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Military Muscle's Power Plan: 5 fundamentals to build strength

May. 18, 2012 - 07:01PM   |   Last Updated: May. 18, 2012 - 07:01PM  |  
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Army 2nd Lt. Alan Adkisson demonstrates the back squat in "Fix your form: Avoid injury and get the most out of four popular lifts." (Thomas Brown / Staff)
Former Army Sgt. Daniel Rodriguez performs the lunge-to-squat-to-push press in "The ultimate warrior workout." (Mike Morones / Staff)
Army Lt. Col. Chris Juarez performs the medicine ball stability circle in "Strong & stable: Shoulder exercises you shouldn't shrug off." (James J. Lee / Staff)

These fundamental strength workouts, designed to build a strong foundation and help fight injuries, apply to anyone training for a job that requires athleticism — including those professional athletes known as military service members.

1. JOINT FLEXIBILITY

Endurance squats

In exercises that promote joint flexibility, it's important to work through the entire operational range of motion while being careful to prevent strain and pain around the joints. The squat targets the big three — ankles, knees and hips. A favorite endurance squat program:

Use a 100-pound barbell setup (women go lighter). Progress by increasing reps or rounds — not weight. Start with two rounds:

• 25 reps

Rest 1 minute

• 20 reps

Rest 1 minute

• 15 reps

Rest 1 minute

• 10 reps

Rest 1 minute

• Easy ½-mile run

Rest 2 minutes

Weight machines

Techniques to help reduce joint stress when you're working out on the following machines:

• Seated calf raise machine: Make sure the pad is set back from the kneecap — not over it.

• Back extension machine: Don't hyperextend or you'll risk injuring the lumbar facet joints.

• Seated cable row: Excessive leaning at the ending and starting positions risks lumbar joint irritation.

• Lateral pull-down: Don't pull the bar down behind your head — it may work the lats harder, but without full arm extension, the overall benefit decreases.

2. TENDON STRENGTH

Building up

These exercises help enlarge the diameter of tendons and ligaments, improving their ability to withstand stress and tearing.

Walking lunges. Raise the knee of the step-out leg waist-high, and touch the knee of the trailing leg to the ground. To kick it up a notch, hit the sand volleyball court and execute the lunges around the inside of the perimeter.

Running in the sand. Start slow at a short distance and work up from there.

More lunges

In-place lunges. Practice these to perfect your lunge technique. With erect posture and feet together, step forward about 3½ feet, keeping your back foot anchored. Touch the knee of your back foot to the ground, bending your forward leg about 90 degrees. When you rise, keep your upper body completely vertical.

Jump lunges. A variation on the in-place lunge, this is also a great metabolic exercise. Instead of simply stepping back up, come up out of the kneel by jumping. Switch legs in midair so that you land with the opposite leg forward.

3. CORE STRENGTH

4 essentials

A weak core will cause you to slump in the later stages of a workout and contribute to bad posture in general. To get stronger, do these:

• Planks (front and side): These favorites work the back muscles and act as an isometric abdominal exercise, meaning the muscle length and joint position don't change during the exercise.

• Pullups: These set the outside edge of the core girdle known as "the lats." Execute with palms forward through the full range of motion. Start with an assist machine or do jump pullups if needed, or have a partner give you a lift assist.

• Rotational twists: Touch a medicine ball to a wall behind you or hand it to a partner behind you.

• Back extensions: Use the back extension machine at your gym or do these at home on a physio ball. Remember, don't hyperextend.

‘Engage'

You always hear of "engaging" your core for an exercise, but that doesn't just mean "tighten your abs." Rather, imagine you have a large egg in your stomach. To "engage," imagine you're cushioning and surrounding the egg with your muscles.

Focus on the abs

These include the front abdominals, the obliques and the transverse abdominis.

For a total ab workout: Stand on or straddle a bench with a straight spine. Flex forward 10 degrees at the waist, then tighten your core and flex to the back about 10 degrees. Do 10 reps.

4. STABILITY

It's every muscle

You may have heard of "stabilizer muscles" associated with particular activities or areas of the anatomy. But all muscles act as stabilizers sometimes. Consciously and systematically work through the full range of motion in all the exercises you do, and you'll improve your overall stability.

Also try:

One-arm exercises. These require the trunk to stabilize against excessive rotation, such as in the one-arm clean and press.

One-leg exercises. These require the planted leg to stabilize for balance, such as in one-leg squats.

Key joint: the knees

To improve the stability in these often overlooked but essential components of overall fitness, start with five reps on each leg:

• Touch your heel to the ground about a foot in front of you.

• Raise that heel until it is about an inch above the ground, toes pointing up.

• With body straight and core engaged, perform a Ό single-leg squat, keeping your knee directly in line with your foot and maintaining your extended heel's one-inch clearance.

5. TRAIN MOVEMENTS

Explosive power

Plyometrics is the idea of practicing powerful, dynamic movements to build explosive power. They also improve endurance and neural function. Don't use ankle weights.

• Power skipping. Start with a 50-meter distance and skip, but focus the effort on the lead leg with the knee driving up and carrying the trail foot off the ground. You're going for both distance and height. Slow jog back to the start. Five sets.

• Running arm movement. Grab both ends of a band hooked around a rail. Face away from the rail and go through the arm movement you use when running. Work 1 minute, rest 30 seconds, repeat for three sets.

One exercise - total body

Medicine ball throws build power in your entire body. In cycles, start with a medium to heavy weight to build strength, then go lighter, but do intervals of 45 seconds to 1 minute of high-tempo throws followed by 15 seconds of rest.

• Start with a medicine ball on the floor.

• Perform a squat. As you rise, throw the ball straight up as high as you can. Follow through until your arms are at about 45 degrees. Your feet should leave the ground as you throw.

• Let the ball hit the ground, jog to pick it up and repeat.

Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla.

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