New year, new you, new beginnings, so on and so forth. What really matters is if you can maintain this “new”-ness for the whole year and incorporate it into your life. And I’m pretty sure that workout goals have been set, have been broken or have been ditched completely for the comforting tub of ice cream and whatever new series Netflix has to offer. This is for whichever category you fall into. You can follow this plan to meet or go past the goals that you’ve set.
Now, in keeping with the whole new year theme, I have some exercises that you can do, either at home or in the gym, to fulfil your dreams of losing weight or gaining muscle or whatever you want to achieve for your body this year. This is a beginner’s guide to working out, and as you progress, you can add more exercises to it and add more reps and sets to your liking.
This gives you a full body workout, making several muscle groups work together and strengthening them simultaneously. It starts with stretches to make your muscles loosen up and become a bit more flexible so that they can function better and prevent any injuries. Then we have a series of exercises which will tax your body and ensure that you’re sweating and panting. If you’re not, then increase the number of reps and sets! You know your own body better than I do! This is just a general outline of what your workout should be like. So feel free to increase or decrease the reps or sets. Let’s get to it!
These are dynamic stretches, meaning there’s active movement of the body during the stretch. Why do we start with stretches? It has numerous advantages.
- Relaxes your body
- Increases flexibility
- Prevents muscle strain and injury
- Reduces shear stress on your joints
- Increases blood circulation to the muscles, preventing cramps
- Helps reduce period pain in women
- Reduces post-workout muscle soreness
Here are some basic stretches, from the top of your body to the bottom:
- Moving head up and down – 10 times
- Moving head side to side – 10 times
- Tilting head from side to side – 10 times
- Rotate head (clockwise and anticlockwise) – 5 times each direction
- Shrug shoulders – 10 times
- Rotate arms keeping hands on shoulders (forwards and backwards) – 10 times
- Rotate each arm (clockwise and anticlockwise) – 10 times each arm
- Outstretch arms and twist from side to side – 20 times
- Rotate hips (clockwise and anticlockwise) – 10 times each direction
- Raise knees to chest – 10 times per leg
- Backward kicks – 10 times per leg
- Stand on tiptoes on edge of a step and push your weight down, making the level of the heel lower than the toes (feel the full length of the back of your leg stretch) – 20 seconds
- Leg swings (swing your leg outstretched backwards and forwards) – 10 times per leg
- Ankle rotations (clockwise and anticlockwise) – 10 times both legs
- On the spot hops – 20 hops
These stretches help prepare your muscles for the workout ahead and help prevent injury and post-workout soreness.
It is probably the most common exercise that is practiced in the world. Did you know that the world record for the most push-ups in an hour is 2806? That is roughly 47 push-ups per minute. And we struggle with doing 45 push-ups in 10 minutes.
So the form of the push-up is very important. You start with putting your hands directly below your shoulders and taking your body weight on the hands and the balls of your feet, while keeping the back and legs straight and in one line. This is done by engaging the core and the glutes and keeping them tight during the exercise. And to finish off, your head should be kept neutral and in line with the rest of your spine. Do this by looking at a point a foot or so in front of your hands. This prevents hyperextension or hyperflexion of your neck.
Then you slowly release your arms until your chest touches or comes close to the ground, keeping in mind that you keep your backs and legs in a straight line. And you shouldn’t flare your arms out, as it will put more stress on the elbows, which is not something you want. Keep your elbows tucked in and as close to your body as possible. Then you extend your arms and stretch them out, coming to the starting point again. Breathe out while going down and breathe in while coming back up. This whole cycle counts as one rep.
The muscles that get strained are the biceps, triceps, abs, pectorals (chest muscles), vertebral stabilizers, glutes and deltoids.
Since it is your beginner’s week, start with 10 push-ups per set and do 3 sets with a short 20 second break between every set.
If you’re not able to do 10, then start with knee push-ups. Instead of putting your body weight on the balls of your feet, lower your knees to the ground and put your heels in the air. Then continue the standard push-up form. This is called the half range push-ups.
Do the same number of reps and sets as the normal push-up.
Now another common exercise is the sit-up or squat. I used to go to karate classes, and for punishment, my master would tell us to do 100 squats or 50 push-ups. Good old days… Anyway, squats are also one of the most common exercises that you see nowadays, and not without reason. It is very beneficial to your body balance and mobility while also training the core, glutes and lower leg muscles.
