Integrate these moves into your program to improve flexibility and protect your shoulders from all angles.
The shoulder is a tricky joint because it moves in multiple directions as well as in rotation. Ensuring the joint is mobile both before and after training is key to executing solid lifts and preventing injury. Integrate these moves into your program to improve flexibility and protect your shoulders from all angles.
Do 10 large arm circles to the front and 10 to the back with each arm. Repeat twice.
Swing your arms open and closed at shoulder height, giving yourself a hug. Change the top arm for each rep. Do 20 reps.
Slow Plate Opener
Lie on your side and hold a 2.5-pound weight plate with your fingers through the hole, arm extended along the floor straight out from your shoulder, palm down. Keeping your arm straight, lift and open it to the side and behind you as far as you can go without twisting and pause. Then lift your hand toward your head and pause. Reverse steps to return to the start. Do eight on each arm.
Preworkout and Postworkout
Banded Shoulder Distraction
Attach a superband to a pull-up bar and loop one hand through the end. Lunge back with the same-side leg with your arm extended and let the band pull it gently up and away. Relax your shoulder and lat as you slowly rotate your palm upward and then downward while keeping your arm extended.
Preworkout: Do 30 seconds on each side.
Postworkout: Do 60 to 90 seconds on each side.
Stand up from your shoulder distraction, then turn away from the band anchor toward your working arm so the arm is pulled across your body. Hold and twist toward and away gently, stretching the back side of the joint.
Preworkout: Do 30 seconds on each side.
Postworkout: Do 60 to 90 seconds on each side.
Standing Lacrosse-Ball Roll
Stand in a doorway (or facing the leg of a squat rack). Place the lacrosse ball between the wall and the area where your front delt and pecs meet and lean forward slightly. Roll around until you find an area that is tight, then hold and raise and lower your arm slowly.
Preworkout: Do no more than two minutes per side.
Postworkout: Do two to three minutes, depending on tightness.
Lying Lacrosse-Ball Roll
Lie faceup and place a lacrosse ball between one trap and the floor. Roll up and down, back and forth, pausing when you find tight areas. Move the ball to the area between your shoulder blade and your spine and repeat this process. Do both sides.
Preworkout: Do no more than two minutes per side.
Postworkout: Do two to five minutes, depending on tightness.
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Don’t shrug off these stubborn muscles — tone your delts with this foolproof sequence.
Whether you’re rocking trendy cold-shoulder blouses, have your sights set on upcoming summer tank tops or simply want the strength to lift more, doing focused moves to sculpt sexy shoulders is key.
“Working your shoulders is essential to creating a V-shaped torso that will give you the appearance of having a smaller waist,” says Jennifer Cohen, celebrity trainer for Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and best-selling author of No Gym Required (Key Porter Books, 2009) and Strong Is the New Skinny (Harmony), 2014). “However, working out your shoulders will also help relieve pressure from your neck and back while helping with your overall posture. For instance, if you sit at a desk all day, chances are you’re hunched over in a chair, which is a killer for your back and neck. Working your shoulders helps reduce the pain that comes with this.”
Cohen has put together her four favorite moves, designed to tone your shoulders without bulking you up. If you want to kick things up a notch and make it more challenging, add more weights or read the pro trip included with each move below.
1. Single-Arm Lateral Raise. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a light dumbbell in your right hand down at your side. Your palm should be facing in toward your body, and your shoulders should be back and your chest raised. From here, raise your right arm out to your side in a straight line until it is parallel with the ground. Hold for a count and release back down to your side. Repeat for 15 reps on your right side, then work your left side.
- Pro Tip: You can add strap-on arm weights to your biceps for added resistance.
2. Pike to Push-Up. Start with your body in a push-up position, with your fingers on each hand facing each other to form a diamond. From here, bend at the waist, pushing your hips up into a pike position and coming up onto your toes. Once you’re in pike position, bend your elbows to lower your head down toward your hands. Press back up. Do 15 reps.
- Pro Tip: Place your feet against a wall so your entire bodyweight is being used when doing these push-ups.
3. Upright Row Into V. Stand with your feet in a wide stance. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your body. From this position, pull your weights up to your chest so your arms form a V-like shape. Lower your weights back down and repeat for 20 reps. Keep your shoulders back, your chest raised and your abs engaged. This move works the front of the shoulders, particularly the anterior deltoids.
- Pro Tip: Want to engage your abs with this move? Try doing this while kneeling.
4. Arnold Press. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, holding two medium dumbbells. Bring the dumbbells in front of your face with your arms bent and your palms facing you. From here, bring both elbows out to the side while rotating your palms so they face outward. At this point, your arms should be at a 90-degree angle on the outside of your ears. Next, press both arms straight up above your head until your arms are straight but not locked out. Release your arms back to the first position and repeat for 12 to 15 more reps.
