Flexibility takes center stage in month three of The Shape of Your Life, and your first assignment is to include the following 20- to 30-minute yoga routine after each endurance workout, in this order: Sun Salutation, Warrior I, Triangle Pose, Back Stretch and Hamstring Stretch, Full Boat, and Tree Pose. All these poses are pictured with instructions on the preceding pages. Though classes are not mandatory, we do suggest signing up for a few beginner Ashtanga sessions to make sure you learn proper form and yield the maximum benefits from each pose.
As for your heart-rate-zone endurance work (see "The Zone Offense," in sidebar), you'll continue increasing duration. The schedule will be the same as last month: zone-specific intervals on Fridays, increased duration in weeks ten and eleven, and reduction in week twelve, with a final-day lactate-threshold test.
Your Tuesday/Thursday strength training, meanwhile, will be abbreviated from ten to eight exercises this month to prepare you for next month's speed and power drills. Twice a week, perform the four strength exercises shown above, as well as the following: upright rows, Swiss-ball flies, bent-over rows, and chin-ups.
AS KIDS WE LOVED to pile-drive our best friends into the couch, but as adults most of us are far too civilized for the explosive work required to build power. Endurance, strength, flexibility—these are all very sane. But power? Power's for short men in bar fights. Professional lumberjacks. The Rock. Unless you have a score to settle with the bouncer or a hole to open off left tackle, why should you hop, leap, or launch the barbells in the gym like an Olympic weight lifter?
"Because climbing, skiing, or whatever, there's a power component in everything we do," says power-training guru Vern Gambetta, president of Gambetta Sports Training Systems in Sarasota, Florida. "It's the athletic expression of strength." In other words, whether it's outsprinting the peloton or lunging for a climbing hold, sooner or later you'll need power—the measure of how fast and how far you can move an object, often yourself, through space. And like it or not, your steady-as-she-goes strength, flexibility, and endurance work won't give it to you. Which isn't to say those three pillars of fitness are a waste of time. By now, if you've committed to our five-month Shape of Your Life program, you probably feel better than ever. But just because you've got a sustainable plan in place doesn't mean we'll pat you on the back and send you away. Starting today, the program accelerates: You've built your foundation; now it's time to tap your real athleticism by upgrading your power and accentuating its twin attribute, speed.
To back up that promise, we've turned to fitness authorities who aren't typically beloved by outdoor athletes—football coaches, track trainers, and gym teachers. But don't panic—you won't need a Lycra singlet or have to report to the field house. Like the other SYL workouts, this month's regimen can be done in your home gym and at the local park. You'll build power by adding Olympic lifts with dumbbells to your strength routine (think Laird Hamilton, pictured here, not those huge Romanian weight lifters of yore), and ramp up your speed by starting endurance workouts with jumping drills, aka plyometrics. Yeah, yeah—this means your workouts will be longer and more intense, but quit complaining already. In four weeks, you may not pile-drive your workout buddy for old times' sake, but your rekindled athleticism will punish him just the same.
ANY TIME YOU launch an object quickly through space—be it the weight of your body or the collected works of the Backstreet Boys—physics and physiology require that you undertake two steps in quick succession: recoiling your muscles into position to prepare to move the object (technically, if counterintuitively, called a stretch) and then quickly throwing your muscle fibers into reverse to shorten them. In fitness parlance, these two movements together are called the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), and the production of power lies in the ability to switch rapidly between the two.
Some of the most effective exercises for improving SSC speed are Olympic-style lifts such as the clean (lifting a barbell from the floor to your chest) and jerk (raising a barbell from your chest to overhead). Unlike typical strength exercises like the bench press, depending on your height, Olympic lifts require muscling a barbell a whopping seven to ten feet in one repetition. To do this you have to utilize strength, speed, and momentum simultaneously, and over time this combination increases your muscle elasticity and primes the pathways for electrical signals to and from the brain, the two keys to speeding up your SSC. Problem is, traditional Olympic lifting requires excellent technique and sound coaching to avoid injury. The solution? Dumbbells. "If you adapt Olympic lifts to dumbbells, you reduce the safety problems," says Gambetta. "Dumbbells accommodate to your body's structure and individual range of motion."
