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Mindfulness exercises

There are tonnes of ways to get pumped using exercise, a HIIT class with booming music that shakes the floor, sprinting your morning run because your so pumped because your earphones are so loud they’re practically bursting your ear drums, or signing up for another spin class knowing full well that the instructor will be screaming at you the whole time. But, it’s important to make sure you’re getting a healthy balance of exercise and rest or relaxation to achieve good health – that’s why we love methods that combine the two.

If you thought ‘inner energy’ was all about sitting on a yoga mat in the lotus position while chanting ‘om’, then think again. Those familiar with the Chinese martial art tai chi may have come across qigong before. Sometimes known by its full name of taiji qigong, it consists of 18 exercises that are used to promote the body’s natural healing energy to reduce stress levels and increase your quality of life.

How does it work?

Focusing on postures and breathing, qigong is aimed at improving physical and mental health. ‘The exercises can help to promote the body’s natural healing energy, reduce stress and create a feeling of wellbeing,’ explains Ronnie Robinson the director of Taiji Europa, (taiji-europa.eu).
If you know a little about acupuncture, you may be familiar with the Chinese theory of internal energy pathways, or meridians, through which ‘qi’ or ‘chi’ – energy – flows through. ‘Each meridian connects to different internal organs and ensures a healthy energy flow to the connected organ,’ Ronnie explains. ‘When the chi flow is regular the body will remain healthy. However, if there are blockages in this energy flow, problems can result.’
The theory goes that ailments occur because there is disruption to the energy flow in the meridian associated with that particular area. The disruption can be due to stress, poor eating habits, or even being too hot or too cold, creating a build-up which energy can’t freely flow through. Qigong helps to clear these blockages so energy can flow through the meridians with as little disruption as possible.

How to do it

The movements are simple, slow and gentle, yet effective in restoring energy. The body is kept in alignment throughout, and breathing is soft and natural. You may not get your heart racing in qigong, but you’ll certainly benefit physically. ‘Think about the natural movements of animals,’ says Ronnie, ‘like how birds take off and fly. They don’t carry the stresses and strains in their bodies that we humans do. Try to emulate the smooth, easy, natural movements that you see in the rest of nature.’
Want to give qigong a go? Perform each move 8-10 times one after another to create a flowing routine. It’s ideal performed in the morning for a gentle start to the day, or a good option if you need to unwind after work.

Qigong decoded

Beihui: A pressure point at the central part of the top of the head
Dantian: A pressure point just in front of your tummy
Laogong: A pressure point on the centre of the palm of the hd
Zusanli: A pressure point a few inches below the outside of the knee

Top tips for qigong

 Listen to your breath Adopt a soft, natural breathing during the movements.

Be aware of your body Although aches and pains are sometimes normal, don’t overdo it. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you.

‘Sink’ your weight and ‘lighten’ your upper body Establish a connection with the ground by imagining your weight dropping deep into the earth while your upper body floats upwards. In reality, your upper body may be heavy with tension while you find it hard to keep your feet firmly on the ground.
Maintain alignment Keep a natural arch in your back and neutral spine, the way we’ve evolved.
Focus and intent Connect with all the movements you’re making and the directions you’re going.
Be natural Think of the movements you see taking place in nature and try to follow suit.

6 Tricks For A Stronger Squat!

In many serious lifters’ playbook, the squat is the go-to lift for developing serious lower body strength and size. It no doubt gets the job done, but as with all exercises, there will come a point where you feel like you’ve hit a ceiling. You know you should be able to move more weight around, but your muscles just don’t seem to cooperate. At times like these, a temporary vacation from the same-old squat routine is in order.

Don’t worry, after you try one or several of these tried-and-true techniques, you can always come back to the squat variations you know and love best. In most cases, you’ll be stronger and more balanced when you do.

1 Try Single Leg Variations

It’s amazing how simply shifting the work from two legs to one leg can exponentially crank up the difficulty. You might think, “Ok, I’ll just squat half of the heavy load I’ve been moving in a back squat,” but in most cases, you’ll find that weight laughing at you the first time you try it.

