As the title implies, I believe in “practical fitness”. In my opinion, many people make fitness an obsession that takes over an inordinate amount of their day. I’m not saying it should be something like, “Oh, yeah, time to do that again”, only doing it as a once-a-week-drudgery. Dedicated physical exercise should be something we all engage in on a daily basis. But, it should be in the proper context: to prepare and maintain our body to live safe, healthy, active, productive lives. Physical exercise isn’t the focal goal, but its benefits are. It’s for this reason that I don’t believe that a career in professional sports is the best use of a human being’s potential. With this in mind, let’s proceed.
To engage in intense physical exercise without a warmup is dangerous. I myself have injured certain muscles on numerous occasions because of a failure to warm up. A warmup shouldn’t be done just before dedicated exercise but should be a morning routine, as it helps you work better even when you aren’t engaging in dedicated exercise. You won’t be plagued with aches and cramps at work, if you take a few minutes to warmup.
The best type of warmup is the dynamic warmup, as opposed to the type of static stretching that has been the standby for the past many decades. Since an excellent warmup article has already been written, I won’t repeat that. Please go and read it before continuing!
As I mentioned earlier, the warm-up at least should be a part of everyone’s daily routine. Research has shown that proper stretching (warm-up) can eliminate many issues, such as discomfort. For example, properly stretching the ankle can eliminate knee pain. It is also necessary prior to intense exercise, such as running, to prevent serious injury. Bottom line, if you’re going to work out, warm up.
You probably noticed that article was a little light on warm-ups for the upper body, i.e the arms and shoulders. For the arms, windmills (spinning your arms in a circle that starts horizontally inline with your shoulders and widens every ten reps till you are going above your head and down to your waist. Do this for 30 seconds and then reverse direction and repeat), and another is assuming a boxing stance and throwing crossovers, which has worked particularly well for me. Here are a couple of other useful upper body warm-ups.
Dr. Mike Marshall, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, designed this exercise to warm up the arms prior to baseball games and practices. Strap wrist weights on both arms or hold dumbbells in both hands. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold your arms at your sides with your palms facing forward. Swing both arms forward and upward to shoulder height simultaneously. Pronate your forearms, turning your thumbs downward, as your arms approach shoulder height, then let them drop back down and swing behind your back. Turn your forearms back to the starting position and repeat continuously for 16 total repetitions.
This scissor stretch lengthens the muscles that pull your arms toward the center of your body and those that flex your elbow joints. Start in the same position as arm circles, with your arms extended away from your shoulders. Move both arms horizontally in front of your chest, crossing your left arm over your right, then reverse back to the starting position and beyond, moving your arms behind your shoulders. Move both arms back in front of your chest, this time crossing your right arm over your left, then spread your arms out again. Continue alternating like this for your desired number of repetitions.
For a triceps stretch, lie on the back of your upper arms and facilitate elbow-joint extension ranges of motion. This exercise stretches the triceps dynamically. Lift your left arm above your head, then bend your elbow, bringing your forearm and hand behind your head. Place your right hand behind your left elbow and pull backward until you feel a gentle stretch through your triceps. Hold for one to two seconds, then release and extend your arm overhead. Immediately bend your elbow again and pull backward again with your right hand, stretching the triceps slightly farther than the first time. Continue this cycle multiple times. Perform the stretch with your right arm as well.
The order you do your exercises in also can help warm up your muscles. For example, a good order could be: jumping jacks, then squats (un-weighted), then sit-ups, then push-ups, ending with your pull-ups, chin-ups, and dead lifts. This order runs from easiest to hardest, giving muscles a good round of warming up prior to moving on to more difficult exercise. You should also do a set of your exercises prior to running, for the same reasons stated above.
I think this concludes the warm-up!
Practical Fitness Exercises
Practical fitness is very simple; it does not require numerous expensive pieces of equipment. These exercises are what our fighting men rely on to be of the most physically fit and strong people on the planet. (I don’t believe in steroids and fanatic body building. What’s the point?) At the end of this section, I will include a list of URL/resources for helpful diagrams of each exercise. I will use Snip URLs.
This is a very useful full body exercise that also is a good warm up and improves balance and flexibility.
Stand with feet together and your hands down by your side. In one motion, jump your feet out to the side and raise your arms above your head. Then, immediately reverse that motion by jumping back to the starting position.
The pushup is probably the most known and recognizable exercises the world over. It engages the arms, back, and legs and is truly the essential exercise.
Start on all fours with the hands slightly wider than, but in line with, the shoulders. (The body should form a straight line form the shoulders to the ankles.) Squeeze the abs, glutes, and thighs as tight as possible and keep them engaged. Then, lower the body until the chest just touches the floor, making sure that the elbows are tucked in close to the torso and have created a right angle (ninety degrees) with the forearm. Pause for a moment, and then push yourself back to the starting position.
Please note that this is military pushup form, which is more difficult because it much more intensely engages the triceps. Please see this excellent article for the difference between military and standard pushups:
This is the infamous sit-up, known for exhausting people and strengthening abs everywhere.
Assume the sit-up position, lying on your back with your knees up at a 95 degree angle (see image), with your hands behind your head with fingers interlocked. Unless you have very strong abdominals, you will have to either place your feet under an object (e.g, edge of a couch) or have someone hold your ankles. The correct form for a sit-up requires that your heel always remain in contact with the ground; you can lift the rest of your foot off the ground.
While doing these, tighten your abs and keep them engaged. Now, sit-up to your knees, keeping your back straight; this is essential. Hold for a second and the return to starting position.
Undoubtedly one of the hardest, this is one of the best exercises for strengthening the arms and back.
Stand underneath the bar and grasp it with your hands, with your arms in front of the bar. Your arms should be slightly farther apart then shoulder width. Cross your feet, one ankle on top of the other. Pull up on the bar, raising your chin above and over the bar, controlling your body (i.e, no flinging yourself up there). Return to the “hanging position” (down till your arms are extended, but without your feet touching the ground).
This is a slight variation of the pull-up that engages primarily the biceps, making it easier, as the pull-up requires more back strength. The only difference between this and the pull-up is that you grasp the bar with your palms facing you and your arms shoulder width apart; the chin-up engages primarily your arms, not so much your back. It is still a exercise you should do.
NOTE: Never attempt to do a Pull-up or a Chin-up with the bar behind your head! It isn’t “taking it to the next level”; it’s a sure-fire way to suffer a debilitating back/neck injury!
As one of the very best exercises for developing upper leg and glute strength, the squat also involves the rest of the leg and the lower back.
Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your arms at your sides. Imagine you are going to sit down in a chair. Now, sit back butt first, with your torso following. Remember to keep your torso and head straight; think of a board from the top of your head to your waist. You will bend forward at the waist but not higher. Never bring your head forward farther than your toes.
Go down until your upper leg has created a right angle at your knee with the lower leg; no farther. As you go down, raise your arms up and forward, bringing them together until they touch. Do not attempt to raise them higher than your shoulder level at the full drop of the squat, as this will cause you to bend your back. You may also hold your arms out straight in front of you for the whole squat. Proper squat form requires your back to be straight at all times! Then, return to the starting position.
The basic squat is done without dumb/bar bells; the weights can be added as an advanced exercise, but warm up with basic squats first. Weights definitely will increase you muscle mass more aggressively. A bar bell and some weights definitely would be a good investment for your retreat.