Another snowy day in VA… My favorite place in the house is on the sofa, which sits next to a big window overlooking the front yard, it’s so nice to sit with my computer in my lap and some hot tea in my cup and look out. Not that my front yard is anything but dead flowers right now, but when covered in snow, even dead flowers look beautiful.
Initially, I was going to write about the spaghetti squash we had last night for dinner, but that will have to wait, as my friend asked me a great question yesterday in regards to working out. She asked how to get rid of love handles, and I’m so glad she did, she reminded me of a topic that I should have covered a long time ago. Although she might have been looking for a specific exercise for that area of her body, I’m not going to give a specific answer. I’m sure there are trainers that would tell you to do lots of sit ups or plank holds, and while those are excellent exercises, I encourage more of a ‘whole body’ approach. I used to get into doing individual exercises for each part of my body; sit ups for my stomach, squats for my butt, push ups for my arms. I would work on my arms one day, my stomach another, and my legs another day, this approach is pretty common, and while you may see results using this method, there is a way to exercise more efficiently.
24 hour fitness, Gold’s, Health and Fitness, these gyms are filled with equipment; machines for your arms, legs, back, shoulders, butt, and even your calves. There isn’t a single body part that does not have a corresponding machine, they’ve got it all covered. While this equipment has been useful to a lot of people, and I don’t doubt that it does work, if you are looking for a way to get the most use out of your time and money, there are ways to stay fit without a lot of equipment and without focusing on one body part at a time. By varying your movements and implementing whole body exercises with more intensity, you will get more work done in less time and get stronger, faster, and skinnier. And by not focusing on one body part, you will see improvements in your entire body, not just the butt, stomach, or arms.
As you’ve heard before, I am an advocate of functional fitness; fitness based on real-world situations in order to prepare you for real world situations (and it will also get you a real nice body). The machines at the gym, while helpful, are not meant to prepare you for real world situations. How many times in life are you forced to sit face down, while curling weight with your legs? Or do a squat while slightly inclined on a nice cushion? While those machines may make you feel good and sore because they’ve worked muscles you haven’t worked before…wouldn’t you rather work muscles that you need to work often? Now, let me ask you this. How often do you bring yourself from the standing position to the sitting position, back to the standing position? At least 3 times a day when sitting for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’re doing a squat. What about picking up a heavy box, grocery bag, or child from the ground and bringing it to your hip? Well, you just did a deadlift, how many times have you done that already today? Have you put away dishes on the top shelf? That, my friend, was a shoulder press. You see, you’re already doing functional movements, now lets string them together in a workout and make you a little more prepared for everyday life.
In Crossfit we focus on high intensity, constantly varied, functional movement. That means we do a lot of different functional movements, intensely. “High intensity,” is relative to each person, my high intensity is different than my husbands, and his is different than that of a 45 year old man. The important part is that you are challenging yourself, that your heart rate is up, your blood is flowing, and you are pushing your body. When I go to the gym and do a workout, I do the same workout as a 12 year old boy or a 50 year old man, we just scale the workout to our own abilities. Scaling can be done by going at a different pace, by using less weight, or by modifying an exercise. Everyone’s abilities are different, but it’s important to find your full ability and push to continue to improve.
It’s hard to have a lot of intensity at a gym filled with machines, A: there are a lot of people around who AREN’T working intensely and look at you like you’re crazy, B: you can’t go back and forth between two things very easily without someone stealing it. Is it possible to do intense workouts at a regular gym? Absolutely, it just takes some creativity! If you want to do it, you will make it happen. If you’d like to try working out a little more intensely in your own home, there is a way to do that as well. You don’t need equipment to workout, all you need is YOU! On the RARE Crossfit site, Adam lists 70 workouts to do without any equipment. To see the workouts visit this link: http://rarecrossfit.typepad.com/fitness/workouts-on-the-road.html
Below I’ve listed 5 functional movements, some you may recognize, others may sound new to you. They are all worth a try. These first few are body weight exercises that don’t require a lot of coaching, while those marked with the * do require some teaching and you may have to do some more research before trying them on your own.
1. The air squat. The movement of sitting down in a chair and getting back up. If your doctor has told you not to do a squat because of your knees, I would ask you if you plan on getting up from the seated position you are in right now? If you are, then you can do a squat, maybe you can’t get all the way down with your hips parallel to your knees, but you can get down as far as necessary. Squatting is essential, do you want to be able to use the bathroom without depending on those bars on the wall later in life? Would you like to be able to get out of a chair without the assistance of your arms? Then learning to squat should be one of your functional movements. This will develop strength in your butt, legs, back, and your core. Before doing squats on your own, watch this video and get a little tutorial.
2. The Push Up. Simple. Having the ability to move your own body weight off the ground. This develops strength in the core, back, arms, butt. Remember, use the variation that allows you to get full range of motion, that means your chest hits the ground! If you do half the movement, you get half the results. For information on the various different ways there are to scale push ups, watch the following video!
3. The Pull Up. For someone who has never done a pull up, this does sound difficult or unnecessary, but being able to pull your own body weight up is necessary. Just think, you fall and break your leg, you must rely on your arms to get up. You locked yourself out of the house and have to get in through a window. You need to escape from a burning building, it may sound drastic, but that is a real world situation! The pull up can be modified in a lot of different ways. A jumping pull up can be done with the assistance of a box or something underfoot that you can jump off, which leaves you with less weight and distance to pull yourself up over the bar. This is how I learned to do pull ups. Another option is the band-assisted pull up, by looping a band around the bar and putting your foot through the other end, you can decrease the amount of weight you are pulling up. They make bands of different thicknesses so you can start with a thicker band and move to a thinner band for less assistance. Once you have mastered the pull up, a kipping pull up is another way of moving your body up over the bar faster and more efficiently. This takes some time and practice
Jumping Pull Up
Side note: the woman on the left is Nicole Carrol, my hero.
Band Assisted Pull Up
Kipping Pull Up
4. The box jump. It’s pretty much exactly how it sounds, jump up onto a box! If you don’t have a box, you could use your stairs, or if you’re not up to jumping, step up onto a chair and back down. It’s hard work, but it is worth the effort.
5. The shoulder press*. This is a simple movement that can build a lot of strength. The shoulder press can be done with a dumbbells or a barbell, depending on the equipment you have available. Sorry that this video is a little bland, but it gets the point across.
6. The deadlift*. Picking heavy, or light objects up off the ground can be dangerous when done poorly. By practicing the deadlift, with or without weight, you learn the importance of proper alignment and technique. This is a lift that requires proper technique and perhaps some coaching in order to be done correctly, trying to lift heavy weight without good form = BAD IDEA! The deadlift begins with feet hip width apart and toes pointing forward. The bar is in contact with your shins and your hands are griping the bar about shoulder width apart. Knees are slightly bent, with the hip crease above the knee. The back is flat, with shoulders back and head facing forward. Your arms stay straight, think of them more as straps holding the bar, while you activated your glutes and use your LEGS to pull the bar off the ground. Once the bar has passed the knees, the hips open, as the bar moves up your legs and you stand upright. It will make more sense as you watch the video, you’ll also hear a bit about Coach Glassmen’s (founder of Crossfit) explanation of the importance of the deadlift.
There are 5 functional movements to add to your routine to start you off. There are MANY more that I will write about in the future as you keep adding to your list! Have a great day!