Military Muscle: Get motivated — fitness tips for 2016

Rowing is growing and even the military is seeing its value as it trains our best! Along with circuit training, the indoor rower is the ultimate cardio blaster, but best when rowed correctly and with intensity to match the type of workout. Military Muscle columnist Bob Thomas delivers workout advice all year long. Some of his top tips from the past year to carry you into 2016:

military rower

Women and pullups

All of the active-duty women with whom I have worked were able to perform unassisted pullups within 30 to 60 days of starting their programs. I insist they do pullups every single day. A few started out being able to complete a nonassisted pullup. The rest used a gravitron — a specially designed machine that uses weights to assist — or bands.

Better technique — bigger gains

To make sure you’re working smarter, get the advice of the experienced trainers at your fitness center — and not the person at the next rack, no matter how easily he or she seems to be working the weight stacks.

Bench press: Those with long arms and small rib cages face the most risk when attempting to execute a full, touch-the-chest bench press. Solution: Use a narrower grip on the bar than you normally do. Feel free to experiment, but a good place to start is to put your hands at or just inside shoulder width.
Bicep curls with bar: When you hang your arms at your sides (palms forward, thumbs lateral), the more your forearms hang away from the sides of your body, the more wrist break is required. That can be painful. Solution: Use an E-Z curl bar, the type that looks like it has pronounced waves in it compared to traditional straight bars.
Dumbbell bent-over rows: Pull the shoulder back before lifting the dumbbell. Stabilizing the shoulder before the lift puts the joint in a stronger position and also will maximize the muscle contraction at the end.
Front planks: It’s critical that you go into the plank from being flat on the ground. You will always stop in the almost perfect position. Have a partner make sure you attain and keep a straight line.
Step-ups: It’s important to stand fully erect with both feet on top of the box, then step down off the box.
Squats: Rotate at your hips as you descend — slowly — and let your back come forward naturally. Try to get your knees as close to 90 degrees as possible.
Dips: Don’t use a bench with your heels on the floor for this; it rotates your shoulder joint and can cause injury. Use the dip machine or handles that are probably on your pullup assist machine.
Walking lunges: Don’t push back off your forward heel when recovering from the lunge. You want the pressure on the quad and glute of the forward leg, which means rising straight up vertically out of the lunge.
Pushups: Keep your hands at shoulder width and lower your body until your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Keeping your trunk straight is critical here. Your eyes should look slightly forward.
Calf raises: Using a board or a step gives a bit more stretch to the Achilles, so be careful, especially when using a step.
Max your fitness scores

If you’re trying to improve your PT test score in any event, you won’t get there without a strategic approach executed over time.

Faster run time: I find that emphasis on increasing speed rather than mileage works well at typical PT test distances.
Improve pushups: The key is to strengthen your triceps and work to keep a straight line from your hips to shoulders. You can alternate planks and full-body pushups each workout.
Medicine ball for explosive power

A medicine ball is one of the few pieces of equipment that can deliver results through either controlled or explosive repetition. It also brings a large percentage of your “total body” into play when performing the exercise.

The “slam” ball is seven to nine inches in diameter, can weigh four to 50 pounds and is designed to be thrown with force without bouncing. The 14-inch “Dynamax” ball, which I prefer, can’t stand up to being thrown against abrasive surfaces like the standard balls can, but it can be thrown hard at a partner without fear of injury. The bigger diameter places the hands close to shoulder width, which works the upper back and shoulder muscles in a more natural way.

Best cardio in the gym

One of the absolute best pieces of equipment in your fitness center is the Concept2 indoor rower. The rower is tops at incorporating cardio and strength. Most college teams, world champions and CrossFit “boxes” use Concept2. Workout programs on the rower are as varied as your imagination. If you’ve just started using the rower, build your base by working up to at least a 20-minute, steady-state row.

Stretching do’s & don’ts

Do: Stretch before and after any event.

Don’t: Stretch before to an event without five to 10 minutes of light warmup before the stretching.

Do: A dynamic stretch (looks like constant movement because the hold is very short) rather than a passive stretch (holding for 15 seconds or longer) prior to an event.

Don’t: Take “dynamic” to mean bounce-stretching; these movements should be fluid, not rapid and jerky.

Do: A more passive style of stretching after your event is completed.

Don’t: Continue a passive stretch past a point where you feel any pain.

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