Over the years the rules of fitness have changed. Well, let’s call them goals. The goals of fitness have changed. Where the goal used to be molding your body into what appears to be several large rocks suspended in between a tiny head and toothpicks in socks, and wearing a onesie.
The goal now is to build your body into a proportionate model of health and strength; aligning muscle building with flexibility and endurance. According to a study conducted by McMaster University in Ontario, we don’t have to lift the heaviest items in the gym in order to build muscle. Rather, we just have to lift until our muscles can’t take anymore at that moment in time. This stimulates muscle growth regardless of weight. With the addition of CrossFit to the national conversation, this information doesn’t really come as any surprise. Says Stuart Phillips, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, “We’re convinced that growing muscle means stimulating your muscle to make new muscle proteins, a process in the body that over time accumulates into bigger muscles.”
While the strict muscle building goals have not faded out, many of us want to build strength and be able to add a healthy dose of conditioning with our muscle gains (check out this weeks’ podcast to get your muscle gain fix). Much of this can be done through standard cardiovascular exercise. However, there are some great workouts you can add to your routine to enhance your flexibility, mobility and cardio health while still maintaining a focus on strength building. These “finishers” focus on quick muscle stimulation that will boost your body into muscle growth mode.
Sprinting. The point of these exercises is that you can do them without having to collect a bunch of complex equipment, aside from building muscle of course. Sprinting is one of the easiest and quickest finishers you can do. Try sprinting for about 100 yards (a football field if you didn’t know), then rest for a little less than a minute. Then sprint 75 yards, rest for half a minute, then sprint 50, rest and sprint 25. You can expand the distance if you are up to it, or do it more than once if you feel it wasn’t enough. These short bursts of speed teach your brain to utilize a wide range of muscle fibres and basically the powerlifting of running.
Burpees. According to Royal H. Burpee’s book “Seven Quickly Administered Tests of Physical Capacity”, the Burpee is so effective because of “the quick positional shift required when going from a vertical stand, to a horizontal position, and back up to a stand that taxes the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively to accommodate the working muscles.” Keeping it simple, just do as many burpees as you can possibly do in four to five minutes. If you don’t know what a burpee is, then there is a Wikipedia page for that. Feel free to do whatever variant you want, just do it with the same intensity you would while holding a plank with a glass of wine on your hip.
Jump Squats and Judo Push-Ups. Judo Push-ups is a standard in the martial arts community. By working your arms, shoulders, core and chest, Judo Push-ups are a great way to step up your game. The goal here is 100 plus reps as quickly as possible. Stop when you can do no more. Start with a set of 15 jump squats, then drop and put in 15 judo push-ups. Kiss the ground and start again. Drop a rep each round to make it interesting, or see how many sets of 15 you can do before your muscles are screaming for protein and less gravity. According to mixed-martial arts fighter Yoko Hamamura, “the greatest thing about Judo Push-Ups is it looks easy, but it’s super-hard.”
Push-Press it. You’ve still got those dumbbells in your hands. What are you going to do with them? Holding your arms at your sides, you are going to drop into a squat then rise up. As you stand, curl the weights and in one fluid motion, bend your knees a bit and push-press the weights up into the air above your shoulders. Drop your arms to your side and do it again. Keep going until the timer reaches two minutes or you remember that you forgot to set a timer. This type of push-press is a variation of the Olympic style, which generally uses a bar. Men’s Health has a good guide on how to properly pull of a push-press with dumbbells.
Lift, pull, push something heavy. If you have a large truck tire laying around, tie a rope and a harness to it and drag it across the parking lot. Grab a light punch bag, put it on your shoulder and lunge across the gym, then switch shoulders and lunge back. Have a prowler sled handy? Push it 40 feet, sprint back to the start, sprint back to the prowler and push it some more. The key here is intensity and speed. Your entire body, muscles, tendons and mind get involved the more intense it is. As fitness trainer Rob King points out in this article, sled training might seem simple but forces you to work hard.
These workouts are by no means super creative or unheard of. Some are variations of Tabata training. With the right supplements and planning, you can modify these workouts to suit your routine. They should take only a few minutes to complete after your workout; but will leave you feeling and seeing the results.
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