Your Guide to Do a Pull-Up, Master Crow Pose, and More
Break Out of Your Comfort Zone!
Want to be so sculpted and powerful you glow with confidence in sneakers and a bikini alike? Break out of your fitness comfort zone.
“When you do something that once seemed impossible, it boosts your self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment,” says Angela Manzanares, a trainer and the creator of fitbook+, a diet and exercise goal-setting app. “And it can give you the tenacity to continue when you encounter obstacles in other aspects of your life.”
Ready to push your workout limits? Set your sights on one or more of these eight goals. They won’t just make you mentally tougher—they’ll help you get a stronger, slimmer, and more flexible body too.
The Goal: Do 5 Pull-Ups in a Row
From middle school to the Marine corps, this exercise is the ultimate test of strength. “To lift your own body weight, you need a healthy ratio of fat to muscle,” Manzanares says. Think women can’t raise themselves above the bar? Peek in the window of a CrossFit gym for some major motivation, and then follow this pull-up progression plan to eventually accomplish it yourself:
1. Focus on the lowering phase. Use a high plyo box to position yourself at the top of the pull-up position. Bend your knees and then slowly lower your body until your arms are extended. Return to starting position. Do 3 sets of 5 reps three times a week. When you can descend for 5 seconds, try the next version (below).
2. Get a spotter. Hold the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulders and have a strong pal stand behind you. Try to pull up, with ankles crossed if necessary, as your spotter helps lift your legs. Lower to starting position. Do 3 sets of 5 reps. When you can do 5 reps with minimal help from your friend, try the variation below.
3. Do half pull-ups. Stand on a plyo box that's high enough so that when you grab the bar your arms are bent about 45 degrees. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, then lower to starting position. Do 5 sets of 3. Easy? You're ready for a full pull-up.
RELATED: 22 "Men's Exercises" Women Should Do
The Goal: Master Crow Pose
Meet the triple whammy of fitness: “Crow challenges your strength, flexibility, and brainpower,” says Kristin McGee, an NYC-based yoga and Pilates instructor. Her program for nailing it:
1. Strengthen your upper body. Twice a week, lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a 15- to 20-pound dumbbell in each hand outside your shoulders. Extend your arms straight up over your chest; hold for 30 seconds. Lower weights to shoulders and repeat once more.
2 Do garland pose daily. This deep squat will improve your flexibility for crow. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Squat deeply [A]. Press your palms together in front of your chest, and push your elbows against your thighs. Hold for up to 60 seconds.
3. Give crow a shot. Once a week, get in garland pose, then place your hands on the ground in front of you. Tip forward and rise up onto the balls of your feet. Try to lift your right foot and then your left foot, pressing knees into armpits and triceps into shins. Keep bending forward until feet are raised and body is balanced on the backs of your upper arms [B].
The Goal: Work Out for 66 Days Straight
Think three weeks is the magic number for locking in a habit? You probably need three times that, according to a study in the European Journal of Psychology. When researchers tracked people who were working to establish a new behavior—such as jogging daily—they discovered that the practice went on auto-pilot after an average of 66 days.
If it sounds like a lot of work, consider this: An exercise streak may actually be less taxing (for your brain, at least) than trying to fit in sporadic sessions. “The first three times you do something, it takes a lot of mental energy,” says clinical psychologist Jennifer Taitz. But with repetition, the basal ganglia (the habit-forming part of the brain) just takes over, and what once required serious planning and willpower becomes easier. To boost your follow-through, the study authors suggest tying your workout to a cue. For example, go to the gym every day on your lunch hour, or jump rope while you wait for your morning coffee to brew.
The Goal: Run a 10K in Less Than an Hour
With nearly half a million people finishing a U.S. marathon last year, it might seem like you're not a real athlete unless you've done a 26.2-miler. But new research suggests that the physical stress of long-distance races may damage your heart over time by creating scar tissue that ups the risk of irregular heartbeats. While the study is ongoing, there are other reasons to stick to a shorter distance: You may have a lower risk of injury, it doesn’t take as much time to train, and there are far more race options available.
So rather than pinning your hat on a marathon, go for speed instead. Faster workouts, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and tempo running (or race-walking), rev your metabolism and target extra flab around your waistline. Bonus bragging rights: If you can break 60 minutes in a 10K race, you'll be faster than nearly half of the female racers out there.
RELATED: Low-Impact HIIT You Can Do at Home
The Goal: Do a Perfect Squat
Short on time? Sculpt your entire lower body in a minute with this move. “The squat engages the lower back, abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and shins,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at Auburn University in Montgomery, AL. "It’s as close to ‘one exercise that gets all’ as they come.” And because the squat is a functional move you use multiple times a day (whenever you bend down to pick up something), performing it properly makes you less prone to injuries.
To do it right, stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders and extend your arms at chest height in front of you (or place your hands on your hips). Squeeze your butt as you push your hips back and bend your knees (imagine you’re sitting down in a chair). Lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground [shown here] or your back arches or rounds. Keep your weight on your heels—try wiggling your toes to make sure it is. Too challenging? Squat with your back pressed against a wall until you work up the hamstring flexibility for the free-standing version.
The Goal: Climb a Mountain
For this year’s vacay, skip the cruise and head for the hills instead. Alpine hiking (climbing at high altitudes) offers big-time rewards. By the time you reach 14,000 feet, your body is working on 40 percent less oxygen than at sea level, which forces your muscles to produce new red blood cells and operate more efficiently. It's a tough fitness challenge, and one of the reasons why many Olympic athletes live and train at high altitudes.
But us regular folks can benefit too. Austrian researchers found that over the course of a three-week hiking vacation, people lost an average of 7 pounds of fat. And it’s not just about the uphills, says study author Wolfgang Schobersberger, Ph.D. Research suggests that eccentric exercise (like descending a mountain) works your muscles in a unique way, upping your calorie burn while improving your coordination and flexibility.
Want to conquer your first big climb? Book a trip to Denver and take on Mount Bierstadt, Grays Peak, or Torreys Peak—acclimating to the “mile-high” city for a few days may make the ascent to thinner air a little easier.
The Goal: Master the Hundred
"This Pilates sculptor activates the transverse abdominis—the deep abdominal muscle that pulls your belly in like a corset—15 percent more than a crunch,” Olson says. Add the bent-knee variation to your routine stat, working up to the extended-leg version.
How to do it: Lie faceup with your knees bent over your hips, shins parallel to the ground. Extend your arms at your sides, palms facedown [A]. Inhale, then exhale as you lift your head, shoulders, and arms; look at your belly or thighs. Inhale
as you pulse your arms up and down 5 times, then exhale and pulse for another 5 counts. Repeat, working up to 10 full breaths for a total of 100 pulses. As you get stronger, extend your legs at a 45-degree angle [B]. You’ve perfected this move when you can do 100 pulses with your legs extended.
The Goal: Defend Yourself Against an Attacker
Just knowing how to fend off an assault will make you feel stronger and safer, according to a University of Oregon study. To get the skills you need, take a self-defense class or at the very least master a basic knee-to-groin strike [shown]. “This move sends the other person’s head forward and hips back, weakening his stance,” says personal trainer and third-degree black belt Jennifer Cassetta, creator of the DVD set Stilettos and Self-Defense
How to do it: Grab one of your attacker’s shoulders or his shirt and forcefully raise your knee toward his groin as you pull him toward you. Poke him in the eyes or elbow him in the face, and run away as fast as you can.