Your core is made up of more than just your abs. The many muscles between your hips and shoulders stabilize your spine and allow your torso to rotate and bend. "If you want to be stronger in everything you do, you need to work all of those muscles," says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., author of The IMPACT! Body Plan. This fitness test does just that with three moves -- the leg raise, the bicycle crunch, and the Russian twist. It'll measure your total core strength, stability and muscular endurance. It won't take long to find out if your midsection is up for the challenge or not.

Here's how it works: Grab a stop watch and perform 10 leg raises, 20 bicycle crunches, and 30 Russian twists, back-to-back without rest. That's 1 round. Do 2 more. Finish as fast as possible while maintaining proper form. (Try these 5 Secrets to a Perfect Workout and you'll never be held back in the gym again!)

Your goal: 1 minute and 48 seconds. Let us know your time in the comments below.

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Think you have the pushup down? Think again. Here are 5 Body-Weight Exercises You're Doing Wrong.




If you want to be an unstoppable athlete, you need a strong, powerful and agile lower body. It'll help you move faster, jump higher, and blow past your opponents. It'll also give you a leg up on the competition at the Men's Health Urbanathlon, a 10-to-12-mile run that's filled with tough obstacles like swaying cargo nets, stadium steps, and police barricades. So how do you build a superior lower body? TRX lunges and TRX hip presses, says Pete Holman, PT, C.S.C.S., director of Rip Training at TRX, who included both moves in the leg-burning fitness challenge shown above.

"The lunge is a foundational movement pattern which must be mastered if you want to run harder and longer," he says. "Doing it with one leg suspended in a TRX emphasizes any strength or balance asymmetries between sides, so you know what leg you need to train more."

As for the hip press, it improves your hamstring and glute strength -- two areas that are often underdeveloped, explains Holman. "The TRX will cause your feet to want to 'float' away from you. You must force more hamstring activation in order to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle," he says. (Do these Fat-Blasting Cardio Combos just once, and you'll rethink cardio forever.)

Are you ready to try the challenge? Here's how it works: Complete 40 TRX lunges on your left leg. When you're finished, perform 40 more reps on your right leg. Rest for one minute, and then do 40 reps of the TRX hip press. If you can't complete 40 reps of each move, perform as many as you can in a row with perfect form. When you're finished, add up the total number of reps you performed of the left lunge, the right lunge, and the hip press. Your goal: 120 reps. What was your score? Let us know in the comments below.

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Didn't reach 120 reps? Click here to get a full TRX Urbanathlon training plan. It'll prepare your lower body for race day and get you in the best shape of your life.




For optimal fitness, you know you should do both cardio workouts for aerobic health and strength training for muscle building, metabolic benefits, and bone density. But if you're a cardio bunny who maybe doesn't visit the weight room as often as you should, listen up: "Swimming, cycling, and running can all be used as mild to moderate ways of building strength,” says Lauren Jensen, head coach at Tri Faster, “as long as the amount of training stress is progressively increased over time.” In other words, as with weights, you have to increase the resistance or the number of reps as your muscles adapt.

While the cardio-strength combo suggestions below aren't a perfect substitute for lifting heavy, they'll definitely boost your strength, especially for the specific sport in question -- though don't be afraid to also cross-train by, for example, trying a swim workout if you’re a runner. Use one of these workouts in place of a shorter steady-state swim/ride/run (with a proper warm-up and cooldown), in addition to one more traditional weight-training workout per week for major muscle toning.

Swimming
Water by nature creates resistance on the body as you move through it. “In simply overcoming the resistance, an athlete gains strength,” says Jensen. She suggests swimmers increase the “load" further by isolating the upper or lower body by doing kick-only laps holding a kickboard or pull-only laps wearing hand paddles. You can also wear a “drag” swimsuit (i.e., one that’s intentionally baggy).

MORE: 4 Reasons Your Next Workout Should Be a Swim

Cycling
Anyone who's taken a challenging cycling class knows that by upping the resistance on the bike, your leg muscles get a real burn. Outdoors, you can get the same effect by tackling hills, riding into the wind on a gusty day, and standing up while pedaling to vary how the muscles get activated. If you’re an indoors-only cycler, Jensen suggests this workout: Pedal for one minute at a resistance that forces you to work hard to sustain 60 to 70 RPMs (revolutions per minute), then rest for a minute and repeat. Work up to five minutes of hard pedaling.

