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Lee is an accomplished freelance writer specialising in health and fitness.


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Shape Up For Summer

Lee Ashford

Are you feeling unfit, unhealthy and unlikely to change? Summertime is incredibly just around the corner, so there is no time like the present to tone up and shape up just in time for that hard earned beach holiday in the sun.

Remember that New Year’s resolution? Well it’s not too late to start exercising. A lot of hard work and self discipline is required between now and July if you are going to see and feel noticeable changes to your body. Don’t feel disheartened. By staying positive, focused and realistic you can reach your goal.  

Whatever your age, fitness level or ability, it is important to build up gradually. Complete beginners to exercise should start at a comfortable level. Progression is very important, as your body needs to be put under a certain amount of “stress” to gain any actual benefit from exercise.  

Although it is important to work your whole body to achieve balanced results, targeting specific areas of your body is desirable to gain a toned beach body. Popular body parts to tone and shape include “legs, bums and tums” and “bingo wings” (back of the upper arm).

Resistance training will really tone and shape your body when performed effectively. “Isolation” exercises will target specific areas more so than “compound exercises”. Isolation work generally involves one joint action. An example of this is the bicep curl (works the front upper arm area by flexing the elbow against a resistant force, such as a dumbbell).

If you are not one of the thousands of new January ‘10 gym members, then don’t panic - you needn’t rush down to the local health club. Neither is there a need to posses a garage full of weights and machines to start your training regime. Household items can be just as effective and easier on the purse. Bottles of water, tinned food cans, chairs and even a rucksack are adaptable to be used for resistance training at home. Working out in your own living room or garden is an ideal way to kick-start your summer, even for the most sedentary individual.  

Try these home toning ideas:

1.   Triceps dips using a sofa or chair.  This exercise will zap those bingo wings. These can be performed in a crouched position, progressing to a straight legged position. Try two sets of 12 - 15 repetitions (or as many as you can).

2.   Bicep curls using cans or water bottles in each hand.     Start with your hands by your side and flex your elbow until your forearm reaches your bicep. Then slowly lower to the start position, ensuring that your elbows remain tucked in. If heavier weights are required try placing items into a rucksack or even a shopping bag. Find a suitable weight to perform two sets of 12 - 15 reps.

3.   Split squat.     This is a great bum and thigh toner. Stand with feet together and lunge forward to the start position with feet a reasonable distance apart. Now squat down, bending both knees, ensuring that your front knee doesn’t travel beyond your toes and your back knee remains off the floor. Return to the straight legged start position and repeat 12 - 15 times. Remember to change legs. Weights can be added as extra resistance.

4.   Side bends.    An ideal exercise to target “love handles”. Hold a bottle or suitable weight loosely in one hand. Bend to your side (going no lower than knee height) and return to an upright position. Always keep side-on. Repeat this 12 - 15 times and change sides.

5.   Leg raises.    Target your outer thighs by lying on your side whilst supporting your head with your hand. Raise your straight leg up to about 60 degrees and slowly lower. Repeat 12 - 15 times and change legs. Always stay completely side-on. Placing large rubber bands around both ankles will add to the resistance.

6.   Lat raise.    This exercise isolates the shoulders. As it’s an isolation exercise, little weight is required to be effective. A water bottle in each hand should be sufficient. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and arms loosely by your side. Raise both arms up so they are level with the top of your shoulders and slowly lower to the start position. Ensure that arms are straight and elbows remain “soft” throughout the movement. Repeat 12 - 15 times.

Selecting the correct weight is essential. If you are able to comfortably perform more than 20 reps of a given exercise then the resistance needs to be increased. The “no pain, no gain” philosophy isn’t necessarily the correct way of thinking. There does need to be a certain “uncomfortable” feeling within the exercise. “The burn” should be experienced towards the end of the set. This shouldn’t be confused with a sharp pain or ache. Always stop the exercise when loss of form is reached. Continuing further than this point can result in injury.

Training using household items may be ideal when in your own surroundings, but when on the move or at work they may prove to be less than ideal. An excellent way of toning whilst on your travels is to use resistance bands. With easy to grip handles, participants of any ability can use them with confidence. They can even be folded away in a bag or suitcase. Resistance bands come in a variety of resistance strengths. Available for less than £20, easy to use and providing a full body toning workout, these are the ideal accessory to take on your travels.

Time restraints may be an issue. If so, try training in a circuit format. Perform each exercise one after the other in a set order. Time each exercise for 30 – 45 seconds, remembering to include a pulse raiser, such as skipping. This training method will seem somewhat more physically demanding and will burn more calories.

A skipping rope is another workout tool that is easy to take on your travels. Skipping is an excellent way of burning calories as it rapidly elevates heart rates. Beginners may need to skip in short bursts of a few seconds followed by a short rest. Although skipping produces a certain amount of joint impact, improved technique will help decrease the impact on your body. It’s not uncommon to see a complete novice launching themselves six feet in the air in an attempt to clear the rope.

A resistance band, a skipping rope and a can of baked beans are just the job to get you started. You really don’t need the latest gadgets advertised on certain T.V. shopping channels. Exercise moderately hard on a regular basis and you will reap the rewards, not just for this summer but for next summer and beyond.

Gain a head start in your quest for fitness and good health!

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