by Linda Melone, C.S.C.S., for SHAPE.com
What's on your fitness bucket list?Creating a bucket list of things you want to do before you die won't do much good if you're not healthy enough to follow through on them. So before you make good on your plans to run with the bulls or swim with the dolphins, why not make a separate fitness bucket list?
Each of the following challenges targets a different aspect of fitness, from endurance to flexibility and strength. Once you've mastered one, strive to go to the next level by adding intensity, time, or reps. For example, once you finish a 10K, try training for a half-marathon. Read on for seven goals every fit woman should conquer and expert tips on the why and how.
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1. Complete 25 pushups: Mastering the ability to perform 25 pushups is a very reasonable, realistic, and reachable goal for most women, says Timothy L. Miller, MD, assistant professor at the Ohio State University Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, OSU Track and Field Team Physician, and co-director the OSU Endurance Medicine Team. Benefits include upper-body strength in the chest (pectorals), shoulder girdle (scapular stabilizers), and arms (triceps).
Pushups require no equipment and can be varied in many ways to train different muscle groups (i.e. a closer grip targets triceps), Miller says. "Aesthetically, pushups develop the pectoralis muscles of the chest, which help to prevent breast sagging as women age."
Start with modified pushups, resting on your knees as opposed to on the toes. Keep your back straight, abdominals tensed, and hips and butt down. Your chest should completely touch the floor without allowing your midsection to drop onto the floor. Gradually increase the number of reps as you build strength until you can hoist yourself up on your toes in traditional pushup form.
2. Run a 10K (6.2 miles): A classic goal for those who want to get into running, the distance is long enough to feel a true sense of accomplishment but does not require the same commitment and preparation time as a marathon, Miller says. "The benefits of training for a 10K are not only physiologic but also psychological."
Physiological benefits include cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, and improved upper- and lower-body strength. The often overlooked mental and emotional benefits include not only the sense of accomplishment after completion but also the self-confidence gained from reaching such a goal, Miller says. "These include the bonding and relationships developed through training. Partners supporting, encouraging, and motivating one another is what many runners enjoy the most about training."
Start gradually, increasing mileage by no more than 10 percent from the previous week, Miller says. Beginners should pick a race about three months down the road and ask others to train with them or look for a running group.
3. Master 3 different yoga poses: Yoga requires minimal equipment, provides stretching without stressing the joints, and can improve stress levels and posture, says Maureen K. Watkins, PT, DPT, assistant professor in the physical therapy department in the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University, Mass. "Individuals new to yoga should begin slowly, ideally with an experienced instructor so poses and postures can be corrected and not lead to injuries."
Many yoga studios offer free classes to new students. Look for experienced, certified instructors.
Three good poses to master include:
Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Improve your body awareness, balance, and posture. "This pose is a place to start for many other advanced yoga poses," says Watkins. Changing your arm position, closing your eyes, or increasing the time can make this pose more challenging. How to do it: Stand with big toes touching. Lift up onto your toes and let them fan out, then drop back down, creating a solid base. Bring your weight evenly onto all parts of your feet. Tighten your quadriceps, allowing your knee caps to rise. Rotate both thighs inward, tucking in your tailbone. Tighten your belly; widen your collar bones, making sure shoulders are parallel to the pelvis. Keep your neck long, and your shoulder blades down and back.
Warrior I: This pose lengthens the front of our bodies, Watkins says. Much of our day is spent sitting; and by stretching the front thigh muscle it can improve our posture and can help with low back pain.
Bridge Pose: This pose address two areas where women want to improve: the buttocks and inner thigh, Watkins says.
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4. Add sprinting to your routine: Adding sprint training to your running routine has a number of benefits, Miller says. The initial benefit comes simply from the variation in the workout, which prevents boredom. Plus, the American Council on Exercise promotes sprinting as one of the best ways to tone the glutes, and when practiced as intervals, sprinting can also speed up calorie burning.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, sprints also help optimize long, slow distance runs, Miller says. "Your body needs to know what it feels like to run fast in order for it to perform at that level." By adding one or two high-intensity interval sessions to your weekly routine, your body will develop the fast twitch muscle fibers required for sprinting, as opposed to only the slow twitch fibers most commonly associated with endurance. "This type of training, however, should be added gradually to prevent overuse injuries," Miller says.
Try this: 30 to 60 seconds of sprinting alternating with 60 seconds of light jogging; repeat for 10 or more minutes. Adjust the intensity of the active phase and length of the rest phase according to your fitness level.
5. Master 3 plyometric moves: Adding a hop, skip, and a jump to your workouts boosts fat-burning and uses muscles you don't tap into while doing endurance work. Plyometrics, also known as jump training, form the basis for extreme workout programs like P90X.
"In addition to fat-burning, [plyometric moves] teach you how to rapidly decelerate the body and reaccelerate in the opposite direction," says Neal Pire, MA, CSCS, FACSM, owner at Inspire Training Systems in New Jersey and author of author of Plyometrics for Athletes at All Levels. This ability comes in handy whether you're chasing a ball to the sideline in tennis then immediately returning to center court, or simply jumping off the commuter bus and immediately jumping over a puddle onto the curb, Pire says. He recommends incorporating the following moves. Do them prior to your workout and after a thorough warm-up. Repeat each for 10 seconds, or five jumps.
Squat Hops: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your hands clasped behind your head. Keeping your weight on your heels, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause in the squat. Without counter-movement and without the use of your arms, jump as high as possible. When landing, make sure to absorb the impact by pushing your hips back and flexing your knees.
Slalom Hops: Stand in an upright position with your knees slightly bent and your feet about shoulder-width apart. Flexing your knees to quickly drop your body 10 to 12 inches, rapidly explode upward, forward and to the side. Swing your arms forcefully upward. Upon landing, immediately repeat the jump, but jump forward diagonally in the opposite direction.
Speed-Skaters: Stand on your right leg with your left leg behind you with your left toe on the ground for balance. Flexing your right knee to lower your hips, explode to your left. Land on your left foot, bending your left knee to absorb your landing impact and bringing your right leg behind your left foot to counterbalance as you decelerate. Immediately reverse direction, leaping back onto your right foot.
6. Learn to swim: Swimming can have a positive impact on body fat, insulin levels, and overall health, Watkins says. A 2010 study published in the journal Metabolismcompared a group of women walking versus swimming for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity three times a week for one year. The women in the swimming group lost more weight, experienced improved body-fat distribution, and insulin in the short term.
If you're not a natural aqua woman, check out your local YMCA center, Watkins suggests. They offer swim lessons for adults of all levels and various aquatic classes, such as aquatic cross training, water aerobics, aqua jog, and even prenatal water classes. "Group classes can help you to stay motivated, have fun, and be social," she adds.
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7. Do 5 pull-ups: There's a reason why the military uses pull-ups in basic training: they're tough! "Most women can't do one pull-up," says Pire, referring to the exercise formerly known as a chin-up. We tend to do more pushing than pulling moves in our everyday activities, which can lead to weak upper-back muscles and contribute to neck aches and pains. "It can also lead to shoulder weakness, which in turn leads to pain and dysfunction. Pull-ups can help correct that imbalance. Add these to your upper-body workout once or twice a week for a defined back and strong upper body.
(Assisted) Pull-Ups: Stand on a box or have a partner help push you to the proper pull-up position, with hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you with chin over the bar. Slowly lower your body and try to fight gravity for five seconds. Repeat. As you become stronger, try to pull yourself up on your own to complete the pull-up.
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by Linda Melone, C.S.C.S., for SHAPE.com