MORE: 7 Mistakes You Might be Making in Indoor Cycling Class

Running
As with cycling, running up hills provides a solid leg-strength workout. Pick a hill outdoors with an incline that takes you 30 to 45 seconds to get up at a pretty hard clip. (On the treadmill, try a 4 percent incline at a pace you can sustain for that amount of time.) Charge up your hill, using shorter strides and a faster step than you do on flat, then walk or lightly jog down (or reduce the treadmill's incline and speed for about triple your time on the "hill"), aiming to keep your timing the same for each uphill. Start with five reps and work your way up to 10. Another option? Run stairs or stadiums. For the harder core, try wearing a weight vest during an interval workout. One “strengthener" to skip: Holding weights in your hands while you run--it’s a shoulder injury waiting to happen.

MORE: 5 Cardio Myths You Need to Stop Believing

Amy Roberts is a certified personal trainer.




Equipment-free exercises shouldn't be saved for vacations, at-home workouts or hotel rooms. They can be just as effective as heavy weights for building strength, says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., author of The IMPACT! Body Plan.

The reason: Your muscles can't tell the difference between iron and your body weight. If the exercises are challenging, you'll ignite muscle growth.

For this weekend's fitness test, Durkin chose three super-tough weight-free moves -- groiners, tombstones (a Durkin original), and rotational squat jumps -- to test your body's ability sans iron. Along with strength, you'll need power, mobility, and balance to quickly complete it with perfect form. Basically, you'll need to be fit from head to toe. (Beat your workout plateaus with this 5-move Total-Body Muscle Assault.)

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Think you have what it takes? Watch the video above to see how to perform the challenge. Durkin completed 3 rounds in 3 minutes and 37 seconds. Give it a shot and let us know how you do in the comments below.

Think you have the pushup down? Think again. Here are 5 Body-Weight Exercises You're Doing Wrong.




The Spiderman pushup is extremely tough. It involves lowering yourself into a pushup position while simultaneously bringing one knee to one elbow. Now, BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., the creator of the cutting-edge Men's Health DVD program Speed Shred, has found a way to make the move even more difficult. His upgrade: extending your leg out to the side.

"This tweak increases the load on your arms and shoulders," says Gaddour. "It also demands more flexibility from your hips and hamstrings." It'll light your muscles on fire and strain your willpower, too. Try it during your next workout. If you want a strength result, perform 3 sets of 5 reps per side. For a fat-loss result, perform the exercise for 45 seconds straight, as shown in the Speed Shred workout below.

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Think you have the pushup down? Think again. Here are 5 Body-Weight Exercises You're Doing Wrong.




Smashing your records in the gym might be easier than you think. A 15-second balance test can help determine if your body is prepared to go all out or if you need to back off a bit.

“It's called biofeedback testing and you can incorporate it into your workout immediately,” says David Dellanave, owner of Movement Minneapolis, who uses this test with his clients. "It'll give you a better idea of your body’s readiness to set a personal record rather than just going off how you’re feeling." (Try these 5 Secrets to the Perfect Workout and you'll never be held back in the gym again!)

Here’s how it works: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Lift one foot off the floor, bending that knee and letting your foot hang behind you. Hold this balance for 15 seconds, and then repeat on the other leg. Test every day for one week to get your baseline or your body’s normal balancing ability.

“People’s baselines differ. Some will be shaky while others will be rock steady standing on one foot," says Dellanave. What matters, though, is finding your starting point for comparison. You might find that on one day you’re below your baseline when you’ve had too little sleep or you’ve trained too much in the past few days or you’re under a lot of stress. Other days, you’ll test above average, he explains. (Be strong, energetic, and healthy like you were at 25!)

"If your balance is above your normal baseline, you want to push it heavier on that day. If your balance is worse on that day, you would just scale back the movement,” says Dellanave. “It’s sort of idiot-proofing your program. It lets you know when to hold back and when to push your limits.”

The simple test works for all of your lifts too. If you're above your baseline, go for a personal record on the first heavy set of your main lift. You don’t need to modify the set or rep scheme for your scheduled workout, he explains.

