to focus on to get back into things, is core workouts, which are not only incredibly functional, but also help you to look great as you get in shape. Most of these you can do at home in 20 minutes or less, removing that excuse for those of us who have a hard time making it into the gym in the morning.
Here is a pretty routine, but very effective workout I do often, especially when pressed for time. Remember, abs have more fast twitch fibers than the rest of our muscles, so they need to be worked out more often than other muscles for appropriate training. It’s also a great workout
to do with a partner or friend, which makes you more likely to stick to your new routine.
I typically start with a little core specific stretching and static moves, then progress to more dynamic moves when more warmed up. The stretching you can do together, then alternate sets with each other as your workout progresses.
I’m not a huge fan of complicated yoga poses, and I for the occasional yogi, it can be pretty humiliating and disheartening to attempt them. There are a few however, that are easy to perform, have a wide variety of benefits, and can help you perform your workout with less risk of injuring yourself. You can also do them at home, which is a great excuse to get your day started right.
Child and Cobra pose (10 of each, alternating)
These moves are very simple and relatively easy to do. They are also great openers to get you limber enough for the rest of the workout, and very unlikely to cause an injury before you are
Upward and Downward Dog (10 of each, alternating)
This simple set of moves opens up your spine and hip flexors, stretches out your abs, and is pretty easy to perform. They are one step up regarding movement from the child and cobra pose in terms of movement. Try and focus on slow deliberate movements, expanding range of motion with each cycle, and breathing.
Strengthening and Toning
Various Planks (1 minute x 3)
These are a little more intense, and utilize what is called an isometric muscular contraction to engage more core muscles, especially as you perfect your form. Isometric contractions are often neglected, but one of the most effective ways to enhance muscular strength and tone.
When you are strong enough to perform this move correctly for time (over 60 seconds), you can add on other variations, such as the side plank and isolate more muscle groups. Simple, but
VERY effective. I find doing these next to a mirror help a lot in terms of identifying flaws in form, which are very common and detrimental to the move being effective.
Crunches and Sit-Up Variations (at least 3 sets of 10 reps)
There is a tremendous amount of variability you can work into this set of exercises, including using an incline bench, or using a medicine ball for weight. Although many advocate limited motion and isolation on crunches, I’ve found that the vast majority of people - including myself - don’t have the advanced muscular control required to do isolation crunches effectively
enough to stimulate significant muscular failure. It’s NOT easy.
I’m more of a fan of larger movements using resistance, which take away the need for such perfect control, but utilize resistance or weight as another way to fatigue all of the muscles in the group. It’s much harder to cheat that way, and there is a hidden benefit of recruiting more of the often overlooked “supporting” muscles around which are also functional.
In general, you can utilize more isolation and use less weight, or less isolation, and more weight. I find for most of us, the latter situation is always easier.
On most of these exercises, if you don’t have weights, or an incline bench, grab your partner, spouse, or friend, and have them provide resistance for you. It’s an easy way to get them involved in your workout routine, and progress together.
Leg Raises (at least 3-4 sets of 10 reps)
This is a great exercise for the lower abs specifically, and helps bring out tone, and strengthen the hip flexors as well. You can utilize ankle weights, an incline bench, or a partner for resistance as you become stronger. The key, as with all core work, is slow, deliberate, and strict form. If you have pain when doing this exercise, you can place your hands under your lower
back as a makeshift “lumbar support” maneuver. Beginners can also do this move with bent knees to start off with and progress to straight leg raises, which are more difficult.
Taking it a Step Up.
Weighted Pulldown Crunches (4 sets of 10)
This is the ultimate crunch killer. Amazing exercise for building definition, especially in the uppermost ab muscles which are underdeveloped in 99 percent of us…..think of it as the difference between a 6 and 8 pack. Because you can go to quite a heavy weight without
causing injury with this exercise, it’s also great for providing “depth” to your abs and giving them that deep, chiseled look.
The flip side (isn’t there always one?), is it requires a significant amount of coordination, and muscular control, but STILL less than doing traditional crunches RIGHT. After you have mastered the other moves, this is a nice one to move on to. It does require a cable weight set, so not really amenable to doing at home.
Bicycle Crunches (1-2 minutes, rapid speed, 2-3 sets)
I find this exercise is tough to do when you start off your workout, but when you are finishing up, especially after some decent resistance work, and your abs are relatively beaten up, it allows you to push to a new level of muscular fatigue. The more you push to fatigue, the more results you get. Because this exercise is so dynamic, and you are already warmed up, and hopefully at this point pretty fatigued, aberrances in form are a little more forgiving.
Start at 30 seconds, with the goal of one twist each second, and move on to 60-120 seconds. Trust me, it BURNS.
There you go - a pretty simple, easy to do exercise set, that you can do at home, that will challenge a beginner to an advanced user. All of these moves are basic, but can evolve with you as you progress, with minimal, easy adjustments.
Remember, no matter how toned and strong your abs are, they won’t show if your body fat isn’t low enough.
Stick to a routine that is easily and reliably implemented into your daily routine, keep it lean, ensure your caloric intake is on point, and you will be beach body ready for summer in no time!
PHOTO CREDITS | PHOTOGRAPHY Ron Contarsy & Highmark Studios | TALENT Dr. David Greuner/ NYC Surgical + Sabina/One Model Management | POST PRODUCTION Vik Sharma |