I’d spent the good solid part of a quarter century glued to a couch or slouching over a desk actively trading muscle mass for new episodes of Narcos or Game of Thrones. The result? I wasn’t exactly rocking a pair of guns – it was more like a limp fireworks display.Then, three weeks ago I had the crazy idea of hitting the gym and throwing myself at bar-, dum-, and kettle-, bell with all the energy I could muster. I roped in strength coach David Cross who readily took up the challenge of renovating this “fixer upper”.
My goal: take my lifts from zero to hero. And here are the moves that’ll get me there.
1. Farmer’s walk
This isn’t just prepping for the SO’s shopping spree. There’s a reason Cross winds up most days with this exercise (or a variation, such as the Suitcase Carry).
“This is working out your whole body,” he says to me as I fall into a puddle of sweat and sore muscles after my second set. That means you’re boosting the strength in your legs, hips, core, and back – the building blocks of tackling most compound lifts. And it feels great advancing through to the heavier kettlebells.
But more importantly: “You’re also upping your grip strength,” he adds.
Try this: grab a kettlebell in each hand and walk (keep your chest up) over 30m. Then cover the same distance with a kettlebell held at the centre of your chest. Do 3 sets.
2. Box squat
Taking on the squat without setting foot in a gym, you’ll have to hold out on hitting the bar. Firstly, you don’t have the mobility to hit depth, and secondly: “Don’t add weight until you’ve got the technique nailed down,” says Cross.
I’ve been squatting with a raised surface underneath me, dropping the height of my “training wheels” as my mobility and strength improves. It allows you to pay more attention to form, and less on wondering whether you’ve got that ass to the grass.
Here are a few pro tips from Cross:
- Take a deep breath before the movement, and only breathe out once you’re standing upright again.
- Move your hips backward before moving the rest of your body.
- Drive your knees out throughout the movement.
- Only add weight once you’re comfortable with the above.
Related: Use a Box to Squat Safer
3. Front split squat
Know how you can tell you’re hitting your muscles hard? When your legs turn to jelly and you can barely push the accelerator on your attempted drive home.
The front split squat is my least favourite workout – and that’s because it hurts. But that’s the point: this isn’t easy. Want to forge real strength, you have to endure the pain (and even then, it’s temporary).
Between this and walking lunges, Cross says you will add raw strength to your legs – a useful tool when you’re racking up the plates for your deadlift and squat.
Try this: rest your one foot on a raised surface and stretch your other leg in front of you. Now lower your body. Feel the burn? Good. Complete 8 reps and do the same on your other leg. Now finish 3 sets.