How should be the form be? Stand with your feet a foot or so apart, and just bend your knees until you cannot go lower. Usually, you can bend until your thighs are parallel to the ground or just below the level of your knees. It sounds simple, but there is a bit more to it. Your knees should not go beyond the level of your toes, your heels must be touching the ground at all times and your back must be straight with your head held up and you looking straight ahead. You can put your arms stretched in front of you for balance, but that’s about it. No supporting your arms on your knees and definitely no rounding or slouching of your back. This just puts more strain on the spine and it can lead to lower back problems later on. Another thing to remember is that you should descend slowly and not fast. Remember to breathe out while going down and then breathe in while coming back up again.
The muscles that get engaged when you squat are the glutes, the abdominals (abs), the vertebral stabilizers and hamstrings.
For a beginner, 3 sets of 15 reps each with a 15-20 second break between each set is ideal.
I remember seeing the movie Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown. In this movie, there is one scene that I can still see clearly in my mind. It is the scene where Case Walker, played by Michael Jai White, is first introduced. In that scene, Walker is doing pull-ups, and doing them so easily that it looks graceful. And they’re not the ordinary kind of pull-ups, no sir. They are the side-to-side pull-ups. And White/Walker makes it look so easy. Seeing that just blew my mind.
And then I thought about it. What do we measure someone’s strength by? The number of pull-ups that they can do. More the number of pull-ups that you can do, the stronger you are.
So what is a pull-up? It is an exercise where you hang from a stable support, usually a rod, and pull yourself up using the brute strength of your arms and chest.
Now there are two grips that can be used. One is the overhand grip, where your palms face away from you. Another is the underhand grip, where your palms face towards you. Both are equally effective and you can choose which one you want based on your comfort and preference. And the rest of the exercise is very simple. All you have to do is lift yourself up until your chin or chest touches the bar, then go back down again. Try not to swing and use your body momentum to aid you in lifting yourself up, as it reduces the efficiency of the exercise. Remember to breathe out while pulling yourself up and breathe in while relaxing your arms.
The muscles used during a pull-up are the forearms muscle, biceps, triceps, the shoulder cuff muscles, latissimus dorsi muscles (lats), deltoids, trapezius, chest muscles, abdominal muscles (to stabilize the torso) and pelvic floor muscles (hold the abdominal organs up).
Start with 3 reps, giving a 30 second break between each rep.
Now if you cannot lift yourself up, use a lateral pulldown machine (lat pulldown for short) to train your back and shoulder muscles. This machine ensures that almost the same number of muscles are used and it serves like a stepping stone towards doing pull-ups.
Do 3 sets of 20 reps each set, with a 20 second break in between each set and you should be able to lift 1/10th of your body weight.
5.Machine shoulder (military) press
This machine is used to exclusively train your shoulders and rotator cuff muscles. It is an isolated muscle exercise and is used to strain your deltoids.
Set the weight to 1/10th of your body weight and sit on the seat present on the machine with the handles at roughly the same level as your shoulders. Grab the handles with your palms facing away from you, in a neutral grip. Breathe in and lift the handles above your head until your arms are touching your ears, but don’t fully extend your elbows. This ensures more pressure on your shoulders, which is what you want. Then slowly bring the handles down again while exhaling all the way.
This is perfect to isolate and exclusively train the shoulder muscles like the deltoids and the rotator cuff muscles.
Do 3 sets if 15 reps each with a 20 second break between each set.
6.Alternate dumbbell curls
This is another exercise that has been immortalised by movies and modern media. And if you happen to use that gym membership at all, you will see at least one person doing this at any given time, and staring and admiring their biceps while doing the exercise.
And yes, I can see the reason behind the admiration too. This one exercise will ensure that you get Popeye arms for sure.
Take a dumbbell of whichever weight you are comfortable with, roughly 1/10th of your body weight. Hold the dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing your hip and arms stretched at your sides. Keep your back straight. Now, just flex one elbow and bring the dumbbell towards your chest, and when your arm is towards the end of its motion, turn your palm so that it faces your shoulder. Then slowly bring it back to the starting point again. Breathe in while bringing the dumbbell up and breathe out while bringing the dumbbell down.
This exercise mainly targets the biceps and the forearm muscles mainly, with the deltoids and shoulder muscles act as accessory muscles.
Doing 3 sets of 10 reps each with a 30 second break between each set should be enough for the beginning.
Any exercise, remember to do it slowly. This puts more strain on them and works them out more and is more strenuous and intensive. The time invested in the exercise is not important, but the efficiency of the exercise is important. If you just want to get it over with like some unpleasant medicine, then it is not going to be effective. Do these exercises keeping in mind the endgame, the goal, i.e. your fitness target. And if you cannot do the number of reps or sets that is written, then don’t worry. Do them until the point of exhaustion, but don’t stress yourself and work out too much as it is also detrimental to your body. So here we have the ultimate beginner’s workout plan to kick-start your journey to reach the goals set by you for the year 2019. Happy workout!