Pile 'em up

Beginners: machines or free weight?

Pile 'em upMuch has been written about machines vs free weights debate.

New gym members see new fancy machines and get lured into using them.

Gym owners give more space to machines than free weights because members are less likely to get injured by falling weights.

However, the good old free weight is still better than the latest fancy machine, especially for beginners.

Natural movement

With a free weight, your body is able to move the weight in a natural path. Machines, on the other hand, dictate the direction. One machine can’t fit both a giant and a dwarf. They have been designed for the average guy. Just make sure you adjust the machine’s seat, straps, levers, etc to suit you.

Secondary muscles

Free weights forces you to balance the weight and in this way develop secondary stabiliser muscles as well as core muscles – think abs and lower back.

Versatile

Free weight costs less – you only need a bar and some weights and you’re ready to do a vast number of exercises. The leg extension machine, on the other hand, is only suitable for the quads.

Machines still have their place

All this is not to say that machines are not useful. I particularly like some back exercises as they help expand the variety of exercises available for the back and target the muscles from a different angle. If you’re unable to do pull-ups, then the pulldown machine is certainly better than nothing.

If you’re a beginner, give priority to free weights. The harder you find them, the more beneficial they will be for you. There’s no need to completely exclude machines. Get the balance right and you’ll see success.

Doing the rack

What makes a good workout?

You go to the gym week in week out, rarely missing a session and always noting how much you are lifting, adhering strictly to form and so on. When you finish your session and you leave the gym, how do you rate your workout? How do you determine if you’ve had a successful workout or not? It’s very hard and subjective to define what makes a good workout but here are 6 aspects to consider when looking back on your training session.

Doing the rack

Feeling sore the next day

This is my favourite. I know that if my muscle feels sore the following day, then it must have been really pushed beyond its comfort zone. When you lift weight or do a new intense physical activity for the first time or after a long period, your muscles will most likely feel sore the day after and probably for several days after that. We all know it’s because that muscle wasn’t used to this level of activity. Now imagine if you feel sore after using a trained muscle group…

Lifting more

Another easy way to judge the success of a workout. If you squat 100kg today and a week later you can do 110 kg for the same number of reps under the same conditions, then your muscles have definitely improved. However, if last week you did the squats as your first exercise and this week as your last exercise but used the same weight, you’ve probably improved as well because you managed to lift as much while being in a more tired state. So think carefully of the conditions when comparing how much weight you are lifting.

Sufficient volume

If you go to the gym, do 1 set of curls and then pack up and go home, you’ll agree with me that you didn’t do enough to call this a workout. How about 10 sets, 20 sets? It gets a little tricky to measure what volume is enough. But if you feel tired at the end of your workout, if the targeted muscle is thoroughly tired, then you may have achieved a sufficient volume.

Time

The time spent exercising is also quite meaningful. You can run for a sprint or a marathon. The marathon runner will burn much more energy and tax his body more. You can lift weights for 10 minutes, do a few sets of squats and go home, or work for a full hour at squats, benchpress, deadlifts and so on. Be careful, spending more than an hour in the gym can lead to overtraining.

Intensity

Time spent exercising and volume of exercise by themselves don’t mean as much as when they are combining together. The intensity of a workout is the amount of exercise you do in a specific time period. So someone could do 10 reps in 15 minutes or 10 reps in one hour. One hour sounds a long time to exercise but if you do only 10 reps and spend a long time resting, you are not pushing yourself much. You could be working out for only 15 minutes but if you do exercises back to back with no rest, you will generate a very high intensity.

So to up your workout intensity, decrease your rest period. Too often, I see people in the gym spending more time on their mobile phone than exercising.

Exhaustion

Perhaps a simple but effective way to judge how hard you train is by determining how tired you are when you walk out the gym. If you feel as if you could do another 20 minutes of exercises, then maybe you didn’t push your self hard enough during your training time. If you are so thoroughly exhausted you can’t walk up the stairs easily for e.g., you know you pushed yourself very hard.

So there are more ways than one to determine if your workout has been sufficiently challenging. Which one do you prefer?