The increased balance demands of single-leg squat variations make them highly difficult to the unaccustomed, but they are worth it! Stick with them until you find your footing. Unilateral exercises also confer additional benefits in correcting side-to-side muscular imbalances, which many people find to be a key to building even greater bilateral (two-leg) strength.

Pistol Squats

While there are many one-legged squat moves to choose from, my somewhat unorthodox recommendation for you, if you struggle to improve a barbell back squat, is to try the pistol squat. Tread lightly! Even bodyweight pistol squats can be extremely difficult for most lifters, at least in the beginning. The initial instability produces more muscle engagement, and the high level of muscle control this exercise demands may initially force you to hold onto something for balance. There’s no shame in that, I promise!

In the beginning, perform this exercise with bodyweight only until you can safely and confidently hit six consecutive reps. After you’ve done this for a while with good form, you can start adding weights, either by holding a dumbbell plate, a kettlebell, or a couple of light dumbbells held straight out in front of you. Once you can perform 6 good-form reps with a weight between 25 and 45 pounds in your arms, you should see a notable improvement in every other lower-body lift.

2 Spread Out

In a standard back squat, most experts would direct you to point your feet straight forward, or perhaps ever-so-slightly outward. A small adjustment in your foot position, they know, can cause a significant shift in the muscles that are worked.

Following that logic, try this on for size: Spread your feet slightly past shoulder-width and point your toes outward at a 45-degree angle. This adjusted position is called the sumo squat , and it will develop strength and mobility of the hips, adductors, and glutes to a greater extent than a narrow-stance squat.

Sumo Squat

Some people may find this position to be more comfortable for their individual body, and it becomes their go-to squat. That’s great for them, but make sure you do it right before you fall in love. Ensure that your knees don’t spill too far over your toes when you drop it low. And, perhaps even more importantly, don’t flare your knees inward as you bottom out. Get them out wide over your toes!

3 Pause At the Bottom

Are ya ready to feel your quads and buns burn? Try pausing at the bottom of any squatting movement. This applies to front squats, back squats, pistols, and all other variations you see in the gym. This pause eliminates the stretch reflex in the muscles, and thereby forces the muscle to generate more “true” force to be able to complete the squat.

What do I mean by “true?” At the bottom of a deep squat, the stretch in your hamstrings and adductors helps you bounce out of the hole to some degree, even if it doesn’t look like a “bounce” per se. Envision pulling back a rubber band to a stretched position; it is now primed to spring back to its normal elasticity with even greater power. Adding a brief isometric contraction of about 2-4 seconds makes this “bounce” impossible, and has the potential to improve strength and power production from the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and other lower-body prime movers.

Some lifters find this to be such an effective technique that they perform at least some sets starting from the bottom. This is known as an “Anderson Squat.”

4 Add Half-Reps From the Bottom

Trying new squatting variations is only one way to attack a squat that doesn’t seem to be progressing. Another is to take your current form of squatting and simply make it more difficult. A great way to accomplish this is to perform half-reps from the bottom.

These are just what they sound like. Sink down into a full squat, and then rise up just halfway. Pause, and then lower back into the hole before pushing up into the full standing position. Sound easy? In execution, it’s anything but. This technique places more stress on your muscles during your weakest point of the squat movement pattern, which allows you to build strength where you need it most. Just don’t call me when you can’t sit down comfortably for the next few days.

Few people are able approach their normal squatting volume with half-reps being added in, so take it slowly. Add 1-2 half reps per set to start, and build up until you can perform a full set with a half-rep in between each full rep.

5 Shift the Load

When someone mentions the squat in casual conversation—what, your friends don’t do that?—-most people imagine the back squat during which the bar is placed behind the neck. But that is only one type of loaded squat, and to be honest, it isn’t right for everyone. Some people simply never feel comfortable with the spinal compression that results from having a barbell sit on top of their back. Others find that for reasons of balance, knee strength, or something else, they are able to achieve far superior form with other variations. Open your mind and your squat will feel the benefit!

Take, for example, the front squat. In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back. Due to the biomechanical nature of the movement, the front squat places less spinal compression and torque on the knees as well. Simply put, it offers much of the same stimulus as the back squat, but less risk to your most vulnerable areas.

