Think you don’t have the time to fit an effective workout routine into your hectic schedule? Do you believe feeling like an Olympic athlete is about as realistic as waking up tomorrow looking like Dara Torres? Neither of these is true. The hallmarks of a true athlete are commitment, agility, coordination, and strength—all qualities you can acquire or, if workouts are already part of your routine, attributes you can enhance. Here are five exercises that will have you going for the gold in your personal life.
OLYMPIC LIFTING: THE SNATCH
If you’ve been watching the weightlifting record-breakers at the 2012 Olympics (such as Om Yun Chol of North Korea, who lifted three times his own body weight) you may feel that Olympic lifting is simply too much for you to handle. And while attempting to beat the gold winners probably isn’t a good (or safe) idea, there’s no reason you can’t master your own “snatch” or “clean-and-jerk” (two types of Olympic lifts). Olympic lifting fits right into the profile of the medal-draped athlete; it’s a whole body workout that encompasses many muscle groups, which cover multiple joints. It’s also “much more about athletic ability and coordination than just raw strength,” says LiveStrong, which lists a description of several different types of lifts for beginners. LiveStrong starts with the snatch, noting that it’s “often the first Olympic lift taught to beginners.” Begin the snatch by “assuming a wide grip and shoulder-width stance and pulling the bar off the ground. This movement should be driven with the legs, and as the bar is raised over the head, the hips and knees should be fully extended. Catch the bar overhead with the arms fully extended, and absorb the impact of the lift by bending at the knees and assuming a squat position.” Just remember, when it comes to lifting (as well as any form of exercise): start slow and go easy!
THE TABATA METHOD: ALTERNATING JACKKNIFE CRUNCH
I don’t have time to work out.
Warming up, exercising, and then cooling down just takes too much time.
I don’t feel like I really accomplish anything.
These and other time-related excuses have no place in the world of the Tabata method, a type of High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) developed by Izumi Tabata, a professor and researcher at Ritsumeikan University’s Faculty of Sport and Health Science. The Tabata method promises to get your blood pumping, your heart racing, and the sweat flowing—all in four minutes. (Yes, you read that right!) Try the Alternating Jackknife Crunch demonstrated by Jennifer DiDonato on MadeFit TV.There’s no equipment required, and the four minutes involve as many reps as you can manage in 20 seconds; rest for 10 seconds and then repeat seven times (for a total of eight sets) and you’ll find yourself on the road to feeling like an Olympian.
CROSSFIT: WOD (WORKOUT OF THE DAY)
CrossFit is currently the “hottest fitness trend around” according to US News. Part of the appeal of the program is how inclusive it is; as CrossFit explains, the “needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.” The philosophy preaches functional strength exercises that enhance physical performance rather than, say, a strict bodybuilding routine that builds up one muscle group at a time. Indeed, US News reports that “CrossFit…attracts everyone from professional athletes and Olympians to the overweight-and-out-of-shape to busy professionals trying to tone up and slim down.” CrossFit utilizes a WOD (Workout of the Day) concept that keeps the program fresh with a variety of combinations. Beginners can try a simple WOD as described by LearnCrossFit.com as four rounds of running for three minutes, walking for one minute. Or get a little more elaborate with the Modified Chelsea: For ten minutes, on the minute every minute, do four chin-ups, eight push-ups, and twelve squats. (For those wanting a visual on the Chelsea, the CrossFit website offers tons of demos.) And if you want a cheering squad and support system, one of the many pros of CrossFit is the feeling of community, so you can also find a gym that provides the program using the map at the CrossFit website.
OLD-SCHOOL CALISTHENICS: THE BURPEE
A favorite of CrossFit enthusiasts, the Burpee may have a funny name—but no one who makes it part of their exercise routine laughs while performing this strenuous and effective exercise. The Burpee is a marriage between a squat and a push-up, two potent resistance exercises. With both the squat and the push-up, your own body weight provides resistance, which is now thought to be more effective than weightlifting. “Pair [the squat and the thrust] together, and you have an overall strength builder guaranteed to leave you out of breath in seconds,” reports the Washington Post. The Post notes, “The international network of gyms that promote back-to-basics techniques for ‘forging elite fitness’ have elevated the exercise into a must-do for its athletes.” Watch CrossFit coach Melody Feldman demonstrate the Burpee and see if you have the athletic mettle to follow along (we promise that the effectiveness of the workout will make it worth the initial pain!).
SWIMMING: THE BUTTERFLY STROKE
A shimmering pool, the smell of chlorine, the splash when your body hits the water. The roar of the crowd… Okay, maybe learning the butterfly stroke doesn’t automatically make you the female Michael Phelps. But according to LiveStrong, this stroke—when performed correctly—“burns more calories than any other competitive swimming stroke.” (LiveStrong also provides extensive information like drills and techniques on the Butterfly Stroke.) Swimming has long been known as an effective form of exercise, and it’s not just all about Olympic fever. LiveStrong observes that “swimming is one of the best exercises for an aerobic workout that does not stress your joints,” (because it’s so easy on potentially aching joints, and it relieves the pressure of a pregnant belly, expecting moms love it!) and a recent survey by Speedo revealed that “swimming helps to release stress and tension, makes [swimmers] more confident about the way they look and leaves them feeling mentally refreshed.” A fit physique, self-confidence, persistence are all the qualities of an Olympian. You can embody them too.