You probably got into working out to lose weight, get stronger, or feel healthier. Perhaps you play a sport and you were looking to gain that competitive edge by being able to jump higher run faster or throw farther. Whatever your goal, we've got a plan to help you achieve what we feel are the top fitness goals.
The best way to reach your fitness goals is to break things down into smaller steps. While maintaining focus of the big picture and the end goal, try working on one thing at a time to reach your end goal.
1. Increase Your Vertical Jump
In order to dunk a basketball, or get your elbows above the net in volleyball, you need explosive power, speed and athleticism. Improving your vertical will translate into dominance on the court and give you an advantage over your competitors. If you play a team sport, it will also give you a second and thirdglance from your coach when they decide who to put into their starting lineup.
Step 1: Strengthen Your Legs
The force needed to jump comes from the explosive power in your legs. The more powerful they are, the greater force they can create which translates into a higher jump. For sports involving jumping, this should be the focus of your training in the gym.
Ideally, you should focus your workout with two lower-body workouts per week. The deadlift and the back squat are your friends if you truly want to build explosive power. Work in lunges including single leg lunges and Romanian split lunges. Aim for three to four sets on five to eight reps. Go as heavy as you can with the weight to perform this many reps.
Step 2: Add in Plyometrics
Plyometrics help you to train your muscle for quick explosive power. After you've built the strength in your muscles from the previous step, now you need to develop speed. Just because you have explosive power, doesn't mean you will have an advantage of speed. Begin your second month of training by including the box jump and squat jump to your workout.
For the box jump, choose a box that is challenging to jump onto but not dangerous. Squat deeply bending at the hips and knees and swing your arms backward; then swing your arms forward and jump onto the box, landing with quiet feet.
For the squat jump, squat down until your thighs are at 90 degrees to the floor and then jump as high as you can. Complete three sets of five reps for each move.
2. Squat More Than Your Body Weight
Every athlete will eventually include the back squat as part of their training regiment. If you have a powerful squat, it increases your potential to run faster and jump higher. It's a lot like a powerful car with a HEMI engine. You're going to reach top speed and get there fast if you've got a big engine. You can achieve a one rep max squat that is greater than your body weight within a year of proper training.
Step 1: Use a Box
Squats are a great exercise for the quads, but your achieve your greatest gains if you activate your hamstrings and glutes as well. Sit back in your stance bending deep at the hips. Think about the position you take when sitting in a chair. This will put a greater load on your glutes which is where the power of the squat comes from. You can train yourself proper form by sitting onto a box.
Place a box on behind you, low enough that when you sit on it, your hips are lower than your knees. Only go down as low as you safely can to avoid injury. Bend your hips back and push your knees out to begin your descent. Sit softly on the box and keep your body tense. Pause for a second and then explode back upward. Do three to five sets of five reps.
Step 2: Focus on Periodization
This is a term trainers use to describe how your workouts are planned over time. Gradually work up to an 8-rep max on the squat in Week 1, then a 6-rep max in Week 2, and a 4-rep max in Week 3. Come back in weeks four, five, and six with 7-, 5-, and 3-rep maxes, respectively. Continue in this fashion until you're ready to test a 1-rep max in Week 12.
The main idea behind periodization is muscle confusion. This keeps your muscles "guessing" and doesn't give them a chance to adjust to the range of reps you are using.
Step 3: Work on Weaknesses
As you add weight, you will likely notice that your range of depth becomes less. This is natural as your legs adjust to the increased load. Your form may also break down. Try to work through these form issues and think about proper form. Adding weight is great for developing strength, but maintaining proper form is just as important.
If you're getting stuck at the bottom of each rep, try pause squats after your main squat sets. Hold yourself in the bottom position for two seconds to build up your strength at the most difficult point in the lift.
3. Bench Press Your Body Weight
Some feel that the bench press is over-hyped as an exercise, but it is simply the most powerful measure of upper-body strength and can't be touched for its ability to develop a strong chest, shoulders and arms. Bench with correct form and you will develop a great upper body. Bench with bad form and you may be making a visit to the emergency room.
Step 1: Arch and Tuck
Looking around the gym, most people don't know the proper form required to do a bench press properly. They think that adding weight and throwing the weight up and down is going to result in a bigger chest. This is a dangerous mistake to make since when bench press is done improperly, it puts a great deal of strain on shoulders and elbows.
Lie on the bench and arch your back. Think about pushing your chest up to touch the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, squeeze your glutes, and anchor your feet into the floor. When you lower the bar to your chest, tuck your elbows about 45 degrees to your sides - do not let them flare out 90 degrees as most people do. When the bar touches your sternum,drive your feet into the floor and use that energy to help you press the bar back up.
Step 2: Stick to a Program
Just like the squat, you'll develop a stronger bench press if you stick to a plan of periodization. Doing a heavy bench sounds like a scary task since you are bringing all that weight down around your head and chest. This is why having proper form and a good spotter are important. Once you begin a regiment of pressing heavy however, you will build your confidence and maintain your technique as you increase the weight.
One week, work up to one heavy rep on the bench press. It doesn't need to be a max, but heavy enough that you're challenged. The following week, pick a different but similar pressing movement and do the same thing. This can be an overhead press, incline bench press, or decline press. Choose a different movement in your third week, and then return to the bench press in week 4, using about 60 percent of your max for three sets of five reps.
Repeat the cycle, and after a few more weeks, test your max bench again. You'll see that all the heavy work translated to a stronger press, and probably improvements on all the other lifts as well.
Step 3: Do Push-Ups
We've long talked about the benefits of doing push-ups. In a former article, we stated that they are one of the best ways to increase flexibility required to press the bar off your chest. This pressing power required at the bottom of a push relies mostly on the strength in the pectorials and push-ups are the best way to develop this.
Twice a week, on alternating days from your upper-body workouts, perform 100 total reps of push-ups, resting as needed until all reps are complete. Aim to do it in five sets of 20. When you can do that, increase the total to 120.