Heavy benchpressing

How to breathe when lifting weights

Many beginners are unsure of the correct breathing technique in weight lifting. It’s very simple.

You breathe out when you make the effort.

A full pair of lungs and a contracted ribcage give you added stability through intra-abdominal pressure and ability to lift more as well as plenty of fresh oxygen when you need it most. Intra-abdominal pressure is important in order to stabilise the spine during heavy lifting. Getting your breathing sequence right is as important as mastering form for an exercise.
Here are a few examples of when to breathe in and out for specific exercises.

Squats

You are in position with the bar on your shoulder, ready to squat down. As you lower yourself, take a very deep breath. A really deep breath as this is the squat. It’s a hard exercise and puts your spine under a heavy load. So you want to get this intra-abdominal pressure very high to stabilise the spine.

Once you reach the bottom, inhalation is complete. Now push up and as you push, exhale slowly to match your effort. As you reach the sticking point in the squat where effort is maximal, you may want to exhale even more slowly or even hold your breath. As you reach the top in a standing position, your lungs should be empty or nearly empty. Get ready for the next rep or take a very brief pause to catch your breath if you have performed many reps already and are out of breath.
Getting the breathing technique right is crucial to the squat, more than any other exercises.

Bench press

Heavy benchpressing

Inhale deeply as you lower the bar to your chest. Your chest expands at the same time as you fill it with air. This is a good thing as it goes up to meet the bar and shortens the distance the bar has to travel down, translating into less concentric effort for you. The correct posture also requires a slight curve in the back and your expanded chest contributes to that.
The bar touches your chest and you start pushing it up. Start exhaling forcefully and slowly at this point. You may want, once again to exhale ever so slowly and even more forcefully during the sticking point, even holding your breath to get past it. At the top, your lungs are empty or nearly.

Barbell row

We’ve covered the right breathing technique for two fundamental pushing exercises. Let’s have a look at a compound pulling exercise now.

You’re standing in front of a loaded bar lying on the floor. Grasp it, lift it and get into position with your back bent at the hip, ready to start the row. Your arms are straight. Take a deep breath, then with your lungs full, start pulling the bar towards your navel. As you pull, exhale. When the bar reaches your belly, your lungs should be empty. As you lower the bar, inhale deeply. When the bar reaches the bottom, your lungs should be full and ready to exhale again as you start the next rep. there is no sticking point in the rowing exercise. Make sure you only start pulling the bar when your lungs are full – don’t pull the bar while still inhaling in the first rep. You should start exhaling as you start pulling the bar in fact.

Curls

Working the biceps

Since the biceps curl is a popular exercise among newbies, I thought I’d cover it too. This applies for any type of curl. With the bar in your hands and your arms straight down, inhale first; once your lungs are full, curl up the bar while exhaling. There is a sticking point in the curl. Exhale more slowly at this point or even hold your breath until you get past it. Exhale completely as you reach the top; inhale fully as you lower the bar again to complete the rep and start the next one.

As you can see, the breathing technique doesn’t change for any exercise – you exhale forcefully as you exert yourself, whether in a pushing or pulling exercise.

Warning

Holding your breath during the hardest part of the exercise helps build up intra-abdominal pressure even more and provide you with more stability and power. However, this is at the expense of drastically increasing your blood pressure. So if you have a history of high blood pressure, avoid holding your breath even though you will slightly lose out on performance. If you feel dizzy or have a headache after a particularly hard exercise, this may be the result of a high blood pressure.

Pedal power

A different cycling training

Pedal powerWhere I used to live, there was a very steep slope going up a mountain pass. So steep in fact that I was unable to cycle up it on my bicycle. My friend could and that used to make me jealous. No matter how hard I tried, I was simply unable to cover the whole slope on my bike. I would cycle longer and harder all in a bid to get fitter and get over that slope but it didn’t work.

And then I started running. After a few weeks, I went back up that slope and surprised myself by suddenly being able to do all of it on my bike. Running helped! That made me think. Cycling to get better at cycling is not the only way to do it. Here are a couple of ways I found to handle tough slopes on my bicycle.

