Candice Keene shares her secret to terrific triceps.

No one is hungrier for a title than the perpetual runner-up — but this is not the case for Candice Keene. Since turning pro in 2008 (after only competing in one show!), Keene has placed top five in 25 of her 29 shows thus far, and she has flat out won 11 of them. Therefore, the downtrodden bridesmaid-ever-after cliché does not suit her at all. Still, this does not make Keene any less keen to dethrone the reigning queen of Figure, Nicole Wilkins. 

For any other competitor, this would sound like a lofty goal, but it’s conceivably achievable for Keene, who exercises her mental muscle as much as her physical. “For me, it’s as much about the journey as the destination,” says the Orlando, Florida, resident. “You are going to have your bad days and bad weeks, and days when you just don’t want to go to the gym. But you just keep pushing and keep your goal in mind. Be your own motivation and always appreciate every part of the journey — good and bad — because at the end of the day, that is what makes you stronger, inside and out.”

Take on More Iron

Keene decided to make her triceps stronger — inside and out — after being criticized for their underdevelopment after her first pro show in 2009. She buckled down, strapped on some heavy weight and went for it. After several months of intense training, they responded and are now one of her more outstanding parts.

She trains triceps once a week, either pairing them with biceps or with back, depending on how she feels. “I still like to lift pretty heavy weight for triceps, especially with moves like lying triceps extensions or with the dip machine, which I do sometimes in place of bench dips,” she says. “With other moves like kickbacks or one-arm extensions, I use a lighter weight and focus instead on the squeeze.”

Offseason, Keene incorporates one superset or drop set per workout, increasing that to two or more per workout come contest time. She also likes to do giant sets during contest prep to amp up the intensity without having to bump up the weight.

Give her workout a “tri” for yourself — in a few months, you might be able to play horseshoes with the big girls, too.

Bench Dip

Setup: Sit on the edge of a flat bench and place your hands on either side of your hips, fingers forward. Extend your legs in front of you and either place your feet parallel or stack them up (as shown) to add an element of balance. Press into your hands and lift yourself up and forward so your glutes are in front of the bench and your weight is balanced between your hands and your heels.

Move: Bend your elbows and lower your glutes toward the floor, keeping your back straight and close to the edge of the bench. When your elbows make 90-degree angles, reverse the move and extend your arms completely to come to the top.

Tip: Keep your shoulders down and back and lift your chest to maintain good form.

Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

Setup: Attach a rope to the high pulley on the cable machine and grasp an end in each hand. Turn away from the machine and take a step forward with one foot for balance. Lean forward with a straight back, abs tight, and draw your elbows down beside your ears.

Move: Extend your arms, moving only from your elbows, to press the ends of the rope away from you, pulling them apart at peak contraction for an additional squeeze. Return slowly to the start and repeat right away.

Tip: Keep your abs tight and your upper arms steady throughout this move to prevent using momentum.

EZ-Bar Lying Triceps Extension

Setup: Lie on a flat bench with your back arching naturally and hold an EZ bar in the center, arms held straight up over your shoulders.

Move: Bend your elbows and slowly lower the bar toward your forehead, keeping your upper arms steady. When the bar nearly touches your head, reverse the move and extend your arms to raise it back up to the start.

Tips: For additional stability, keep your feet on the floor. If you’re going heavy or are new to this exercise, enlist a spotter.

One-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Setup: Sit on a bench and hold a single dumbbell in one hand, arm extended straight up over your shoulder, palm facing forward.

Move: Bend your elbow and slowly lower the weight behind your head as far as you can. Then squeeze your triceps and pull the weight back to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.

Tip: You also can do this move standing to add an element of balance and engage more core muscles.

One-Arm Dumbbell Kickback

Setup: Take a split stance and hold a single dumbbell in your hand. Lift your elbow alongside your rib cage and hold it there, palm facing inward. Place your opposite hand on your thigh, lean forward and flatten your back.

Move: Press the dumbbell in a smooth arc toward the ceiling, moving only from your elbow. When your arm is straight and parallel to the floor, squeeze hard before slowly lowering to the start.

Tip: Keep your elbow lifted and in place throughout your set to best target the triceps.

Weekly Workout Split

Monday: Shoulders, chest, abs

Tuesday: Quads, glutes

Wednesday: Biceps, triceps, abs

Thursday: Hamstrings, glutes

Friday: Back, abs

Saturday: Plyos, circuit training or off

Sunday: Off

Offseason, Candice does three to four days a week of high-intensity cardio for 20 to 30 minutes. Contest time, she slowly ramps up from 30 minutes steady-state cardio four days a week to 45 minutes twice a day five to six days per week.

Just the Facts

Birth Date: March 1, 1982

Birthplace: Dallas

Current Residence: Orlando, Florida

Weight: contest, 132; offseason, 148

Height: 5’5”

Contest History: 2014 Arnold Figure International, 1st; Australia Figure Pro, 1st; 2014 Figure Olympia, 2nd

Sponsor: AllMax Nutrition

Twitter:@candicekeene

Instagram:@poselikeafigurepro

Facebook:ifbbfigurecandicekeene and PoseLikeAFigurePro

Photography by Robert Reiff

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Work those muscles in four minutes flat. No kidding!

You know Tabata as a form of high-intensity training that involves 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest.

And while the original Tabata research involved extreme cardiovascular exercise — exercise so tough that it would be hard for even the most diehard fitness enthusiast to replicate — the principles of Tabata can be applied to any workout. “It’s really about using timed intervals instead of sets or repetitions,” explains Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — which means that even strength workouts can get a jolt by employing Tabata’s principles.

Exerting maximum effort within a small timeframe gives you a different type of goal, and also delivers different results from your standard sets: Tumminello explains that because you are focusing more on the effort you put forth rather than a certain number of reps, your overall workout intensity will increase. And if you use an amount of resistance that you can move quickly — but with control — you can even get a slight cardio boost.

If you’re advanced, this Tabata-inspired workout may not be challenging enough to build muscle, but when you’re pressed for time, this workout can help prevent losses in strength. And if you’re new to strength training, it can be the perfect way to get your feet wet. 

