We’re not going to sit here and tell you that investing in a load of fancy new workout gear is automatically going to make you fit. Unless you’re already operating at the absolute limits of human athletic potential, there’s no magical running shoe capable of lowering your marathon time more effectively than simply training a bit harder will.
That’s not to suggest, though, that upgrading the contents of your gym bag isn’t a good idea. On the contrary: it’s a great one. Whether you’re stepping onto the treadmill or into the office on your first day of a new job, dressing appropriately is a statement of intent. It shows commitment. And what better time to commit to something than now?
To help you on your way, we’ve listed four of our favorite training disciplines for 2020, along with a suggestion of what to wear for each. The four disciplines – all of them as old as the hills – have been chosen because they’re a) easy to pick up and b) offer near-endless scope for improvement.
1. Calisthenics For Core Strength
Why bother lifting weights when you can lift yourself? That’s the argument behind calisthenics, a fitness discipline that uses the effects of gravity on your own bodyweight to build strength, and whose catalog of exercises includes some of the more spectacular things you’re likely to see at the gym, such as the muscle-up and the human flag.
The benefits? It’s a weight-free workout for a start, which means you don’t need to invest in a stack of dumbbells. In fact, you don’t even need a gym membership: just take a look around your local park, where you’ll often meet guys with upper bodies that put the clientele of the average $150-a-month gym to shame.
The calisthenics crowd’s impressive physiques also serve to dispel a common myth in the fitness world, which is that the best way to pack on muscle is to pump iron. Yes, there are limits to the gains you’ll be able to make with body-weight exercises alone, but those limits are beyond all but the most seasoned athletes; and besides, weighted calisthenics is always available for those ready to take their workout to the next level.
A straightforward progression for beginners is to start with the humble press-up. Once you can easily do 20 in a row, move onto dips, first on a pair of parallel bars and then on gymnastic rings. Rings offer an extra plane of lateral movement compared to bars, forcing you to use your core muscles in order to stay upright.
When you can comfortably support your weight on rings, try a raised L-sit (pictured), first with your knees tucked in and eventually with both legs fully extended at 90 degrees to your body. This exercise, which works the abs and hip flexors, is much harder than it looks: if you can hold it for 10 seconds, you’re doing well.
2. Yoga For Flexibility
If you go into yoga expecting it to be easy, it’s likely to be a chastening experience. By extending your normal range of motion and forcing you to support your body weight in strange positions for extended periods of time, it works muscles you didn’t even know you had; it’s not unusual for newcomers with impressive physiques and good stamina to leave their first yoga class shaking like a leaf.
Keep it up, though, and you’ll soon be rewarded with a body that’s supple, balanced and far stronger than it appears. That’s to say nothing of the well-publicised psychological benefits of yoga, which include enhanced mental focus and reduced stress, nor its power to encourage a more spiritual outlook on life.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about yoga, though, is that no matter how good you get, you’ll always be able to find room for improvement. This is summed up by one of its simplest, most iconic poses: the downward-facing dog (pictured). Anyone who has ever given yoga a try will be familiar with this pose, which forms a key part of the Sun Salutation sequence and deeply stretches your hamstrings, back and shoulders.
Easy to learn but nigh-on impossible to master, the downward-facing dog is a pose that rewards long-term consistency and commitment, and in doing so encapsulates, in miniaturized form, much of what yoga – and, indeed, fitness in general – is all about.
3. Skipping For Cardiovascular Fitness
It’s telling that for all the money and resources available to professional boxers, their preferred tool for cardio training is… a piece of leather string with a wooden handle on each end. But while the skipping rope itself might seem rudimentary, skipping as a form of exercise is anything but.
A high-intensity workout that requires both coordination and balance, skipping is ideal for anyone looking to build stamina and explosive power while maintaining poise, and because it moves your arms and your legs simultaneously, it does a great job of simulating the fatigue – if not the punches – you’ll receive during a single round of boxing.
There are countless variations, too: once you’ve mastered the simple rope skip, you can try throwing in lateral movements, single-foot hops, arm crisscrosses and much more. As with yoga, it’s an accessible form of exercise with infinite potential for improvement – and the added benefit of working your brain as well as your body.
4. Kettlebells For Power
Originating centuries ago in Russia, kettlebells differ from more conventional dumbbells in a few crucial ways. Firstly, they don’t have a grippy, knurled-metal or rubber handle. This allows them to shift within your grip, enabling a whole new range of dynamic movements while also working your grip strength harder than a dumbbell of the same weight.
Then there’s the shape of a standard kettlebell, which lends itself to swinging movements such as the one-armed kettlebell swing (pictured). Not to be attempted until you’ve mastered the two-handed variation, the one-armed swing works out your legs, glutes, arms, shoulders and back – or pretty much your entire body, in other words. The slight rotation of the torso forced by the one-arm variation works the oblique muscles in your core, too.
A great progression for anyone who’s getting tired of dumbbells or looking for a new, dynamic discipline to work into their regimen, kettlebell training is also an essential first step for anyone thinking of getting into powerlifting, a sport with which it shares several core exercises, including the clean, snatch and swing.