Running

Any type of running will help you, especially if you’ve never done it before. You can simply go out there and run till you can’t anymore but I prefer a more structured approach. No marathon session as we are not going for a world record nor have a few hours per session to spare! I like to go running for 30 minutes up to no more than 1 hour. Anything less than half hour is not challenging enough; anything more than one hour makes it become like a marathon session. If you intend to spend a whole day in the saddle, it might help but if you want to retain your power and stamina over medium distances, you’re better off saving your muscles for runs of less than an hour.

If you find it boring to run flat out for a period of time, try alternating sprints with walking or slow running and try different slopes.

Remember to always run on soft surfaces to protect your joints over time. Grass is a great surface as it absorbs all the shocks and provides resistance against your feet, especially when the grass is long, making you run harder.

Weights

Do you think that lifting weights will make you bulky? Don’t worry, it’s not that easy to bulk up, otherwise there wouldn’t be a whole industry selling supplements just for that.

Lifting weights helps to build strong muscles and cyclists do a lot of leg exercises already so I won’t be mentioning that but rather focusing on secondary muscles that assist cyclists. The weakest link in your body will hamper progress so you should not neglect these muscles too. Those target muscles are the back and the shoulders in particular.

Shoulders

The shoulders hold your upper body over the handlebars and help you grasp and control the handlebars. You don’t want to find it hard to hold up your torso after two hours in the saddle and get distracted from using your legs to maximum effect. Working the shoulders is easy: a few pressing exercises described here and you’re done.

Back muscles

Many cyclists face back pain due to the poor posture adopted on the saddle, crouching to reduce air resistance. The spine is designed to have a slight S curve; crouching for a long time in the saddle is not a natural position for it. To strengthen the back, you can do some exercises outlined here as well as the famous pull-ups which target more the upper back.

Another reason why the back is important in cycling is that it provides the pulling power to cycle hard. Imagine you are going uphill. You stand up on the pedals and push hard. But you are also pulling hard at the same time on the handlebars.

If you want to see noticeable gains in your cycling performance, try running as outlined here to improve your cardio ability and strengthen your muscles in the strategic bodyparts for reasons we explained.

Ripped torso

Bodybuilding at a Young Age: Workout Routines for Young Adults

Most times you will find young people who want to increase the size of their muscles and they are doing everything possible to make that happen. I smile whenever I see these young people come into my gym to start out their bodybuilding journey. The reason I smile is that, when I was at a younger age, people of our age were not allowed to do things like bodybuilding.

Starting bodybuilding at a young age has so many benefits that it gives. It can prove to be a way to improve you overall health in the long term. Research has shown that those who started exercising their body at a young age tend to live healthier and longer at the later years. The reason for this is that, most of your bones and ligaments tend to be more flexible and also keep you mentally alert.

Thinking about starting your bodybuilding routine, you need to pay attention to so many things that range from your workout routines to your diet to the gym that you will go for your workout sessions, you need to address every one of these issues before you can go ahead and start your muscles building program. But for the purpose of this article, we are going to talk about different workout routines that you can use to grow the size of your muscles faster than you imagined.

Ripped torso

Push Ups

The reason why I put this as the first routine that you use in workout routine is because of the results that it offers. If you have ever seen someone who used push up as one the routines to build his muscles, then you will agree with me that its results are not deniable.

For you get maximum effect of the pushups that you do, then you have to make sure that you do more reps and that you do them more regularly. If you are looking forward to growing your muscles mass by just doing 10 or 20 reps of pushups, then you are just taking a smooth journey that will take you nowhere. It very paramount that you intensify your workout sessions and by doing more reps of pushups, you will get more blood to flow into your muscle tissue and when that happens, the muscle tissues begin to burst or break and then repair and with the repair comes bigger and stronger muscles.

Weight Lifting

Training for strength or building your muscles involves so many workouts and one of the workout routines that you have to do regularly and with great intensity is weight lifting. Most bodybuilders that have achieved so much with their workouts will attest to the fact that the over 40% of the success they achieved from going to the gym for bodybuilding came from lifting weight. There are different kinds and sizes of weights that you can lift in the gym. For your age I suggest you go with weights that compliment your age.

