Friday, February 27, 2009

An even easier beginner weightlifting routine

Ah, spring. The days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter, and everyone is coming out of their winter hibernation. People are stretching their atrophied muscles, newly-energized with thoughts of becoming active and getting a head start on a summer bikini body.

...oh, wait. It's only spring here in Florida :) Well, all the more reason to get ahead of the game!

It has been brought to my attention that people starting out from absolutely zero activity have trouble with my beginner's weight lifting routine. So, after some fiddling, I've devised a few modifications for those who are just starting out. I STRONGLY recommend first reading my post with the original routine, because it explains the rationale behind the exercises I choose. It also details my suggested sets and reps scheme.

The original beginner routine necessitates only a pair of dumbbells, and I want to keep the modified routine as low-equipment as possible. So, I am adding only one additional piece you will need to acquire:

That would be an exercise ball, or Swiss ball, or whatever the magazines are calling it. Inexpensive and infinitely versatile. Need to justify the cost? Use it as your desk chair.

Like the original beginner routine, this is a full-body workout with exercises for quads, hamstrings, chest, shoulders, back, and core. Also like the original routine, you'll be doing squats as your quadricep exercise, but instead of regular-ol' bodyweight full squats, do squats with the ball between your back and a wall. Instead of keeping wide legs with the toes turned out, try to keep your feet parallel, shoulder-width, and toes pointed forward. This targets the curvy outer "sweep" of the glutes. Also, go all the way down rather than halting when your thighs are parallel to the ground. This recruits your gluteals (read: butt!) and vastus medalis (read: strengthens the muscle around your knee and prevents future injury). The research indicating that full squats are dangerous has been long outdated.

On to hamstrings. Deadlifts are far and away my favorite hamstring exercise. There is NOTHING that can replace them. I've seen it classified as a back exercise, a hip exercise, a posterior chain exercise, and a core exercise -- well, that's because deadlifts work all of those! It is one of the most complete exercises you will ever do, though in particular, they are the ultimate booty lifter. And talk about functional strength! How often do people throw out their back lifting something heavy off of the floor? Do your deadlifts and you're poised to never have that happen. For the beginner routine, I recommend Romanian deadlifts because it's a little easier to keep proper form. However, I realize that not everyone can do even these, and there is a potential for lower back injury if you do deadlifts improperly. So I will recommend an alternative with the caveat that you should try to move on to deadlifts when you build up strength! Get out your Swiss ball again and do some single-leg hamstring flexions. These are surprisingly challenging; if you can't manage these, do them with two legs, and if you can't handle even THAT, do them with two legs and your butt on the ground. If you have access to a gym, you might do hip extensions at every other workout so that you train both flexion and extension. While I'm not a big fan of machines (for the reasons outlined here), especially lever machines, I at least don't feel that the hip extension machine is dangerous -- it's just sub-optimal. I would also add in some bodyweight ball hyperextensions at the end of your workout to build up some lower back strength. If you have a very light barbell such as a body bar, alternate workouts with ball hyperextensions and good mornings so that you train both forward and backward bends.

For chest exercise, I am a firm believer in push-ups until you get to the point where you really need to add weight; for example, if you can do more than 10 good ones without getting exhausted. Even if you've mastered the push-up, you can try advanced variations such as keeping your legs elevated with a Swiss ball. But, I do recognize that some people can't even do ONE good push-up! If this is you, at every workout I would at least try to execute a single push-up. You could try doing a single negative push-up (starting flat on the ground instead of starting in the "up" position) or even just try holding the push-up position. But say you want to do something to build up strength, too? I would recommend dumbbell chest presses on the Swiss ball. I like doing these on the ball rather than a bench because in order to keep it stable, you need to recruit your core muscles. Thus, you get used to using your core and chest in conjunction, as with push-ups. If you have access to a gym, at every other workout do assisted chest dips; it's a great exercise for tapping into your lower pec muscles and also adds a downward pushing motion into your routine.

For back, shoulders, and core I would keep the same recommendations as in the original beginner routine: bent-over rows for back, modified planks for core, and either shoulder presses or dumbbell raises (alternate workouts) for shoulders. If you have access to a gym, alternate rows with assisted pull-ups for a vertical pulling motion which exercises the back muscles in a different way. I strongly prefer assisted chin-ups over lat pull-downs because you're actually bringing up your body and working toward being able to do a real pull-up.

So, your workout will look like this:

Workout A
Workout B
Once you feel comfortable with this, you can move onto my original beginner routine, and then try one of my intermediate suggestions!