- Pro Tip: At the end of the move, you can do small pulses up and down (moving about an inch or two) in the center of your body to work your biceps.
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Activate your core and strengthen your back with this comprehensive guide of techniques to decrease pain and improve spinal health.
Eighty percent of Americans are estimated to experience at least one episode of back pain in their lives. And according to the American Chiropractic Association, the total cost of back pain treatment in the United States surpasses $100 billion annually.
My question: How can this be when most forms of low-back pain are typically treatable with conservative management and specific exercise? As a practicing physical therapist, I would say most, if not all, of my clients respond extremely well to exercise in order to reduce symptoms. Once they commit to exercise and understand the cause of the pain and how to manage their symptoms, it’s much easier to prevent recurrence.
While it’s fun to show off your rectus abdominis muscles (aka six-pack) at the beach, they do very little for the stabilization of the lower back. I’m here to highlight the transversus abdominis (TA) muscle, a deep, strap-like muscle located in the core — one of the only muscles that attaches to the lumbar spine. Therefore, it’s one of the main spinal stabilizers necessary to keep back pain at bay.
The exercises below focus on the TA muscle and support the reduction of low-back pain.
Transversus Abdominis Activation Exercises
The TA muscle wraps around the abdomen between the lower ribs and the pelvis and functions like a corset. The function of this muscle is to stabilize before movement of the arms and legs and is important in preventing deterioration of the lumbar spine and pelvis. You cannot strengthen a muscle that your brain is not accustomed to using. Therefore, training always comes before strengthening.
- Imagine a line that connects the inside of your two pelvic bones (front of hips). Think about connecting, or drawing, the muscle along this line as if closing two book covers.
- No movement of your hips, pelvis or spine should occur as you contract this muscle.
- Feel just inside the left and right hipbones and cough gently to feel this deep contraction.
- You should feel a light tension under your fingertips, not a contraction that pushes your fingers out.
- Hold the contraction for three to five seconds and then release. Breathe throughout this exercise. Repeat the contraction and hold for three sets of 10 repetitions three to four times per day for four weeks.
- Avoid posterior tilting of the pelvis, bulging of the abdomen, depression of the rib cage, holding your breath, and pressing out your fingertips with a strong muscular contraction (internal oblique holding).
- Goal: Do 10 sets of 10 holds.
Once you feel comfortable with engaging this muscle in this position, you can begin to progress this exercise in the following ways — in this order of difficulty. Achieve each goal set before moving on to the next exercise.
TA Exercise With Arms
Lift your arms off the mat for a three-second count, up and down to 90 degrees, holding this contraction. Gently release after each rep. Goal: Do two sets of 10 reps.
TA Exercise With Marching
Alternate lifting your legs off the mat or marching while keeping your pelvis stable and holding this contraction. Goal: Do two sets of 10 reps.
TA Exercise With Arms and Legs
Lift opposite arms and legs for a three-second count up and down, maintaining a braced core without pushing your back down into the mat. Goal: Do three sets of 10 reps.
Begin by supporting yourself with your arms underneath your shoulders, stacked above your wrists and hips at a 90-degree angle, with your weight evenly distributed. Unweight both legs and hold for three sets of 60-90 seconds.
Tabletop With Taps
Keep both legs unweighted while you gently tap each foot, maintaining a braced core. Goal: Do two sets of 10 reps.
Practice a cat-cow exercise to go between the end ranges of lumbar flexion and extension in order to find a neutral spine and activate your TA. Extend both arms and legs off the mat while you extend the arm and the leg of the same side. Take note if you are pressing your lower back into the mat and losing your core stabilization with this exercise. If you are, decrease your reps or scale down.
Begin with 10 reps total on each side and increase up to two sets of 10.
Get on all fours and perform the cat-cow exercise to feel the end ranges of lumbar flexion and extension in order to find a neutral spine (flat back) and activate your TA.
Begin with 10 reps total on each leg and increase up to two sets of 10.
Use isometrics to bring your new core activation skills off the mat and into more functional movement. Because most of us don’t exercise laying down, this progression is meant to be just that: a progression. These exercises are meant to assist in TA activation as you incorporate them into your regular exercise routine.
Begin with two sets of 10, ensuring that you do not sacrifice form.
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New year, new goals! Brush up on all things fitness — and learn some new-to-you training tools and tricks — with this all-encompassing feature.
Thanks to a massive influx of new fitness trends over the past decade — think CrossFit, mixed martial arts and boot camps, to name a few — people are embracing innovative training tools and squashing the idea that three sets of eight to 12 reps is the only way to train.
That’s the good news. The bad? Newbies may not be the only ones wandering the gym aimlessly this January. Whether the world of working out is brand new to you or you’re in need of a refresher, we’ve assembled an expert overview of the 10 key tools and terms that dominate the training forum today. Armed with these tips, tactics and sample routines, you can get to work immediately, crushing all your goals — and then some.