This is one of the reasons why you should enroll in a gym that has certification from the Bodybuilding Association, because any gym that is certified has the different recommendation of weights that people of different age groups should use.

Once you have the right weight that compliments your age, you should then put in your best into making sure that you push your body above its limits. Being a fitness trainer, I can tell you that, the more you lift weights, the more you make your muscle tissue burst and rebuild.

woman doing a dumbell curl

Cardio Exercises

If you want to increase the rate at which you do your workouts, then you have to include cardio workouts into your routines. At this age, your level of strength is so high that you can do anything at any time. With this strength you can do some cardio exercises that will increase your intensity. This is reason why I start out my workout sessions with cardiovascular exercises; they release hormones that will boost workout productivity.

In case if you don’t know what cardiovascular exercises are, these are the exercises which increase the rate at which your heart beats and the increase of your heart beat comes the release of those hormones which will accelerate your intensity whenever you start your workout routines. The different cardio workout that you can use with other workout routines include, running, fast paced walking, jogging, tread mill exercise, jumping rope etc.

Bicycle Sit Ups

This is another bodybuilding workout you can use to increase the size of your muscle. This particular exercise for bodybuilding works a bit differently from other exercise although there are some that are just like it.

This workout works to help tone your abdominal muscle which is a part of the body that some bodybuilders don’t pay attention just because they don’t know the importance of toning up their abdominal muscles when they are trying to increase the size of their muscles.

To do this workout, lay on the floor with your face facing the ceiling, and your legs raised at 90 degree angle. Move your leg as if you are riding a bike and move your right elbow to meet your left knee and your left elbow to meet your right knee. You can repeat this from 30-40 reps, 4 or 5 times in a day.

The Isometric Superman

This exercise has many variations and works on the shoulders, back, hamstrings and the glutes. To perform the isometric superman, lie on your stomach with the arms extended in front of you, then raise everything leaving your abdomen toward the ceiling. Retract your shoulders and drop them away from your ears.

Body Raise

Doing this routine regularly will increase your muscle mass faster than you ever imagined, this workout will require a body pulling machine that will help you to pull the whole of your body up and with your strength you can stay pulled up for some seconds.

Like I said before, you will need a body pulling machine for you to do this workout routine and you can get this equipment in any gym that has up to date to bodybuilding facilities. To perform this routine, hold the pulley rod which is above you with your hands, and then gradually lift your whole body weight up towards the ceiling. You can lift high depending on the level of your strength and stay up in the air for about 3 seconds and after release yourself. If you are just beginning in your bodybuilding routines, you can do about 10-15 reps of 4 sets every day.

If you can do these different workout routines and do them effectively consistently, you will build up your muscles to that monster size in few weeks. There is nothing hard about trying to build for strength if you know the different workout routines that will give you the best bodybuilding results.

One thing that you have to also consider and pay close attention to will be your nutrition, being a bodybuilder, you will need foods that will help you build the damaged tissues in your muscles and it is when this muscles that were damaged are repaired that you start to see the effects of your workout routines.

This way I draw the curtains on this topic, but I hope you learned some things that will help you on your bodybuilding program. Apply these different and you will be so glad you did.

 

Guest post from Christian at www.strictlybodybuilding.net.

Stay hydrated

What do you do between workouts?

One of my pet peeves in the gym is to see people chatting or being intensely busy with their phone. They do their set and then go back to their phone or their conversation. Time between sets and exercises is not free time. Here’s how you can turn this rest time to your advantage for a better workout.

Drink

Stay hydrated

Use this time to rehydrate yourself. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Even if you are not, take a sip or two to top up your water intake. Well-hydrated muscles work better as they contain more electrolytes.

