Ultimate Your workout guide

Bored of your exercise regimen or want to turn things up a notch? This month’s special section features three workouts with different end goals.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
My Reading Room

Bored of your exercise regimen or want to turn things up a notch? This month’s special section features three workouts with different end goals. We’ve got a routine that includes meditation and high-intensity interval training so that you energise both your mind and body. If building muscle is your priority, then the plan that helps you pump things up in all the right places will be of interest.

All you need is a watch and two kettlebells and… you’re set. You might also have heard about the benefits of foam rollers, which essentially lengthen and loosen your muscles. We’ve got a workout that incorporates this piece of equipment so that you can combine selfmassage and strengthening in one. But first, turn to the next page where experts offer tips to help you attain fitness goals like boosting stamina and gaining muscle more quickly. Happy exercising!

My Reading Room
Conquer any challenge

Ace your race, nail that pull-up, or check off any body goal that’s been just out of reach. It’s time you hit your full potential for looking and feeling fit.

Even if you’re in killer shape, chances are you have a workout weakness you’d love to beat. Instead of giving up on triathlon training, taking child’s pose over a headstand, or cursing your jump rope while you trip through double-unders, pinpoint the source of your hang-ups to craft a success plan so you can get faster, stronger and leaner.

“With the right approach, your body can adapt and increase its capacity for performance,” says Maren S. Fragala, the director of Athlete Health & Performance at Quest Diagnostics. Follow these tactics to make your breakthrough.

Get your form down

As you aim to ramp up your strength training or mileage, proper form becomes critical. “If you have poor biomechanics, you’ll use more energy because you’ll be working at a higher intensity than if you move more efficiently,” says Heather Milton, a senior exercise physiologist at the Sports Performance Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.

This means you’ll fatigue faster – ending up farther from your target. A quick test that can let you know if you’re ready to take a move to the next level: Check your form in a mirror as you do the simplest version of it, Heather says. If your goal is to squat heavier, examine your positioning while doing an air squat.

If your form is spot on, try the move again with some weight, eventually building up to your goal. If your positioning changes drastically when you advance (say you hunch, you don’t hit the same depth, your knees shoot forward), that’s a sign that you need to dial back the weight until you can get through it properly.

As for running farther, look at the soles of your sneakers. If the heels are very worn, you may be overstriding, which wastes energy. Count how many steps you take per minute to track your cadence, then try to get that number to the sweet spot of about 180, Heather says.

Gain muscle

Strength is a weakness if moves that involve multiple muscle groups (compound moves) are tough for you, says Michelle Kulovitz Alencar, an assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University, Long Beach.

Build strength all over with this plan from trainer Adam Rosante: Weight train four days a week, focusing on compound movements. Choose one, like a dead lift, as your first exercise and do three to five heavy reps. Each week, try to add 2kg to 5kg to that. For the rest of the moves in your routine, shift to moderate weights and stick with the 10- to 15-rep range.

“This can help you maintain strength over a longer stretch of time,” Adam says. “The stronger you are, the easier everything becomes. You’ll be able to use less effort to do the same work.”

Build stamina

If you fatigue quickly during exercise, then endurance is an issue, Michelle says. While HIIT workouts can boost your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, you need to train at a moderate intensity for a longer duration to build up staying power.

“If you always do short, intense exercise, when you do go out for a steady run, you’ll probably go straight to 80 per cent of your max heart rate or higher,” Heather says. After the first few minutes, you’ll hit a wall. Swop out one weekly HIIT class for a run or swim; keep it to a steady pace, working at or below 70 per cent of your max heart rate, Heather says.

If you still struggle with endurance, boost your aerobic base. In a nutshell, exercise for just four to six weeks at an easy-to-moderate intensity to build up mitochondria (cells’ mini power centres) in your muscle fibres that help break down energy easier, so that eventually you can go for longer without feeling as breathless or as much fatigue, Heather says.

Then add a little time to your workout each week. As for muscular endurance, reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting so you can get through two to three sets of 15 to 25 reps, resting for one to two minutes between sets. Slowly begin to up the resistance by 5 to 10 per cent weekly as you progress, Michelle says.

ID your weakness

Your fitness experience and history are two important factors that determine how long it will take you to adapt to more difficult exercise, says Jonathan Mike, an assistant professor of exercise science at Lindenwood University. If you’ve historically had trouble with a move, progress it by perfecting the movement pattern and strengthening all the muscles that get you through it.

Take the push-up, for example. Rather than dropping to your knees, identify your weaknesses. You may lack strength in your shoulders, back, core or hips. Eliminating weaknesses, Jonathan says, will fasttrack nailing any exercise. Log your workout details to see the time you’re putting in and the progress you’re making, he says.

For strength goals, note your reps and sets, your recovery time, how you’re feeling during and after the workout, if you have to decrease resistance, if you advance, and so on. For cardio, log your pace, splits, distance, time or number of intervals. You’ll end up with detailed info that can help you determine if you’re working often enough and improving, so that you can set realistic expectations.