The Workout

You’ll need a stopwatch and a pair of dumbbells — choose a weight that will fatigue your muscles in 40 seconds — then begin with the first of the four exercises. Maintain a peppy pace for 20 seconds — still minding your form as you move – rest for 10 seconds, then repeat. Once you’ve completed two rounds, move on to the next exercise, employing the format above. Or, for variety, do only one round of each exercise, performing each move for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds. Move from one exercise to the next, and after one round, repeat from the top.

If you’re new to strength training, do this workout three or four times per week on non-consecutive days. Otherwise, use it whenever you have just a few minutes to spare for strength training.

Lunge With Biceps Curl

How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms at your sides and palms facing forward. Step your right foot forward and bend your legs to lunge. As you lower, bring the weights towards your shoulders, keeping your elbows tight to the sides of your body. Reverse the move to return to the start, and repeat, alternating legs.

Squat Thruster

How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your shoulders, with your palms facing in. Bend your legs to squat; your elbows should touch your knees at the bottom. As you extend your legs, press the weights overhead. Lower your arms and repeat.

Shoulder Tap Push-Up

How to: Get into a push-up position on the floor, with your hands just wider than your shoulders. Bend your arms to lower your chest towards the floor, making sure that your back doesn’t sag. As you return to the start, tap your left shoulder with your right hand. Repeat, alternating shoulders.

Bridge With Triceps Extension

How to: Lie face up with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a weight in each hand, and extend your arms towards the ceiling so they are over your shoulders, with your palms facing in. Lift your hips from the floor and contract your abs to come into a bridge. Bend your right elbow, keeping your upper arm perpendicular to the floor, and lower the weight towards your head. Extend your arm and continue, alternating sides.

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Build muscle and power — and get stronger than ever — with this three-move training program.

The workout this boxer-turned-fitness-competitor-turned-CrossFitter, Sarah Grace, programmed for Oxygen is a little unusual in that there are only three exercises. “Deadlift, squat and bench press — these are the three fundamental movements you should be doing to build strength,” she says. “They involve the largest muscle groups in your body and are so metabolically intense that they cause a hormonal change postworkout that increases strength, burns more calories and builds muscle.” Grace outlined some detailed tips on doing these moves correctly. Be sure to read about each one carefully not only to get your form on point but also to make the most of each rep, generating the most power and building the most strength possible.

“The workout is arranged in a ladder format, beginning with six reps of each move and decreasing with each subsequent round until you get to one rep of each move,” Grace says. “You’ll begin Round 1 at about 60 percent of your max weight for each lift, and with each rung of the ladder, you will increase your weight as you decrease your reps until you’re at about 85 percent of your max.”

Go Ahead: Lift heavy!

Don’t know your max? No worries. Begin with a moderately heavy weight (with which you can pretty easily get six reps) and increase your weight with each set from there. Record the weight you used and adjust it to be heavier or lighter next time. Remember: The goal here is strength, so don’t be afraid to go heavy!

Your opponent in this ladder is the clock: Begin when you start Round 1, and stop when you put the barbell on the ground at the end. “To make your workout more efficient, load three different barbells and set additional weights beside them to add when it is time to increase the poundage each round,” she says. Record your results, and each time you do the program, try to beat your previous time. But always remember to pay attention to proper form. Go get your lift on!

Your Stronger-Than-Ever Moves

Exercise Order: 

  1. Deadlift 
  2. Bench Press
  3. Back Squat
Deadlift

Deadlift

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider with your toes turned out as is comfortable for you. But here’s a caveat: You should not have your feet spaced so wide that you can’t grab the barbell comfortably outside your feet. If you can’t get a proper hold on the barbell, then shift your feet inward a bit.
  • Position your shoulders directly over the bar; this will then dictate where your butt ends up: If your shoulders are too far past the bar, your butt will be up too high; if your shoulders are too far behind the bar, then your butt is too far down as if preparing to squat.
  • Inhale and hold your breath, then initiate the movement with your legs, weight in your heels, and lift with your legs, not your back. Your back should never change — it should never arch and never round.
  • On the descent, control the weight all the way down, lightly touch the floor and then immediately go into the next rep.
  • Your back should be straight, your shoulder blades back and your head in line with your spine. Don’t look up or arch your neck; focus on the floor in front of you a couple of feet.
  • Engage your back muscles by imagining pulling the barbell apart as you grasp it with an overhand or flip grip. You can use a regular grip overhand for lighter barbells, but when it starts getting heavy, an alternating grip is best.
  • Rise all the way to the top, pressing your hips forward and squeezing your glutes to complete each and every rep. Exhale at the top.
  • The bar should move in a straight line from the floor to the standing position at full extension. If you have to go out and around your knees, your starting position is not correct and your movement is not efficient.
Bench Press

Bench Press

  • When benching, you should have three points of contact: your upper back and butt on the bench and your feet on the floor. Ideally, you want to be able to use the floor to push from when you start to struggle, squeezing your butt and driving your hips up while pushing through the floor to generate power.
  • Your pelvis should be anteriorly tilted to help maintain your natural arch, but how much of an arch you have is individual. I naturally have a pretty big anterior tilt, so it’s comfortable for me to be in that position.
  • When the weight starts to get heavy, squeeze your glutes to stabilize your midline and drive through your heels. Your legs, glutes and lower-body muscles are strong and can absolutely power the rest of your body, even when doing an upper-body move. The floor is stationary, so you’re using that to power through the movement.
  • When you grab the bar, think about bending the ends down toward the floor. This activates your lats and squeezes your shoulder blades together, giving you a stable base of support from which to push with your upper body.
  • Your hands should be just outside shoulder-width apart on the barbell. When you are at the lowest position, your elbows should make 90-degree angles.
  • Your wrists should absolutely always be neutral. They should not be extended back or rolled too far forward.
  • Your back should not be flat on the bench. Why should it? You have a natural arch in your spine, and forcing it to be flat is unnatural and changes the muscles that are working.
  • Once you’re locked in, take a deep breath in, filling your chest and belly, then hold it as you lower the bar to your nipple line. Exhale as you press the barbell back up and away toward your bellybutton, not over your face.
  • As you press the barbell up, your hips might rise up off the bench a little as your lower body assists with the lift.
Back Squat

