High intensity interval training. P90X. Crossfit and Orangetheory. When it comes to exercise, these popular routines have their advantages and appeal.
If you’re a baby boomer, you might ask yourself if these protocols are appropriate for your body. They’re a little bit like driving a car at high speed. Have an accident, and you may end up injured — especially if you’re older.
Maybe better to travel at the speed limit. (You’ll still get to your destination.)
Frankly, if you’re already hooked on high intensity training and it’s working for you — that’s fine.
But if you’re starting out, don’t think you need to be dripping in sweat and pushing your body to the Nth degree as if you’re in some fitness infomercial to get results. It’s far more important to work on your mechanics and movement patterns first.
Explore the way in which your body moves. How much strength do you have? How’s your mobility?
These factors are the things that will truly lengthen and improve the quality of your life.
Remember: the best workouts aren’t trends that come and go. They are simple training methodologies that have stayed the course because they actually work.
So, want to learn some basics that have been proven to be effective? You don’t even need any specialized equipment.
First of all, your workout needs to be balanced. That means that you’ll need to work on pulling strength, pushing strength, squatting, hip hinging and even some rotation. Save the intensity until after you’ve mastered the movements.
Here’s how to get started:
Each workout session should start with some joint rotations and mobility work, followed by a light aerobic warmup. As a minimum, I like to perform the following:
- Wrist circles
- Elbow circles
- Arm circles
- Neck rotations
- Upper torso rotations
- Hip circles
- Knee circles
- Ankle circles
I’ve covered these movements elsewhere, so I won’t go into detail here. While they may seem basic, joint rotations keep your body fluid and will help you stay mobile.
Following some joint mobility, 3 or 4 minutes of movements such as marching in place, dynamic stretches, jump rope, or even light shadow boxing should suffice to get your heart rate up and prepare your body for training.
Find some space in which to train. You don’t need a large area; you could be outdoors or in your living room. If you’re in a commercial gym, you’ll have access to some basic equipment that can be useful, but here I’ve tried to eliminate elaborate gear as much as possible.
The only prop you’ll really need is access to a horizontal bar, about waist height or slightly lower. This is for the horizontal inverted rows (see the video explanation further down). You could use an Equalizer Bar from Lebert Fitness –these are inexpensive and portable bars that are built to handle your body weight, and they have the advantage of being sturdy. They’re a great tool for doing inverted bodyweight rows and horizontal pulling motions, and I highly recommend them.
If you don’t have Equalizer Bars, you can use two sturdy chairs and a strong bar (like a steel mop handle or wooden broomstick). Make sure that the bar can support your bodyweight! If not, a trip to the hardware store may uncover more options. Check your setup for stability and safety.
Learn the movements that cover all the major patterns: pushing, pulling, squatting, hip hinging or lower body pulls, and some form of rotation.
Chances are that you’ve already performed some of these exercises, but spend time on them to make sure you’ve perfected them. The exercises I’ve outlined below are tried and true elements of training, and with them you’ll be able to graduate and build strength, endurance, and even skills with additional work.
Follow the routine, and stop if you feel pain or major discomfort.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart. The toes can point out slightly (about 20 degrees or so). Weight should be solidly on the heels.
Push the the hips back, then squat by pulling yourself down while allowing the hips to bend back behind, keeping back straight and with knees tracking over toes. Descend until the crease of the hip is just past parallel to the floor. The weight should remain on your heels throughout the entire movement. Squat up by extending knees and hips until legs are straight.
Lie prone on floor with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Raise your body up off floor by extending your arms, keeping the body straight. Staying in the plank, lower your body to back to the floor by bending the arms. Repeat.
Both the upper and lower body must be keep straight throughout the movement.
HORIZONTAL INVERTED ROWS
Lie down under a single bar with the bar directly over the chest. Knees up and feet flat. Raise the hips and pull straight up, keeping your elbows out beside the shoulders and lower with intention.
ELEVATED GLUTE BRIDGES
Lie on the floor next to a chair or bench. Place your feet on the chair with your arms at your sides.
With legs slightly bent, raise the hips high and open the hips fully. Keep the abs tight to protect your lower back. Lower with intention.
SINGLE LEG ROMANIAN DEADLIFTS
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Balance on your left leg, lifting your right foot just off the floor. While keeping a slight bend in your left knee, sit your hips back, and lower your torso while gently reaching down with your right hand. Keep your abs tight, chest high and ensure your body is in a straight line throughout the movement.
Your back leg should be in line with your upper body the entire time. Think of the movement of a toy drinking bird.
SIDE PLANKS WITH REACH
Lie on your side with your right elbow under your shoulder, left hand straight in the air and left leg crossed over your right leg. With your right arm on the floor, lift your body up and support yourself from the elbow in a side plank. Reach up with the opposite arm, then reach underneath you. You can also do this version from the hands, but most people will get a greater benefit from supporting themselves from the elbow.
BIRD DOG WITH ROTATION
Get on all fours — on your knees with your hands directly under your shoulders, pressing into the floor with your arms extended.
Slowly raise your right arm and left leg out as straight as possible, pause, then lower your arm and leg under control without dropping either your arm or leg to the floor then rotate your elbow in toward your left knee, pause and extend both limbs back.
Practice the routine 3 times per week. It’s good practice to allow a day of recovery before repeating.
How many reps and sets should you perform? That’s going to vary with the individual. Overall, it’s recommended to start with one set of each exercise, then move on to two sets and even three once you feel comfortable.
If you only perform a single set, try doing as many repetitions as possible, up to a maximum of 20. You will notice that certain exercises are much more difficult than others. Don’t expect to do as many reps with horizontal inverted rows as you can with pushups or squats! Some people will only be able to do about 5 reps of horizontal pulling, but can easily do 10 ore more pushups.
Some exercises, like the side plank and bird dogs, require that you perform the repetitions on both side.
If you are performing more than one set, stop the first sets short of failure. In other words, terminate the activity when you feel like you would have enough strength to perform several more repetitions if required. Save something in the tank for the last set, which can approach failure.
Mix these basic exercises up with some natural movement on alternate days. Go for a walk. Play with your dog. Get outside.
Before you know it, you’ll have built up some solid strength and conditioning that will lead to great results.
Let me know how it goes in the comments!