If you test poorly, don’t worry: Simply keep your aspirations in check for that day’s workout, says Dellanave. You'll go for a PR soon enough. If you’re consistently performing under your baseline, however, you may want to take a look at factors like your sleep quantity and quality, your diet, and your stress levels. All of those can affect your physical state and how well you perform at the gym. (Keep yourself motivated with these 20 Ways to Stick To Your Workout.)

Test your stability and mobility with this two-move challenge from Gaddour. Without letting your foot touch the floor, perform a single-leg hip hinge to a standing leg raise, holding both moves for 2 seconds each. Do as many reps as possible. When your foot makes contact with the floor, you're done.

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Find out who topped the list of the The 50 Fittest Male Athletes in the World as selected by the editors of Men's Health.




Cristiano Ronaldo is the world's best athlete. He may even be the world's fittest man. But is he satisfied? Not even close.

X FACTOR
Ronaldo is able to process the game faster than other players, says Zoe Wimshurst, Ph.D., director of Performance Vision. Elite athletes develop faster eye movement, looking at up to seven places per second versus the average person's max of five. When he's dribbling at a defender, he watches for movement clues while assessing thousands of permutations drawn from hours of play -- and he does this unconsciously.

Download the iPhone or iPad digital edition of the issue now, or pick up your copy on newsstands now.

STAMINA
Ronaldo runs more than 6 miles per game. This stamina is one reason his body fat is in the low single digits. Elite-level games are often decided in the final 20 minutes, the window when Ronaldo scored more than a quarter of his goals last season.

SPEED
In a typical game, Ronaldo sprints 33 times at a top speed of about 21 miles an hour. His explosive acceleration and high soccer IQ enable him to time diagonal runs that outsmart the offside trap. He also has great balance and body control, and can change direction quickly--so when dribbling, he's the ultimate ankle breaker.

Men's Health counts down the 50 Fittest Male Athletes.

STRENGTH
Elite soccer players can be expected to squat 440 pounds, Norwegian researchers found. Strong quads are critical for an attacker, who needs to jump to head the ball on goal. A British documentary measured Ronaldo's jump off both feet at 31 inches -- NBA-worthy hops. That means he can head the ball when it's 8 1/2 feet high.

POWER
Ronaldo can kick explosively, powering the ball at a ferocious 80 miles an hour. Superior technique enables him to wrap the side of his foot around the ball when taking free kicks, making the ball spin so much that it has a variable trajectory of up to 9 feet -- leaving the opposing team's goalkeeper helpless. (Power up with this explosive two-move plyometric exercise challenge.)

Watch the behind-the-scenes video with Cristiano Ronaldo as he shares his success secrets with us:

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Be strong, energetic, and healthy like you were at 25!




The single-side bird dog exercise looks easy, but don’t be fooled: It’s ridiculously hard. In fact, about 99 percent of people can’t do it, says Sam Stauffer, a trainer with Men’s Health Thrive in Philadelphia.

What makes the move so challenging? You start on all fours, but lose two bases of support when you pick up an arm and leg on the same side. “When you take away your arm and leg, your core stabilizers must work overtime to keep you from falling over,” says Stauffer. “Many of us don’t train for this type of core stability, so we can’t hold this position.”

But you should start training your middle this way. "Almost every movement in daily life involves core stability," says Stauffer. “The better yours is, the stronger you'll be in everything you do. Plus, if you don’t have it, you’re likely to overcompensate with your lower back, which can contribute to back pain.” (Think you have the pushup down? Think again. Here are 5 Body-Weight Exercises You're Doing Wrong.)

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Beat your workout plateaus with this 5-move Total-Body Muscle Assault .

Start to build your core stability with the plank position row. It trains your midsection to resist against rotation, flexion, and extension when you lift up a base of support. Watch the video above to see Stauffer perform the exercise with perfect form. Do one set of 8 to 12 reps on each side with a heavy dumbell two or three times a week. If you follow this routine, you should notice a significant improvement in your ability to do the single-side bird dog in about 4 weeks.

The only training manual you need to bulk up fast!