Stretch

Rest time doesn’t mean taking a nap. It can be more active such as stretching the muscles that you just worked to speed up recovery and retain suppleness. There is still controversy as to whether stretching should be done before or after a workout or to be more precise, before or after warming up. Some say that stretching cold muscles could cause minute tears in them. Others say that stretching is part of a warm-up routine. You decide…

Think ahead

After a physical effort, it’s time for a mental one. Perhaps the most important thing you can do between workouts apart from resting is to mental concentration on the next set ahead. Think about your next exercise, think about how you will perform it and how much you should lift. Visualise your muscles working hard and yourself achieving or exceeding the number of reps you need to perform. This mental concentration will help you enormously in your progress in the gym.

Think back

Thinking ahead is good but so is thinking back about what you just did. Evaluate your last set or series of sets and if you’re at the end of your workout, evaluate it too. How was your last set? Did you achieve the number of reps you set out to do? Did you exceed them? How are you feeling? If you are feeling very good, fresh and full of confidence, perhaps you should increase the weight or reps in your next set even more than you planned to. Your energy level and mood varies all the time. Today you can be in better or worse form than last time so what you planned for today may have to be revised up or down. So during your rest between sets, think about how you did on your last workout to decide how you need to do on your next one.

Now you have no reason to feel bored between sets in your training routine. Leave your phone in the lockers, close out the outside world and focus on only you and the weight.

Participant makes his way through sand

Why bootcamps don’t work

Boot camps are all the rage nowadays to lose weight and get into shape as quickly as possible. Celebrities are perhaps the biggest fans of boot camps as it enables them to get into shape quickly for an upcoming event. But having an ex-army major stamping his boot on your backside while you are doing press-ups in the mud will not make you keep the weight off. Attending a boot camp will only lead you to lose weight temporarily, not permanently. Here’s why.

Yo-yo exercises

Just like yo-yo dieting, boot camps are yo-yo exercising. By that I mean that you go on an intense period of performing strenuous exercises, only to stop suddenly after losing weight, and then maybe attending another boot camp when you have put the weight lost back on because you stopped exercising.

Just as yoyo dieting can harm you due to a sudden and severe change to your diet that may not lead to a balanced diet, for e.g. the Atkins diet, eating soup only, etc, yoyo exercising can harm your body too. You put your body under severe physical strain that it’s not used to. So avoid boot camps and any intense and temporary exercise regime unless you’re an Olympic athlete. It’s not going to lead you anywhere in the long-term and may serve only celebrities who need to get in shape for a particular event only.

Now and for never again

Who attends boot camp everyday for the rest of his life, or even every weekend for the rest of his life? A boot camp session is just that – a one-off period of intense exercises, you lose weight, then you go back home to your previous lifestyle and put back on everything you lost and more. If only it were that easy with getting back money we lost. Then we’d hit the casino all the time! You cannot successfully lose weight and keep it off by simply doing some exercises for a short period of time, no matter how intense.

Participant makes his way through sand

We love boot camps

No we don’t actually. Who likes being bossed around by a fake army sergeant, getting dirty in the mud on a cold grey winter morning and doing silly movements that are causing you much pain? Perhaps if you like inflicting pain on yourself, you might like it…!

If you don’t enjoy doing an optional activity, you will never keep it for long.

The success and popularity of boot camps stems from the fact that all the rigorous exercises are a change of lifestyle for most people who live a sedentary life. Boot camps are a replica of a soldier’s lifestyle, and soldiers are not fat but fit. Soldiers and sergeants are usually found in armies and initially, boot camps were run by retired (or failed) soldiers. But there are so many boot camps nowadays that there are not enough retired army sergeants to staff them. So the staff at boot camps simply don an army uniform and voila, they can play the part of the bossy sergeant.

The right lifestyle does it

There is nothing inherently wrong with boot camps. They work. They can even keep the fat off you permanently. But the keyword here is lifestyle. Boot camps are the lifestyle of soldiers and this active and strenuous everyday life helps keeps them fit. But for the office worker on a weekend or week-long boot camp, this is not a lifestyle but a one-off.

How to lose weight the right way

There is no secret if you want to lose weight effectively and keep it off – adopt a healthy lifestyle and one that you enjoy. What is an active and enjoyable lifestyle? Healthy food, exercise and enjoying both are the key combination.

