Although the benefits of practicing yoga are abundant, you should also seriously consider adding another layer of fitness to your workout routine. Focus on strength training as well can improve your overall body composition and boost your metabolism (this means less fat and more energy!) and also improve aspects of your physique, like better posture. Increased muscle strength can lead to better workout performance, too!
But how do you actually build an effective workout routine that includes all the components of strength training needed to be successful? A step-by-step explanation can be found below.
1. Warm Up
First things first, a decent warm up. I will spend a good 20-30 minutes foam rolling and stretching as well as 5-10 minutes on a treadmill or bike before I do any kind of resistance training. This gives me the opportunity to iron out any niggles and tight spots as well as raise my heart rate sufficiently so that my body is ready to engage in short bursts of high intensity efforts.
If you crack on with your session from a resting heart rate, you’ll tend to find that you spend the first 10 minutes or so waiting for your heart to catch up with your arms and legs!
2. Power Based Exercises
Any activity with the intention of improving your power output, i.e the ability to move with significant speed or force, should take place at the beginning of your workout. There is little point in tackling these exercises when your muscles are fatigued as you simply won’t be able to perform the actions maximally. This is a must if you are actually going to see any improvements in the power department!
The power clean is one of my all time favourite gym exercises. Requiring a unique combination of strength, speed and coordination, it is a movement which takes time and practice to master. There are, however, few better vehicles for improving your ability to produce power. An attribute which is a key ingredient to sprinting, particularly from a standing start.
With feet hip width apart and hands gripping the bar either side of your legs, bend your knees so that the bar is in contact with your shins. Pull your shoulders back and push your chest out to help create a flat back.
The movement which follows can be broken down into 3 phases:
- First Pull- Lift the bar by straightening your knees and pushing your hips forward whilst maintaining a nice flat back and keeping the bar as close to your legs as possible.
- Second Pull- this second phase begins when the bar is in contact with your middle thigh. By forcefully extending the hips (pushing them forwards) and standing tall, the bar will naturally travel upwards. Bend your arms at the elbow to keep the bar close to the body and prevent it moving outwards.
- Catch- when the bar reaches its highest point after the second pull, you must drop under it as quickly as possible in order to catch it. As the load increases this may require significant bending of the knees and the adoption of a front squat position.
3. Compound Lifts
Two fundamental barbell exercises entirely about building strength in the legs. Incorporate one of these into regular gym sessions and no one is going to be accusing you of skipping leg day.
Basically the first stage of the Power Clean explained above. The emphasis here, however, is less about moving the bar quickly and more about a slow controlled lift with plenty of time under tension. Remember again to keep the back as flat as possible throughout the action.
With the bar resting across your shoulders and behind your neck place your feet somewhere between hip and shoulder width apart toes facing forwards. Keeping a nice flat back (there’s a common theme here) bend the knees and fold at the hip pushing your bottom back. When you reach the bottom of your range, somewhere around 90 degree knee bend, stand up again by straightening your knees and extending your hips.To really maintain control throughout the lift and maximise its benefits, imagine you are trying to rip a piece of paper in half with your feet as you bend your knees and when you get back to the top of the movement stand tall and squeeze your glutes together.
4. Single Leg Exercises
Single leg resistance exercises are a great way to improve leg strength without having to continually load your spine, as with squats. They are also really useful if you can’t make it to the gym.
Depending on how I am feeling physically on any given day, I will either replace the above compound lift with a couple of single leg variations, or bolt one on after I have finished squatting or deadlifting.
Great for working the often neglected adductors ( the muscles than run along the inside of your thigh), this exercise can be done with dumbbells to increase resistance without putting undue load through the spine. Or if you’re just starting out then ditch the weights and just concentrate on your form. This is a particularly beneficial exercise if you’re involved in sports which involve any kind of change of direction.
Much like the lateral lunge, add or takeaway dumbbells depending on your level of training experience. This is an exercise in which you will see improvements quickly so don’t worry if you feel a little wobbly to start with.
This is a brilliant replacement for the more traditional loaded Back Squat. It allows you to make significant strength gains without compressing the spine.
These exercises are particularly useful in addressing any muscle imbalances between left and right leg. Something which bilateral exercises such as squats and deadlifts may not achieve. If you’re just starting out, they can also be a perfect introduction to strength training. Improvements are normally rapid, and there is much less chance of hurting yourself if there aren’t any significant weights involved.
5. Hamstring maintenance
The posterior chain (muscles running along the back of the body) is absolutely an area which your training should target. Too many people, even the most experienced trainers, neglect these muscles in favour of the ones they can see in the mirror more readily.
If you play any sport involving repetitive sprinting or high speed running then you need to spend time in the gym looking after your hamstrings in particular.
How many people in your football, hockey or rugby team spend long spells on the side line because of hamstring strains of varying severity?
I imagine the answer is quite a few. Why? because they neglect hamstring maintenance work in their gym sessions.
6. Upper Body
Whether you want to build upper body strength to protect you on the rugby field, make it harder for opponents to push you off the ball in football or hockey or simply because you want to look good on the beach, this next section will be of particular interest to you.
One of the most common mistakes people make in their approach to upper body training is a lack of balance. Push push push seems to be the motto of most of the gym monkeys I see on a regular basis. If you want to look daft and have terrible posture to boot, then by all means just do chest and guns.
But if you would rather have a well rounded upper body physique which is functional and looks good then I’m afraid you’re going to have to commit, as much, if not more time to pulling than you are pushing.