Spring is finally here, and it’s time to come out of that winter hibernation. Hit the gym with these great exercises to get your body moving again and feel strong and energized heading into summer!
The best foundation for almost any strength training program is compound barbell movements, particularly squats and deadlifts (you can see more about those movements and why they’re awesome in my March post: 6 Tips to Get You Started In Strength Training.) Typically, barbell bench presses and military presses are also included. Start your workout with one of these 4 foundational movements (try 5 sets of 5), then supplement with 2-3 movements from the corresponding category below.
Lower Body Strength/Shape
Barbell hip thrust: This movement is great for the glutes and hamstrings, and it will help build core strength and control in your pelvic muscles. Start with your shoulders on a bench (make sure it’s heavy or anchored, so it doesn’t move), feet on the floor, hip-width apart, and a bar across your hips. The bar will sit just below your hip bones. Keep your back flat and core tight, and drop your hips toward the ground. Then, squeeze your glutes to finish with your hips open and parallel to the floor. Complete 4 sets of 10-12 at a weight that makes your glutes burn, but doesn’t sacrifice the stability of your lower back.
Jump squats: Build quads, hamstrings, and explosive power with this simple move. Start with a good squat – initiate the movement by sending your hips back, then bend at the knees. Sit as low as you can (ideally your hips will go below the top of your knees). Drive out of your heels, and pop up onto your toes and into the air at the top of the squat. Be sure to come back into your heels for the next rep. Start with 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps. To develop even more strength and power, try holding a barbell on your back. Adding the barbell will also help build core and back strength.
Bulgarian split squat: This move is deceptively challenging–it will help build strength and shape in your glutes and hamstrings, with an added bonus of balance/stability and core strength. Set up like a standard stationary lunge with one foot forward and one back, but elevate your back foot on a bench. Keeping your chest up and core tight, drop your back knee toward the ground. Drive through the front heel to come back up. Try 3-4 sets of 10 on each leg. For extra strength and challenge, you can also add weight by holding dumbbells or kettlebells, or putting a bar on your back.
Upper Body Strength/Shape
Barbell rows: Barbell rows are one of my favorite movements! It’s a great way to build back strength, as well as core stability. Plus, they always make me feel super strong! Set up with your hands on the bar slightly wider than your shoulders, knees soft, and upper body tight and parallel to the floor. Then pull the bar into your body by squeezing your shoulder blades together, and finish by bending your elbows. Shoot for 4 sets of 8-10 reps. Switch it up by using dumbbells or kettlebells!
Renegade Rows: This push-up variation is killer for the arms, back, chest, and abs. Start in a push-up position with a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. Using one arm at a time, pull the dumbbell up to touch your shoulder. Alternate arms to accumulate 10-12 total reps per set. You can also add a push-up in between reps for extra challenge and strength gains. Remember to keep your core tight, and shoulders and hips square to the ground.
Dumbbell Tricep extensions: Tricep extensions are a strength training classic. You can do them laying on the floor or on a bench. Start with your arms extended with a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your elbows pointing toward the ceiling and bend the elbow so the dumbbell comes down toward the shoulder. Then, squeeze your triceps to return to the starting position. Complete 4 sets of 10-12, and keep those elbows pointed up!
Core & Conditioning
Jump rope: It’s something most of us did as kids and then forgot. But if you want a great conditioning workout, dust off that old jump rope! Hop on the balls of your feet and try to avoid kicking them back toward your bum. For an extra coordination and cardio challenge, try double-unders, passing the rope under your feet TWICE on each jump. Jumping rope for a few minutes is a great warm-up or cool down. You can also try tabata timing – 8 rounds: 20 seconds of jumping and 10 seconds of rest.
Sled push: You can file these along with burpees and hill sprints under “conditioning we love to hate.” But nothing beats the burn – and the results – of some heavy sled pushes. Keep your arms locked out, back flat, stay low to the ground, and push. A lighter sled will give you more sprint-like cardio, and a heavier sled will give you more strength-based conditioning. I like to do 4 runs of about 50 feet at a moderately heavy weight.
Swiss ball dead bugs: A variation of the traditional ab exercise, adding a Swiss ball to this movement really works the lower abs. Start by laying on your back, with your arms and legs straight up in the air, then bend the knees to 90 degrees. Place a Swiss ball between your hands and knees, and brace your core to push your lower back into the ground. Then, simultaneously lower one arm and straighten and lower the opposite leg toward the ground. Lightly tap the ground, return to starting position, then switch sides. Be sure to keep your lower back pressed to the ground, and complete 3-4 sets of 10-20 total reps.
Katie Feeley, Fabletics Master