Food

Healthy food doesn’t mean living on salads all the time. If you enjoy your doughnuts and burgers, feel free to indulge – simply cut down on them. if you don’t eat what you like, even fatty food and sweets, you will consider it as a diet and will stop it after a while because you don’t like it. Better cut down that cut out completely. In the long run, it should make a difference and become part of your lifestyle, something that you can keep at all the time.

Exercise

What if you don’t like exercising and going to the gym? Exercising doesn’t only mean boot camps, exercises and hitting the gym. Walking, going to the park, cycling to work and of course, most sports such as football, tennis and ice-skating are all considered as exercises. Surely, there must be a sport out there that you enjoy? Even horse-riding is a physically demanding sport. It is said that when Arnold Schwarzenegger was acting in the movie Conan, he did a lot of horse riding that kept him very fit.

 

So adopt not the boot camp but a healthy, enjoyable lifestyle.

 

Image credit: dangerouslyfit

 

How to somersault

Guest post: 3 Basic Acrobatic Skills You SHOULD Have

Not everyone wants to be an acrobat or a gymnast. That’s fine, but there are some basic moves that I think every person who wants to be healthy and fit should be able to do.

To not be capable of these moves is like someone not being capable of running. They’re basic movement patterns that aren’t difficult, yet give you balance, coordination and mobility.

There are more moves than what we’ll cover here, but these 3 are great to start with.

The Somersault

Rolling is a skill that few people have, yet at times it could even save your life. It requires the coordination to control your body, and the flexbility to get into and move through a number of positions. Of course, it is also a starter skill, with many more advanced acrobatic skills that can be built on top of it.

It is advisable to do this on padded ground, like a mat, carpet or grass.

Start in a squat near the ground. Place your hands down about shoulder width apart. Tuck your head so that your chin is to your neck, tipping forward so that the top of your head touches the ground. Carry your momentum forward so you begin to roll. Keep your back as rounded as possible. Use the momentum as you turn over to come back to your feet.

Once you can do it easily from a squat, try it from standing, walking and even running.

How to somersault

The Headstand

The headstand is a static movement that requires balance and the body coordination to keep your body as one unit. I useThe headstand position this skill as a lead-up stunt to learning the handstand as it is far easier to do. With a tiny bit of practice anyone can be capable of holding this position.

If you’ve never tried it out before I recommend doing it against a wall, or with the help of a spotter in case you tumble over. Though once you’re practiced you can put the somersault we just covered to good use and roll out of the headstand.

Start in a squat. Place your hands about shoulder width apart with the finger facing forwards. Place your head down in front of the hands so that it forms a triangle. Either the top of your head, or the forehead where it meets the hairline is touching the floor. This position, like a tripod, makes balance much easier then if you were to place your hands and head in one line.

From here, tuck your legs in close to your body, then raise them until they are straight overhead, legs together and toes pointed.

Press in or let up with your hands to keep yourself balanced in space. With some practice holding this position for a minute is easy to do.

The Cartwheel

This move is harder then the other two, but still a simple movement itself. The cartwheel involves travelling through a handstand position as you go from one side to the other.

You’ll find one leg that is better than the other to start with, but with practice you’ll be able to do both sides almost equally well.

Start with your hands overhead. It is helpful to have them locked out. For this example let’s assume you’re pointing your right foot forward.

Your right foot points forward as you step with a bit of a lunge. The right hand will touch the ground with the hand pointed to your right. At this point the left leg will kick hard off the ground carrying your momentum up and forward. The left hand then comes to the ground parallel with the right about shoulder width apart. Now the right leg will kick off the ground continuing to spin you around. When you land your left leg will hit first and the foot will be pointing back towards the direction you came.

How to do a cartwheel

When done correctly, your hands and feet should all be in one striaght line where they touched the ground. Also you should become completely vertical, through a handstand position as you do the cartwheel. If you don’t come vertical you can still do a semi-cartwheel but it will not flow the same nor look as good.

