By Rachel Debling
Photos Of Jessica De Francesca By Arsenik Studios Inc.
At The Inside Fitness Performance Centre
Winter is a time for putting on a few more layers, seeing a few more friends and family for hearty meals around the hearth, and perhaps pressing pause on the more-intense routine you’ve been employing over the past few months. Sounds great — but what does that mean for your body?
Jessica De Francesca knows that laissez-faire feeling all too well, especially in regards to the heaps of food that the colder weather brings upon us. “I grew up in a traditional Italian household with lots of amazing food,” Jessica recalls of her early relationship with her body. And though being in the fitness industry means that there is extra pressure to be in top form, she’s learned how to balance it over the years. “I’ve always wrestled with the pressure to constantly be in top shape while balancing a healthy social life,” admits the former gymnast. “Over time, I’ve learned to not put so much pressure on myself and to enjoy the odd glass of wine, gelato, or plate of wings.” That’s an attitude that we can certainly throw our support behind.
To those slaves of the treadmill, she offers up another surprising fact: she isn’t a cardio fan. “I actually do not do much cardio aside from the odd stair run, bike ride, or dog walk.” Her personal body transformer? Resistance training, and plenty of it.
And that’s exactly what Jessica’s routine delivers. Though it targets some of the most notorious trouble spots known to women, it’s also a tough mix of exercises that will rev your heart rate and challenge your body in new and unexpected ways. Remember: just because you might be humming “Sweater Weather,” that doesn’t mean your workouts should start to slide. “The change of season is a good time to change things up,” Jessica points out.
Perform these exercises as straight sets, finishing all sets of one exercise before moving on to the next, and resting no more than 45 seconds between sets to keep your heart rate up. Jessica warns that you should pay attention to your breathing as you perform them, ensuring that you don’t hold your breath during any movements.
Barbell Sumo Squat
Targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings
Begin by standing with your legs wider than shoulder-width apart in the middle of a squat rack. Holding a barbell across your upper back, sink into a squat by bending your knees and pushing your hips behind you; maintain a lifted chest. When your thighs are parallel to the ground, press through your heels to extend your legs.
Tip: Jessica recommends that you take a slow pace with this one to really engage the slow-twitch muscles of the glutes. Do four seconds down and two up.
Targets: Hamstrings, glutes, lower back
Standing with your feet together, hold a barbell just in front of your thighs with a shoulder-width grip. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward from your hips, keeping your chest up and back flat, to lower the bar to about mid-shin level. Pause, then contract your glutes and back muscles to return to the start.
Tip: Try to keep the bar touching or nearly touching your legs as you move, Jessica says, and if your grip starts to slip, take a mixed grip with one palm forward, one back.
Targets: Glutes, lower back
Attach a cuff around one ankle and stand in front of the cable station, holding onto the bar for support. Without leaning too far forward, raise your leg straight from the hip, pushing your heel back toward the wall behind you. Hold momentarily, then return to the start. When your set is through, switch sides and repeat.
Tip: Jessica recommends using a weight that’s on the lighter side to ensure you get a full range of motion and to prevent swinging.
Targets: Outer thighs, glutes
Stand to the side of the cable machine with your outside ankle cuffed. Grab the machine for support, and slowly raise your leg up and out to the side. Pause when you reach maximum height, then return to the start without touching your foot back to the ground. Finish up, then work your other leg.
Tip: Try to remain standing straight throughout all reps. You should be tall, as if there was a string aligning your body from head to anchored foot, explains Jessica.
Lunge With Kickback
Targets: Quads, glutes, hamstrings
Start in a staggered stance with one foot a good distance in front of the other. Bend both knees to drop into a lunge; as you press through the heel of the front foot to stand, lift your rear leg behind you. Flex your glutes as you hold this position. Plant your foot and start your next rep. Complete all reps on one side, then change it up.
Tip: If you find it hard to maintain your balance, Jessica suggests holding a chair lightly for support.
Side Leg Lift
Targets: Outer thighs, glutes, lower back
Get on all fours on the ground with your knees below your hips and your hands below your shoulders. Extend one leg out to the side and lift it until it is perpendicular to your torso; be careful not to let your pelvis rotate too much. Hold for one count before tapping your foot on the ground and repeating.
Tip: Beginners, start with your working leg bent and work up to the straight-legged version, advises Jessica. Holding the last rep for up to 10 counts will also help increase the burn in this body-weight movement.
Stability Ball Crunch
Targets: Upper and lower abdominals
Sit on a stability ball, then walk your feet forward until your back is against the ball. Place your hands lightly behind your head to support your neck and keep your chin up. Exhale as you flex forward from the waist to lift your shoulders. Pause at the top, then reverse back to the start.
Tip: You should be contracting your abs as you lift into each rep, cautions Jessica, but also remember to inhale before each crunch — don’t hold your breath!
Targets: Obliques, upper and lower abdominals
Lie face up on a mat with your legs extended and hands behind your head. Lift your shoulders from the mat by contracting your abs; raise your legs a few inches from the floor at the same time. Alternate bringing your knees in and rotating to that side to bring you elbow across your body and toward your knee. Immediately repeat on the left.
Tip: Jessica notes that you should make each movement slow — two seconds to complete a rep on
Targets: Upper and lower abdominals
From a face-up position on a mat, extend your arms so that they are beside your ears. Use one motion to lift both your upper body and legs from the ground, reaching for your feet with your arms. Reverse slowly back to the mat, and repeat.
Tip: It’s easy to clench your jaw during this exercise, but Jessica warns against it. Also, don’t jump right into it. “Start with three sets of five until your body learns the movement,” she advises.
Targets: Lower abdominals, hip flexors
Start by lying face up on your mat. Lift your feet from the ground until your legs are perpendicular. Alternate moving both legs as far as you can to the right side, then the left. Keep in mind that your back should always be flush against the floor throughout this move. If it or your hips start to lift, reduce your range of motion.
Tip: As with other exercises, Jessica recommends keeping your legs bent if you are just starting out or if your flexibility is poor.
Wall Mountain Climbers
Targets: Lower abdominals, hip flexors, deltoids
Stand with your back to a wall. Place your hands on the floor a foot or two in front of you and walk your feet up the wall until your body is straight. Maintain a tight core as you alternate bringing each knee in toward your chest — this motion will be much slower and more controlled than if you were doing it on the floor.
Tip: Keep your arms beside your ears to ensure that your body forms a straight line, cautions Jessica. Since this is an advanced move, try it first with your feet on a lower platform, like a bench.