Back Squat

  • How wide your legs and feet are positioned depends on you as an individual: Some people have a longer femur, for example, and might need to spread their feet a bit more. There is no one set way of doing it. Play with it until you find what gives you the move power and comfort.
  • It is not necessary to bottom out in order to get good results from squatting. Everybody’s goals are different, everybody’s body mechanics are different. If you have no limitations and are comfortable, then feel free to go ass-to-grass, but it’s not wrong or ineffective to stop at 90 degrees, just a little different.
  • On the ascent, pay attention to your knees. A lot of people let them cave inward, which can cause a lot of problems with your joints and is ineffective in terms of power. So consciously keep your knees tracking over your feet and even imagine pushing them out a little as you rise to keep them in the correct position.
  • Stand with your feet turned out about 8 to 10 degrees; that is the natural angle of your knees in a squat.
  • Make sure your elbows are pointed down. When you wing them behind you, the bar rolls up onto your neck, which then causes you to lean forward, throwing you out of position and putting your back at risk.
  • When ready, take a deep breath in and hold it as you lower into your squat. This helps stabilize your spine and core, giving you more power and drive. As you rise back to the start, exhale forcefully.
  • Initiate the squat by sitting back with your hips first. If you start by bending at your knees, it will throw you forward.
  • Drive through your heels to rise back to the start, focusing on squeezing your glutes at the top and standing all the way up.

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Weary of all the research that links stretching to injury? Follow the six rules below to make sure you’re doing it safely and effectively.

You don’t need to be able to break out into the splits on cue, but the first step to having a more limber body comes with understanding some general guidelines. The problem? Stretching is actually pretty controversial. Some studies have shown that stretching before a workout can be counterproductive and even dangerous. “Before a workout, a cold muscle is like a frozen elastic band, so if you go to stretch it, it may feel like it’s going to snap,” explains certified fitness personal trainer Sarah Robichaud.

The key to stretching is safety.

The key to reaping the benefits of stretching is to do it safely. Here’s what you need to know about stretching – the right way, at the right time:

Don’t Stretch Cold Muscles

If you want to stretch before a workout (which you don’t have to do – the postworkout stretch is the important one) warm up first for about five minutes before performing your first stretch, says Robichaud. Jog, march on the spot or do jumping jacks. Then, lightly stretch the major muscle groups: the quads, hamstrings, back, chest and sides. (Lightly means holding each stretch for about 30 seconds.)

Stay Warm

One of the main reasons working out before a stretching session is so important is because warm muscles are flexible muscles. “It’s best to stay warm when you’re stretching,” explains celebrity fitness trainer Terri Walsh. She recommends putting your sweats on at the end of your workout to maintain your body heat as you stretch.

Don’t Rush

“In order to change your flexibility and change it for good, you have to sit in uncomfortable positions for minutes on end,” says Walsh. To maximize your flexibility gains, hold your postworkout stretches for two minutes, suggests Walsh.

Push Yourself During Your Stretches

…but never to the point of injury or pain. When you’re performing an effective stretch, you’re going to feel it, and it’s not always going to be pleasant. But just because you’re stretching to the point of discomfort (never pain), especially as you first build your flexibility, doesn’t mean you should be going beyond what you can handle. If it feels wrong for you, that’s because it probably is. Listen to your body as you stretch.

Breathe

During the 10 to 15 minutes that you spend stretching your muscles after each workout, remember to breathe deeply and consciously. This will help replenish oxygen, increase the effectiveness of your flexibility training, and contribute to a level of relaxation and mindfulness that may currently be missing from your workouts.

Don’t Bounce

Although some dynamic movement may be required for certain stretches, bouncing into and out of stretches can cause injury and should be avoided.

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Sometimes a few simple tweaks to form and function are all you need to get your body — and your results — back on the fast track.

You train hard, rest well and fuel your body to a tee. Yet suddenly your results stall, regardless of your tenacity and dedication. Since you’re doing everything correctly in terms of scheduling and periodization, you’re most likely not overtraining. However, when it comes to form or function, the training that you are doing may be imperfect. Time for some quality control.

Here are a number of common mistakes that can plague the overzealous gym-goer in four distinct zones: core, hips, back and chest. Take a look at each of the areas listed here, make a few tweaks as needed to your programming and you’ll be back on track in no time.

Training Zone: Core

Problem: You’re overworking your trunk in flexion, logging hundreds of crunches per week. This approach can promote poor posture and increase the damaging forces on your lower back. For example, a typical slow-speed sit-up can impose up to 730 pounds of compression on the spine, according to Stuart McGill, Ph.D. To put that in perspective: It only takes 500 pounds of force to completely blow out your knee.

Solution: Incorporate compound moves that include your hips, lower back and glutes, as well as your abs, to train your core as a single unit and create a well-rounded physique inside and out.

Plate Transfer Plank

Plate Transfer Plank

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, obliques, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae, shoulders, glutes and chest.

Why It Works: This move trains the core to resist rotational forces and stabilize your spine.

Setup: Stack five small plates (2.5 or 5 pounds) in a pile on the floor, then get into a plank on your elbows with the plate pile just outside your right elbow.

Move: Hold your plank as you reach across your body with your left hand and, one by one, bring the plates over to the left side, stacking them one on top of the other. Next, repeat the process with the right hand, stacking them from left to right, to complete one rep. Do four sets of three reps, resting one minute between sets.

Tip: Don’t twist or rotate your hips as you move the plates from one side to the other; your body should look like a flat table the entire time. If you’re having trouble balancing, spread your feet a little wider apart.

Paloff Press

Paloff Press

Muscles Worked: Rectus abdominis, obliques, quadratus lumborum, anterior delts, chest.

