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How To Get Strong in 2021: Master The Staples

A man performs a goblet squat with a black dumbbell in his living room as part of an online fitness program.

Whether you’re training at your local gym or at home, you can improve your fitness this year by keeping it simple. The four basic ideas below are the most fundamental elements of fitness, and they can be applied anywhere with limited equipment.

There is an old joke that the commitment to getting stronger and fitter often entails doing the same movements over and over again. While you can definitely spice things up from time to time with new exercises, equipment and routines, the magic happens when we embrace and perfect the simple, elegant basics. And the four movement patterns I describe below offer a host of variations that will keep you interested.

Here’s how you can get fitter in 2021!

Squat

We squat every day. Sitting on the toilet, getting in and out of the vehicle, taking a seat at the kitchen table—it’s fair to say being able to squat is essential to our everyday life. 

If you’ve never squatted before and need to build lower-body strength, you can begin with squats to a chair or bench at or above parallel (this is the point in the squat where your hips are lower than your knees). You might start with just 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps. Over time, you can start adding more reps, and targeting more depth.

For more experienced lifters at home without gear, you can add tempos and pauses to make your basic air squat more challenging. Every other week, add more reps and more time under tension to keep progressing. Don’t be afraid to look around the house for odd objects you can squat as well. Backpacks, water jugs and suitcases are some good examples. Very experienced people can even do single-leg squats, or “pistols.”

If you’re in the gym or have access to some equipment—usually a barbell—make sure you continue to challenge yourself by increasing the volume in your sessions. If you keep hitting the same 5 sets of 5 reps at the same load every week, you will stall. You need to change variables to progress, and an experienced coach can help you do this.

Push

Pushing yourself up off the floor is essential to independent living. If you fall, can you get back up? Pushing strength is also important for any upper-body task; for example, placing an object on a shelf above you, sawing wood, pushing a child on a swingset, and so on.

Also, pushing can start against a wall or a counter. Make sure you push against a very stable object, and be sure to wear good shoes and stay off area rugs so you don’t fall. With your hands at about shoulder width, lower your chest toward the wall or object under control until you reach the object and then push back up. If it’s too easy, move your feet further from the object; if it’s too hard, move them closer so you’re close to vertical. Each week, you can add more reps and gradually change the angle to make things more challenging.

The next step is being able to push your body weight up off the floor in a push-up. This can be done from the knees to start, and you can gradually make your way to the toes as you get stronger. 

If you’re a push-up ninja, you can start to work on different hand positions and even add plyometrics where you push against the ground so explosively that your hands come off the floor. Or consider wearing a backpack with some books in it. Just like the squat, you want to challenge yourself each week to keep moving ahead.

Pull/Hinge

Bending over to pick up your child, lifting groceries into your car, getting laundry out of the washer—all require you to deadlift or hinge at the hips. Do you know how to lift with your legs and not your back? Do you know how to engage your core properly to protect your back while you hinge?

The key is learning to brace your spine while you move at the hips and knees. To learn this concept, place your hands against the floor or a solid object just as you did in the pushing movements above. Engage your core muscles to stiffen up and brace your spine in its natural position. Then slowly pick up a foot. Put it down, then pick up the other foot. The goal is to learn to move some parts of your body without letting your spine move.

After you master that, stand tall and brace your spine the same way. Then bend at the hips and slightly at the knees to grab a pillow off the floor and return to standing. Did your spine move at all? If not, you’re on your way to mastering the deadlift.

This is a movement you can do with most odd objects around the house: boxes, water jugs, dog food, etc And of course you can use kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells if you have them. Always make sure your mechanics are excellent before you add more reps or weight to each session. 

Carry

Build your grip and core strength and keep your shoulders healthy and strong with carries. You carry things all the time, lugging groceries to the car, hauling soil and plants around the garden, giving a tired kid a piggyback. Carrying something is very accessible and safe—remember to brace your core exactly the same way you did in the hinge section above. Whatever you carry, pick it up with a stiff spine and maintain that stiffness as you walk. 

Carries can be done with both arms or “suitcase style” with just one arm. They can also be done with weight placed on the back or shoulders, held in front of the body, or even held overhead. They are particularly great if you don’t have fitness equipment but can find some odd objects at home.

Each week you can challenge yourself to carry more, and go further. Some forms will strain your grip and others will work your core—and most of them will do both!

Some ideas: Simply strap a backpack on and go for a 30 minute hike, or carry two water jugs around the block or bear-hug a bag of dog food and march on the spot in your living room.  

Putting It All Together

Here is an example of a great workout you can do anywhere, and adapt to the space you’re working in:

50 squats

50 push-ups

50 deadlifts

500-m carry

Set a timer that beeps every 30 seconds. Work for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds for the entire workout. 

If you’re just getting started, use a modified squat to a box and do your push-ups against the wall. For deadlifts, keep it light and focus on a great back angle. 

For the more experienced athlete, select loads that allow you to move for 30 seconds without stopping but challenge your strength.

And if you’re very new to fitness, reduce the rep numbers—maybe to 10 or 15 instead of 50. 

Conclusion

For 2021, seek out simple. Simple doesn’t mean “easy.” It just means “accessible and effective.” If you forego complicated routines and exercises, you’ll remove a barrier that will keep you from getting started and staying consistent. The best way to improve your fitness in 2021 is to find a way to keep going, so start slow, keep it simple and build momentum! Click here to book a call with us and find out how we can help you get started.

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