Health | Get fitter than ever before13 min read . Updated: 03 Sep 2012, 02:54 PM IST
25 ways to boost strength, stamina and health—from some of the fittest people in India
How do you lose weight rapidly? How do you get fit fast? Should you lift weights at all? In the glut of images and information about getting “ripped", what fitness really is continues to be a perplexing question. “That’s because there are no actual short cuts, and no one exercise routine that fits all," says Ranadeep Moitra, a strength and conditioning coach who currently coaches the Indian golf team. “Fitness has to be built in gradual steps, with strong foundations, with respect to the individual person’s abilities." Here’s what we found when we asked the people who have to be fit for a living to share their secrets.
Decode the kinetic chain
Your body is a big, beautiful, interconnected sequence of muscles, bones, nerves, tendons and ligaments. This is called a kinetic chain. What every elite athlete, coach and trainer knows is how this chain functions—the hierarchy in which muscles and joints must work for any movement pattern. The average person with long working hours in a seated position, or the average gym-goer using weight machines, have compromised movement patterns. The biggest muscles in the body—the glutes, quads or shoulders—are often weak and function inefficiently, forcing the peripheral muscles to compensate. All this noise about “correct form" is to teach your body to activate muscles and joints in the right sequence. Master the gold standard of strength training first.
The push-up: Keep your core and butt braced as hard as possible, so that your body is as stiff and straight as a plank throughout the push-up.
The pull-up: Spend time on the pull-up bar just hanging and trying to pull yourself up as much as you can.
A trick to get you started: Bend your knees a little and lock your ankles together behind you to stabilize yourself while hanging from the bar. This stops the body from swinging. Ask a friend to hold you around the ankles and give you a push when you are doing the pull-up. In a few days, you’ll see huge improvements.
The squat: Stand with your feet just a little more than shoulder-width apart, your toes pointing slightly outwards. Brace your core and upper body, and then push out your butt as if you are about to sit on a chair, and lower yourself by bending your knees till your thighs are parallel to the ground. Your knees should not extend beyond your toes, your back should be straight, and most of your weight should be on your heels. Now drive your heels into the ground and press back up to the starting position. Feel your calves, hamstrings and glutes working. You are squatting wrong if all you feel is the front of your thighs burning. Saina Nehwal does 25-30 repetitions with 80% of her body weight thrice a week, and five repetitions with 120% of her bodyweight once a week as part of her strength and power programme.
Use your body weight
The Mountain Climbers workout combines cardio with strength training and needs no machines or implements. Armies around the world use these exercises when they have no space to train and nothing to train with. For example, get down on the ground in the push-up position. Drive your right knee up towards your right elbow while bracing your entire body and maintaining the plank position.
Push your right leg back into the original position, and as your right toes touch the ground, drive up the left knee towards the left elbow. Get into a good, quick rhythm with this alternating leg movement. Keep it up till you get fatigued.
PRO-TIP | SUSHIL KUMAR
We do an exercise called burpees all the time. We do it to warm-up, between weight-lifting sessions, first thing in the morning when we wake up, to cool down after training sessions, and to get our body back into condition if we’ve come back from a long break. It’s our miracle move—strength for the whole body and stamina in one exercise. Do it any time, anywhere, as many as you can over 10 minutes every day.
Once every week, see how many push-ups you can do in 1 minute (you can rest in between, but you have to remain in the push-up position); then test the number of pull-ups you can do in a minute (when you can’t do it any more and the minute’s not up, just keep hanging); and finally test for the number of squats in a minute. Keep a journal to track progress. It’s a great motivator!
Lift, lift, lift
To be truly fit, or to accelerate your weight-loss and fitness regime, you have to lift weights. Lifting does so many good things for the body—you develop strong bones, you burn more calories in day-to-day activities, you gain lean muscle, improve your posture, and develop stamina/endurance.
Athletes don’t waste time on isolated muscle movements with weights because their focus is always on functional training that activates the kinetic chain. A dumb-bell curl is good for inflated biceps, but has little functionality beyond that. Focus on the primary compound lifts: the squat, the deadlift, the snatch, the clean and the clean and jerk. Drop your elaborate sequence of isolated weight training.
Focus on movements:Here are the six essential and primary movements that our body’s perfectly adapted to performing, and from which all other human movements are based—vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, horizontal pull, bend pattern and squat pattern. Choose exercises that manifest one or two of these, like pull-ups, deadlifts, etc. Update your fitness vocabulary from buffed, cut, ripped to push, pull, bend, twist and squat.