This is the basic tool of strength training — a straight metal bar with weight plates secured on each side. An Olympic barbell is what you’ll see in most gyms, with a wider-circumference sleeve that spins on the shaft, offering smooth action throughout an exercise. Barbells are super versatile and can be used to hit every major bodypart. In fact, with nothing more than a bar, some plates and a bench, you can easily assemble an effective full-body program — no gym required.
With this technique, there is no pausing between reps, amping both your pace and your intensity. It’s often used with Olympic-style lifts, such as a power clean or a clean-and-jerk, during which you continuouxsly complete repetitions versus doing a series of single reps. This burns mega-calories and trains muscular endurance and strength.
The Barbell TnG Routine
Complete all reps of each move without breaking to rest, and complete five total rounds of the workout. You can put the barbell down in between moves, but for an added challenge, try not to put it down until it’s time for the run.
Note: For this workout, you’ll be using the same barbell for all three moves, so defer to the max weight you can use on your weakest lift.
- 5 Power Cleans
- 5 Front Squats
- 5 Overhead
- 400-Meter Run
Dumbbells are the most universal gym tool around. They allow you to work unilaterally, helping eliminate developmental imbalances between bodyparts, and they offer a degree of safety for those who train alone because you won’t run the risk of getting caught under a loaded bar. You can hit every major muscle group with dumbbells and can adapt just about every barbell move in existence to be dumbbell-centric.
AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible)
In an AMRAP, you’ll perform a workout for the duration of time prescribed and note how many rounds plus reps you complete. “It’s an effective fat-burning tool because there is a productive overload effect, as opposed to doing standard sets and reps at a relaxed pace,” says Heather Farmer, a New York-based personal trainer, CrossFit instructor and national Olympic-weightlighting competitor. “It also helps develop tenacity — once you feel your mental ‘switch’ flip on during a gnarly AMRAP, you’ll know what I mean!”
Though you’ll want to work quickly to get the most amount of work in the time allotted, never sacrifice your form or you’ll run the risk of injury.
The 20-Minute Dumbbell AMRAP
Do as many rounds and reps as possible of the following workout in 20 minutes. Record your score and try to meet or beat it next time you do the workout.
- 10 Dumbbell
- Renegade Rows
- 20 Dumbbell Thrusters
- 30 Dumbbell
- Stiff-Legged DeadliftsWalking Lunges
- 40 Dumbbell
- Walking Lunges
“Battle ropes are a high-intensity, full-body cardio and strength workout all in one,” says Garland Shields, trainer at O2 Fitness Club in Wilmington, North Carolina. Commercial ropes are one long length that is looped through a heavy kettlebell or an anchor attached to a wall. They are sturdy and thick and have taped ends for easy gripping. “The ropes are also ideal for high-intensity interval training and are great for targeting your core and upper body,” Shields adds.
EMOM (every minute on the minute)
In an EMOM, you perform one or more exercises for a certain number of reps at the top of every minute and rest any remaining time before starting again at the top of the next minute. With this format, you squeeze more work into less time, increasing intensity and time under tension.
“EMOMs increase your strength endurance by establishing a stable work pace with a moderate load,” Farmer says. “You also learn the power of quick recovery — even a 10- or 20-second break can
help recover energy.”
The 12-Minute Battle-Rope EMOM
Every minute on the minute, complete this trio of exercises.
Rest any remaining time and repeat at the top of the next minute.
- 8 Single-Arm
- Waves (each arm)
- 8 Double Slams
- 8 In-and-Outs
Sometimes simpler is better, and herein lies the beauty of the exercise band. These long rubber tubes or loops come in different levels of tension and offer variable resistance, meaning the difficulty changes throughout the rep. “Bands work muscles in completely different ways than free weights and are perfect for building lean muscle tissue and adding strength,” says Edward Mooney, a trainer at O2 Fitness Club in Raleigh, North Carolina. They’re also TSA-friendly and can be used anywhere, anytime.
In this high-volume, conditioning-style workout, you “chip away” at a list of moves performed in succession, completing all the reps of one move before going to the next and taking short breaks when needed. This technique trains skill, muscular endurance and cardiovascular stamina, as well as mental fortitude: While you might be tempted to hurry through your least favorite moves (hello, burpees!), you ultimately have to pace yourself so you have enough gas left in the tank to make it to the end.
The exercise-band chipper
Complete all reps of one move before going to the next. Use good form and take short breaks when necessary. Want an additional challenge?
Put a time cap on the workout.