Why It Works: Your core has to resist the draw of the cable as it pulls you to one side, again training in anti-rotation and stabilizing your spine and lower back.

Setup: Set a cable pulley at waist level, using a single handle. Stand sideways to the pulley and hold the handle in front of your bellybutton with both hands, hips and shoulders square, elbows bent and tucked into your sides. Take a step forward to create some tension on the cable.

Move: Slowly press the handle straight out, moving directly forward and resisting the sideways pull of the cable. Once you reach full extension, reverse the move and slowly return to the start. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side. Rest 45 to 60 seconds per set.

Tip: It doesn’t take much weight for this exercise to be effective. If you feel it excessively in your arms and shoulders, or if your hips twist to the side, chances are the weight is too heavy.

Training Zone: Hips

Problem: Doing a lot of squats? If so, you may be overloading your quads and lower back and your hips may be stiff and inflexible, affecting posterior chain mobility and tilting your pelvis anteriorly or toward the front. And while squats are a must-do move for everyone, there is such a thing as squatting too much, especially if your mechanics are imperfect to begin with.

Solution: Add glute-dominant exercises to your program to reduce stress on your lower back and help correct pelvic posture, alleviating tightness by tilting it posteriorly. In addition, use split-stance exercises (in which one leg is forward and the other is back) to actively stretch the hip flexors.

Barbell Bench Hip Thrust

Barbell Bench Hip Thrust

Muscles Worked: Glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae.

Why It Works: Placing the bar across your hips directly hits the glutes, while the upward thrust helps stretch the hip flexors.

Setup: Sit with your upper back against the broad side of a bench and place a barbell across your hips. Place your feet a bit more than hip-width apart with your knees bent, and hold the barbell with your hands on either side of your hips.

Move: Press your upper back into the bench and drive through your heels to lift your hips upward to come in line with your knees and shoulders, like a table. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly lower to the start. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps, resting 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

Tip: Before each rep, tuck your pelvis underneath first, then raise your hips. This prevents your lower back from arching and saves your spine from strain.

Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat

Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat

Muscles Worked: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

Why It Works: Splitting your stance and holding dumbbells at your sides can significantly lower the amount of spinal compression while encouraging greater gluteal activity.

Setup: Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides and stand in front of a flat bench. Extend one leg behind you and place your foot, laces down, on top of the bench.

Move: Bend both knees and lower yourself until your front leg makes a 90-degree angle. Keep your torso upright and your shoulders back — avoid leaning forward as you fatigue. Extend your legs to return to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps per side. Rest one minute between sets.

Tip: If your hips are tight, descend just until you feel a pull, then hold at that point for two counts before rising to the start. With each rep, try to go a little lower.

Training Zone: Back

Problem: Though back exercises look simple, they’re among the most commonly botched moves in the gym, and if your coordination is off, your arms will initiate the move and take it over while your back has a snooze. Using your arms too much limits the amount of back muscle tissue you train.

Solution: Practice the “set your shoulders” technique to prepare yourself for perfect form. Once in the “set” position, you’re all but guaranteed to give your back a rude awakening while saving your shoulders and elbows from strain.

Technique: “Set Your Shoulders”

“Set Your Shoulders” Technique

Sit in a pulldown machine and take a wide overhand grip on the bar. Allow your arms to fully extend by relaxing your shoulders and back. Now, pull just your shoulder blades — not the bar or your elbows — downward and inward along your back while keeping your neck long. Pretend you’re squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades as you lift your clavicle upward. This position should be the starting point for every rep of every back move you do in order to fully engage the back muscles and prevent overuse of your arms. Practice this until it becomes automatic.

Band-Resisted Row

Band-Resisted Row

Muscles Worked: Rhomboids, rear delts, trapezius, rotator cuffs, latissimus dorsi.

Why It Works: The tension changes as the band stretches and contracts, requiring strong muscular contractions and sharp mental focus.

Setup: Wrap a light or medium weight resistance band around an immobile object at chest level. Hold it with both hands and step back until there’s ample tension. Assume a half-squat position, facing the anchor with your arms outstretched at chest level, back straight. Now “set your shoulders.”

Move: Pull the band into your chest, driving your elbows rearward (not out to the sides) and keeping your chest lifted. Pause at the peak contraction, then squeeze your back muscles hard. Slowly return to the start. Do four sets of 15 reps. Rest 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

Tip: Avoid leaning back. Stabilize your core, assume a powerful stance and perform the reps in a con-trolled manner.

Training Zone: Chest

Problem: Your chest is not responding well, considering the amount of training you’re delivering to it. It may be the result of faulty training angles. This is a very common problem, wherein you may be lifting with your chest collapsed, your shoulders protracted and your back flat. Ultimately, you’re pressing with your shoulders rather than your chest. All these incorrect angles easily translate to a thrashing of your front delts and a vacation for your pecs.

Solution: Properly target your pecs and save your shoulders by following the “better your bench” tips below. Altering your benching will cause the bar to travel a shorter distance, effectively targeting the chest and sidelining your shoulders.

Technique: “Better Your Bench”

“Better Your Bench” Technique

Lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a light barbell straight up over your chest, arms shoulder width, then pull your shoulder blades down and toward each other, just like you did with the “set your shoulders” exercise. Lift your rib cage and allow your back to arch just high enough so you could fit your forearm underneath. This is the position you should maintain throughout the move to best target your chest and preserve the integrity of your shoulders.

Tip: Brace your feet on the floor during this move and drive through them on each rep to increase body tension and improve power.

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

Muscles Worked: Pecs, anterior delts, triceps.

Why It Works: Using dumbbells allows for more play at the elbows, making it possible to find the right arm angle to reduce pressure on your shoulders.

Setup: Set an incline bench to 45 degrees and hold a set of dumbbells at your shoulders, palms facing inward. Assume the “better your bench” position.

Move: Press the dumbbells straight up over your upper chest, turning your wrists as you extend so that at the top your palms are facing forward. Slowly lower to the start with your elbows tucked in close.

