Strong for summer: Your four-week plan for a fitter you
Welcome to the Strong for Summer body plan, your four-week guide to a fitter, healthier and stronger you.
We've teamed up with experts in both fitness and nutrition to devise a training programme exclusively for Sunday Independent readers. Follow it for the next month to help you achieve the results you want this summer and take your first steps on the path to a healthier lifestyle.
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So how does the fitness programme work?
The Strong for Summer plan can be done in or out of the gym and requires little to no equipment.
The plan involves three workouts a week, each session 35 minutes long. It is suited to all fitness levels, whether you're just getting off the couch (there are easy options for the tougher exercises) or are a regular in the gym. "Each workout is challenging - you will sweat," says our expert, Megan Williams (see above). "You'll have to push yourself but you will learn so much about your body and the strength it has to achieve any physical challenge."
Megan advises boosting the plan with weekly Bonus sessions (right), as well as trying different types of sport or activity that might just end up becoming a regular hobby.
"Don't feel pressured to hit a certain level of fitness, or to perform each workout perfectly right away," says Megan. "The most important thing is that you work out to your full potential." Make sure you have support at home; share your progress with a friend or start the plan with a friend or partner.
Before you start
1 Consult your doctor
Before starting any type of exercise or food programme, be sure to consult your GP.
2 What you need
Most of the exercises in our programme use your own body weight, but there is an option to include weights if you prefer - in which case, use a small set of dumbbells, anywhere from 2-5 kg.
3 Accountability photos
Otherwise known as before and after photos. Megan explains: "They will help you document your progress over the next four weeks, and work as a great motivator." Try to recreate the same conditions each time you take the photo - wear the same clothes and stand in the same place with the same lighting. Capture the same three positions each time, front, back and side.
4 Other progress measures
Some people like to check their progress on a weighing scales. "I prefer the photos," says Megan. "But if this is your preferred approach, stick to weighing yourself before and after your four-week plan. Don't step on the scales during the programme. It's not fair to you or the hard work you are putting in to get hung up on a number that doesn't accurately reflect your progress."
Introducing our experts
Both of our experts are athletes themselves and know the demands that training makes on the body.
Megan Williams is a former professional rugby star, a fully qualified nutritionist and personal trainer, as well as creator of moveenergiseglow.com, a platform for health and fitness. For Strong for Summer, she has devised a programme of workouts that build week on week to increase strength and fitness.
Daniel Davey is a performance nutritionist. He has an Msc in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Public Health, as well as qualifications in strength and conditioning and has worked with the Leinster rugby team and Dublin senior footballers. Here he sets out a plan that offers meal options for your workout days and rest days, as well as motivational tips.
Your weekly workout schedule
Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: Legs and cardio
Thursday: Bonus Session/Free style
Friday: Full Body
Saturday: LISS session
Sunday: Rest day
While the plan includes three workouts a week, staying active on two other days will boost your strength and fitness and bring faster results. Megan suggests adding a Bonus and LISS session each week, as well as challenging yourself with something new.
You may have heard of HIIT, says Megan, which stands for High Intensity Interval Training. It involves high bursts of explosive work, followed by a short amount of rest, and is a very effective way of boosting fitness. Each week add one Bonus session of 20 minutes of high intensity work.
It's quick! "When you're short on time, HITT is perfect," says Megan. "You can get a quick and effective workout in as little as 20 minutes. HIIT increases endurance. Pushing yourself to your max with every movement will increase your endurance both mentally and physically. It also aids fat loss. HITT workouts increase your heart rate and your metabolism. Finally, HITT increases your EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) or the after-burn effect so you keep burning calories after you stop exercising."
"Each week, we recommend including LISS sessions to mix things up," says Megan. LISS stands for Low Intensity Steady State cardio. "As the name suggests, if you want to build your fitness and endurance levels or you haven't worked out in a while, LISS sessions are the perfect way to get started. LISS could include power walking, or jogging, or a mix of both if you're a little fitter. Hiking, swimming and cycling are other good options. Basically, LISS includes any activity that keeps your heart working at 60pc of your maximum heart rate, or in the fat burning zone."
Why add it to your training?
First, because it is low impact, LISS doesn't put too much strain on your body - it is softer on the joints and increases your endurance. "I love to get outdoors for my LISS sessions," says Megan, "taking my dog Remy out for a long walk, listening to some music which makes it more relaxing and enjoyable. What's great about this session is that your heart rate increases and you reap the benefits of a light to moderate effort for 30 to 60 minutes."
"You won't stick at something you don't enjoy, so 'your session' is exactly that," says Megan - "the chance to do things you like or to discover a new sport or activity to incorporate into a structured programme. Choose one each week." For example, try a new type of fitness class; or take up dancing - ceili, ballroom, modern or salsa, whichever appeals to you most. It will benefit your brain, balance and coordination as well as your fitness levels.
Challenge yourself with a new activity like rock climbing, surfing, athletics or tennis, or a team sport like tag rugby, football or GAA.
Do something you want to do.
The healthy eating plan
Performance nutritionist Daniel Davey has devised meal plans for days when you workout or rest or want low calorie options.
"My aim is to provide you with an evidence-based nutrition approach that is practical and sustainable to improve your health and help to achieve a strong and lean physique," says Daniel. "I've included some delicious recipes that are easy to make and can be enjoyed by all the family.
"My philosophy is very simple," he says. "We should align our energy intake to our activity level and eat mainly fresh foods that are rich in vital nutrients. Food should taste good, nourish our body and leave us feeling positive."
Preparation is important - empty the fridge and cupboards of fast foods, biscuits, white bread and tempting snack foods, and stock up on the fresh fruit and veg that is needed to make the menu plan included here.
Spend time preparing snacks to take to work or to have in the fridge for when hunger bites.
And remember, there are no fast fixes. "All too frequently the nutrition headlines that grab our attention relate to quick fixes or short-term solutions for our health or appearance," says Daniel. "We never get tired of hearing that there is a new, faster and easier way to achieve our health or body composition goals.
"No matter what your health goal," says Daniel, "you must set a realistic target and time frame. Four to six weeks is the minimum period to target a new goal." Make Strong for Summer the first step on your way to a healthier lifestyle.
You will need
* 2m x 2m space
* Exercise mat or hard non-slip ground
* Weights, if desired
Each week do one Bonus session (HIIT)
Complete as many rounds of the following as you can in 20 minutes. Beginners work on each exercise for 20 secs; intermediate for 30 secs; advanced for 40 secs. Do as many rounds as you can but rest between each round. Beginners rest for 2 minutes; intermediates for 1 minute; advanced for 45 seconds.
* In/out squat jumps
* Plank shoulder taps
* Reverse crunch
* Squat + kick
* High knees
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