To give you more momentum try running or walking into the cartwheel. These are tougher to do than from a standing position.

cartwheel hand and feet placement

As mentioned before there are many other beginner lever acrobatic exercises, but by learning these three, you’ll have mastered three movements everyone should be capable of doing, but sadly few people can.

Logan Christopher runs the Lost Art of Hand Balancing where you can get tutorials and more on how to do a handstand and how to do a backflip and many other hand balancing and acrobatic skills.

Do you want to contribute a guest post too? See our fitness guest post page.

8 tips for a quick workout in the gym

Many people find it hard to dedicate enough time to train in the gym, specially when they try to squeeze their training during their lunch hour. You may have little time for training but it is important to make it count. The key to keep your workout intensity high is to cut down on volume and make every rep and set count. So here are a few ways for a short but productive workout.

1. Whole body workout

If you are new at lifting weights, this is without doubt the quickest and best way to power through a workout session and reap plenty of benefits. Why? Because you only need to perform a minimum of 3 exercises to work thoroughly your whole body. They are the squat for legs, the deadlift for the back and the benchpress for the chest. Workout over. If you have spare time, up the number of sets or add more exercises targeting the arms and shoulders.

2. Favour machines

There is always this great debate on machines versus free weights. Make machine exercises count here: the advantage in this case is that they take very little setting up. Adjust the seat height, set the pin to the correct weight and you’re off. And if you need changing weights, it’s only a matter of moving the pin instead of removing weight plates from the bar and replacing them with heavier ones. I’m definitely a big fan of using machines when it comes to saving time.

3. Supersets

Why rest between sets when you are working different muscles? Or even the same muscles? Use supersets to cut down on wasted time between sets without actually cutting down on rest time. If you superset a tricep exercise with a bicep exercise, your biceps rest as you work your triceps and vice versa. If you superset exercises for the same bodypart, you cut down on rest time but increase workout intensity.

4. Giant sets

Giant sets are an extension of supersets why limit yourself to 2 exercises back to back, do 3, 4 or 5 exercises one after the other with no rest time. The intensity will be incredible. If you use machines throughout, you’ll barely have time to catch your breath. That’s one sure way to finish all your exercises within a very short span of time.

5. HIT

High Intensity Training. Mike Mentzer was a big advocate and Dorian Yates won several Mr Olympia title using this training technique. HIT is simply performing 1 or 2 sets at most per exercise and 1 or 2 exercises at most per body part yet going very heavy and concentrating on technique and form to make sure the intensity of your workout is high. That’s seriously cutting down on volume.

6. Go heavy

There are broadly-speaking two ways to train in the gym: light or heavy. When working light, you need to do many reps and sets to exhaust the muscle. You focus on muscle endurance, definition and increased blood flow and nutrients to each bodypart. By working heavy, you do few sets and reps in return as you exhaust the muscles very quickly. People work heavy to add muscle mass and strength.

7. Make every rep count

That means:

  • Concentrate even when you are warming up;
  • Do the full range of motion;
  • Keep to strict form and
  • Don’t chit chat to others.

8. Used advanced training techniques

Use advanced techniques to cut down on volume yet achieve the same intensity. We already mentioned supersets and giant sets. Try negative reps at the end of a set instead of having to do another one, or partial reps. Get a spotter to help you with forced reps. With an exercise like the concentration curl, you can use your free hand to help the working arm.

 

Obviously, don’t try all of these at the same time! For beginners, a whole body workout is already very intense and quite exhausting. Most of all, use your mind and concentrate on your exercises. Make them really work for you.

Hanging knee raise

My best ab exercises

If you want to work your abs and are tired of doing sit-ups day in day out, then let me share with you some of my favourite exercises to work the abs. Sit-ups are not as effective as people think so dump them and try some of the exercises below. A strong abdomen can help relieve lower back pain too.

The abs is a large muscle group and although you can’t work specific parts such as your upper abs or lower abs only, you can certainly place more emphasis on one region than on another by doing specific exercises.

Leg raise/reverse crunches

This is my favourite exercise as I feel that it works best for me.

