We’ve seen the future of fitness, and it looks a lot like the present.
It still involves heavy weights and copious amounts of sweat, but it also includes heart rate monitors, big-screen TVs and electrodes strategically placed on buttocks. Only in the US, eh . . .
In the Land of the Brave and the Home of the Free, data is the new sweat. Results Fitness in California has crunched 16 years’ worth of workout logs from thousands of clients, while the Glute Lab in Phoenix collects muscle-activation stats that it shares with the world. Ultimately, these efforts improve outcomes for us all.
Here, we’ll show you how to science the shit out of your workouts, with tips from the most creative trainers on earth. You’ll learn techniques used by film stars, powerlifters, speed demons and tech titans.
You’ll get the most out of what you have—whether you train in a big box, a sandbox or completely out of the box.
1. MEASURE YOURSELF TO REACH NEW HEIGHTS
GYM JONES, SALT LAKE CITY
Sometimes you have to block out gym time in order to test yourself.
Fitness tests do more than give you a challenge or gauge your progress. Approached the right way—with discipline—they also teach you to push through the urge to slow down or quit.
You need that skill to reach elite fitness, says Rob MacDonald, Gym Jones’s general manager.
Here’s one of MacDonald’s favourite tests that you can do anywhere: 100 burpees. Start a timer and do 100 strict burpees—your chest has to touch the ground on the push-ups, and you have to jump at least 15cm at the top.
Repeat the test once a week and try to improve your elapsed time with each attempt.
2. LEARN TO DO YOUR FIRST CHIN-UP
IRON BODY, BOSTON
Do hollow-body holds: hang from a bar for 30 seconds with your abs pulled in, suggests Iron Body’s Artemis Scantalides. Then try it with your arms bent 90 degrees.
When you can do 3 sets of 30 seconds, try a chin-up!
3. PACE YOURSELF SMARTER
McMILLAN RUNNING, MILL VALLEY
Run at a conversational pace for 25 minutes, says owner Greg McMillan.
Then speed up every 2 minutes until at minute 40 you’re going fast. At minute 45, sprint until you tire. Afterward, jog for 5 minutes. Do this weekly.
4. SHAKE THINGS UP TO GET LEAN
RESULTS FITNESS, SANTA CLARITA
Results Fitness owner Alwyn Cosgrove, is obsessive about keeping up with new developments in workout equipment and training techniques.
“But what I don’t have is unlimited time with clients,” he says.
That’s where data comes in. Whatever he adds to a client’s workout has to deliver quantifiably better results than what it replaces. Here’s what’s working now.
Drop the Clock
Interval training is usually on the clock: go hard for x amount of time; slow down for y amount of time.
Cosgrove favours heart rate zones: work until you hit 85 per cent of your max; then ease off to 65 per cent. Improve by finishing more intervals in 10 minutes.
Go Off Center
Let’s say you’re doing a farmer’s walk with 20kg dumbbells. Easy, right?
Now try it with a single 40kg dumbbell on one side. The lopsided load increases the challenge, notably to your core.
Try it with lunges, step-ups, squats, and most upper-body exercises.
Wake Up Your Muscles
When you lift a sandbag, the weight shifts and your central nervous system has to act fast to recalibrate your muscles. This instability helps burn more kilojoules and turns every move into a killer core exercise.
No sandbag? Use a TRX or Swiss ball.
5. IMPROVE YOUR REAR VIEW
THE GLUTE LAB, PHOENIX
Bret Contreras has dedicated his career to building better backsides.
The seat of his efforts is the Glute Lab, a four-car garage that he turned into a combo hard-core gym and science lab. He uses a force plate to assess power, electromyography (EMG) and ultrasound to peer inside muscles, and video-capture technology to study movement.
Among his findings:
Squats + Hip Thrusts = Better Performance
Contreras’s research shows that squats build the lower fibers of the glutes, while hip thrusts hit both the lower and upper fibers. To achieve the best results, do both.
You may also become a more well-rounded athlete: his latest studies show that squats are best for improving vertical jump, and hip thrusts improve horizontal acceleration, helping you run faster.
Trust the Feeling
Using EMG to measure muscle stimulation, Contreras has found big differences in the way various exercises affect different people. He says his clients can usually tell which exercises deliver the most activation because they just “feel” best.
“Trust your instincts and listen to your body,” he says. If you feel you’re getting more out of squats by turning your toes out, you’re probably right.
6. DEADLIFT YOUR WAY TO ACTION HERO SIZE
RISE NATION, LOS ANGELES
Rise founder Jason Walsh trains an A-list roster that includes Men’s Health cover guy Matt Damon. They do heavy, low-rep deadlift sets, Walsh’s top choice for gaining size and strength.
Every few weeks they “go for broke” by loading the bar with 50 to 70 per cent of their 1-rep max and doing 3 sets of as many reps as possible. “It’s hard, but it’s critical for beefing up.”
7. SPRINT SAFELY WITH THIS TREADMILL DRILL
PARISI SPEED SCHOOL
We all want to run faster than the next guy. But ease into it, advises Speed School founder Bill Parisi.
On the treadmill, gradually add speed and elevation until you hit a pace you can maintain for only 20-30 seconds. Then slow to a walk or jog for 1-3 minutes, and repeat. Do 2-4 sprints your first workout and build up to 8-12.
8. LET THE CLASS PUSH YOUR CARDIO EFFORT
New Yorkers have a long menu of choices when it comes to single-purpose training studios: yoga, cycling, running, rowing, boxing and even pole dancing.
The attraction? Lots of company.
“Groups push you harder than you push yourself,” says Robert Pendilla, a SoulCycle instructor. Music makes a big difference too. “Find the soundtrack that inspires you to work harder.”
9. GO HARD, BUT NOT TOO FREQUENTLY
PLATINUM, LOS ANGELES
Intense interval workouts are a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, but do them too often and you’ll burn out, warns Platinum owner Peter Park.
Three challenging sessions a week is plenty if you’re younger than 35. If you’re older, make it two.
Train hard on interval days, but lighten up and do easy work (at a conversational pace) on recovery days.
10. KEEP YOUR LIFTS INJURY-FREE
THE MOVEMENT, MINNEAPOLIS
Some days a lift just doesn’t feel right. The fix, says Movement founder David Dellanave, is responding to your body’s signals.
Say it’s leg day. First, reach for your toes and stop when you feel tension.
Now try a body-weight squat, and then reach for your toes again. Were you able to go lower? If not, then save your barbell squats for another day.
11. TRY THE MOST JOINT-FRIENDLY SQUAT
INDIANAPOLIS FITNESS AND SPORTS TRAINING
Struggling with barbell squats? Co-owner Mike Robertson recommends the two-kettlebell front squat.
“It’s almost impossible to screw up,” he says. “It keeps your lower back in a great position and crushes your quads, glutes and core.”
Hold two bells in the racked position, elbows down and bent, the bells resting on your forearms. Squat.