“In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back.”

Most athletes find that maximal weight they can front squat will be approximately 80 percent of a back squat’s maximal lift, so bragging rights aren’t quite the same. But in recent years, having a strong front-squat max has become cooler than ever, and is often taken as a sign of being an overall well-rounded athlete. And you’d better believe boosting your front squat will help your back squat grow, too!

6 Make It Explosive

Common sense says that the only way to develop a heavy squat is to squat heavy. Sure, that’s part of it, but there is another proven method: squat fast. Bar speed is often overlooked because it often makes the exercise feel “easy” or less productive, but cranking up the velocity of your squat can help your squat immensely by allowing you to practice technique while still training for peak power.

So what exactly makes it a “speed squat?” Perform the squat at a smaller percentage of your max. Depending on your repetition range and volume of work you want to get done, this can range between 35 and 70 percent of your one-rep max. For heavier loads, lower the rep scheme; the lighter the scheme is, the higher reps should be. You can perform a set portion of a leg day for speed, or if you’re really dedicated to squatting, you could split your week into light and heavy days.

Another way to add power to the squat is by performing bodyweight squat jumps. Drop down into a deep bodyweight squat and launch yourself off the ground as high as you can go. Land quietly, meet the balls of your feet to the floor, and bend your knees slightly to absorb the impact. Drop back into the squat position and continue your reps in this fashion. As you would in any exercise, maintain proper form throughout, being mindful of spine and knee positions. Don’t lean too far forward or let your knees pass too far over your toes.

Give one or all of these tips a try on your next lower-body training day, and share your experience in the comments below!


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AMRAP high-energy body-weighted workout

WH&F cover model and personal trainer Grace Shelmerdine takes you through a high-energy, body-weighted circuit designed to burn maximum calories quicker than you can say pass me the sweat towel.What?AMRAP stands for ‘As Many Rounds As Possible’, and the reason I love this type of circuit is because it’s so motivating! Instead of having to complete a certain number of exercise sets, AMRAPs are a race against the clock to complete as many rounds of the circuit as possible in the time allocated. This means short rest times, high reps and lots of hard work.Why?Sweaty, exhausted and feeling like you may spew – all in just 25 minutes? Why would you want to do this

High intensity interval training (HIIT) workout

High intensity interval training (HIIT) workout Incorporate high intensity interval training into your workouts to increase fat loss and maximise your results. Exercise scientist Johann Ruys shares his favourite HIIT workout.3 x 1km runs with 2-minute rest in between each (work-to-rest ratio = 2:1)2-minute rest4 x 500m runs with 2-minute rest between each (work-to-rest ratio = 1:1)2-minute rest4 x 150m runs with 1-minute rest in between each (work-to-rest ratio = 1:2)6 x 30m sprints with 10-second rest between each (finisher)Join the movement on Instagram and hashtag #myWHF so we can see what you’re up to!

The best reasons to work out

Toned legs and a flat stomach aren’t the only benefits of working out. According to a research review in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, regular exercise can help cut your risk of more than 20 illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.

‘Exercise is essential for losing and maintaining weight loss,’ says sports scientist Nick Morgan, ‘but the other benefits are just as important.’ Here’s what exercise does to keep you healthy, happy and alive!

Brain

Staying active cuts your risk of dementia and age-related memory loss by increasing the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that makes memories. A 40,000-person Norwegian study found that those who engage in regular activity of any intensity are less likely to develop symptoms of depression.

Breasts

Brisk walking for as little as one and a quarter hours every week can help reduce oestrogen levels in the body, which may lower your breast cancer risk by 18 per cent!

Bones

Bone-thinning osteoporosis now affects around one in three women in the UK, according to the latest research. Taking part in a 45-minute Step aerobics class, three times a week, will help boost bone density, especially in your spine, legs and heels. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also reports that heavy resistance training may increase bone mass, as it places strain on the bones of the joint you are working.

Appetite

Intense exercise can reduce levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates your appetite, while raising levels of the peptide YY, which lowers appetite. A study in the journal Appetite also found that a brisk 15-minute walk decreased chocolate cravings by 12 per cent.