Fitness instructor Sean Cochran has the luxury of spending much of his time with professional golfers. His San Diego training facility is a common stop for Phil Mickelson, who has worked out under Cochran's guidance for more than a decade. Cochran's résumé also includes relationships with U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, former PGA golfers Brad Faxon and Peter Jacobsen and LPGA golfers In-Kyung Kim, Jennifer Johnson and Hee Won Han. He travels 15-20 weeks of the year on tour, crossing fitness paths with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott.

While the top golfers have the time and resources to keep themselves in competitive shape, amateurs -- who make up the vast majority of the golfing industry -- do not. But Cochran, 42, does not change his training mechanisms among pro and amateur golfers other than altering weight based on size.

"There's no difference," he says. "The body is the body whether you're on the PGA Tour or a 15 handicap."

But there is a difference in that amateur golfers do not always understand the necessity for conditioning. Before getting into golf fitness, Cochran worked as a strength and conditioning coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres. He moved into the golf field in 2003 and saw a glaring difference between the two sports.

"You had a number of professional players committing to fitness programs. But the information and the awareness on the other levels, the amateur level, was very much non-existent," Cochran says. "I had the opportunity to expand and provide information and basically start to expand this marketplace in the golf scene."

It is common practice among amateur golfers, and amateur athletes as a whole, to focus on strength training. American culture places an especial emphasis on swelled arm and chest muscles.

For golf, Cochran advises bodybuilders proceed with caution. While a certain level of arm and shoulder strength is needed, bench press values can only go so far in golf. Big muscles do not always transition onto the golf course.

"You need rotational strength and rotational speed," he says. "Going into the gym and doing bicep curls and triceps exercises is not going to do that."

Cochran breaks his teachings into five categories needed to succeed at golf: Mobility, balance, core, power training and strength training.

"If I was going to baseline it for the majority of amateur players, I see the need to improve mobility and flexibility is number one," Cochran says.

Size and strength is nothing without the ability to hit through the ball. Hitting a stationary option requires the body to develop its full momentum from scratch. Cochran emphasizes the practice of building flexibility. This means extra stretching and hip rotations to engrain the movement into the body. Hip mobility may be the most important movement for a golfer.

Amateurs do not always realize this, leading to bad habits.

"If they can't turn their hips, they're still going to develop some sort of necessary pattern to hit the golf ball," he says. "That's where they start to lead into these swing faults and compensation to hit the ball."

A full golf swing hinges on the ability to create torque from a flat-footed position. Shifting the body correctly to make contact with the ball at maximum force is a more reliable mechanism than relying on biceps.

Of course this is connected with balance and core, as hips cannot swing without such chemistry. Cochran advises amateur golfers to strengthen their core with such basic exercises as planks, standard and to the side. In doing this exercise, which requires no equipment and little time, golfers can build their abs while teaching their body balance.

"The core is what I call the engine of the golf swing," Cochran says. "It's all muscle on the front, sides and back of the body, and it's responsible for the slope and rotation. Many amateur golfers lack the hip mobility and core strength to execute a consistent golf swing."

In terms of power and strength training, Cochran does not focus on traditional biceps and triceps exercises. He caters his exercises for golfing motions. Rather than lift weights straight up, he has his students move a medicine ball in the direction of their golf swing. This improves strength while developing habits in the right direction.

"Honestly, I don't care how strong you get," he says. "If you can't turn and you can't rotate and you can't maintain the spine angle, you have no chance."

As for cardio, Cochran notes the pros walk four to six miles a day on the course. Cochran experienced this with bags over his shoulders as a caddie in high school. He coaches his professional contemporaries to maintain a "level of endurance and aerobic capacity." This essentially means tour players should be fit enough to go unaffected by long, in-round walks.

Meanwhile for amateur golfers, time is not of the essence to maintain a high cardio level. Cochran does not ask for much from amateurs, both in terms of time and energy.

"I suggest my amateur players take an apparatus of their choice and spend 20 minutes on it, 2-3 days a week," he says. "They only need what I call 'conversational aerobics.' This is hard, but not too hard of work."

As part of the Play 9 Challenge initiative on Wednesday, July 23, Cochran was available to provide fitness instructions to amateur golfers. The day was sponsored by American Express and encouraged the working world to get out on the course to squeeze in nine holes before going into the office. Simply playing nine holes rather than sitting in front of a laptop can improve a person's overall health.