- 20 Banded Overhead Squats
- 30 Front-to-Lateral Raises
- 40 One-Legged Kickbacks (20 per leg)
- 50 Seated Rows
- 40 Seated Twists and Pull-Aparts
- 30 Banded Push-Ups
- 20 Burpees Over Band
Hex Bar (aka trap bar)
This barbell crossbreed has two shafts that arc outward from one another to form either a square or hexagonal shape. The user stands inside the bar and grasps the handles near the plate collars. Though most people know it as a tool for shrugging, the hex bar has other values. “They are especially helpful for those new to deadlifting,” says Dan Roberts, CSCS, founder of the Dan Roberts Group. “Because you hold the bar with a hammer-style grip and the weight is positioned at your sides rather than in front of you, your center of gravity is always in line with your shoulders.”
This short but intense training protocol intersperses 20 seconds of all-out effort with 10 seconds of rest, a pattern that repeats eight times for a total of four minutes. Though a four-minute workout might sound ridiculous, when done properly, a Tabata can burn as many calories as a 60-minute jog because of the “afterburn” effect: A Tabata jacks your metabolism for hours afterward, burning fat and calories and improving your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. A Tabata can be performed with any sort of cardio, strength move or dynamic exercise, but remember — in order for it to be effective, you have to perform your 20 seconds of work all-out each and every time.
Repeat the below workout four times through for a total of four minutes.
- Deadlift: 20 seconds
- Rest: 10 seconds
- Pivot Push-Up: 20 seconds
- Rest: 10 seconds
Though kettlebells date back to Ancient Greece, they have only become a health club staple in the last two decades. Research supports the effectiveness of kettlebell training, and numerous studies found that an intense kettlebell workout burns about 20 calories a minute and could improve aerobic capacity, explosive power, dynamic balance and core strength.
“One of the most effective kettlebell exercises is the swing,” says former IFBB fitness pro Carla Sanchez, owner of Performance Ready Fitness Studio in Lone Tree, Colorado. “It emphasizes the posterior chain, building strength, stamina and power.”
WOD (workout of the day)
Though it originated as a CrossFit term, many people have adopted this acronym as their own. A WOD is typically a challenging regimen that hits all or most of the major muscle groups of the body. These workouts are programmed in advance and enable you to get a killer workout without having to plan it yourself.
Taking it one step further are the Hero WODs, which are named after fallen servicemen and servicewomen as a testament to their bravery, strength and sacrifices. This Hero WOD — the Brad Harper — uses kettlebell swings as an integral part of the program: Brad Harper was a firefighter who died on the scene of a two-alarm fire in Phoenix on May 18, 2013, at age 23 — hence the numerical scheme of 5/18/13/23.
The Brad Harper Hero WOD
Complete five rounds of the below workout for time. Record your score and try to meet or beat it next time you do the workout.
- 18 Kettlebell Swings
- 13 Burpees
- 23 Wall Balls
Medicine balls are old school — like, really old school — and some believe that Hippocrates created them for his patients to help them recover from injury. Today’s medicine balls are made of leather or vinyl and are filled with ballast of differing weights. They also come in reactive and nonreactive versions — some bounce back quickly and others hit the ground and stick.
“Medicine balls help develop explosive power and rotational trunk strength,” Roberts says. “They also train you to absorb and redirect force, improving athletic performance and allowing you to project that power in every plane of motion.”
Metcon (metabolic conditioning)
This fitness buzzword refers to any sort of workout that improves the efficiency of one of the body’s three main energy systems — phosphagen, glycolytic and oxidative. Improving these systems means that you get more out of whatever kind of workout you’re doing, allowing you to recover more quickly and increase workout intensity. Metcons are typically intense and short in duration (20 minutes or less), challenging your cardiovascular capacity and shifting your metabolism into high gear.
Perform three total rounds of the below workout for time. Do your runs at a moderate recovery pace.
- 20 Wall Balls
- 20 Triceps Push-Ups
- 200-Meter Run
- 10 Overhead Slams
- 10 Overhead Walking Lunges (each leg)
- 200-Meter Run
- 5 Backward Tosses and Sprints
- 5 Rotational Side Throws (each side)
- 200-Meter Run
“The sled is an excellent tool for high-intensity training without high impact,” Sanchez says. “Use it for conditioning, fat loss, strength development and muscle building.” Heavy sled training also can improve performance markers, specifically sprint speeds and mechanical effectiveness, according to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
The most familiar sled is probably the Prowler — a platform with ski-like runners and vertical posts you can use to propel it forward. It also can be pulled by securing
a rope or tow line around the base.
RPE (rate of perceived exertion)
Tracking your heart rate — either with a heart-rate monitor or by
taking your pulse — allows you to continually adjust your workout intensity. However, the equation used to calculate your optimal training zone is far from perfect, and the traditional formula used to find your maximum heart rate (220 – your age) was found to underestimate MHR by as much as 40 beats per minute, especially in athletic people.