Heart

Not only will exercise add about four years to your life, it can also lower your systolic blood pressure (the top number that measures your blood pressure while the heart is beating) by as much as five to 10mmHg (millimetres of mercury). This is as good as some blood pressure medications. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week.

Pancreas

Lifting weights and upping your lean muscle mass could lower your insulin resistance, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. For every 10 per cent increase in muscle mass, the risk of pre-diabetes should drop by 12 per cent.

Gut

Three to five weekly workouts of 20-60 minutes of vigorous activity is an effective treatment for IBS, according to a Swedish study. Demanding workouts improve bowel movements, and relieve gas and constipation.

Sex drive

Around 20 minutes of cardio exercise gets your body aroused faster and more intensely for a bit of rough and tumble. Not only that, lifting weights can also cause testosterone surges, and women with more testosterone tend to be more aroused and enjoy sex more. 

How to do the Plank up + down

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Time Saver Workout: Mini Spartan Madness

Edgar ArtigaWORKOUT BY: Luis Buron, Spartan SGX Coach In this workout we’re simulating a Reebok Spartan Race. The mix of running in place and stepups imitate running and climbing uneven terrain and the moves mimic Spartan Race obstacles (as noted in parentheses). The workout finishes with Spartan signature penalty, burpees, and we go for 2 min.

How to use your resistance bands for recovery and toning

How to use your resistance bands for recovery and toning You’ll be suprised at how resistance bands can come in handy when it comes to activation, recovery and toning.Also known as physio bands or Thera-Bands, resistance bands are often used to improve flexibility or for rehabilitative purposes.“Resistance bands are great for rehabilitation from injury as they don’t load the spine or put pressure on the joints to the same extent as heavy weights,” says elite trainer of over 15 years Matthew Strickland.“When added to your stretching routine, they can allow you to reach a deeper stretch than you might otherwise be able to achieve, aiding recovery and improving flexibility.”While resistance bands do not correspond to a specific weight and cannot load the muscle to the same extent as a dumbbell, they can also be used to add tension and tone specific muscle groups, such as the glutes, calves, shoulders, back and biceps, and are perfect if dumbbells or similar are out of reach at home or while travelling. They can also aid in activating muscle groups in preparation for heavier lifts.Resistance bands come in varying levels of stretch, from light to heavy, and are usually colour coded.“Heavier bands should be used for larger muscle groups such as the legs or glutes, while lighter bands can be used for muscles that don’t require a heavy load to work them, such as the shoulders,” says Strickland.For activation/toning: Warm-ups that are dynamic, rather than static, can help to increase movement ranges and activate the muscle groups that your workouts will target. “Dynamic warm-ups are important as they prepare the muscles, prime the nervous system and give you an opportunity to reinforce proper technique,” says trainer Alexa Towersey. To prime the glutes and hamstrings for a lower body session, try glute raises with a resistance band tied around the knees; concentrate on pushing your knees outwards, against the bands, as you raise your hips upward to really get the booty working.

DIY diet success stories

Not sure which diet will work for you? Readers Imogen and Erin share their success stories.   Imogen, 46,  has lost 15 kg on the 5:2 diet in about a year   “I’d been exercising and putting on weight, not losing it (the old ‘eating extra to compensate for the exercise’ trick). I’d reached a weight that was higher than my full-term pregnancy weight with my kids, and decided that it was enough. One of my clients mentioned that she had been on the 5:2 diet for two months and had lost eight kg and could still eat cake, and I thought, ‘That’s my kind of diet!’. “I had tried other diets where I restricted my intake to 1200cals/day. I’d lost weight, but found it very hard, and as soon as I stopped [the diet], it crept back on. I like the 5:2 diet because I can eat out and not constantly deprive myself of the foods that I love. I also like how easy it is, only needing to count calories two days a week, not every day.  I don’t love fasting, but I accept that this diet is the one that has worked for me, and easily, without feeling deprived all the time. [If I’m craving something] I can just tell myself that tomorrow I can have that thing I’m craving. I feel much healthier overall since I lost the weight.” Erin, 37,  quit sugar five years ago “Quitting sugar changed my life. Literally. Children were supposed to be extremely difficult to conceive for me. When I was struggling with digestive issues and exhaustion, my boyfriend, a chiropractor, suggested I eliminate sugar from my diet. Six weeks later, by accident, I was staring at a positive pregnancy test. “I ended up with a second pregnancy right after, and the baby weight was so easy to lose. I’m actually thinner now than I was pre-babies!   Quitting sugar was hard for me at first because I was a sugar-holic. However, it’s gotten easier. Now real (processed) sugar makes me sick. I can tell immediately now if I do eat sugar because I get instant brain fog, and the issues that plagued me in the past immediately come back. “I now have two toddlers, more focus, a thriving business, and less weight to carry around all because I gave the boot to sugar.”  NEXT: Try this 5-day sugar-free diet plan>>         {nomultithumb}  

