Resident MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY explains how you can get bigger and stronger for longer…
There are tons of athletic benchmarks out there if you want to measure progress – nailing a double bodyweight deadlift, pumping out 10 strict unbroken pullups or achieving a sub 7-minute 2km row – BUT whilst these challenges can be a great indicator of overall strength and fitness, they also overlook some huge factors that may well contribute to your appearance, gains (or lack thereof), and any forthcoming injuries. Being aware of your weaknesses is only half the equation. The key to becoming bulletproof is finding the most practical and effective ways to address those weaknesses so you can get bigger and stronger for longer.
Here are a few of my favourite things that will get you back on track to being the badass you always knew you were. You can incorporate any of these exercises into both your warmups and main strength sessions as accessory movements or pop them all together in a circuit for a comprehensive, challenging and “functional” workout. As always, quality trumps quantity.
TURKISH GET UP
The Turkish Get Up requires shoulder stability and control (in anterior, lateral, and overhead positions), core strength, and leg drive – all things that are important to lifting heavy-ass weights. It helps develop a sense of body control, co-ordination and awareness given that you have to move through a large range of motion without compromising structural integrity or losing your balance. You also have to stabilise the kettlebell from rotating around your wrist, which takes a lot of rotator cuff involvement.
The better you get at stabilising the spine, the better you’ll be at moving your limbs faster and more forcefully. This “anti-rotation” exercise requires you to maintain a ton of tension in the torso from start to finish – you’re essentially in a standing plank, twisting to one side while pivoting with the feet. Lower the bar close to the thigh and under control before moving it more explosively back up. The movement starts with the hips. The bar coming down to the side will load the hips and core muscles, much like a coil.
SLIDING REVERSE LUNGE
This reverse lunge variation encourages a posterior weight shift to take pressure off the front knee. Do the reps in a slow and controlled fashion and focus on keeping your weight on the heel of the working leg, pulling through the glute as opposed to pushing through the quad, to return to upright. If you don’t have a slideboard, you can use a towel on a lifting platform. Master the bodyweight variation before loading.
RING ROW WITH ROTATION
In this horizontal pulling variation, you start with palms facing up (supinated) and finish with palms facing down (pronated). This gives you an element of external rotation that isn’t found in your traditional ring rows. Besides being a great addition for the rotator cuff, it’s also a shoulder saver. Using the rings enables you to rotate freely which is great for shoulder health, and you can’t escape using your entire core to maintain an inverted plank position throughout.
The problem with the lower back is that once we have hurt it, we tend to avoid it. This is not the answer. In this posterior chain focused isometric hold, you must keep your torso in a solid horizontal position by engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. This is a super effective, low impact and safe way to strengthen the lower back extensors (and the rest of the core musculature). The regression would be an isometric reverse hyper hold off a flat bench.
There’s a huge correlation between ACL and hamstring injuries and having weak calves. Add in 2 x 15 Single Leg Calf Raises at the end of your sessions, and try pausing for 5 secs in the bottom of the stretch position, 3 secs in the top contraction. Strengthening and mobilizing your feet and ankles will also transfer over into strength gains with your bigger lifts, especially the squat.
If you’re known as the “I have a sore…” guy, then here’s your go-to whinge-proof cheat sheet for getting strong while staying safe.
|Swap out your standard Barbell Military Press for a KB Filly Press. One arm stays in rack hold position while the other moves. The shoulder and scapula benefits from more freely moveable loads, there is better activation of the shoulder stabilizers in all directions and there is less sheer force through the elbows.|
|Swap out Pullups for Ring/Towel Pullups. A freely movable grip allows for more natural movement of the shoulders. The awkwardness of the towel means your grip is challenged a lot more. Strong grip = strong back.|
|Swap out crunches for “anti-movements”. Being able to resist against flexion, lateral flexion, extension, and rotation will greatly improve your core stability and help prepare you for the “real world”. Think Pallof Press Variations, Side Planks, Planks and Reverse Hyper Holds.|
|Swap out traditional Deadlifts for Trap Bar or Kettlebell Deadlifts. The loading position of these two variations with the hands beside the body, minimises the involvement of the lower back, and using Kettlebells encourages unilateral pelvic stability. If range of motion is an issue, elevate the starting position using weight plates.|
|Swap out Back Squats for Barbell Glute Bridges and Zercher Reverse Lunges. If mobility or pain limit your range of movement in the squat, both of these exercises are safe and effective ways of targeting the glutes while reinforcing a neutral and stable spine.|
“Action Alexa” is an internationally published celebrity trainer, sports model and nutrition and lifestyle coach with over 15 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, and has worked with NZ’s world champion rugby team, the All Blacks. She has qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs and was named as one of the Five Toughest Trainers in Asia during her seven-year stint in an MMA gym in Hong Kong.
For the full article grab the November 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.