Guys, here’s a tip. When it comes to maximizing your time in the gym and making it more effective, be like Mike. Or Walter. Or Ryne. Or any other sports hero you admire.
“Training like an athlete has always been my motto,” says local fitness guru Gideon Akande, who beat out thousands of participants across the country to be named Men’s Health magazine’s “Next Top Trainer 2015.” “It doesn’t mean you have to jump high or heavy. It means you have to move your body well and efficiently if you want to see results.”
The certified personal trainer, who was born and raised in Rogers Park, has had an illustrious career in sports, beginning at Lane Tech High School, where he ran track, wrestled and played football. He later started all four years at Division I College of the Holy Cross as a star running back and was the Chicago Golden Gloves boxing champion in 2013 and 2014.
After an unfulfilling string of sales jobs, Akande decided to dedicate his time to helping others achieve health and wellness goals by offering group and personal training, currently at Trifactive in Old Town, all focused on harnessing your inner athlete. Since winning top honors in the Men’s Health competition, Akande has also contributed articles to the magazine and appeared on local TV programs. His DVD series Riptensity also guides people of all ages and levels in 30-minute workouts using their own body weight, in much the same ways he was trained.
“Using sports as base makes the workout interactive and social and takes the mind off the fact there’s exercise involved,” he says. “That speaks volumes to the level of excitement and fun people can have working out.”
Akande has five key tips for guys to step up your game the next time you hit the gym.
1. Focus more on total body work “When it comes to men, our problem often is that we are so wrapped up in our ‘show muscles,’ ” says Akande. “You work the abs, chest and biceps until you’re blue in the face, and walk around with two skinny legs, wondering why your body isn’t getting any bigger. Going back to athletes, you don’t see too many of them only working a single part of the body. They have to be well-rounded, strong on top and bottom.”
The game plan: Go for compound exercises that work the upper and lower body at the same time, such as squat curls, lunging and pressing and bear crawls, where you’re on your hands and crawling with your legs.
2. Improve timing and coordination “Training like an athlete requires you to know when and how to activate your body on a moment’s notice,” Akande says. “Though you may not be on a basketball court, maybe you step on a patch of black ice. The hand-foot coordination you’ve been training on will help you avoid blowing out your knee or back because your muscles weren’t prepared. For these situations, it’s important that training mimics life.”
The game plan: Simple exercises like jump roping will do the trick (and burn more calories in a shorter period of time than running on a treadmill). You can also use a speed ladder or draw chalk lines on a sidewalk to try jumping exercises that test coordination and work on hip rotation.
3. Dedicate time to warming up and cooling down Preparing muscles and allowing them to recover is essential to achieving maximum benefits of a workout and keeping risks at bay, says Akande. “You need to first move your body through the range of motion that you’ll be using that day.” In particular, core activation is key before hitting the weights because the core braces the body and transfers energy to and from the extremities needed especially in total body exercises. After the workout, also allow muscles the chance to recover so they aren’t overstressed, which can lead to tears, strains and sprains.”
The game plan: For core engagement during your warmup, focus on bicycle crunches (pictured). Post-workout, incorporate foam rollers, get in a session of yoga or schedule a massage to help stretch and mobilize muscles.
4. Work on the posterior chain The backside of your body — the shoulders, laterals, triceps, lower back, glutes and hamstrings —are also key. While many men spend a lot of time working on the chest and abs, what happens is “you have a part of the body that’s stronger than opposing side,” says Akande. “And if you have muscular imbalances, you have opposing forces pulling on the joints. Without that balance, you’ll face an injury.”
The game plan: Add pull-ups, rows and deadlifts to your routine to activate muscles on the backside.
5. Break out of your comfort zone Don’t be afraid to try something new in your routine, especially if it will challenge you, says Akande. “Eventually everybody plateaus and it’s up to you to do something different, which will change your modality and force more muscular groups to move as well as build the neuro-muscular connections you need to improve.”
The game plan: Try battle rope waves (pictured) for a more challenging upper body exercise. Pilates and TRX bands can also offer similar benefits. And don’t be afraid to step out of the weight room and do yoga, group, fitness and cycling (indoor or outdoor).
Selena Fragassi is a freelance writer.