Lie on your back with a book on your stomach. Now inhale. What does the book do? “The book should rise,” says Richard L. Brown, Ph.D., a running consultant in Oregon who trains Olympic athletes. “But most of the time, people just expand their chests when they breathe, and the book goes down.”Expanding your chest when you breathe means your diaphragm is rising, squeezing your lungs and limiting their capacity. If your belly expands with each breath, however, your diaphragm is flattening as you inhale, allowing your lungs to inflate fully with oxygen, which will sustain you in the long run.
* What to add to your workout: You can practice “belly breathing” anytime, anyplace. Just concentrate on expanding your abdomen with each breath. “That develops the neuromuscular patterns that help you breathe correctly when you’re running,” Brown says.
Weight lifting and basketball seem perfectly paired. After all, the more strength you have, the better you can run and jump and muscle people around under the boards. Right? “Actually, strength doesn’t matter in basketball if you can’t translate it to movement,” says Mike Brungardt, C.S.C.S., conditioning coach for the San Antonio Spurs.The ideal marriage of strength and movement is plyometrics–explosive jumping drills. These teach your muscles not just to generate power, but to do so as quickly as possible after another movement.
* What to add to your workout: After you finish your next game or practice session, try these three drills.
1. Standing long jump: Stand, flex your knees, pull your arms back, and jump as far as you can. Land with your feet together and immediately jump again as soon as you land. Keep going for a series of three or four jumps.
2. Bounding: Travel the length of the court doing a high, bounding skip. Exaggerate every movement so your knees and arms swing as high as possible. Again, take off on the next bound as soon as you land.
3. Triple jump: Start with a standing long jump, but land on just one foot, jump again, land on the other foot, jump again, and finally land on both feet.
These drills should take less than a minute, total, but feel free to build up to multiple sets of each one. Sure, they’ll make you look stupid–until you blast past the hecklers and lay in the game winner.
* Obligatory words of caution: Don’t do these drills until you’re warmed up, and avoid them like the clap if you have knee, ankle, or lower-back problems.
Maybe more people would stretch if we could guarantee some immediate benefit. Well, we can. “We did a study showing that if you stretch the muscle you’re working between sets, your strength gains will be 20 percent greater,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., director of the South Shore YMCA near Boston. The subjects in Westcott’s studies were novice lifters, but Westcott says that experienced lifters in a New Zealand study discovered the same phenomenon: If they stretched their chest muscles between bench-press sets, they could lift more weight.* What to add to your workout: For 20 to 30 seconds between sets, stretch the muscle you’ve just worked. You should feel as if the muscle is stretching, but don’t push it to the point of discomfort.
Golf, like baseball, is a lopsided sport. You’re always using one set of muscles to swing from the right or left side, but ignoring the muscles that would help you swing from the opposite side. Normally you’d never exercise this way–you wouldn’t do curls with one arm and not the other, or run on just one leg.
That’s why the most useful exercise a golfer can do is swing the opposite way, according to Gregory Florez, who trains golfers in Salt Lake City. It helps strengthen and balance your muscles, which might help you clear that water hazard.
* What to add to your workout: When you’re waiting for your turn at the tee, take a few practice swings from the opposite side. (If you’re a right-hander, swing left-handed, in other words.) Since you’ll never hit a ball this way, swing easily–start slowly and don’t go beyond about 70 percent of your normal swing speed.
You can also do these opposite-side swings for a minute at the driving range, or any other time you find yourself with a club in your hand. (Insert your own adolescent joke here.)
Don’t get carried away and exhaust yourself by opposite-side-swinging on 18 consecutive tee boxes. A few swings on the first three or four holes should do the trick.
Skating + body-weight squats = more thrust than Ron Jeremy.
It stands to reason that more powerful leg muscles translate into stronger skating, whether you want to get up hills when you’re inline skating for fitness or beat an opponent to the puck in hockey. “It’s like putting a bigger engine in your car. You add power, you add speed,” says Mike Boyle, strength consultant to the Boston Bruins.
