4 Minor Tweaks That Will Give You Major Workout Gains
By Michelle October
Master these four functional moves for next-level results
Here’s the thing about fitness: it’s not just about creating that December body. Picture 70-year-old you. Is she still running five kays, gardening and hiking? If your answer is yes — and it should be! — don’t eliminate functional training from your regimen. It’s the kind of movement that’s natural and helps you in everyday life. Think: squats-a-plenty so 70-year-old you can garden for days. What’s more, you’re using multiple muscle groups at once, so you’re getting extra burn for your buck. These four are some of our faves because they come with so many benefits — even if you’re just training to get them right.
This is a beast of functionality, working your back, arms and core.
DO IT RIGHT Make sure you brace your core. “It’ll keep your midsection and spine in a single position, reducing the strain you put on your back,” says Cameron Coomer, physiotherapist at Celia Smith & Associates.
GO EASY “Perfecting the pull-up can take anywhere from a few months to years to achieve on your own,” says Emma Jooste, personal trainer and co-owner of Warrior Warehouse in Cape Town. Start basic with lat pull- downs and TRX rows three times a week. As you get stronger, loop a thick resistance band around the bar and step into it so it supports some of your weight.
GO HARD Already able to bang out a few reps? When you can do more than 10, hold a dumbbell between your feet.
Trying to hit your max heart rate? Ditch the treadmill and go for box jumps: “They build muscle and are good for power development,” says Gareth Corbett, co-owner of Switch Playground, where box jumps are a staple. In one jump, you’ll shape your butt, thighs and calves, plus build explosive power that’ll help you hit a ParkRun PB.
DO IT RIGHT Corbett sees box jumps being butchered all the time, which can cause injury to your back and knees. Make sure you lift off with both feet and jump evenly, landing softly on the box, he says.
GO EASY First-timer? Get a lower box. “Boxes come in sets of three, so go for the lowest,” says Corbett. If you’re not ready to jump up, try stepping up, squat on the box, then step down and squat again.
GO HARD If you’re hard core, try the one-legged jump – push off and land on one leg, step down, then swap legs. It isolates the leg muscles, so you’ll burn more ’joules per jump. Not ready? Add a weight to a two-legged jump.
Stability ball pikes are great for targeting the deepest recesses of your lazy core. But they’re also ace for strengthening and stretching your hamstrings and lower back, says Corbett. Your shoulders get in on the action too. In fact, from your triceps to lats and butt, your whole body will be on fire.
DO IT RIGHT Bad form could injure your back. Make sure your hips don’t sink and remember to brace your core. Roll the ball over your feet to your toes, leading with your abs and squeezing your glutes.
GO EASY “Core strength is essential, so loads of abdominal work will aid in the process,” says Corbett. Start with planks on the ground, then with your feet on the ball and finally practise jackknives – from a plank with feet on the ball, tuck your knees into your chest.
GO HARD Try adding a push-up before the pike.
Squats build that bootay, but they also strengthen your legs and core. Plus, stronger glutes (muscles in your butt cheeks) help you run faster and reduce your injury risk.
DO IT RIGHT One sure sign you’re squatting, but won’t make gains is if your knees are over your toes. Make sure your upper back is straight – not drooping forward – and that knee-to-toe alignment should fall into place, says Jooste. Another sign you’re doing it wrong? Not squeezing your glutes on your way back up.
GO EASY If you’re new, try squatting slowly without weights, watching yourself in the mirror to check your form. Injured? Opt for donkey kicks or bridges instead.
GO HARD “Do a combination of squats and lunges and implement variations,” says Jooste. Try a complex of squat jumps, Bulgarian-split squats and jumping lunges to really up that burn.