A better way to train, especially if you’re more experienced, is intuitively by using the rate of perceived exertion. While it won’t pinpoint your exact intensity and output, it’s a solid way to self-assess how hard you are working — i.e., your “perceived exertion.” The idea is to work within the correct range based on your exercise goals.
- 10 Max Effort — Out of breath
- 9 Very Hard — Can barely breathe
- 7-8 Vigorous Activity — Short of breath
- 4-6 Moderate Activity — Breathing heavily
- 2-3 Light Activity — Easy to breathe
- 1 Very Light Activity — Hardly any exertion
Load a Prowler sled with a moderate weight and mark off a 30- to 50-meter distance. Sprint that length, pushing the sled all the way across the finish line, then stop, walk around and catch your breath. Your post-sprint RPE should be around an 8 or a 9. When it returns to a 5 or a 6, turn the sled around and repeat that sprint. Do four to six rounds.
TRX Suspension Trainer
The TRX is the leading brand of suspension training equipment and consists of sturdy, adjustable straps that split into a “Y” with a handle and a loop at each end for hands and feet. When anchored to a fixed point on a wall, ceiling or solid piece of equipment, the TRX offers a surprising array of unique exercises, using gravity and your own bodyweight as resistance. “By simply changing the angle of your body, you can increase or decrease the level of difficulty of dozens of exercises on a TRX,” Sanchez says.
HIIT (high-intensity interval training)
Here, you alternate short periods of near-maximal output with a recovery-level pace in a repeating pattern. For example, if you were running outdoors, you could do a 20-second sprint followed by a 40-second jog, or a 20:40 interval. A beginner may want to start with 10 seconds of harder activity coupled with 50 seconds at the slower pace and work toward a more intermediate and advanced level of 30:30 or even 60:60.
The HIITRX workout
Do 60 seconds of each move and perform them back-to-back, resting only to transition to the next exercise. Complete one to three rounds.
- Sprinter Start
- Standing Row
- Hamstring Runner
- Atomic Push-Up
Wobble Board (aka balance board)
If you want to train your mental acuity and hone your balance, try a wobble board. “There are two versions, one with a cylindrical base, which is easier, and another with a circular base, which is harder,” Roberts says. You can use both similarly, either in a standing position to do things like squats, overhead presses and dumbbell curls or while on the floor to do push-ups, planks and dips.
In case you didn’t give it your all during a workout — or are just that masochistic — you can tack a finisher on at the end. These short five- to 10-minute workouts are designed to fatigue any muscle fibers that might have been left untouched or undertrained, and to burn off any extra gas left in your tank.
Perform this finisher for one to three rounds, depending on your time and fitness level. Having trouble balancing?
Set your wobble board up next to a wall or sturdy object for balance.
- Wobble-Board Stand (60 seconds)
- Hanging Knee Raise or Toes-to-Bar
- Wobble-Board Plank (60 seconds)
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If you practice a few of these exercises together, you can round your glutes from every angle while keeping your legs lean!
While it may seem like every “perfect butt” on social media comes with the tag line “the squat booty,” in reality, this is not the case. No matter how many squat reps you do, you’re only working your glutes from one angle.
Plus, the main muscles at work when you squat are your quads, so if making your thighs thicker isn’t your goal, this exercise is probably not where you should be placing all your energy and focus.
Don’t worry, though. There are several glute isolation exercises you can do to get the booty of your dreams. If you practice a few of these exercises together, you can round your glutes from every angle while keeping your legs lean! Here are some of my favorite moves.
Hip thrusts are one of the best exercises to isolate your glutes. They can be slightly awkward to perform in public at first, but just remember that they are leading you to a firm and toned backside.
Sit on the floor and rest your upper back against a bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest a weight (either a barbell or dumbbell) across your pelvis and brace your abs. Lower your hips down and then thrust them upward toward the ceiling, pushing your feet into the floor and your upper back into the bench. At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes as hard as you can and repeat.
To grow your glutes the fastest, lift the heaviest weight that you can for the following sequence: Start with two sets of 10 reps, increase the weight and do two sets of eight reps, and then increase the weight one last time and do one set of six reps. You can use a dumbbell or barbell for weight.
Bridges are wonderful for building your glute muscles while toning your hamstrings. This single-leg variation adds extra intensity to a regular bridge.
Lie down with your knees bent and both feet resting on the floor. Straighten your left leg and flex your foot toward the ceiling. Raise your hips up off the ground as high as you can and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Lower your hips down for a second and then push them back up to repeat.
Perform 15 reps on each side. For best results, do four sets of 15.
Romanian deadlifts are another exercise that specifically rounds your glutes while leaning out your hamstrings. In order to effectively grow your glutes while simultaneously trimming your legs, it’s important to use a variety of exercises that tackle these regions. If you use the same exercise every time, your body will get used to it and hit a plateau.
