When it comes to exercise selection there is one body part that seems to be spoilt for choice – and that’s the abs. Maybe it’s our obsession with acheieving that wash-board stomach. For me there are many great exercises that really work for my abs but it’s those hard-to-reach obliques that really need attention for me and for this my favourite exercise is without doubt the good old-fashioned seated Russian Twist.
You can perform this exercise without any weight at all. Just begin in a seated position with your knees bent at 90 degrees and leaning back slightly to help balance but with your back straight. Hold your arms outstretched in front of you (level with your chest). Then whilst pulling in your stomach (important), explosively rotate your torso round to the left as far as you can and then all the way back round and to the right as far as you can.
Hint: your back should be straight and you torso 45 degrees to the floor. It’s easy to perform the exercise if you arch the back but that’s not the idea. It’s very tough to perform when keeping the back straight but it works, so concentrate on correct form. You can also perform the exercise with your feet off the floor. My personal preference is to perform the exercise this way as I feel the stomach working harder this way.
The great thing about the Seated Russian Twist is that it really works. Even without weight you can feel it working. But to add extra difficulty to the russian twist exercise try holding a dumbbell, medicine ball or even a kettlebell. Only progress to something like the Kettlebell Russian Twist when you have already perfected the movement without any weight. Keeping correct form is the most effective way of feeling the burn.
One of my favorite exercises for building core strength (abdominal and hip flexor stabilization) and also adding serious strength to arms, shoulder and back is the renegade row. You’ll also get the heart pumping faster as you begin to lift heavier weights – making the renegade row an incredibly effective full body workout in itself.
Start in a press up position with a dumbell (or kettlebell) on the floor gripped under each hand (shoulder width apart). Ensure that your body is straight and that your hips are not too high or too low. Your body should be straight and in line. Raise one dumbbell up so that it ends up near your ribcage. Lower and repeat on the other side. Perform the movement slowly and under control. Also don’t twist the hips. Whilst you may see a lot of internet videos showing people twisting the hips when performing the renegade row, this actually makes the exercise too easy.
There are many variations that can be performed including swapping dumbbells for kettlebells or raising one leg off the floor after each row. You can even add burpees if you feel so inclined! However the basic renegade row works just as well. Those with weak wrists or rotator cuffs, may find this exercise uncomfortable to begin, as there will be extra pressure exerted on the wrist and rotator cuff in this exercise. If this is the case for you, start with a light dumbbell or kettlebell and once you feel more confident start increasing the weight gradually. Focus on low reps, slow movement and keeping form strict.
Mountain climbers are without doubt one of the most popular all round exercises you can perform without any equipment. They look pretty simple, yet they are a killer! I love them. They are a full body plyometric exercise that you’ll feel working all over. Not only do they hit just about every muscle they also work the core and raise your heartrate, giving a great cardio workout.
Mountain climbers place significant muscular emphasis upon the butt/hips and thighs. Due to the repetitive nature of the exercise they are great for building strength and endurance in the lower body, but you’ll also begin the feel it in the arms and shoulders too. It’s a favourite warm-up exercise for track athletes as well as sports team as it gets the blood pumping around the body quickly.
Getting the mountain climber exercise correct depends upon form. Getting your body angle wrong means that you won’t see the kind of results you should from the effort you put in. Ensure that your weight is distributed evenly between both hands and feet and keep your hips low (bum down!) throughout the exercise trying to ensure that your knees virtualy touch your chest on their way forward. Keep your arms straight and hands directly below the shoulders. Now you’ll feel the burn!
Beginners can modify the exercise by placing their hands on an elevated surface rather than the floor and they can also perform the exercise with a shorter range of motion, so that the knees don’t reach the chest. Advanced exercisers can use an unstable surface to rest the hands on such as a medicine ball, bosu. This will add greater stability challenge to the core muscles or you can even try adding a push up before each rep. Other variations include mountain climbers performed using TRX straps to suspend the legs off the ground – this is a really tough version!
I have been using kettlebells for quite a few years and really love them. I don’t think there’s anything better for developing upper body and in particular shoulder strength and stability. One of my favorite exercises to perform is the kettlebell press. If you’re familiar with shoulder presses then you already know the exercise. In fact many may argue that dumbbells or barbells do the exact same job for the press as the kettlebell. But in fact they don’t – quite. The kettlebell is in itself an unbalanced load when in the shoulder press position. This allows for a more natural and indeed a more fluid movement when pressing, which doesn’t place stress on the joints in the same way as an overhead press with say a barbell. Equally the kettlebell with this instability, ensures that you engage your core, giving you added benefits which are often lost when using other alternatives.