Master this secret move
The clean and jerk is the last word in strength training. It burns more calories and builds more muscles overall than any other exercise. It works the lower and upper back, glutes, quads, calves, shoulders, arms, chest and core. Master this move slowly.. Begin with a barbell with no weights attached. Stand in front of the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart. Push your butt out, bend down from the hips without rounding your lower back and grip the bar with your hands a little more than shoulder-width apart. Stand up, pulling the bar towards your shoulders in one smooth move. As the bar comes up below your chin, dip underneath it, rotate your elbows so your palms face away from you, and go down into a squat holding the bar just on top of your collarbone. Drive up from the heels and stand up, simultaneously pushing the bar above your head. That’s one repetition. Add weights in gradual increments as your technique gets better.
PRO TIP | SAINA NEHWAL
Build a strong foundation
Always build a fitness base before you push up intensity, otherwise you are bound to get injured. Our training always happens in phases. The first phase is light jogging, light body-weight exercises, light weights, and lots of stretching for a few weeks. As the muscles start adapting, we increase the repetitions, start doing harder and harder Intervals (alternating short bursts of intense workout with short periods of rest or light workout). Then we add heavy weights—only Olympic lifts and squats that work the whole body. In the final phase, when the foundation has been laid and the body is primed—for example, just before the Olympics—I did Intervals at maximum intensity, kickboxing, intense plyometrics, a lot of different things mixed up.
If there is one aspect of fitness conditioning that has the greatest bearing on general health, it’s cardiovascular fitness. Lack of flexibility or stability may make life’s different functions difficult, but they won’t kill you. A weak heart will. Cardio
exercises set off a number of positive endocrinal responses within the body like insulin sensitivity, testosterone release and growth hormone release that have a huge impact on a systemic scale. Cardiovascular fitness will have a positive effect on blood pressure, body fat, cholesterol and glucose tolerance. But you can’t just walk or amble along—you need to get your heart rate up to 60-80% of its maximum capacity.
Long, steady cardio sessions (cycling, running, swimming, etc.) are good, but there is a much less time-consuming way of getting the same benefits. High-intensity Interval Training (Hiit) is an exercise routine that involves alternating short bursts of intense cardio with moderate rest periods in between. For example, a 10-second full sprint, followed by a minute of light jogging, repeated 10 times. Hiit sessions should be short and intense, as short as 15 minutes, and not more than half an hour. Six weeks of Hiit has the same effects on the body as 20 weeks of traditional steady cardio, boosting aerobic capacity, carbohydrate metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Mix it up
Your muscles adapt over time (usually two months) to any exercise you do repeatedly, which means the efficacy of the workout plummets. Use this to your advantage. Follow your exercise regimen for seven-eight weeks, then introduce some new aspects in your training. For example, if you’ve been running 4-5km every day at a steady pace for seven weeks, in the eighth, begin a regimen of fast sprints. Muscle confusion is key.
The afterburn idea
Try this simple trick. If your session was focused on cardio exercises like running or cycling, then when you are done, quickly do 12 repetitions each of two compound lifts, like the squat, military press, or deadlift. This forces your muscles to learn endurance by pushing them a little when they are tired. It also activates higher calorie burning.
Go back to basics
No exercise is completely pain-free. If you don’t get a bit of muscle soreness, the workout is not improving your fitness. But how do you stop from getting seriously sore if you like challenging workouts or you’ve just started working out after a long gap? Here’s a surprising fact—complete rest is not the answer. Walking, light stretching, just staying on your feet reduces muscle soreness quicker than complete rest. For athletes, getting immersed in an ice bath after a rigorous training session is now de rigueur. It arrests the wear and tear muscle tissues undergo due to exercise, and is fantastic for pain relief. If you don’t have access to an ice bath, make an ice pack with crushed ice in a Ziploc and use it on the sorest parts. For example, if your knees hurt after running, ice for 15-20 minutes after every run.
There are no miracles in recovery, just like there are no miracles in getting fit. Eat a balanced diet, always warm up for at least 10 minutes (and cool down the same way). Don’t skip the stretches. Learn how to stretch from a good trainer or physio, and spend at least 10 minutes stretching post-workout when your muscles are warm and primed. Finally, sleep 7-8 hours.