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Burn off those extra pounds and sculpt your best body yet with this 10-minute EMOM workout.

Looking to burn some fat? If so, this workout can help you out. This 10-minute EMOM trains you for total-body anaerobic endurance, pushing your muscles and energy systems to the limit. And fat-burning? Forget about it! Burn off those extra pounds and sculpt your best body yet!

How To Do This Workout

After a solid dynamic warm-up, set your timer. For every minute, on the minute, do 30–45 seconds of work and take 30–15 seconds rest, depending on your conditioning. For example in Minute 1 a beginning athlete would do 30 seconds of burpees followed by 30 seconds of rest; a more advanced athlete would do 45 seconds of burpees followed by 15 seconds of rest. For the work portions, hit it at about 85–90% your max intensity. Hey, it’s only 10 minutes — make the most of it!

  • Minute 1: Burpees
  • Minute 2: Air Squat
  • Minute 3: Russian Twist
  • Minute 4: Switch Lunge
  • Minute 5: Plank
  • Repeat
Burpees

Burpees

Stand with your feet together, arms at your sides. Crouch down and place your hands on the floor then quickly jump your feet behind you so you’re in plank. Bend your elbows and lower in a push-up. Extend your arms, jump your feet back underneath you and stand up, exploding into the air and reaching overhead to complete one rep.

Air Squat

Air Squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, arms at your sides. Kick your hips back and bend your knees, squatting low enough to break parallel, then stand back up and squeeze your glutes at the top.

Russian Twist

Russian Twist

Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Clasp your hands together in front of your chest, elbows flared, and lean back with a tight core so your feet come of the floor and you’re balanced on your tailbone. Hold your legs steady as you twist side to side, rotating through your trunk and trying to touch your elbows to the floor on either side of you. If you’re feeling particularly strong, perform this holding a dumbbell as shown. 

Switch Lunge

Switch Lunge

Stand with your feet spread in a wide lunge stance, right foot forward. Bend both knees and lower toward the floor, then explode upwards off the ground, switching legs mid-air and landing softly with your left foot forward, right foot back. Descend immediately into the next repetition.

Plank

Plank

Get into a plank position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders, and your head, hips and heels in line. Hold and breathe.

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This training regimen can help you shed 6 to 12 pounds — fast!

One great way to get in peak condition for bathing-suit season is through periodization. Often used by athletes training for a competition, periodization involves manipulating the progression of workouts over specific increments of time. This prevents overtraining and overuse injuries that commonly occur with intense, regular workouts.

This program consists of three two-week cycles. The first two weeks will provide you with a training base. The second phase is designed to accelerate your metabolism by increasing the volume and intensity of the workouts. The third part is a metabolic phase that peaks power output and stimulates your fat-burning hormones to their max. The topper? These exercises may be done at home (or outdoors if the weather allows), and they require only your bodyweight to perform. No equipment necessary!

Toning Time (Week 1 and Week 2)

You’ll establish a strength-and-conditioning base with the main exercises in the first two weeks. Perform a thorough warm-up and then do two sets of the exercises at 15 reps each in Week 1 and three sets of 15 reps in Week 2. Do all the sets for each exercise before going on to the next one, allowing one to two minutes’ rest between each move.

Do the three-day routines twice per week and rest on the seventh day. If you are experiencing undue fatigue, take an extra day off between one training day and the next, between the two weeks in this phase or before the next phase. Always listen to your body.

Toning Exercises

Toning Nutrition Tips

  • Drink ½ gallon of water daily.
  • Eat five or six meals a day — and don’t skip any, even if that means using a protein shake or two per day.
  • Don’t eat past 9 p.m. or within a couple of hours of going to bed if you’re on a second- or third-shift schedule.

Firming Drills (Week 3 and Week 4)

In these two weeks, you’ll begin to accelerate your metabolism via supersets. In Week 3, perform two exercises, one immediately after the other, for two sets of 15 reps per dual set, resting 30 to 60 seconds between each set. In Week 4, follow the same format but increase reps to 20 and sets to three.

Do the three-day routines twice and rest on the seventh day. Take an extra day off between one training day and the next, between the two weeks in this phase or before the next phase if you are feeling fatigued.

Firming Exercises

Firming Nutrition Tips

  • Drink ¾ gallon of water per day.
  • Avoid all canned, deli and prepackaged food.
  • Continue eating five or six meals daily (two may be protein shakes).

Fat-Burning Spree (Week 5 and Week 6)

The final workouts focus on fat burning and muscle definition. In Week 5, perform the exercises one after the other once through (one set) for 12 to 15 reps each; rest one minute after completing the reps for each exercise. In the final week, do two sets, also 12 to 15 reps per set, of each exercise without resting.

Do the three-day routines twice and rest on the seventh day. Of course, if you are experiencing excessive fatigue, take an extra day off between the two weeks or between one training day and the next.

Fat-Burning Exercises

Fat-Burning Nutrition Tips:

  • Try to drink almost a gallon of water per day.
  • Make berries your go-to fruit for their blood-sugar-stabilizing effect.
  • Focus on fibrous veggies and lean meats at dinner, for example two vegetables and a lean turkey burger.

Squat

Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your hands straight out in front of you to help keep your balance.

Action: Sit back and down like you’re sitting into an imaginary chair. Lower yourself until your thighs are as parallel to the ground as possible, with your knees over your ankles. Press your weight back into your heels. Keep your body tight and push through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position.

Lunge

Setup: Stand with your feet together and hands on your hips by your sides (not shown).

Action: Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend both legs until your knees form 90-degree angles, with your back leg a couple of inches off the ground. Push through your right front foot to return to the start, being careful not to arch your lower back. Alternate legs for desired number of reps.

Push-Up (Regular)

Setup: Lie on the ground facedown and position your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Rise up onto your toes and hands, keeping your body in a straight line from head to toe. Keep a tight core throughout the entire push-up.

Action: Lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and then push back to the starting position.

T-Roll Push-Up

Setup: Start in a plank position.