The kettlebell press forces us to adhere to good biomechanics, engaging our core and moving fluidly. We can start off with a lighter kettlebell of say 4kg and then can easily progress as we start to develop our shoulder and tricep strength. One of the things I like best about the kettlebell press is the variety.
There are literally hundreds of ways you can alter the kettlebell press to add variety including, for example, the see-saw kettlebell press, kettlebell clean and press, alternating kettlebell press, kettlebell military press, one-arm kettlebell press and even a squat kettlebell press. In fact the list goes on. The variations are really limitless which is one of the reasons this basic exercise has so much to offer.
There’s no two ways about it. If you want a great butt, squats are the only way to go! The staple of any workout routine, the squat is an exercise I love. The squat is a full compound exercise that works primarily the muscles of the glutes, thighs, hips and core (especially lower back). It also burns more calories than just about any other single movement making it a great way of toning and burning fat.
What is great about squating is that it is a fundamental human movement that we have been doing since caveman days and it can be performed without any equipment. It builds strength, power and mobility.
One of the long held concerns about squats is that they can damage your knees. However, the reality is that if performed correctly they actually improve knee strength and mobility. You need to warm up first and then stand with feet shoulder width apart with knees centred over your feet. As you slowly bend your knees, hips and ankles you push your bum backwards, lowering until you reach 90 degrees.
The hardest part of the exercise for newbies is keeping your bottom back. I always try to imagine that I am trying to sit on a chair that is a few feet behind me. This requires allowing your weight to centre on your heels and you to push your bottom back. By doing the exercise in this way, your knees will never extend further forward than the tip of your toes. When you perform it right, you’ll feel it!
For years I have had a love hate relationship with lunges. It’s because I find them so tough and kinda unpleasant yet the next day I feel the burn better than almost any other exercise. The walking lunge is a simple (but nasty) little modification to the static lunge that will work the glutes, hamstrings and quads. You can perform the walking lunge with your hands placed on your hips or out to the side if you feel you need the balance.
With a set distance in front of you, stand up straight and upright, both feet together. Take a controlled step forward with one leg and make sure that you take a decent lunge or stride forward. Lower your hips towards the floor bending both knees to almost 90 degrees. POINTERS: The back knee should come close but never actually touch the ground, whilst the front knee should be directly over the ankle but not in front of your toe. Ensure both of your feet are always pointing forward. Then push off with your other foot, bringing it forward to a starting position. By continuing this you begin your walking lunge.
The reason I like this exercise so much is I can literally feel the burn as I do it. I try to concentrate on form as when you begin to get tired it can be easy to twist your feet so they are not facing forward and this can lead to injury. If you feel confident enough you can try adding weight through holding a barbell, resistance bar or just a set of hand weights.
The walking lunge is used extensively in all forms of training. You may have seen moms with their strollers performing walking lunges in the park or perhaps at your local crossfit club. Why? Simple..they work.
It’s funny, but until about 6 months ago I had never ever performed the wall sit. It was my personal trainer who had me do it and when he demonstrated the exercise, he looked so relaxed and comfortable I really thought it would be a piece of cake! I was wrong. Upon starting the exercise he told me that my bottom was too high up and to squat deeper..ouch! Now I could feel it. Within 45 seconds my legs were shaking and I managed a pathetic 1.25 minutes. “Was that good?” I asked my trainer. “Below Average” he told me!
But just like the plank it is one exercise you can perform just about anywhere, without any gym equipment and with practice you will improve your time. Basically the exercise involves sitting, with your back against a wall (in a squat position) and simply holding the position for as long as you can. It is important that the legs are at a 90 degree angle. Apparently you are not supposed to rest your hands on your thighs, but instead to hold them above your head or even in front of you to work your shoulders. The exercise builds isometric strength as well as endurance in the quads and glutes – a favorite exercise to perform for the pre-ski season!
I had little idea of this exercise, but am told that it is used in crossfit classes, school gyms, boxing clubs and the army! I can see why! There are also a number of variations which include one legged wall sits and holding weights in your hands too.
Interesting Fact: Dr. Thienna Ho set the Guinness World Record for the longest wall sit at 11 hours and 51 minutes. That’s insane!