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Gym Secrets

More tips for under-utilized exercise machines.

By Wina Sturgeon
Photo by Wina Sturgeon 
Posted // August 11,2010 - You know that architectural saying “form follows function”? It’s especially true when it comes to the human body. Little muscles you’ve probably forgotten about can determine the shape of a thigh or give you the strength and force needed for a big-time move. Example: It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, if you have firm and well-developed lats (latissimus dorsi) and traps (trapezius), your upper and middle back will be well defined with muscle, and you’ll also be able to reach, grab and lift and throw effortlessly.

So, here’s part two of using the more obscure gym machines and exercises to get more from your workout.

One neglected but excellent exercise is the walking lunge. This is where you hold a weight, take a large step forward, then lower your upper body so that both legs are flexed, with most of the weight on your back leg. Most people then just take a step back in place and do another lunge. What a wasted opportunity! Stationary lunges mean that you miss out on a lot of extra muscle and coordination work that can be done by walking your lunges.

Use dumbbells instead of a weighted bar for walking lunges to also give your shoulders stabilization work. Holding a dumbbell at each side with relaxed arms, take a lunge step, bend to a flex, stand up again and then lunge with the other leg in front. This will force you to equalize the work done on each side, which doesn’t always happen with stationary lunges. Technique: Make sure your front foot is far enough forward so that when you bend, your knee doesn’t come out further than your foot. Also practice lunging with the weight on different muscles; the hamstring in the front leg, the quad in the back leg, the hip flexors when both legs are equally weighted. Keep your back totally straight. Don’t let the dumbells swing (a truism on all levels).

You can walk down the length of a gym floor, doing 10 or 12 walking lunges on each leg, but an even better way to do this excellent exercise is outdoors. Buy a pair of dumbbells and use a little terrain variation to build more balance and movement skill. You’ll use these skills in every activity, including sports, hiking and even dancing. When buying the dumbbells, do some walking lunges in the store to check out the right weights to get. Never go too heavy.

Another sadly neglected resistance exercise is the deadlift, which can also be done either with a bar or with dumbbells. The deadlift is the best example of form following function. The force of the movement focuses on the glutes and hamstrings. Glutes are your butt and are the biggest muscles in the body. Deadlifts will build these muscles into the nice round booty pop so admired in both men and women. But, as the body’s biggest muscles, deadlifts will also give you amazing athletic strength. Look at the many sports where the top athletes have perfect booties and you’ll see what I mean.

The deadlift seems like a simple exercise: 1. Bend over. 2. Grab a weight. 3. Stand up. 4. Bend over again and put the weight back down.

But, it’s not as simple as all that. First, never curve the back when bending to pick up the weight; bend only at the hips, and keep the spine in a straight line. If this means you have to prop the weight on an aerobic class “step,” so be it. Also, because the spine must be kept stable, it’s better to deadlift with a weighted bar gripped by both hands rather than dumbbells in each hand, which can cause your back to twist. Keep your shoulders back and don’t let them hunch forward to pick up the weight. Lastly, control the weight when setting it back down; don’t drop it. If it’s hard to lower the weight with correct form, use a lighter weight.

Within a month of doing these exercises regularly, you’ll notice an improvement in your sports performance; but even better, others will notice that you look a whole lot better in your bathing suit.

 
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