To perform the leg raise, lie down and lift your legs, keeping your knees slightly bent. If this is too hard, bend your knees even more. Normally you shouldn’t raise your legs so much that you start feeling less resistance but you can go all the way to the vertical and beyond until the exercise becomes a reverse crunch. You get a full range of motion that way.

In order to do the reverse crunch and bring your legs all the way back past vertical, you’ll have to hold on to something, whether it’s the side of the bench you are lying on or the legs of a partner or the bed!

You can also use a declined bench to make the exercise harder instead of lying horizontally.

Hanging knee raise

Hanging knee raisePicture credit: Ulf Liljankoski

If you find the leg raise too easy, then try hanging knee raises.

As the name suggests, you need to hang from a bar so your lower body can move freely. Bend your knees and lift then up as high as you can, usually slightly past horizontal is enough. Try to hold them up briefly and squeeze your abs before relaxing them. If you still find this exercise easy, straighten your legs and lift them!

I don’t like this exercise because you also need to concentrate on holding your upper body instead of dedicating all your energy and attention to your abs.

Sitting knee raises

This is purportedly one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favourite exercises when he was staying in hotel rooms.

Sit on the side of a chair or bed, lean back slightly while grasping the edge and raise your knees as high as they will go. It’s a very easy exercise to do and I usually like to do it at the beginning as a warm-up or at the end when I am exhausted. Sometimes I squeeze them in-between sets of other exercises instead of resting.

*

The first 3 exercises concentrated on working the lower abs and are harder to do than upper abs exercises. The classic upper ab exercise is the crunch.

Crunch

The crunch has replaced the old-fashioned sit-ups nowadays. The sit-up would work mostly the hip flexors whereas the crunch allows your to focus more on your abs.Crunch exercise for the abs

My favourite way of doing crunches is to lie down, keep my knees in the air and lift my shoulders forward as far as I can. I keep my head in line as if holding an apple under my chin. My hands are held loosely by my ears, not pulling forcefully on my neck. Hold the position at the top for an instant and contract your abs hard – the crunch of the exercise! Then relax and lower yourself.

There are many variations to this exercise. You can have your lower legs on the bed but I feel that holding your legs yourself makes you work your lower abs a little. You can lie on a Swiss ball for an extra stretch of your abs. your feet will be flat on the ground for support and stability. You could also lie on a declined bench.

Whatever position you use, make sure you concentrate on pulling with your abs and squeeze your muscles at the top of the movement to get the full benefits.

Picture credit: Ditsch Fitness.

*

Too often people concentrate on their lower and upper regions and forget that their obliques also form part of their abs, albeit they are on the sides as their name suggest and their function is to pull your upper body from side to side. A strong core does not involve strong upper and lower abs but also powerful obliques.

Most abs exercises can be modified to place more emphasis on the obliques.

Twisting crunches

During the crunch, you can twist at the end of the exercise so your right side moves closer to your left knee. Then at the next rep, twist the other side to bring your left shoulder closer to your right knee.

Side crunches

However, to really recruit your side muscles, try doing crunches by lying on your side. It’s not a very comfortable position but I find that it really recruits on obliques.

Lie on your side with one arm below and to the front of you. Knees bent and the other arm over your head the usual way, lift your shoulders up using your stomach muscles and try bringing them closer to your knees which of course don’t move. The range of motion is quite limited in this position though.

Squats

People always think of squats as a leg exercise and rightly so but what many don’t realise is that it takes a strong core to lift and balance extremely heavy weights on top of your shoulders. Thus when I do heavy squats as part of my routine, I often go light on ab exercises or drop them altogether.

Squats recruit the abs as well because the legs must transmit power through the body to the loaded bar. If you don’t have a rigid core, you won’t be able to transmit this power. That’s why to perform squats effectively, you need to breathe in as you go down and hold on to that breath as you go up to create pressure in your abdomen and give it extra rigidity.

 

I’m not a big fan of weights or accessories for abs simply because I won’t be able to do these exercises at any time anywhere.  I don’t do all the exercises I’ve listed here but choose several from them. through trial and error over the years, I’ve found out that I like them best and feel my muscles work more when doing them.