Action: Lower yourself to the ground like in a regular push-up and push back up, and as you raise your body, roll your feet so that your body is resting on the outside of your ankles while you simultaneously raise one hand to the sky, creating a straight line from one hand to the other. Make sure to move your hips and shoulders simultaneously. Alternate sides with each rep.

Leg Raise

Setup: Lie faceup on the ground or mat. Keep your lower back in contact with the ground, feet and legs straight and together. Place your hands to your sides or under your lower back for support.

Action: Keeping your legs straight and together, back flat, lift your legs upward until they are straight above your hips. Lower down to the start position slowly and with control (but do not allow your feet to touch the ground between reps) to complete one rep. Keep your bellybutton pulled in and back flat on the ground throughout.

Crunch

Setup: Lie on the ground/mat on your back. Loosely interlace your fingers behind your head and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground.

Action: Curl up as far as you can without pulling on your neck, then return to the starting position.

Step-Up

Setup: Stand in front of a step.

Action: Step up with your right leg. Bring your left foot up. Step down with the right leg, then left. Repeat with the right leg first for the recommended amount of repetitions, then perform with the left leg first.

Two-Leg Bridge

Setup: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the ground and arms down to your sides.

Action: Raise your hips by digging your heels into the ground and pushing up until your shoulders, hips and knees form a straight line. Squeeze your glutes as you pause at the top and slowly lower back down; do not rest between reps.

Lateral Push-Up

Setup: Get into a push-up position with your hands wider than shoulder width, fingers spread out and elbows pointed back.

Action: Shift your weight and lower yourself toward one side (laterally) as you bring your hips and chest toward the ground, keeping one arm straight as the other goes into a push-up position. Alternate from one side to the other to complete one rep.

Diamond Push-Up

Setup: Start in a plank position.

Action: Perform regular push-ups but with your hands close together in a triangle formation, thumbs and forefingers together, which targets triceps.

Reverse Crunch

Setup: Lie flat on your back with your hips and knees bent at 90 degrees, arms by your sides.

Action: Move your knees toward your torso as you raise your hips off the ground. Hold the contraction for a moment and release your legs back to the starting position.

Split Jump

Setup: Stand in a staggered stance with your right foot in front of your left, 2 feet apart.

Action: Keep your torso upright, bend your legs and lower your body into a lunge. Now jump with enough force to propel both feet off the ground. While you’re in the air, scissor-kick your legs so you land with your left leg forward. Repeat, alternating your forward leg for the duration of the set.

Squat Jump

Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides.

Action: Squat down until your knees are bent about 90 degrees. Jump upward as high as you can. As you land, be sure to bend your knees and sink back down into the squat position and immediately explode up into your next rep.

Explosive Speed Push-Up

Setup: Start in a plank position.

Action: Perform a standard push-up, but use enough force to push yourself up to jump your hands off the ground; once you get stronger, try to add a quick clap while your hands are in the air. Tip: If these are too difficult, start from your knees.

Pump Push-Up

Setup: Start in a plank position.

Action: Do these “mini-push-ups” by performing regular push-ups, but bend your elbows less than the normal range of motion of a regular push-up (about 10 to 15 degrees only).

V-Up

Setup: Lie on your back with your arms and legs straight.

Action: Engage your abdominals as you simultaneously raise your upper body while lifting your legs (keeping them straight) to form a V position. Make sure your shoulders and thighs come off the ground.

Bicycle Crunch

Setup: Lie on your back with your legs extended, feet about 10 inches off the ground, hands behind your head.

Action: Bend your right knee as you simultaneously straighten your left leg and lift your shoulders off the ground and rotate your torso to bring your left elbow toward your bent right knee. Quickly switch arms and legs by pulling in your left knee toward your right elbow in a “cycling” motion. Continue switching from right to left; each set counts as one rep.

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Tap into the power of your breath — and get into the best shape of your life.

If there’s one thing we should all be experts at it’s breathing, but believe it not, you may actually be doing it wrong. Whether you’re running a 5K, attempting a new barbell lift or just sitting at a desk, your brain, organs and muscles need oxygen. Limiting that supply is a non-starter, obviously, but maximizing your breathing potential could be the difference between success and failure at sports — and at life.

Learn how to improve your breathing mechanics.

Every Breath You Take

Think about the last time you attempted a heavy lift or did a series of crunches. Did you remember to breathe? “Most commonly, people hold their breath through a movement,” says Belisa Vranich, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, fitness expert and author of Breathing for Warriors (St. Martin’s Press, March 2020). It makes sense that you might forget to breathe if you’re focused and concentrating, but even if you remembered to do so, you may still be breathing improperly.

According to Vranich, humans were designed to breathe horizontally, in other words, the section of your torso between your nipples and your hips should expand with every inhale. This engages the muscles that are intended for breathing, which include the diaphragm, intercostals, transverse abdominis and obliques. Unfortunately, Vranich says, most people breathe vertically, meaning that an inhale causes your chest and shoulders to rise. This action relies on the muscles in your pecs, traps and neck to engage, and each breath can actually use more energy and oxygen than it pulls in, which in turn makes you breathe faster and take more breaths than a horizontal breather, according to Vranich.

What’s more, during exercise you’re often cued to “brace” your core, meaning that you inhale and hold your breath/muscular contraction in order to create intra-abdominal pressure to protect your spine. The thing is, most people don’t remember to unbrace. “You’ll see folks who are … bracing their belly so much in an attempt to take care of their spines that they’re not actually breathing at all,” Vranich says. “They’re just sipping in air.”

Bad Breath

It might not seem like a big deal on the surface, by over time, poor breathing habits can take a toll on your health. For example, think about how you react when you’re startled — you gasp and hold your breath, your body tenses and you draw your arms in toward your chest. In essence, a shallow breathing pattern is akin to walking around as if you’re frightened all day, explains Jen Esquer, DPT. “We are essentially telling our brain we are in danger and that your body must get tense and tight to protect you,” she says. “During the inhalation phase of a breath … you are in a more stressed and sympathetic state where you hold inflammation and tension and increase your sensitivity to pain.” This state causes your body to release a surge of cortisol as a protective measure, but over time, consistently elevated cortisol can lead to myriad of health problems, including weight gain, sleep disturbances and anxiety.

