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  • Summer's Back! by Robert Cheeke author of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness - The Complete Guide


    Summer is the favorite time of year for most people around the world. It represents warmth, outdoor activities, vacations, time off from school, longer and sunnier days, and often includes more family gatherings, road trips and camping. Spending time on a lake, hiking a mountain often covered in snow other times of the year, and outdoor cooking; summer represents freedom. Nothing brings us back to our youth in an instant like recalling the summers of years past. We had the opportunity to do and be who we wanted. We had time on our hands and what we did with our time revealed what our true interests were. We exercised for the fun of it, not because it was on our schedule or part of our health and wellness program or because it was a chore we felt obligated to complete three to five times a week. We exercised outside because we loved it.

    Some of the greatest times of my life were summers spent playing baseball with my younger brother, riding bikes with friends, climbing fruit trees on the farm I grew up on and soccer tournaments with my teammates. When I first really got into fitness beyond just the fun games with siblings and friends, summer was when I was at my best. I had all day to ride my bike, run, and do push-ups and sit-ups. Often, I'd do all four exercises totaling around 10 miles run, 20 miles biked, 1000 sit-ups and a couple hundred push-ups completed in a single day. Ahhh, those were the days. Summer brings back memories, doesn't it?

    In some parts of the world summer passes quickly and slips by us with a fading memory of what lasted far too briefly. Others of us are more fortunate to have long summers and summer-like weather year-round. Whether gone in a flash or there for the long haul, we embrace this season of outdoor fun.

    Summer is indeed back and I'm excited! Not just for the bounty of local fruit I know I'll be picking directly from the trees, bushes and vines in the pacific northwest, but because I'll be doing a significant amount of my exercise outdoors. Summer is back and I'm training mine at the park. Pull-ups a plenty, I'll be building my back up this summer using the resources around me from tree limbs to playgrounds to local gyms from Oregon to Canada.

    Nomadic by nature, I'm constantly living life on the road. Relocating every six months or so, I move with the weather. Summers are spent up north and winters are spent down south and spring and fall tend to find me in summer-like places more often than the opposite. I believe the world is too big with too much to explore for me to stay in one place for very long. I might miss something standing still so I live in constant motion. That means I'm always finding new environments to train in. New gyms, new communities, new running trails, new parks and playgrounds, and a new life every few months, that's how I roll.

    With the change in season and the upgrade in attitude among many, this is an inspiring time of year. Summer is back. How is yours? Not your summer, but your back? Who's watching your back this summer? Probably a lot of people, if you're out and about, especially making trips to the beach or the pool. What's your game plan to get your back on track? Take this magazine with you on a trip to your local park and I'll help you get back into the swing of things.

    The following are some of my favorite back exercises to perform at the park:

    • Find a pull-up bar, a soccer goal cross bar, or some other bar to hang from to perform the following:
    • Wide-grip pull-ups - 3-5 sets of as many reps as you can do
    • Narrow grip pull-ups - 3-5 sets of as many reps as you can do
    • Chin-ups (reverse grip pull-ups) - 3-5 sets of as many reps as you can do

    If the park has monkey bars, by all means, get back to your ancestor's roots and start swinging. Any opportunity to hold your own bodyweight up and move your body from one area to another just using your limbs will train your back along with your arms, core and other muscles. If you can find something to climb up, even a short rock wall, that too will train your back and your reflexes if you're not yet an experienced climber.

    To train your back, you need to be able to pull, row or lift something. Though pull-ups are one of the best exercises you can do period, that is about the extent of your options at a park or playground when training back. Even if that is all you did to train your back, with enough sets, you'd have an amazingly strong and muscular back over time. When I have limited resources, I find a pull-up bar and spend an hour doing as many sets with as many varying grips and hand positions as possible and I get really strong and defined which is perfect for summer time. Which way to the beach you ask? Allow me to show you.

    When you get into a gym, the following are some exercises I recommend to train your back:

    Deadlifts - 3 sets of 8-12 reps
    Bent-over rows - 3 sets of 8-12 reps
    Cable or machine rows - 3 sets of 8-12 reps
    Dumbbell or barbell shrugs - 3 sets of 8-12 reps
    One arm dumbbell rows - 3 sets of 8-12 reps

    I usually choose about five exercises to perform three to five sets of eight to twelve reps per set. I aim to select exercises which will target all different areas of my back. Looking at the list above you'll see there are a lot of exercises targeting the lower back, middle back, lats and even the upper back and shoulders. Since pull-ups were already completed at the park, I omitted out pull-ups or lat pull-downs from this list. These are just five of many exercises you could perform for back. Choose your own favorites, assemble half a dozen or so to complete in a given workout and have at it.

    Other favorite back exercises include:

    T-bar rows
    Lower back extensions
    Wide-grip cable rows
    One arm Hammer Strength rows
    High rows
    Low rows
    Lat pull-downs

    Even though the days are longer, the summer is still too short to remain indoors. Stay in constant motion this summer. You never know what you might miss while standing still. Summer is back. Get yours ready.

    Robert Cheeke

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