Stand with a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be hip-width apart and your knees should be slightly bent. Bend forward at your hip joint, keeping your arms straight and your hands close to your legs. Lower the weights as far down your leg as you can without rounding your back or bending your knees any more than they were at your starting position. To return to the starting position, push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes to pull yourself up.
Banded Fire Hydrant
Fire hydrants have one of the most obnoxious names in my opinion, considering they’re named after the position a male dog assumes when going to the bathroom. But they’re so great for your glutes! They build the outside of the glutes and tighten that little trouble spot on the outer thigh so many of us have!
Begin on all fours. Place a loop band above your knees. Using your outer thigh and glute, lift one knee out to the side. Keep your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Lower your leg and repeat for a total of 20 reps. Then repeat on the other side.
For best results, do four sets of 20 reps on each leg.
Rainbows are another glute exercise that tone the outside of your glutes and thighs. They are known for lifting up the bottom of your butt and toning your inner thighs, as well. Rainbows are super efficient because they tackle the hardest areas all at once.
Begin on all fours. Point your toes and extend your right leg behind you. Raise your right leg toward the ceiling and then lower it to the floor. Raise the same leg toward the ceiling again, squeezing your glutes, and then lower it about 1 foot to the left of your kneeling leg. Bring your right leg back up to the ceiling to complete one rep.
Repeat 20 times. For best results, do four sets of 20 on each leg. To make this exercise more challenging, you can add ankle weights.
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Strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee and hip joints to train harder, run better and lift more efficiently.
No matter where you land on the fitness spectrum, there is always risk of a knee injury that will derail your progress. Unfortunately, knee injuries can plague just about anyone — from beginners to seasoned gym-goers and elite runners.
Physically active people are at risk for knee injuries mainly resulting from overuse and improper running or lifting techniques, as well as direct trauma to the joint.
Overuse injuries are often seen in runners who fail to cross-train or who have biomechanical problems. Improper lifting techniques can put uneven forces on your knees, making you susceptible to injuries. And direct trauma to the joint is most likely the result of a work-related incident, a vehicular collision or an accident while playing a sport that requires quick and sudden changes in direction, like basketball, football or hockey.
Although sporting accidents causing trauma to the knee joint can be unavoidable, overuse injuries are preventable. At the very least, there are exercises you can do that will mitigate your risk. The longer you can remain injury-free, the better results you will achieve.
Strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps will help prevent knee injuries. The gluteus medius plays a very important role in stabilizing your hips and preventing unnecessary internal rotation of the knee, especially during weight-bearing activities. And if your hamstrings are too weak relative to your quads, you are also more likely to get injured because this causes imbalanced forces to act upon your knee.
The good news: There are five simple moves that will help strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee and hip joints, allowing you to train harder, run better and lift more efficiently.
The clamshell helps strengthen your gluteus medius.
To perform the clamshell, lie down on your side. Then bend both your legs at the knees. While keeping your legs bent and your feet together, activate your gluteus medius as you lift up your top leg. It’s important to do the same number of repetitions on each side. In order to make the move more challenging, add an elastic band around your knees.
2. Side Leg Lift
This move is performed almost like the clamshell, except your top leg is straight while your bottom leg is slightly bent. Lie down on your side and make sure that both your hips and both shoulders are directly underneath each other. While engaging your gluteus medius, lift your top leg up toward the sky. Lift it high enough to be able to engage your glutes while maintaining proper form. However, there is no need to lift it super high.
If you would like to challenge yourself, hold your top leg for three to five seconds in the “up” position before bringing it down to start your next repetition. Again, you should do the same number of repetitions on each side.
3. Glute Bridge
The glute bridge works your glutes, hamstrings and core.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Place your feet firmly on the floor. Engage your glutes and core as you lift your hips up off the floor. Hold the “up” position for a few seconds before bringing your hips back down to start another repetition. If you would like to further challenge yourself, place a barbell on top of your hips to add resistance.
4. Resistance-Band Squat
Resistance-band squats primarily target your glutes, as well as your quads.
Place a band around both your legs, just above your knees. You should feel resistance from the elastic band as you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Descend into a squat position while pushing your legs outward to keep your knees from going inward as you squat. As you come down, make sure that your knees don’t go too far forward over your toes.
5. Ball Hamstring Curl
Ball hamstring curls target your hamstrings, core and glutes.
Lie on your back with your heels on an exercise ball. Using your arms at your sides for balance, engage your core and glutes as you lift your hips off the floor. While your hips are in the air, contract your hamstrings as you pull the ball toward you with your feet. In order to make this exercise more challenging, try doing single-legged ball hamstring curls. If you are doing single-legged repetitions, be sure to do the same number for each leg.
The number of repetitions you perform for each of the above exercises will depend on your fitness level. Beginners should attempt to do three sets of 10 repetitions. As you get more advanced, you will be able to do more repetitions as well as gradually increase the difficulty of each exercise.
