Simple strength-training upgrades

Published On: Apr 24 2012 10:40:10 AM EDT   Updated On: May 10 2012 11:32:35 AM EDT



Has your fitness routine gotten, well…routine? You can refresh it, and yourself, with just a few new moves. Here's how to pump up everything from your warm-up to your finish to get stronger.


Wake up your warm-up. Light cycling or jogging is fine if all you expect to do in your workout is lower-body exercise. But an upper-body workout demands something more in sync with your plans. Switch your warm-up to jumping rope, rowing lightly, or using any cardio machine, such as an elliptical trainer, that makes you pump your arms.


Start with your hamstrings. Most people do the exercises they like first and save the ones they hate for last. Toward the end of a workout, they either put little effort into these exercises or just skip them entirely. Performing your workout in reverse order can give muscles you tend to overlook (such as your hamstrings) the attention they deserve. And saving your favorites for last can help you recharge when your energy level is in decline.


Stretch between sets. Stretching the muscles you're working not only helps them stay loose but can also increase your range of motion, allowing you to work more muscle fibers with each additional set.


Close your eyes. This helps you visualize the muscles you're working, which is especially helpful for posterior muscle groups like your back, hamstrings, and butt. Also try closing your eyes during any exercise that involves balance, such as a one-legged squat.


Change your inclination. Rather than do three sets of dumbbell presses followed by three sets of incline presses, combine the two exercises. Start with one set of chest presses on a flat bench. Then raise the bench one notch from the flat position -- to about 15 to 20 degrees -- for your second set. Continue raising the angle one notch per set, stopping at the notch before vertical.


This lets you exhaust more muscle fibers by working your chest through five or six different angles instead of just the basic two. You'll actually end up doing fewer sets, so you'll save time, too.


Lower the weight with one leg. Your muscles are much stronger during the eccentric phase of an exercise -- when the weight is being lowered. With leg presses, leg curls, and leg extensions, consider the "two up, one down" option. Try pressing or curling the weight up with both legs, then slowly lowering the weight back down using only one leg.


Run the rack. Instead of doing three sets of shoulder presses, biceps curls, or a dumbbell move, start with a weight that's about 50 percent of what you usually use to do 10 to 12 repetitions. Perform the exercise six times, then quickly grab the weight that's one increment heavier. Continue working your way up in weight until you finally find one that you can't lift six times using the proper technique.


Next, reverse this process by grabbing a slightly lighter weight and completing as many repetitions as possible, even if you can manage only a few. Keep moving down the rack until you're left using the lightest set of dumbbells possible. Then it's time to lift your water bottle.


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Source: Pure Matters