You don’t need to move hundreds of pounds of iron in a gym to build skating-specific leg strength. Boyle says an exercise called the body-weight squat will do the job. A few minutes a week is all it takes to power up your skating.
* What to add to your workout: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned a bit outward, knees slightly bent. Focus your eyes straight ahead, and hold your arms however you want–at your sides, straight ahead, around the babysitter, wherever. Stick your butt out, maintain the natural arch in your lower back, and slowly descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor, or almost parallel. Push back up to the starting position and repeat.
Try for a minute’s worth of squats every third day, preferably on days when you’re not skating. Boyle suggests you build up to 100 total squats a week.
* Obligatory words of caution: You should feel the effects in your thigh muscles, not your knee joints. Stop if these squats make your knees hurt.
Swimming + loose ankles = a 10 percent increase in speed.
If you’ve ever used swim flippers, you know what they can do: propel you through the water much faster than you could go without the rubber appendages. But if you develop your ankle flexibility, you can get some of that same propulsive effect, says Mark Schubert, men’s swimming coach at the University of Southern California. At the same time, you reduce the drag that an inflexible foot produces in the water.
A simple 1-minute drill, which you can do anytime and almost anywhere, can improve your kicking and increase your speed by up to 10 percent, according to Schubert.
* What to add to your workout: Take your shoes off and sit on the floor. Extend your legs in front of you, your heels resting on the floor. Now point your toes straight out as far as you can, keeping your heels on the floor, and flex your feet back toward your shins. Slowly repeat for a minute, and try to do this drill once a day.
* After a couple of weeks, take a deeper plunge: Kneel and sit on your heels, your toes pointing backward. Slowly shift your weight backward until your instep touches the floor and your shin and instep form a straight line.
Your paddle sport + crumpled sports section = invincible elbows.
Any dolt can figure out that you need a strong forearm to play tennis well. The problem is how to strengthen it. Play too much tennis and you could end up with tennis elbow. Spend too much time in the gym doing forearm-building exercises and you could suffer other types of overuse injuries in the rat’s nest of muscles and tendons that manipulate your fingers and wrists.
The simple act of crumpling a newspaper can build forearm strength with almost no risk of injury, according to Bobby Bernstein, a coach at the USA Tennis Player Development Center in Florida.
* What to add to your workout: Lay some sheets of newspaper on a flat surface. Start at one corner of a page and try to crumple it into a tiny ball with your dominant hand. Keep crumpling for 30 seconds, then crumple with your other hand for another 30 seconds, for balance.
At the end of a minute, toss the crumpled balls of newspaper into the air and try to serve them into the wastebasket.
Cycling + one-legged drill = smoother, faster strokes.
To the trained eye, an untrained cyclist sticks out like a man at a baby shower. “You see them bobbing up and down and rocking side to side as they ride down the road. People who really know how ride smoothly,” says Craig Griffin, the U.S. Olympic cycling coach.
* The problem: Inexperienced cyclists hammer down the pedals on every stroke, working their quadriceps over and over without relief. Experienced cyclists pull up on each pedal, using their hamstrings and gluteals, while pushing down with the opposite leg. The way to learn this is to practice pedaling one leg at a time. “It puts the lazy part of your stroke to work,” says Griffin. One-legged drills will lead to a smoother, more efficient ride, helping you go farther and faster, and will build more balance between major leg muscles, which will mean fewer overuse injuries over time.
* What to add to your workout: To do this drill, you’ll need toe clips or a lock-in pedal system. Head out to a lonesome highway (the lonesomer the better; you don’t want to worry about avoiding cars). Warm up by pedaling at an easy pace for 5 to 10 minutes. Then let your left leg go limp and stroke with your right leg for 30 seconds. Pedal with your left for 30 seconds while you give your right a rest. Ride normally for 5 minutes, then repeat the 1-minute drill, and continue alternating for 20 to 30 minutes.