On Tuesdays and Thursdays of this month (see "Plug Yourself In" on page 5), you'll incorporate three Olympic-style dumbbell drills—clean-pulls, rotational clean-pulls, and squat presses—into your strength workout. Starting off lightly with dumbbells weighing 10 percent of your body weight, you'll execute each repetition as fast as you can while maintaining good form. On clean-pulls and rotational clean-pulls, this means keeping your back straight; pushing with your ankles, legs, and hips; and finishing with a shrug of your shoulders, letting your arms bend to accommodate the upward momentum. On squat presses, keep your back straight and descend into a squat before exploding upward, shifting your weight to the balls of your feet, and raising the dumbbells sky-high.
IT'S A COMMON misconception that speed is entirely based on the genes your parents provided you. True, your ratio of fast- to slow-twitch muscle fibers defines your maximum potential, but most of us are slow only because we're rusty. "It's a muscle memory thing," says Donald Chu, director of performance enhancement at Stanford University. "If you don't practice speed, it will desert you." To avoid that, you need plyometrics—jump training—which is the most proven way to refresh your muscle memory.
"Plyometrics teach your muscles how to go from responding pliantly, like a tomato, to elastically, like a superball," says Jimmy Radcliffe, co-author of High-Powered Plyometrics. This month, to give yourself more bounce to the ounce, you'll begin endurance workouts on Monday and Friday with a ten-minute plyometric workout (see "Upward Bound"). Starting with basic movements (jumping up to a box and stepping down) and progressing to more complex moves (dropping off a bench, landing, and then jumping straight up), you'll relearn the movement required to, say, avoid slamming into a tree while carving a backcountry glade. For sports that require upper-body quickness, such as kayaking, medicine-ball drills—chest passes and overhead throws—will provide plyometric action for your arms and torso. "Whether you're a climber or a skier or a mountain biker," says Stanford's Chu, "plyometrics will help you get out of unexpected situations fast."
As your quickness improves, you'll also need to develop your "reserve speed," says Peter Twist, a National Hockey League conditioning coach and founder of Twist Conditioning. "The kind of speed you get in third or fourth gear." How? Practice high-intensity, Zone-4 intervals, then chip away at the length of your recovery times. On Wednesdays, sometime toward the end of your endurance workout, launch into a full sprint for 30 seconds. Resume running or cycling, and when your heart rate returns to Zone 2 on the heart-rate scale, do another 30-second sprint. Start with three repetitions and work up to six or eight by week 16 (see "Plug Yourself In"). Next month you'll reduce the recovery time between sprints. The drill develops your reserve capacity for speed by reestablishing the neurological pathways needed to turn on the afterburners when you're fatigued.
Combined, sprints and plyometrics will get you off the starting line quicker and give you overdrive power to finish a race strong. And trust us, your muscles will remember—you can't blame mom and dad forever.
The following two-part workout is designed to improve your overall speed and quickness. A word of caution: Tall boxes are for longtime plyometric veterans only. Beginners should find a park bench or any other stable, elevated surface between 16 and 20 inches high (anything below the knee will suffice). Also, try to work out on grass (it reduces the impact on your joints) and reserve the depth jump (exercise "D") for week 16 only. As for medicine-ball drills, if you're training by yourself, get a rubber ball that bounces (find one at www.performbetter.com) and do the exercises against a wall.
LOWER BODY A. Drop and Freeze (10 reps) Starting on a box, lightly step off—never leap—and land, moving into a crouch stance to stop your momentum. Freeze for three to four seconds before the next rep. B. Two-Legged Box Jumps (10 reps) Stand in front of a box, crouch, swing your arms behind and then upward, springing high enough to land coming down to the box. C. Split-Stance Jump (10 reps on each side) Stand with one leg on the box and one on the ground. Push off the box and jump straight up and land in the same configuration. [WEEK 16 ONLY] D. Depth Jump (10 reps) Begin just like the drop and freeze. When you land, instead of freezing, immediately jump upward as high as you can.
UPPER BODY Medicine Ball Scoop(8 reps) Squatting, hold a medicine ball between your ankles, then drive your legs up, jump, and throw the ball as high as you can. Medicine Ball Chest Pass (8 reps) Kneeling, hold the ball at your chest and throw it to a partner or against the wall as forcefully as possible. Overhead Soccer Pass(8 reps) Kneeling, hold a medicine ball behind your head and throw it forward against a wall or to a partner.