The Workout Plan to Lose 15 Pounds

Michael Svoboda/Getty Images Plenty of people are perpetually unhappy with their weight. Even these folks wouldn’t be considered obese, per se, they might just have enough extra pounds to be considered overweight. But we have good news. Whether your spare tire is a result of holiday overeating or some long-term unhealthy habits, you can beat those last 15lbs by following a killer workout plan. We consulted with Andrew Borsellino, C.S.C.S., co-founder of Precision Sports Performance, and Thomas King, C.S.C.S., strength and conditioning coach with JK Conditioning, to build the ultimate workout routine to get you confident and shredded in two months. [RELATED1] “The hardest part always is just getting started,” says Borsellino. “If you lack self-esteem and are wary about walking into a gym or studio, or visiting a nutritionist to get your journey going, an important first step should be trying to find a place where you feel comfortable and a coach or trainer that you connect with.” But if you’ve been fit in the past and know the ropes around the gym and want to go it alone, our simple plan will help you get off on the right foot. “When getting started, make sure you start the right type of program,” says Borsellino. “If you get going on a program that is way too intense right off the bat, it may keep you from continuing and reaching your goals.” Furthermore, if you’re unprepared for a high-intensity workout program, you could potentially be walking the path to injury. At the same time, starting a workout program that’s too easy or not stimulating could just lead to boredom—and boredom makes you more likely to quit. King adds: “In my experience, the easiest way to sneak fat loss work into your routine is through the use of circuits and complexes. Nobody really wants to spend an hour running on a treadmill when you could be doing more engaging exercises like kettlebell swings, thrusters, and squats. I also like to include at least one more traditional strength training day per week. It allows for recovery from the demanding circuits and the lower reps will help preserve muscle tissue during the fat-loss stage.” [RELATED2] Finally, remember that not all workout plans work for everyone. Everybody is different, and different stimuli will lead to different results, but the most important thing to remember is that this is a lifestyle. “Small changes at a time lead to big improvements and lay the foundation for a healthy life,” says Borsellino. The workout The following workout program, which comes courtesy of King, incorporates three workouts per week: two days of circuit training and one day of strength training. Perform these workouts on nonconsecutive days for eight weeks. Before each session, do a light warmup that includes aerobic exercise (like walking on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes) and dynamic mobility work (like banded shoulder dislocations and rotational hip dislocations). Instructions Day 1 circuit: Perform one set of each exercise before resting. After you have completed one full round, rest for two minutes and start again. The goal is to complete five rounds as quickly as possible. For an added challenge, time yourself and see how you progress as you move through the eight-week program. Day 2 strength workout: The strength day will stick to the basic lifts and pair two complementary movements as a superset. Perform exercises in the same superset (marked A and B), then rest 1½-2 minutes. Repeat for the prescribed number of sets. Day 3 circuit: The second circuit incorporates a dumbbell complex. Choose a dumbbell weight you can use for all the exercises, and be sure to do each exercise without putting the dumbbells down. If that’s not difficult enough, after each complex, row 100 meters as quickly as possible. Complete five rounds of this circuit in as little time as possible. Time yourself and see how you progress over the next eight weeks.  [RELATED3] Topics: Fat LossStrength TrainingBurn FatBuild Muscle

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