As my Workouts of the Month often point out, no matter your favorite cardio routine or recreational sport, it’s always smart to do regular strength and flexibility training workouts that strengthen and stretch the primary muscle groups utilized in your favorite activities to improve performance and lower injury risk. If I could choose just one of my twelve such workouts to bold face and underline twice, it would be this one.
Cycling and rowing take place in mainly seated positions. Additionally, the vast majority of us spend most of our waking hours in a seated position – at work, in vehicles, and recreational activities in front of televisions and other electronic screens. Those of us who spend a lot of time on our duffs – by choice or necessity – have muscle imbalance issues. In a seated position our hip flexors, quads and hamstrings (the thighs and front of hips) are in a constant flexed position, leading to chronic shortening, or tightening, of those muscles. Simultaneously, the gluteal muscles (back of hips) and lower back are in a constant stretched state, leading to chronic lengthening, or weakening, of those muscles. If one also works out in a mainly seated position, as in cycling or rowing, the imbalances and resulting aches, pains and potential injuries are exacerbated.
Activity-Specific Workout of the Month Defined: A 30 minute strength and stretch training workout tailored to benefit those who engage in a particular recreational sport or activity. The workouts will be challenging and safe for the novice but will also offer progressions for the experienced. If your children participate in these activities, know that strength and flexibility training is not only safe for kids but beneficial as well. The workouts will have minimal equipment requirements so they can be done anywhere. The goal is to properly strengthen and stretch the key muscle groups involved in the activity so the participant can achieve performance improvements and reduce the risk of injury. Click on the exercise to link to examples and step-by-step descriptions provided by www.acefitness.org.
Strength & Flexibility Workout for Seated Activities
Concept: The primary strengthening targets are the glutes, which are chronically weakened from prolonged sitting, and the core (abdominals and back muscles). Core strength is important because the unique muscle imbalance issues associated with seated activities create poor posture and undue stress on the lower back. Secondary strength targets are the hamstrings, quads and hip flexors. But, even more important for these muscle groups – the ones that are chronically shortened – is flexibility training. Therefore, the stretching portion of the workout hones in on the hamstrings, hip flexors and quads. Be sure you can master the base exercise and each subsequent progression with excellent form before advancing to the next progression. Perform this workout 1-3 times per week, allowing a minimum of 48 hours rest between workout sessions:
Warm-Up: 2-5 minutes of high knee marching, swinging opposing arms to shoulder height as you lift knees to hip height.
Strength Workout: Perform the following exercise circuit in succession with no rest between exercises:
- Squats: 10-20 repetitions. Works quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings. Progression: *add weight by holding free weights, medicine ball or containers filled with water while performing. Start with lighter weights, 1-5 lbs, until you can easily perform 20+ squats in a set before progressing to heavier weights.
- Contralateral Limb Raises: 10-20 repetitions each side. Works glutes and core. Progression 1: Supermans; Progression 2: Birddog
- Step Ups: 10-20 repetitions each side. Works quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings. Begin with unweighted step ups. Progression 1: add weight according to the protocol for squats above* Progression 2: Incorporate the weighted, single-leg step up provided in Step 4 of the exercise link.
- Push-Ups on Knees: 8-16 repetitions. Works arms, chest, upper back and core. Progression: perform on toes.
- Forward Lunge: 10-20 repetitions each side. Works quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings. Progression 1: Lunge with Elbow Instep; Progression 2: Inverted Flyers
- After performing each exercise once, rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit (squats through forward lunge) for a second set of each exercise. After performing the circuit twice, perform the flexibility workout.
Flexibility Workout: Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds:
- Warrior I (right & left side): full-body stretch with emphasis on hips & thighs
- Downward Dog: full-body stretch with emphasis on back and hamstrings
- Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch (right & left side): stretches hip flexors & quads on back leg and glutes on front leg; for deeper stretch see Step 4 progression in linked exercise
- Cobra: stretches abdominals and hip flexors; for deeper stretch: Upward-Facing Dog
- Childs Pose: targets core and provides instant relaxation to end your workout
The keys to safe and effective strength training are the same regardless of gender or age – proper warm-up, form, breathing, load, progressions and stretching. The cues for these exercises provided by ACE Fitness (via my links) are excellent and, if followed, anyone can perform this workout safely, even a novice. It’s important to focus on your own body’s feedback and listen to the cues your body is providing you. Adults are much better at reading those cues than children. For this reason, if any of these exercises are new to your child, I recommend having a professional (such as your child’s coach, gym teacher or sports trainer) review the proper form for each of these exercises with your student athlete.
Even if you don’t own a bicycle and never held a pair of oars, if you’re a desk jockey, you may want to incorporate this workout into your weekly routine too. Your lower back will thank you!
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
Click on the link to view previous Activity-Specific Workouts of the Month: Hockey & Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding & Figure Skating, Golf & Softball, Distance Running, Racquet Sports, Swimming, Waterskiing & Surfing, Cycling, Rowing & Desk Jockeys, Track, Field & Court Sports, Throwing & Pitching, Dancing, Downhill Skiing