Athletes use some of the best sports-specific training to improve fitness, speed, and strength. You don’t have to be an athlete to take advantage of the same effective exercises. By incorporating more challenging moves and using them in a way that matches your fitness level, you can gain similar benefits for health and exercise performance.
Cycling Sprint Intervals
Whether you cycle on the open road or hop on a stationary bike at the gym, sprint intervals will improve your cardiovascular fitness and increase calorie burn. Sprint intervals are a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT), a type of exercise that research shows improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness and insulin resistance.
How to do it: Set your stationary bike to a comfortable resistance that matches how you would feel cycling on a flat route. Start with 15 to 30 second sprints, cycling as fast as you can. Recover at a moderate pace for 2 minutes. Repeat the intervals throughout your workout. You can gradually increase your sprint time, decrease your recovery time, or increase your resistance to make the session more challenging.
Sports like rowing, swimming, and volleyball require excellent upper body strength and chin ups are a popular training exercise that target the back and biceps. This exercise isn’t easy. If you are new to it, check to see if your gym has an assisted chin up machine. These machines have a platform to kneel on that supports your lower body, making the exercise easier. Stick with it and you will be able to turn out a full set without assistance in no time.
How to do it: Stand facing the chin up bar. Use a step or jump up to grasp the bar with both hands. They should be about shoulder distance apart with palms facing you. As you hang in the starting position, slightly bend your knees, cross your feet at the ankles, and contract your abdominals to help stabilize your lower body. Pull yourself up until your chin is level with the bar. Your elbows should stay in close to your body and point towards the floor as you pull yourself up.
The speed skater exercise simulates skating and it can be incorporated as a cardio interval into any circuit routine. It works the lower body and the faster you move, the more you will increase your heart rate to improve fitness and burn calories.
How to do it: Hop to the right and land on your right foot. Your left knee should be bent with your left foot lifted off the ground. Hop to the left, landing on your left foot with your right foot elevated. As you begin to hop more quickly from side to side, swing your arms in the direction you hop in order to gain momentum and keep your balance. To make the move more challenging, reach down and touch the floor with your left hand as you land on your right foot and repeat from side to side. To make the move less difficult, remove the hop and step from side to side.
High Knees and Butt Kicks
Often used in track and field as a warm up, high knees and butt kicks can be incorporated at any phase of your workout. The leg movement helps to elongate and stretch the quadriceps and hamstring muscles and the faster you move, the better cardiovascular workout you will get. High knees also target the abdominal muscles. The movements can be done at a walking pace, running, or if you are limited for space, you can do them in place.
How to do it: As you walk forward, raise your knee high with each step. Contract the abdominals and lift it as high as you can. For butt kicks, with each step bend at the knee and bring your heel into contact with your bottom, or as close as you can get. The move should be exaggerated, contracting the hamstrings with each butt kick. Once you feel comfortable with the movement, pick up the pace and accelerate into a running motion as you perform high knees and then switch to butt kicks.
Jab and Cross
Boxing provides an effective workout that can be adapted to all fitness levels. Even if you don’t have access to a bag, simply performing the punch and kick moves will help tone the upper and lower body. You can start simple with a jab and cross combo and add more moves from there, like hooks, uppercuts, and front kicks. Incorporating jump rope or bob and weave intervals will help you get your heart rate up for a challenging session that works the whole body.
How to do it: Stand with your right foot in front of your left. Make a fist with each hand and bring your fists up to your chin in a guard position (as if you were protecting your face). Punch straight out in front of you with your right arm and return to guard position (the jab). Now punch with your left arm (the cross). As you punch with the left, pivot your back foot so that your hips move in the same direction as your punch. Return to the guard position and continue to jab, then cross. Try to incorporate a bouncing or jogging movement as you punch to increase your heart rate. Switch your leg position and jab with your left arm and cross with your right.