Work it Out with Ray - Week 3: Pump it up with a core workout

Take advantage of the hot weather and schedule a garden workout or outdoor activity for a rush of endorphins and a vitamin D boost, says fitness trainer Ray Lally 
Work it Out with Ray - Week 3: Pump it up with a core workout

Ray Lally, The Happy Fitness Guy. Pics: Larry Cummins

While soaking up the sunshine is a great way to boost your mood and de-stress, it can also leave us feeling lethargic and stiff. By maintaining your exercise routine into week three, you can start to challenge yourself further and incorporate new exercises into a no-equipment circuit routine.

This week’s new exercise is the bear crawl, excellent for boosting slow, controlled mobility. It’s the ideal active recovery movement to break up your more intense workouts in the gym or to add to your at-home exercise routine.

Basic bear position

Start on all fours, hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. Keep your knees bent and hovering an inch above the floor. Maintain a straight spine.

Hold this pose for 10 seconds.

Repeat 3 times.

Once you have mastered this basic position, you can add some variations.

Option A: The kick-through 

Point your right hand straight to the sky and look up.

Drop your right heel into the ground.

Slide your left leg and "kick through" to the other side. Keep your right heel and foot against the floor.

Hold this pose for 5 seconds.

Repeat 3 times on each side.

Option B: The bear crawl

Move one hand and the opposite foot forward. Switch sides, ensuring your knees remain hovering. Engage your core muscles.

Crawl for 10-20 metres or the length of your garden or hallway.

Repeat 3 lengths.

Keep it slow and steady

One of the key differences between these slower, anaerobic cardio exercises and HIIT, or high-intensity interval training workouts, is consistent form. HIIT-style workouts encourage rapid, non-stop movements to increase your heart rate, followed by short recovery periods to catch your breath again. 

However, after a few repetitions of the same exercise, even fitness fanatics tend to lose their techniques and apply excessive weight to their knees and joints, which can lead to injuries. Instead, this week’s slower circuit routine is focused on technique, alignment and correct movement to maximise your potential.

The aim is to incorporate the exercises into a new circuit to try on a patch of grass in the garden.

1. Walk-out, followed by three push-ups, then walk-back.
Reps: three 

2. Your choice of jumping exercise, such as box jumps or explosive jumps.
Reps: ten 

3. The bear crawl for a distance of 5-10 metres (or the length of your hallway).
Reps: three 

4. Bodyweight squat, hold for five seconds, then draw yourself back up slowly.
Reps: three 

5. Bear kick-through. Start in your bear position, and twist the body in a controlled manner out to each side.
Reps: three.

Everything about this workout, with the exception of the jumping, is a slow, controlled challenge. The aim is to improve function strength and range of motion. To hold these positions, core engagement is key. Building up core strength is important to prevent back pain, protect the spine and give you a solid foundation for balancing, lifting and twisting.

This circuit can be practised once for a warm-up to activate the entire body, or for a more advanced practice, repeated three times as part of your workout. By consistently incorporating this workout into your circuit routing, you will start to see big physical gains at all levels.

For beginners, allocate a specific time, such as 10 minutes, to make this circuit less intimidating. Focus on your breath and form rather than the number of rounds you reach - there’s plenty of time for practice and progress. You could also scale up this workout by following three reps of each of the above steps (1-5).

At the intermediate level, fitness enthusiasts can practice this routine once as a springboard between exercise machines to keep your heart rate high without exhausting your body. Otherwise, you could try to work some of the individual exercises into the regular circuit routine you have been building over the last two weeks, making sure to take breaks and be patient with yourself - despite the slower speed, this circuit is sure to be a challenge.

Fitness isn’t just about physical strength and body movement. Taking care of your mental health and dedicating time to rest and recuperate is just as important. Recovery is a key but often an overlooked dimension of building strength. 

After a workout like this, your muscle fibres are strained and your core needs time to recover in order to build muscle strength as well as boost your immune system.

Feeling stiff after a challenging workout is natural, but attending to your body and taking the time to stretch are vital components of any exercise. Taking a short walk to loosen out the muscles or using the bear pose with a kick through as active recovery are great options after a tough workout - your body will thank you afterwards.

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