Poor breathing patterns also can prevent you from reaching your athletic potential, according to Vranich, and breathing in the most primal, anatomically correct manner can ultimately help you log more miles, lift more weight and burn more calories.

Breathwork

Better breathing begins with an awareness of where to breathe: Place your hands on your lower ribs and belly, where your diaphragm and the largest part of your lungs are. As you inhale, think about expanding this portion of your torso, not your chest, and as you exhale, push against your belly.

Now that you’ve located your proper breathing muscles, it’s time to make them stronger. And, no, a tempo training run that gets you huffing and puffing doesn’t count. “You need to train your breathing muscles separately from your sport,” Vranich says, “because you can’t train them to exhaustion if you’re doing your sport at the same time.”

One simple but effective breathing exercise is called the bellows breath: Inhale really hard through your mouth and pull in as much air as you can. “And remember, you’re going to puff up your belly when you do that,” Vranich says. Then blow all the air out of your mouth as hard as you can, squeezing your belly inward. “It should feel like an ab exercise where you are pulling your bellybutton toward your spine,” she continues. As a beginner, you’ll want to start with two 15-second sets of bellows breathing: Set a timer and breathe in and out as hard and as rapidly as you can for 15 seconds. Then complete one regular inhale and a slow 15-second exhale before moving to your next set. Gradually and incrementally work your way up to two 45-second sets with a regular breath and a slow 45-second exhale in between.

Applied Science

When it comes to sports and exercise, the breathing technique you use ultimately depends on your chosen activity.

The amount of bracing done while strength training should be relative to the load you’re lifting.

Strength Training

When lifting weights, you should for sure be bracing your core to protect your spine, but this technique is a little more nuanced than simply tightening your abdomen as if you were about to get punched in the gut. You also need to tighten your sides, back and pelvic floor, according to Vranich. What’s more, the amount of bracing done should be relative to the load you’re lifting. For example, the Valsalva maneuver (breathing against a closed airway) is appropriate for something like a super-heavy deadlift to maintain spinal stability and lift a heavy load safely. But if you’re banging out a couple dozen lightweight biceps curls, your torso doesn’t need to be as stiff and your brace needn’t be as intense.

The rest period between sets and/or circuits of a strength workout should benefit both your skeletal and your breathing muscles. “If you’re staying braced, you’re not fueling yourself for your next set,” Vranich says. “Remember, you get energy from oxygen. If you’re braced between sets, you’re not getting enough gas, so you’re going to be tired.” Vranich recommends consciously unbracing and taking three deep breaths during rest periods.

It’s also important to time your breath properly during a repetition of an exercise. “The exhale aids with the contraction of the muscles, and the inhale aids with lengthening of the muscles,” Esquer says. For example, when doing a biceps curl, you’d exhale as you bend your elbow to lift the weight and would inhale as you extend your arm to lower it back to the start.

For cardiovascular training, timing your breath to your steps can help you find a sustainable pace.

Cardiovascular Training

When it comes to cardio workouts like running, rhythmic breathing — timing your breaths to your steps — can help you find a sustainable pace. Ideally, you want to maintain a 2:2 pace, meaning you’d inhale for two steps and exhale for two steps during a moderately hard workout — in other words, not a sprint but also not a slow jog. The main point is to connect your breathing to your movement to optimize oxygen delivery and strengthen the mind/muscle connection. Experiment with different ratios to see what works best for you. And while runners do need to brace their core enough to stay upright, they have to be careful not to brace so much that they revert to vertical breathing, Vranich warns.

You also should try to breathe through your nose for as long as you can in order to hold more carbon dioxide in your system. “Carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid and results in a decrease in blood pH,” Esquer explains. “When this happens, hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells) releases oxygen into the body. Therefore, increasing your capacity to maintain carbon dioxide [levels] improves oxygen delivery and allows your muscles, nerves and brain to work better.” Introduce nasal breathing slowly, she advises, and breathe through your mouth when necessary.

Measure Your Breathing IQ

Use these tips from Belisa Vranich to determine how well you’re using your diaphragm and breathing muscles:

  1. Locate the bottom of your front ribs (located directly under your nipples), and loop a measuring tape around your torso at this point.
  2. Inhale and make note of the measurement in inches.
  3. Then exhale completely and take a second measurement in inches.
  4. Subtract the exhale measurement from the inhale measurement for your score.

The greater the difference between your inhale and exhale measurements, the better and more correctly you’re using your breathing muscles. A good “score” is anywhere from 2 to 4 inches difference. Coming up short? Don’t worry. It’s entirely possible to improve your breathing mechanics with specific exercises, increased awareness and dedicated practice. 

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Professor Erin Calderone answers this burning question about crunches.

Are crunches bad for me?

People love to categorize things as being good or bad, but when it comes to crunches, there is no absolute. The answer is far more nuanced and requires an assessment of your individual needs and goals.

Are crunches bad? The answer depends on your needs and goals.

Risk vs. Reward

There is no shortage of studies highlighting the potential risks of crunches, the most obvious being lower-back pain or injury, since thousands of cycles of spinal flexion (bending forward) with varying levels of compression may cause damage to your spinal disks. And indeed, researchers have crushed dozens of pig spines trying to determine this hypothetical upper limit, but the idea that your spine has a finite number of bends isn’t exactly accurate, and crushing pig spines in a laboratory isn’t quite the same as doing a few sets of crunches over the course of a week. Additionally, ample rest allows tissues to heal and become stronger, theoretically increasing the total number of bends your spine can withstand over time.

It is true, however, that habitual compression could cause your disks to bulge, pressing on nerves and causing lower-back pain and/or sciatica. And since many of us spend eight or more hours per day in a spinal-flexed position — e.g., hunched at a desk, in a car or on the couch — it makes sense that replicating that position in the gym is probably not the best idea. That being said, back pain is not relegated to habitual sitters, and research indicates that excessive training and complete lack thereof are equal predictors of back breakdown, meaning that avid exercisers rank right alongside career couch potatoes when it comes to back issues.

