Expert trainer Jean-Claude Vacassin talks New Year resolutions, and launches his four-week guide to getting back on the fitness wagon.
“I’ve been around for enough ‘New Year, New You’ cycles to have a fair idea of what’s working and what isn’t. Overall, I’m pro-January and the new start it offers people – largely because I understand that, for many of us, what’s on offer is not exactly appealing. Much of it is about the confusion that the marketing din creates. There’s so much noise and conflicting information that we don’t know what’s solid advice and what’s marketing nonsense any more.
“The fact of the matter is that, fundamentally, very little has actually changed over the past decade. Sure, we’ve got new gadgets, bigger and brighter gym spaces and access to more personal training, but that’s half the problem. What works isn’t necessarily sexy, so we’ve looked at various ways of repackaging things in an attempt to get more people involved.
But core principles don’t change. I’m not trying to be the fitness grinch, but what works is very simple and, to most people, pretty unsexy. Here are five key things I know to be true, which we should all consider when making fitness resolutions.
1. There is no magic diet
The best nutritional programme is the one you buy into. Unless you’re stepping on to a bodybuilding stage, perfect is not the goal. Base your core habits around quality, fresh produce and the rest will take care of itself.
2. There is no perfect routine
The best programme is the one that you enjoy and will do. A mediocre programme done with intensity will always trump a ‘perfect’ one done reluctantly.
3. One size does not fit all
Everything has worked for someone at some point, but that does not mean it will work for you. It takes time to get it right, so be patient and focus on what works best for you and your goals.
4. Progress is not always steady
The reason people fall off the wagon is because they give up once the initial honeymoon period is over. It’s not about what changed this week; it’s about what changed over the course of several months.
5. Movement is as important as exercise
A regular gym routine does wonders for strength, health and fitness, but in my experience those in the best physical and mental shape make time for 30 minutes of activity a day – and that includes walking.
Here we’re focusing on four key movements that will be the cornerstones of your training programme. The number of repetitions and overall training volume have been kept low, so we can focus on technique and quality movement. Warm up to a weight that you can lift for the desired number of reps, and then perform the given number of working sets. Do so within your technical maximum, not your absolute maximum, and maintain your form throughout.
Often referred to as the ‘king of exercises’, the back squat is a huge tool in your fitness armoury.
- Keep your back muscles engaged by actively pulling the bar into you at the top of the movement
- Brace your trunk, and maintain tension throughout the movement
- Picture ripping the floor apart with your feet on the way down to maximise hip engagement
- Drive hard out of the bottom position, keeping your torso angle throughout
- Finish the movement by bringing your hips through and squeezing your glutes at the top
Romanian deadlift (3×8)
Romanian deadlifts are a great exercise for strengthening the posterior chain (the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves) – a key component of a thorough strength programme.
- Start the movement with a tall, upright posture and maintain that position throughout
- Breathe and brace at the top of the movement before starting the lowering portion
- Keeping your knees slightly bent, prepare to push your hips back as you lower the bar down the thighs
- Pause at the bottom position, before restarting the movement by driving your hips forward
- Keep your grip tight and back engaged throughout, to ensure your torso remains extended and upright
Often overlooked in favour of other pressing movements – a mistake given the full-body challenge they present.
- Keep your body tight, and torso engaged, throughout your movement
- When lowering yourself down – the eccentric phase – draw your shoulder blades together
- Remain parallel – your chin, chest and hips should reach the floor together
- Picture pushing the floor away from you as you begin your ascent
- Ensure your hips also rise by engaging your stomach muscles, pushing your tailbone upwards
Prone row (3×8)
A strong grip and back is crucial for injury prevention and overall performance, so row variations should be central to every training programme.
- Stay as tall as you can when you set up on the bench, chest raised
- Keep your core and glutes engaged throughout the movement, rather than simply leaning into the bench
- While moving, row your elbows back through your ribs, actively squeezing your shoulder blades and mid back at the top of the exercise
- Hold the active contraction for a second or two when in that top position
- Lower slowly, using the strength of your grip and biceps to keep the movement smooth
Week two will be uploaded shortly, keep an eye out…
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