This month, Virgin Active’s Master Personal Trainer Tom Atkinson helps you reach your  fit goals. In his first post of the three part series, he gave us the low down on the importance of warming up and why you should start your routine with the hardest part of your workout – compound lifts. Now, he tells us the importance of assistance work and gives us exercises that will help your arms and abs.

So, what are assistance exercises?

After you have completed your compound lift sets (from part 1), you should move onto assistance exercises – these are movements that can be done using just body weight, or, if you want to increase the intensity, can be combined with free weights, such as dumbbells/barbells and kettle bells. They are key in your routine because not only do assistance exercises mimic the same movement pattern as compound lifts, but they also give you a break from your weight lifting routine by emphasising slightly different areas of movement, or creating a muscular demand on a different part of the body. Types of assistance work include lunges, pull ups, dips, and presses, and again you could keep these as supersets to add more intensity – lunges followed by dips, or pull ups followed by press ups work really well.

What if I need to lose a bit of weight before I’ll see the full effects?

The above assistance exercises and the compound lifts should have you breaking into a sweat, and will be doing a lot more for you than the workouts you can do on machines. Having nothing to support you will make the workout tougher because you have to keep your form as well as do the exercise.

If you want a fat burning, muscle-building workout, try the following:

6×6 barbell complex

(6 repetitions of 6 exercises one after the other followed by 60 seconds rest, repeated 6 times). This can be done starting with an empty barbell or one of the lighter fixed weight bars dependent on ability and strength. An example would be: 6 deadlifts – 6 thrusters – 6 bent over rows – 6 back squats – 6 over head presses – 6 power cleans.

How can I improve my abs and arms?

Now you’ve done most of the hard work, it’s time to do some higher reps on your arms. If you’re looking for tone and shape, as high a weight as possible at increased repetitions will help form and also define your biceps and triceps. Also, a quick tip – don’t neglect your triceps – working out the larger triceps at the back of your arms will make them look larger overall.

Now for the six-pack. You may be surprised to hear that this doesn’t come from endless amounts of crunches, nor is it made just in the gym, but you certainly do need to work your abdominals for both performance and looks. To get strong abs, try swiss ball crunches, cable woodchoppers, leg/knees raises and barbell rollouts.

Check back for the final instalment, part 3, where Tom will tell you what all the fuss is about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), why you should warm down and dietary dos and don’ts to look your best.

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