The trick, then, is to apply just enough stress to your body by training the entire core with a variety of movements in a progressive fashion to get results and prevent injury.

Is It Crunch Time?

When done properly, spinal flexion exercises are powerful stimulators for the rectus abdominis, so if your goal is hypertrophy and a defined six-pack, then things like crunches, pikes and twists can be included in your programming. Other candidates for dedicated flexion training are athletes who require strength and endurance in this position such as gymnasts, martial artists, CrossFitters and even ball/racket athletes. And because the fitness “law” of specificity dictates that you get better at what you train for, these athletes should include moves such as crunches as part of their all-around core conditioning.

So should you personally include crunches in your programming? Maybe. Here are some suggestions for core and abdominal training depending on your fitness and experience level.

Beginner Rx: Stabilize

Novice exercisers — and those with sensitive backs — should focus on stability training until you have built a solid base. Practice isometric exercises like planks, Bird Dogs and dead bugs regularly to build endurance in the muscles that support your spine.

Intermediate Rx: Resist and Strengthen

Intermediate exercisers with a solid base can add some dynamic movement to an isometric exercise — for example, a plank with a band row, a Pallof press or a single-arm farmer’s carry. If they support your sport or training goals, you can add some crunches and twists to your schedule, but make sure you include a variety to hit all areas of your core — for example, a standard crunch, a reverse crunch, a rotational woodchopper and a back extension.

Advanced Rx: Strength and Power

Advanced athletes who need heightened core strength should still practice all the base-level stability moves for maintenance and optimal strength but can amp the exercise difficulty to match your ability — for instance, adding a band to a Bird Dog, doing a plank walkout or adding weight to a standard crunch. Include a variety of sport-specific moves to develop power in your trunk such as medicine-ball throws and toes-to-bar cycling, and you can add power and speed to a strength move in the form of fast V-ups or high-volume clusters of band rotations. 

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Want to give your home workouts more of an edge? Try adding a weighted vest.

While most of the world is trying to lose weight, you might want to gain some — in the form of a weighted vest. This versatile training tool can make even the most basic of exercises more demanding by increasing your calorie burn and metabolism without any extra effort on your part. Weighted vests have been shown to improve balance and postural awareness while honing coordination, increasing stability and boosting bone density. New to the vest idea? Begin by adding 5 percent of your bodyweight and add more incrementally as you get stronger.

A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology found that endurance athletes who trained with an added load improved running time, and research from Texas Tech University found that using a weighted vest during resistance training and plyometric drills improved speed and explosive power. Why? The vest teaches your body to carry your bodyweight and then some, and when you remove the weight, you’re able to run farther and longer, jump higher and sprint faster.

The 21-Minute Weighted Vest EMOM

This workout will challenge your lower body, core, agility and coordination. Start a timer and begin the first exercise. Perform as many reps as you can in 45 seconds, then rest 15 seconds. At the top of the next minute, begin the next exercise. Complete three total rounds. Keep track of the reps you get for each move and try to match or beat that score in the next round.

Box Jump

Box Jump

Stand facing a box with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and hips and swing your arms back to drop into a shallow squat, then quickly extend your legs and hips and swing your arms forward to jump up and onto the box, landing softly. Stand up completely, then step down one foot at a time and repeat.

Tip: Even if you have mad hops, it might take a little practice to jump comfortably with extra weight.

Lateral Plank Walk

Lateral Plank Walk

Get into a high plank with your hands underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Maintain this form as you take a step to the left with your left hand and foot, then follow with the right. Move laterally one direction for five steps, then go back the other way.

Tip: Actively press down into your hands and spread your shoulder blades to help support the extra weight on your upper body.

Alternating Lateral Lunge

Alternating Lateral Lunge

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips. Take a large step to the right with your right foot, bending your right knee deeply as you keep your left leg straight. Push off your right foot to return to the start. Continue, alternating sides.

Tip: Land with your toes pointing forward to maintain proper alignment and prevent knee strain.

Spider Push-Up

Spider Push-Up

Get into a push-up position with your hands just outside shoulder-width apart and your head, hips and heels aligned. Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor as you bring your right knee up toward your right elbow. Pause briefly, then replace your leg and extend your arms to return to the start. Continue, alternating sides.

Tip: If the added upper-body weight becomes a challenge, drop to your knees and continue doing reps rather than stopping. 

Forward/Reverse Lunge

Forward/Reverse Lunge

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips. Take a large step forward with your right leg and bend both knees deeply to lunge straight down toward the floor. When your hips and knees make 90-degree angles, push off your right foot to return to center. Then step behind you and lower into another deep lunge. Push off your right foot to return to center. Continue, alternating sides.

Tip: Try not to touch your foot to the floor between the forward and reverse lunges to further challenge your balance and coordination.

Straight-Leg Sit-Up

Straight-Leg Sit-Up

Lie faceup with your legs together and your arms extended overhead. Drive down into your heels to keep your legs planted as you curl up off the floor, bringing your arms smoothly overhead in an arc and reaching for your toes as you sit up tall with a straight back. Slowly return to the start.

Tip: To make this move easier, spread your legs into a V.

A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology found that endurance athletes who trained with an added load improved running time, and research from Texas Tech University found that using a weighted vest during resistance training and plyometric drills improved speed and explosive power. Why? The vest teaches your body to carry your bodyweight and then some, and when you remove the weight, you’re able to run farther and longer, jump higher and sprint faster.

The 21-Minute Weighted Vest EMOM

This workout will challenge your lower body, core, agility and coordination. Start a timer and begin the first exercise. Perform as many reps as you can in 45 seconds, then rest 15 seconds. At the top of the next minute, begin the next exercise. Complete three total rounds. Keep track of the reps you get for each move and try to match or beat that score in the next round.

Have a vested interest? 

Go to oxygenmag.com/vests for our top five picks of weighted vests made specifically for women.

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