When you strengthen your posterior chain, you will decrease your risk for injury, which will make you a better lifter and runner. The longer you remain injury-free, the better your results will be.
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Practice these six essential exercises to sculpt a beautiful back and preserve your spine.
A strong back isn’t just a head turner at the gym. It’s also one of the keys to keeping our spines happy and healthy over time. Upper-back strength also plays an important role in shoulder health. When we have deficits in our posterior chain (aka the upper back), it can cause early wear and tear and pain throughout the shoulder joint and neck.
For those of us who sit for long stretches of time during the workday, we’re predisposed to injury. Practice the following exercises to bulletproof your posterior chain. Take on the entire circuit or add one or two moves into your existing routine. The reps are intentionally low so you can focus on form and target very small muscle groups.
Bulletproof Back Workout
Bent-Over Row With Barbell
Hinge at your hips with your back in a neutral position and eyes looking forward. Using just the bar or a very light weight, perform sets of 10 with good control as you fully extend your elbow out of the row position.
When performed correctly, the deadlift is really a full-body workout. However, in order to keep your spine in a neutral position, focus on engaging your middle taps and lats in order to prevent any excessive rounding of your lower back. You can achieve this by pinching your shoulder blades together and making sure your knees are back so that tension is felt in your hamstrings before pulling up from the ground.
Plate Raise in Quadruped
Begin on all fours and make sure your lower back is in neutral. A good way to check in with your body is to bring your bellybutton to your spine by breathing in gently and holding this contraction throughout the exercise. Use a light plate no heavier than 2.5 to 5 pounds to perform plate raises in this position for 30 seconds on each side, repeating two to three times. You should feel this in the back of your shoulder as well as your midback. Try to keep your neck from tensing in order to decrease recruitment of your upper trap.
Plank With Row
Start in a plank position. Use the same strategies to achieve a neutral spine as directed for the previous exercise. Grab a pair of lightweight dumbbells and perform a rowing motion leading with your elbows. You should consciously think of pulling your shoulder blades down and back during this exercise.
Using a lightly weighted band, grab the ends so there is some tension before you begin to pull it apart. Pull the band apart until your shoulders are in a full T position. This exercise will target little muscles in your upper back called rhomboids and the more superficial musculature of your middle traps. It’s great to assist posture realignment, especially if you find yourself at a desk for most of the day.
Using a bench, set up in front of a mirror, if possible, to ensure you begin with a flat back. Use your opposite arm to support your weight. Bring your leg outside of the arm you are rowing with and press into the bench with the opposing arm for stabilization. Try to go heavier on this exercise, but only with a weight that still allows you to maintain a good back position.
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If you’re ready to get down, this core program will have your middle looking magnificent in no time!
Sometimes the most difficult part about working your core isn’t training it — it’s determining new ways to punish it. “Shaping an impressive core takes a mix of moves that no one ever does, done in a way that most wouldn’t dare,” says Alec Penix, celebrity trainer and author of Seven Sundays (Howard Books, 2018). These two circuits, designed by Penix, offer the perfect assortment of exercises to work your middle in every possible direction at a pace that will leave you breathless and burning.
Concentrate on doing each exercise with perfect form during the time given. And unless an exercise directs you otherwise, your goal is to perform each move with a two-second up, two-second down pace. “What many people forget is that your core muscles’ primary job is to resist movement, not produce it,” Penix says. “When you rush through a move, you’re forcing your muscles to rely on momentum and work differently than how they’re designed.”
And before each exercise, Penix gives this tip: “Contract your core even before you start a move. This immediately reinforces your posture, stabilizes your back and improves your form so that you’ll reap more results from the routine with less risk of injury.”
If you’re ready to get down, this program will have your middle looking magnificent in no time!
Your Summer-Ready Core Circuits
Perform Circuit A one day, Circuit B the next and either take a day off or repeat each circuit again before giving your core a rest.
Do all four exercises back-to-back for 30 seconds each with 10 seconds or less of rest between moves. After you’ve completed the circuit, rest 20 seconds, then repeat it once or twice more, depending on your fitness level.
To make a circuit more challenging, increase the duration of the work from 30 to 45 or 60 seconds. To make a circuit easier, work in reps rather than in time, and shoot for eight to 15 reps per move.
Lie flat on your back with your hands lightly touching the sides of your head, elbows flared, and your legs extended straight out. Lift your heels about 6 inches off the floor and press your lower back into the ground. Maintain that core contraction as you lift your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor and rotate to the right, simultaneously lifting your right knee to meet your left elbow at the midline of your body. Lower slowly to the start and continue, alternating sides.
Put two small towels on the floor, then get into a push-up position with one hand placed on each towel. Center your hands underneath your shoulders and align your head, hips and heels. Brace your core to keep your hips steady, then slide one arm straight out in front of you as far as you can without losing your balance. Pull the towel/hand back underneath you and continue, alternating sides.
