As you get ready to enjoy the parks, beaches, trails and beer gardens, this is your blueprint for reaching peak condition for the sunshine months to come.
1. Pull Yourself Together
Forget the bench press – for all-round strength and muscle, the pull-up should be your exercise of choice.
Not only will it build your shoulders and back, but it will also aid your posture and fire up your forearms.
Aim for two pull-up sessions a week, consisting of 2 x 6-10 reps followed by a third set to failure.
- Grip the pull-up bar with your hands more than shoulder-width apart.
- Brace your abs and pull yourself up until your whole head is above the bar.
- Lower your body under control until your arms are straight.
- Keep your shoulders engaged and don’t sag at the bottom.
2. Fill Your Sleeves
We’ve officially entered t-shirt season, so it’s time to prepare for the gun show. But while biceps exercises might be you go-to sleeve-filler, if you really want head-turning arms your triceps – which account for 70 per cent of overall arm mass – deserve at least equal attention.
“Start with a cable triceps extension and really focus on the eccentric phase – when the cable is returning up high – for extra time under tension,” says fitness coach Ben Camara, founder of Remote Coach.
“Aim for 3 x 15 reps, or try doing supersets with some tight diamond push-ups (with your hands held together in a diamond shape) for an extra hit. End with 3 x 15 reps of hammer curls and single-arm preacher curls.”
3. Lie Low
Whether dozing on a sun lounger, or relaxing in the garden, you’ll spend a lot of time lying down this summer.
But why not put those lazy, horizontal hours to good use with some posture-boosting exercises?
Doing just a couple of yoga poses every day can reduce back pain by a remarkable 42 per cent (according to research in the journal Spine), keeping you injury-free all summer long.
And aside from making you physically stronger, the process of focusing your breathing can also alleviate anxiety and contribute to a calmer state of mind.
4. Leg It
Even if you’re swapping out one of your gym sessions for an outdoor workout as the weather picks up, keep leg day locked in – and don’t be shy with the weight you’re shifting.
Research in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology found that heavy resistance training delivers ‘striking changes’ to your testosterone levels, which will help maintain muscle mass and protect your energy levels.
Heavy squats (within the bounds of perfect form) are best, but box jumps should also be added to your workout armoury.
While box jumps alone aren’t going to give you legs like Chris Hoy, performing them regularly – and even as a warm-up exercise before you get into your heavy lifting – will fire up your nervous system and stimulate the fast-twitch muscles neglected with low-intensity weightlifting.
The result? You’ll not only be able to lift more, but you will also stimulate more muscle growth during each workout.
Before your next lower-body workout, kick things off with 2-3 sets x 5 reps of box jumps – on a box that’s around knee height (or a height that’s going to fire up your legs without completely exhausting you).
5. Rise and Shine
If fat loss is your goal, training in the morning might be the ticket.
“Morning cardio is a great way to burn fat,” explains Camara. “It’s a great way to get in gear mentally and physically, and sets you up with calories burned in the bank. Keep it steady and above 30 minutes, and you’ll soon notice the difference.”
There are also other benefits to making the most of your summer mornings. Research by Northumbria University has shown that doing fasted training before breakfast burns 20 per cent more fat as it conditions your body to burn fat for fuel.
Elsewhere, scientists at Brigham Young University found that 45 minutes of moderate exercise in the morning reduces overeating later in the day. And research by Appalachian State University has shown that morning runs are ten per cent more effective at lowering blood pressure than lunchtime or after-work outings.
6. Saddle Up
Summer is the best season to clock up more cycling miles and explore new terrain. But is your body primed for longer rides?
“Making sure you’re well prepared is essential to providing the best experience for long summer days in the saddle,” advises Tom Davis, a professional triathlete and coach for INCUS Performance. “I recommend hill sessions as a great way of improving your fitness in a short period of time.”
Not only will they build leg strength and cardiovascular fitness, but a study in the Journal of Physiology found that this kind of interval training induces adaptations in skeletal muscle and exercise performance that are comparable to the improvements made from longer endurance training.
“They will also help you get over hills and improve your power on the flats,” adds Davis.
7. Work the Body
Dedicated core training will benefit every aspect of your fitness – from strength, to stamina, to general injury prevention. But before you jump into another set of high-rep sit-ups, heed the advice of fitness coach Luke Goulden.
“Your core muscles exist to resist excessive motion in the spine. As such, it pays to train them to get better at doing just that,” he says. That means planks and isometric holds are the name of the game.
“Pay attention to your hips – maintain a partial posterior pelvic tilt, or slight tuck of your tailbone, throughout – and focus on your breathing: inhale and exhale down into your abdominals. Maintain a neutral spine position at all times, too.”
8. Get a Grip
Your forearms will be on show all summer, so build them up by adding some Fat Gripz to your barbell workouts.
These pads thicken the size of the grip to about the width of a drinks can, to help recruit more muscles in your wrists and forearms.
Finish with some wide press-ups, and spread your fingers out while you do them: the wider, unbalanced grip will work your arms as well as your pecs.
9. Take a Stroll
Whether you’re still working from home, or returning to the office, bag as many short walks throughout the day as you can when the weather eventually picks up.
Research by the University of Missouri found that even short, ten-minute strolls can reverse the vascular dysfunction – such as reduced blood flow and increased stress on the artery walls – caused by sitting down for long periods of time during the working day.
Use the summer months to nurture a new routine of short, daily walks to deliver long-term gains for your heart health.
10. Snack Smart
Summer is a time for enjoying the great outdoors, but it also forces you to run the gauntlet of ice cream vans and fish and chip shops.
Arm yourself against cravings with some chewing gum, a clenched fist and some…plums.
A study in Physiology & Behaviour found that chewing gum slashes your cravings for sugary snacks by ten per cent, while research in the Journal of Consumer Research found that clenching your fist for 30 seconds can help you to control any impulses – like fighting off the urge to buy a Magnum every time you walk past the corner shop.
Elsewhere, research by the University of San Diego’s School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences showed that snacking on plums suppresses hunger and keeps you feeling full.
11. Strike Up the Band
Resistance bands are effective warm-up and mobility tools, but they’re also much more than that.
There are two principal ways in which the body builds muscle: mechanical tension and metabolic stress.
The first, which sees muscles contract strongly when loaded with heavy weight, is less applicable for band training. The focus with bands, therefore, is on metabolic stress: the burning you feel when a muscle is working hard for a long time.
Resistance bands work particularly well for higher reps, and one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that using a combination of bands and weights is more productive than using weights exclusively.
“They are a fantastic tool for training at home and are incredibly versatile,” says strength coach Jack Hanrahan, who recommends 15 to 30 reps, with between 60 and 90 seconds of rest between each set.
12. Calf It Up
Your lower legs are going to be on show a lot more over the coming months, so it’s time to pump up your calf muscles with some targeted exercises.
“If you’re looking to increase the strength and size of your calf muscles, introduce some isometric work,” recommends Ben Camara.
“Start with some seated calf raises and go for 3 x 10 reps, but with holds of up to 20 seconds to help with muscle recruitment and hypertrophy.
You can also work your calves on your summer bike rides, by pedalling more with your forefoot and doing heavy sprint intervals.”
13. Drink It All In
A healthy body is nothing without a healthy mind, but there is an easy way to protect your mental health this summer: just book in a weekly pub or café catch-up with friends.
German research has shown that socialising with other men significantly reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body, while an Australian study found that people with close friends outlive those who feel isolated and lonely.
So amidst the fitness drive, don’t neglect your social life this summer.
Words: Mark Bailey