June 1, 2004

The Summer Beckons

BY David Bohn ("Fitness")

All right folks, it’s been raining for three weeks and has been cold and dreary, so while it hardly feels like it’s almost summer, believe it or not, summer is almost here. That means warmer weather, celebrations and less clothing! Man, I love summer! Now I know I could talk about different training techniques, split setting, drop sets, circuit training, but at this stage, I figure readers who aren’t in the shape they want to be in, want to drop weight NOW! Here follows your program for getting that body ready for those coochie cutters (your decision to dress tacky for the summer is entirely your choice!)

To get ready for the summer, you need to schedule how you are going to workout in advance. Leaving your training decisions to the last moment inevitably leaves room for skipping the workout if something else comes up. Planning your workouts in advance makes your workout time seem like a required appointment that one would be less likely to skip on a last-minute whim.

So, what exactly is the time frame the someone needs to get into better shape quickly? That answer depends on where the person currently is physically. If someone has been slacking around, enjoying the use of sweats and baggy clothing, then a modest start is what you need. Start off trying to get AT LEAST two times a week, preferably three with weights. When deciding which body parts to do, you want to try to get an entire body workout in each week. So, twice a week means an upper and lower body workout, three times a week equates to two upper body workouts and one lower body workout, etc. Go for the basic, large muscle group exercises since you do not have the luxury of time to put in a lot of exercises per body part. Essential exercises are:

Upper Body:
• Bench press or dumbbell press (chest) – This exercise hits the most muscle fibers for your pectoralis major (chest muscles). Weight should be above the nipple line. Lower the weight until the elbows are at least 90 degrees, a tad lower for a better stretch across the chest. Press all the way, until your elbows are almost straight, but with a micro bend at the top. For a basic workout 3 sets of 10, for endurance 2 to 3 sets of 12 – 15, power and hypertrophy 4 to 5 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions.
• Wide grip lat pulldown (back) – Grab the bar just outside of the bend in the bar, and pull the weight down so it is in line with your clavicle or collar bone. You can switch things up by gripping the bar shoulder width apart and palms facing you.
• Dumbbell bicep curl or straight bar curl – Begin with the weight all the way down, dumbbells next to the thighs or bar in front of the thighs. Make sure the chest is lifted, shoulders and shoulder blades pulled back. Curl the weight up as high as possible without moving the elbows forward away from the body and without using the body to swing the weight up. Weight should be controlled in both directions.
• Rope tricep pulldown – this exercise I recommend because it allows for more free range of motion, which requires more muscle fibers to stabilize than a Y-bar pressdown. Make sure the body is upright, with shoulders back. Again, elbows by the ribs, start with the weight/hands above a 90 degree elbow bend and press all the way down, giving a slight twist in the wrist at the bottom of the movement. Try not to lean over the weight too much, otherwise you will be using other muscle groups to assist in the pulldown.
• Shoulder press – dumbbells again recruit more muscle fibers than a straight bar, but they are harder to control than the bar. Begin with the elbows at 90 degrees or a tad lower, then press all the way up so the hands finish over the shoulders without hitting the weights together and maintaining a micro bend in the elbows. Using a seat with back support is easier than a free-standing press as again you use more core stabilizing muscle to hold the body still without back support. Either way, engage the core muscles to help support the low back and prevent hyper flexing of the spine.

Lower Body:
• Squat – the squat is probably one of the single best exercises a person can do. That being said, it is also one of the most dangerous. I do not recommend this exercise for newbies alone; they should definitely have an experienced spotter with them.

For the squat, place the bar on the top of the traps, the muscles that connect into the base of the neck, NOT on your spinal column. Feet placement is not drastically important; you can minimally affect different muscle fibers depending upon where the feet are placed; together, shoulder width or wide. Wider gives the lifter a more-stable base versus a narrow stance.

Once the weight, bar and stance are set, the lifter needs to consciously engage the core to help support the lifting weight, stabilize the body and support the small of the back. The bar moves in a linear fashion, straight down, straight up. The hips move back as the bar descends; make sure you can see your toes at the bottom of the movement until knees are close to a 90 degree bend or thighs parallel to the floor. Press through the heels as you move back up to the top to the movement.

If you have time add:
• Leg Extension – set up the leg extension machine so that when seated, the seatback presses up into the small of the back and the knee joint lines up with the extension joint. Keep the feet flexed (toes pulled up towards the foot) and extend until the knee is almost straight. This is a great exercise for strengthening the knee, IF THE KNEE IS HEALTHY; extensions are not recommended if you currently have knee pain. However, always listen to your doctor or PT if going through rehab.
• Leg/Hamstring Curl – again line up the seatback so it fits into the small of the back and knee lines up the machine’s joint axis. Or, if lying down, your hips align with the angle break in the seat pad. Again, keeping the feet flexed, pull the heels to the butt and control the weight back to the start position.
• Abdominals/Core – Now, I could give specific exercises, but there is such a variety, simply pick a few and do them. You want to make sure you hit both the upper and lower portion of the abdominal wall. If you hate to do abs and occasionally skip, do abs first. For quick results, do the bicycle exercise; this is one of the best abdominal exercises around, and it burns after only 30 seconds. Lie on your back, knees over the hips, shins parallel to the floor. Hands are behind the head. Crunch up as high as possible, then twist the upper body so the opposite shoulder turns towards the opposite knee. Think right shoulder to left knee while the right leg straightens. Try to twist the torso in space without rolling from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.

Now, you can do this complete workout and get the entire body in one shot. If that’s the case, then do this workout every other day and you’ll be all set. Just make sure that as the weight gets easier, add to it, to avoid plateauing.

Weight training alone will not give you the body you’re looking for, cardio must be done. Something is better than nothing, but you want to do cardio on a majority days of the week, i.e. 4. Time should (ideally) be at least 30 minutes or at least three hundred calories/workout. Run or use a machine you will stick with, but if you can cycle through different machines for variety’s sake, do that as well. Remember to stretch after your cardio workout to avoid developing overly tight muscles. If time is an issue, you can break up cardio into two chunks; what matters is what happens at the end of the day.

Lastly, no program is complete without dieting. Break infrequent, large meals into more frequent smaller meals. Try to always eat breakfast to activate your metabolism early in the day and eat some type of protein-rich meal after lifting weights. Sticking with tuna, chicken and turkey will help you with most meals; try to save heavier meals for special occasions. If trying to lose weight, try to remove a third of what you normally eat. If you need to, visibly divide up what’s on your plate and do not eat the leftovers at that meal. Another easy trick is to drink a glass of water before a meal; the extra water will hydrate you and dampen hunger after a few minutes. Combining changes to your diet and exercise program will help you reshape that body of yours in time for the beach, and more importantly, for end-of-the-month festivities! Now get cracking and stay diligent in your program because warm weather awaits!