I had a good laugh the other day. I was working with one of my regular clients and we were doing a simple upper-body strength-training workout. I made a comment about the fact that we were training the ‘t-shirt muscles’ and he quickly mentioned that ‘beach season’ was coming. Beach season? In January?
My client reminded me that there’s only 6 or 8 weeks until many of us start taking off for tropical vacations in warm sunny climates. These are the kind of vacations where bikinis and board shorts come out of the closet and our bodies see the light of day for the first time in months. I quickly agreed. Beach Season is near enough that we’d better start training for it!
I felt that it might be beneficial to put together a column series featuring exercises that could be done over the next 6-8 weeks to shape up for the sunshine. I believe that 3 good exercises for the lower and for the upper body, and 3 for the core should do the trick. Of course it takes more than a few strength-training exercises if you really want to change your body and feel great when you hit the beach. Eating well and burning enough calories to control your fat stores is another a key component to feeling positive about your fitness.
Following are three effective exercises for improving the shape and function of your lower body, emphasizing the hips and thighs. Always stop if you feel pain, and make sure that you consult your physician before undertaking a new fitness program or making changes to your current routine.
This is a great exercise for the entire hip and leg complex. Choose a low, stable bench or step that is below knee height. Start by placing your right foot firmly on the surface, with your left hand and arm in front of your body as if you were running. Bend your left leg and lower your knee down until it’s almost on the floor. Keeping your core engaged, drive upward using your right hip muscles, lifting your left knee up toward your chest as you reach full extension with your right leg. Your arms should switch during the movement, so that your right hand is in front of your body as your left knee reaches the top of its motion. Pause momentarily for control, then bring your left foot back down to it’s starting point, being careful to lower it slowly and touch it lightly on the ground rather than pounding down. Repeat for 12-15 repetitions on each side, completing 2-3 sets in total. The deeper you lower your back knee, the more work your glutes will do.
This is a spectacular exercise for developing athletic glutes and legs. At the same time, you’ll be conditioning the posterior core system that is so important for effective movement and spinal stability. Start in a strong, neutral stance with a light kettlebell or dumbbell in your right hand. Begin to pivot forward on your left hip as you extend your right leg out behind your body, letting the dumbbell draw your right arm toward the floor. Keep both knees slightly bent and work to keep your lower back in a neutral curve with your pelvis square to the floor. Allowing your shoulders to turn slightly will increase the range of motion of the movement, but be careful not to flex the spine forward as you reach the kettlebell toward the floor. Pause momentarily at the bottom, then use your left hip muscles to pull you back up into an upright position. Lightly touch your toes on the floor and repeat the motion. Try 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each leg, maintaining strong core stability and controlled movement speeds. Because your balance will be challenged during this exercise, it’s a good idea to try it near a wall or chair that you can use for support if necessary.
With so many variations of the basic squat and lunge movements, it can be challenging to find enough stimulating options. There’s always a way to keep your muscles guessing. One fun and functional way of doing squats is to stand on a foam roller. I want to stress that this can be very challenging and unstable, so if your balance isn’t great, start with a soft roller that will flatten out a bit, hold onto a wall, or place your roller on a soft surface like an exercise mat. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, a firm roller on a hard surface will really activate your balance receptors and recruit a lot of stabilization muscles in your legs. Performing these squats barefoot is a great way of conditioning the muscles of your feet. Perform 2 -3 sets of 15-20 squats with good core engagement and body control.
-Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for over 20 years and currently owns and operates Williams Health Group, a downtown Vancouver personal training studio and integrated health and human performance clinic. Rob is a sought-after posture and performance coach for celebrities and athletes of all levels, and has recently developed the Sport Posture and Movement Specialist certification program for trainers and coaches. Rob is also an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.