Lowering the Bar
Fitness for the Outside Athlete, December 1996
Lowering the Bar
To avoid the weight-room snooze, think sport-specific
Winter, with its stinging winds, icy streets, and sun-starved days, has at least one fitness benefit: It forces us into the gym. We embark on ambitious weight routines, working toward a full-body overhaul. But before long, the inside of the gym doesn’t have much more appeal than the dingy skies outside, and we find ourselves simultaneously overwhelmed and bored, on the verge of
Indeed, Farrell continues, even elite athletes have to search for motivation in the gym, which is why many focus their off-season strength training on working what physiologists call the “primary movers,” the muscles key to their sports. “Think specificity,” Farrell says. “Ask yourself, ‘What muscle groups do I use most?’ There’s no need for a distance runner to spend enormous
Of course, the Body-by-Jake types will protest that full-body gym regimens achieve better overall fitness. True. But as David Morris, head physiologist for USA Cycling, points out, “Working the primary movers is far better than doing nothing at all.”
Whether you’re readying yourself to hop on the bike or into a kayak come spring, though, you should start your sport-specific preseason weight routine soon. Like tomorrow. “The biggest strength gains are made in the first eight to 12 weeks of the program,” Farrell says. “But there’s still significant improvement after four months. If I were running Boston in April, I’d start
Take care in these abbreviated routines not to overemphasize one set of muscles at the expense of its neighbors. Physiologists like Morris warn that “opposing” muscle groups, such as the hamstrings and quadriceps, must be strengthened together, since they act as counterbalances.
Here then are five fast, minimalist indoor routines that will put you in fighting shape for spring cycling, paddling, running, rock climbing, and in-line skating. Just three quick visits per week to the weight room for three or four months will satisfy your strength-training needs–and ensure that joining the club isn’t merely an exercise in futility.
To combat transmission wear, Spelius advises strengthening all the shoulder muscles–with special emphasis on the rotator cuff. Essential to paddling, the RC is a set of four spindly muscles in each shoulder that are difficult to isolate and strengthen. Spelius, who began religiously working his RC after a bout with shoulder pain–“I found out my rotator cuff had the strength
Internal rotations: Anchor the elastic tube to anything stationary at shoulder height, and move far enough away so that the tube is under tension. Stand with your right side perpendicular to the anchor spot. Hold your right upper arm at your side, your lower arm forward, angled slightly upward, and grasp the end of the tube. Keep your wrist locked.
External rotations: Lower the tube to elbow-height and turn 180 degrees so that your left side side is perpendicular to the anchor spot. Now move your forearm away from your torso until it’s straight out to the side. Follow the same program of reps as above.
Empty cans: Anchor the elastic tube near the floor and to the left of where you’re standing. With your right arm angling down in front of your body, hold the tube taut with that same hand. Stick out your thumb, hitchhiker style, to help isolate the rotator cuff’s supraspinous muscle. Then, keeping your arm straight, swing it like a pendulum up to
Squats: With feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward, and the barbell resting squarely on your shoulders, let the hips–not the back–lead the weight down as you squat. Keep your back straight and focus on a spot on the wall ahead of you, slightly above eye level. Squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor before you start
Hamstring curls: Lie prone on a leg-curl machine, aligning your knees with its axis of rotation. Don’t jerk the weight into motion, but curl the bar slowly toward your hamstrings until the pads touch your legs. Perform reps and sets as with the squats.
Seated rows: At a seated-row machine, brace your feet against the foot-plate and hold the bar with your arms straight ahead. Making sure to keep your hips still, pull the weight straight back toward your sternum. Let the bar back slowly. For the first eight weeks, do three sets of eight to ten reps. In the next five weeks, decrease reps and
Modified bent rows: Set a dumbbell at your feet and rest your left knee and hand along the length of a bench. Grab the dumbbell, but before you lift the weight, pull your right shoulder up, opening your chest toward the wall at your right. Lift the weight straight into your armpit, keeping your elbow close to your body. (This action simulates
Finger curls: Hold a barbell at your thighs, arms straight and palms facing behind you. Stand near a squat rack, which can act as a spotter. Open your hands just enough to let the barbell roll toward your fingertips. Now roll it back into your palms. This works the flexor muscles in your forearms, which control grip. Follow the same schedule of
Modified leg extensions: Using a leg-extension machine, lift the weight until your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Then lower your legs a few inches–ten to 15 degrees–before raising them again. If you lower the weight completely, the remainder of the cycle will work only your outer quadriceps. Perform three sets of eight to ten reps,
Elite skaters do five sets of 50 crunches, 50 leg raises, and 50 good mornings as “a warm-up,” Foster says. Fortunately, he doesn’t advocate that program for the rest of us. A much-abbreviated midsection regimen, done properly, is sufficient.
Crunches: Start with one set of 25, building to three sets of 50. To increase their difficulty, use an incline bench (feet at the top) and keep your knees up. But don’t add weight, since that brings the hip flexors into what should be an abdominals-only exercise. Plus, he says, it puts undue strain on the abdomen and lower back.
Good mornings: On what is often misnamed a “hyperextension” machine, set the incline at its steepest, easiest, setting. With hands behind your neck–or folded across your chest if you can’t keep your back from arching–slowly lower and then raise your torso until it’s horizontal. Start with one set of ten and build to two sets of 25. As you
Andrew Tilin is a former senior editor of Outside and a regular contributor to Bodywork.