Feet-Up Russian Twist
Sit with your knees bent and your feet raised just off the floor, legs together, ankles crossed. Keeping your spine straight, lean back with your torso back until it makes a 45-degree angle with the floor. Hold a small medicine ball or dumbbell with both hands, extend your arms straight out from your shoulders and brace your core. Moving your shoulders and arms as one unit, twist at the waist and rotate side to side smoothly yet briskly, without losing form.
Side Plank Hip Raise
Lie on your left side with your legs straight and stacked on top of each other. Position your left elbow underneath your left shoulder and press your palm into the floor. Hold a small dumbbell in your right hand and extend your right arm straight up to the ceiling. Press your hips up so you’re in side plank with your head, hips and heels aligned. Keep your right arm steady as you slowly lower your hips down to touch briefly on the floor, then raise them up again to align with your legs and torso. Complete all time on one side before switching.
Plank Jack Leg Lift
Get into plank with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Brace your core and actively press into the floor with your elbows and forearms as you quickly jump your feet open and then closed, keeping your hips low. Then lift one leg up as high as you can without arching your back and replace. Repeat with the other leg to complete one rep.
V-Crunch and Touch
Lie faceup with your legs extended straight and your arms extended up alongside your head. Simultaneously raise your legs and torso off the floor, sweeping your arms up and over in an arc so at the top of the crunch, your hands touch the floor on both sides of your hips. Reverse the steps to return to the start.
Twisting Split-Leg Crunch
Lie faceup with your hands lightly touching the sides of your head and your legs raised straight up over your hips. Open your legs apart into a V, keeping them straight. Press your lower back into the floor and maintain that contraction as you curl your torso up and rotate to the right, bringing your left elbow toward your right leg. (Note: Your legs do not move in this exercise, just your torso). Lower yourself back down and continue, alternating sides.
Side Plank Tuck
Lie on your left side with your legs straight and your hips stacked, and split your feet for balance. Position your left elbow underneath your left shoulder and actively press down into the floor with your elbow and forearm. Place the fingertips of your right hand behind your ear, elbow flared and pointing toward the ceiling, then lift your hips to align with your head and heels. Hold yourself steady in plank as you quickly draw your left knee into your chest and simultaneously curl forward and try to touch it with your right elbow. Return to the start. Complete all the time on one side before switching.
The Core Facts
Your abs are tougher than you think.
Even though most muscles need 48 hours of rest to recover and get stronger, your core muscles can actually become weaker if you ignore them. So long as you’re not overtraining and leaving your core so sore that it’s negatively affecting your other training days, you can train it every day. Also, remember to stretch them regularly for improved mobility and range of motion.
There is no “perfect” ab exercise.
Yes, one move may work a higher percentage of certain muscles within your core than another move. However, it takes a variety of exercises to do the job right and get you the midsection of your dreams. Include core moves that work in rotation, anti-rotation, flexion and even extension in your routine for best results. It’s not about quantity — it’s about quality.
It’s not about quantity — it’s about quality.
So long as you’re using perfect form and are actively engaging your core during each and every repetition, it doesn’t matter whether your muscles are exhausted after five or 50 reps. Also, remember to breathe as you perform the moves, delivering oxygen to working muscles and increasing the duration of time you can work.
Your six-pack is actually an eight-pack.
Your abs are one long sheet of muscle (the rectus abdominis) held in place by three strips of tendons running horizontally, with another strip (the linea alba) running vertically to cut them in half. If you do the math, this makes eight sections. Most people never see all eight, though; it depends on how strong/tight your tendons are and how low your body fat is. Sucking your gut in isn’t vain — it’s smart.
Sucking your gut in isn’t vain — it’s smart.
Pulling in your stomach (“bracing your core”) as you exercise — or even during the day when you’re not — strengthens your transverse abdominis, the hidden band of muscle that encircles your midsection like a corset and that is key in stabilizing your pelvis and engaging your core. It will also improve posture and give the appearance of a flatter belly.
A strong core makes other activities easier.
Strengthening your center can help improve your kinetic linking, the transfer of power from your feet to the rest of your body. For instance, when you throw a punch, the power goes from the floor to your feet through your hips and out your fist. The more fit your core is, the easier it is for your muscles to generate force, allowing you to run faster, lift heavier and train longer.
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Lunge into a stronger and more fit lower body.
Many of us are used to the traditional forward lunge. While this is a great staple exercise, there are many variations that you can choose from to surprise your muscles in your next lower-body workout. From mountain-climber lunges to reverse lunge front kicks, we’ve got you covered. For the following moves, you don’t need dumbbells or any type of resistance, just some good old-fashion bodyweight and you’re ready to go!
Perform the following exercises in a circuit to feel the burn and achieve a challenging workout!
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