PRO TIP | VIJENDER SINGH
This is what we do to build the massive stamina we need for boxing. Start with an 80m dash at 50% of your top speed, then rest a few seconds, then up the speed for the next 80m dash. Slowly, keep increasing the speed of your sprint, so that after five of these you are near your top speed. Do three sprints at top speed, with 20 seconds rest in between each. Then reverse the pattern, slowing down with each sprint till you reach 50% of your speed.
Fuel your workout
Exercising on an empty stomach is like trying to drive a car without fuel. Try a banana, a toast with peanut butter, or even dark chocolate. Carbs provide the energy that fuel muscle contraction no matter which exercise you are doing. Post-workout, recover with a good isotonic drink (specialized sports ones like Gatorade, or natural isotonics like coconut water) to balance lost electrolytes and minerals. Your muscles also break down during exercise, and you need protein to limit damage and build muscle. Protein absorption is heightened after an exercise session, so take advantage of that and eat a lean, wholewheat sandwich with lots of chicken, turkey, tuna or eggs, or drink a whey-protein shake within 45 minutes of a workout.
Eat local, eat simple
Forget all the fancy foods available at your neighbourhood gourmet store; focus on “real" unprocessed foods of local origin. Make sure you have enough nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies and healthy fats and cold-pressed oils in your diet—these, along with lean protein and complex carbs, are the essentials of a good diet.
Freeze super foods
We know all about wonder foods, those antioxidant and nutrient-rich foods that are brilliant for health. But India has a very short season for the two biggest super foods—berries and broccoli. You can easily overcome this. Just buy lots of berries when they are in season and cheap. Wash and hull them, and let them dry completely. Spread them on a tray in a single layer and put them in the freezer uncovered. Take them out after an hour, and put them in Ziploc in a single layer. Now close the zip, leaving just enough open to insert a straw. Suck the air out from the bag with the straw, and quickly seal it. Put the bags in the freezer for an year-round supply of super food. Use in smoothies, shakes, or with oats and cereals.
To freeze broccoli, choose the freshest ones you can find in season, cut them into florets and wash well. Blanch for a minute in a large pot of boiling salted water, strain and dunk the florets into an ice bath for 2 minutes. Then drain in a colander for half an hour. Dry further on a kitchen towel. Now repeat the Ziploc bag trick, and store in the freezer. They will keep for six months, and while they won’t have the crunch of fresh broccoli, they won’t be mushy either. To use, thaw for 15 minutes before stir-frying or steaming.
Make this power smoothie
This should be your daily post-exercise drink. Blend together one sliced banana, two handfuls of berries, two tablespoons of cooked oats, two tablespoons of yogurt, half a cup of milk and a scoop of whey protein powder.
ID the star in your backyard
Guavas are indigenous super food available all year round, and are easy on the pocket. They are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, dietary fibre, vitamins C and A, beta-carotene, lycopene, potassium, and B-complex vitamins. Have a guava every day.
DOC SAYS | VISHAKHA SHIVDASANI
Stress makes me low on energy and affects my mood, which in turn makes me want to eat junk food. Lots of patients come to me with the same problem as well. This is what I do to counter that craving—exercise. A good run by the sea (I live in Mumbai) is my favourite antidote to stress. I also like to introduce tryptophan-releasing foods (the calming amino acid), like milk and a chocolate, after dinner, which helps me get a good night’s sleep.
Saina Nehwal, World No. 4 badminton player and Olympic medallist.
Sushil Kumar, World champion and Olympic medal-winning wrestler.
Vijender Singh,Olympic and World Amateur Boxing Championships medallist.
Heath Matthews,sports rehabilitation specialist, Center for Sports Medicine, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital & Medical Research Institute.
Sumaya Dalmia, fitness expert and owner of SD ACTIVE, a personal training studio in New Delhi, and a ‘Mint’ columnist.
Vishakha Shivdasani,a medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition, and a ‘Mint’ columnist.
Ranadeep Moitra,a certified coach from the US-based National Strength and Conditioning Association. A former trainer with the Indian cricket team and the East Bengal Football Club, he currently coaches the Indian golf team.
Prashant Sawant, celebrity fitness trainer, and actor Shah Rukh Khan’s personal trainer.
Piyush Pandey, head coach, Reebok CrossFit, Gurgaon.