Life & Style | Health

Get back to basics for fitness

Why push-ups, planks and crunches are all-time fitness marvels

  • Nathan Brown
  • Published: 07:00 July 11, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
  • Young sport Woman Doing Push Up
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Fitness, along with everything else in this world, has evolved to an amazing extent in the last two decades. However, evolution does not mean we forget the basics.

I strongly believe that the pursuit of fitness in today’s world should extend beyond the gym. It has to be a balance of working out in your gym and moving and working your body and its muscles the way they were originally meant to be. When the focus is only on shaping your body and on the cosmetic appeal without a though to functional fitness and its merits, rest assured, we are doing something wrong.

“Return to the caveman times, go basic and return to exercising in a more traditional way at least twice a week.”

Machine-based workouts help tone and shape our muscles and give us our much required cardio workout. But in addition to these, we also need to be active and exercise our body in a way that actually benefits us in our daily life.

The truth is, in the rush to keep pace with everything that is new, we have forgotten how our bodies should be moving. I have said this before and I repeat – we are changing from an active to a sedentary race. We sit on the couch. We sit at the dining table to eat breakfast. We sit in our cars to drive to work. At work, we sit at our table slouched over our computers.

Then the conscientious amongst us head to the gym where the instructor will ask us to sit at the machine and lift weights. This is not what our bodies are meant to do.

Our bodies were designed to run, leap, skip, jump, squat and lift… not just sit.

To get your body back, it is vital that you balance your gym workout with exercises that are done without the machines and gadgets. In other words, return to the caveman times, go basic and return to exercising in a more traditional way at least twice a week. The idea is to use your own bodyweight to do your exercises, and to build muscles, burn calories and boost your metabolism.

Ideally, try and do 20 reps of each move or as many as you can for 60 seconds. Or, if you are starting out, these exercises can be done in sets of 3 with 8 reps each. With time, you can build up your reps and intensity. A combination of these exercises done in a circuit over a period of 45 minutes will result in a full body workout. You can complete one set of each exercise, rest for a minute or two and then repeat the circuit twice more.

This week, I am going to list a combination of upper body exercises that will give your chest, arms, shoulders and a torso a great workout.

1. Push-up

These are as old school as they come. We no longer need to push huge boulders out of the way but these exercises do a pretty good imitation of the movement required. Push-ups are a great core exercise and they also provide our arms with a great workout. Remember to keep your hands shoulder width apart and tighten the core. If you are a beginner instead of doing the push up supporting yourself on your hands and toes, you can keep your knees also on the ground for a bit of additional support.

One can do the basic push-up or it variations like the incline push-up. In the incline push-up place your hands on a raised platform like a box or a bench, instead of the floor, keeping your body from your head to your ankles in a straight line.

2. Superman

Lie face down with your arms and legs extended straight out. Maintain the torso on the ground and keep it steady. Now simultaneously raise your arms and legs and pretend that you are the caped super hero swooping over Metropolis or Dubai if you will.

A variation of this is the Contralateral Limb Raises, in which you lie on your stomach with arms outstretched and palms facing each other, but instead of raising your arms and your legs, you raise one arm at a time. Remember to keep your arm straight without rotating the shoulders or moving the head and torso. Hold the position, then lower the arm back down, and repeat with the other arm.

Another variation of this is the Shoulder Stabilization or Floor Raise Series. You read that right. You have to lie down on your stomach with arms extended out and facing each other. For the ‘I’ raises your arms are extended out straight; for the ‘Y’ raises extend your arm out at a 30 degree angle to your body and then do the raises. The ‘T’ raises requires you to move your arms straight out to the side, perpendicular to the rest of your body with the thumb side of your hand pointing up.

3. Boxing

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees bent. Keep your elbows in and then extend one arm forward and the other arm back. Then bring your arms back and repeat the movement switching the arms. You can pretend that you are punching your extra kilos out of existence or if you really want to get into the swing of things, listen to ‘Gonna Fly Now’ from Rocky and pretend you are fighting for THE belt.

4. Plank

Get into the plank position by supporting yourself on your elbow and lower arms and toes. Remember to keep your core engaged and hold the position to the count of 10 to begin with before lowering yourself to the ground.

A variation is the side plank where you can roll to the side and raise yourself on one foot and elbow, while keeping the core engaged. Hold position for 30 to 60 seconds.

5. Flutter kick

Lie on your back with your arms at your sides with the palms facing down. Extend your legs out and lift your heels a few inches of the ground. Now raise and lower your legs with small up-and-down movements while keeping the core engaged.

Bicycle: Lie down with knees bent and hands behind the head. To begin raise each leg alternately towards the chest as though you are pedaling. To increase the intensity, you can bring your right elbow towards your left knee when it is raised towards your chest.

6. Crunch

Another classic, like the push-up, this involves lying on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind the head with the chin down slightly. When you curl up remember to ‘peel’ the head and shoulders off the mat (you are not supposed to raise your neck) until the upper back is off the mat. Hold briefly, then lower the torso back toward the mat slowly.

7. Segmental rotation

This is a great exercise for the obliques. You have to lie on your back with your knees bent and core tight. Now let your knees fall gently to the left thus resulting a in a good stretch. Hold for a few seconds, return to the starting position and then repeat on the other side.

8. Russian Twist

This is a killer exercise but effective. Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet together lifted a few inches off the floor and your back at a 45-degree angle from the ground. Now move your arms from one side to another as though you are passing a ball to someone standing behind you.

Check out next week’s article for some more core exercises and a workout that will leave you with a toned lower body

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