Diet is another consideration. Cochran notes many of the top players can be seen eating during competition because of structured diets to keep them mentally focused and physically compact on the course.

"Food is fuel," Cochran says. "If you're giving your body poor fuel, just like a car, you're going to have issues."

Cochran lists nutrition in one of his four "absolutes" for all athletes. His other absolutes are maintaining a healthy emotional, mechanical and physical state.

As for his own game, Cochran took much of his 20s off to focus on his baseball training career, but returned to the game in 2003. He told ThePostGame he is an eight handicap. Cochran also insists he sees the aspects he teaches transition to his own game.

Although he does not work for an MLB team anymore, Cochran works with a series of top-notch baseball players, including Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, Barry Zito and Carlos Quentin. Former players Trevor Hoffman, Mark Prior and Ben Sheets spent time working with Cochran.

Of course, Cochran gets out on the golf course with his baseball acquaintances. He sees parallels between the two sports.

"Most baseball players are good golfers," Cochran says. "For pitchers, the biomechanical motion of throwing a baseball is very similar to the way a golfer generates energy in a swing. Position players have great hand-eye coordination. Their mechanics when they hit the golf ball are not always great, but they know how to square up."

Two newly inducted Hall of Famers that Cochran got on the course with are Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Cochran says the two pitches are "fabulous" golfers.

Cochran graduated from the University of San Diego with a Bachelor of Arts in 1995. He has accreditations from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the United States Weightlifting Federation, the American Sports Medicine Institute the Titleist Performance Institute and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is the author of the book "Stronger Arms and Upper Body" (1999).

Cochran lives in Del Mar, Calif. and he has a training center in San Diego. He can be contacted on his website, SeanCochran.com.




Every guy deserves a vacation -- even from the gym. While a short break from your normal routine won't make your gains completely disappear, the first workout after time away can be hellacious. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be. We reached out to Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., creator of Turbulence Training, for the best routine to hit the ground running again. His answer: A quick routine that consists of body-weight moves and light weights like the circuit below.

It'll get your heart pumping and your muscles burning, without the next-day soreness, he explains. After all, there’s nothing worse than lifting too heavy after a break, and then skipping the gym the next day because you’re too sore. Plus, moves that you could crank out rep after rep before vacation -- like the pushup -- may not seem as easy this time around. And that's all the motivation you’ll need to kickstart your workout plan again. (Beat your workout plateaus with this 5-move Total-Body Muscle Assault.)

DO THIS
Performing the following six exercises in order, resting 15 seconds between moves. That's one round. Rest for one to two minutes, and then perform one more round.

Pushup
Assume a pushup position, with your arms straight and hands below and slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend at your elbows and lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause, and push your body back up. That’s one rep. Perform as many as you can and finish 1 rep short of failure.

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We found 3 simple tricks to perfect your form and protect your shoulders: The Best Way to Do Pushups.

Inverted Row
Using an overhand, shoulder-width grip, grab a bar that’s been secured at about waist height. Hang with your arms completely straight, hands positioned directly above your shoulders, and heels touching the floor. Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head. Pull your shoulder blades back, and continue to pull with your arms to lift your chest to the bar. Pause, and lower your body back to the starting position. That's one rep. Perform as many as you can and finish 1 rep short of failure.

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You can Bolster Your Shoulders, put your strength to the test--and grow bigger--with the ultimate overhead exercise.

Body-Weight Squat
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes forward. Push your hips back as if you’re about to sit in a chair, and lower your body. Pause, and then push back up to the starting position. That’s one rep. Perform 30 reps.

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The only training manual you need to bulk up fast!

Dumbbell Single-Arm Row
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, and place your left hand on a bench. Lower your torso until it's almost parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbell hang at arm's length from your shoulder. Pull the dumbbell to the side of your chest. Pause, and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do 8 reps with one arm, then switch.

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Boost your gains by downsizing your workout with The One Dumbbell Workout.

Dumbbell Bench Press
Lie on a bench holding a pair of dumbbells with your arms straight above your chest, palms facing forward. Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, and then push the weights back up to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Do 8 reps with a weight you normally do 12 times.

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Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides. Take a long step back with your left foot so your left knee nearly touches the floor. Push back up and repeat. Do all your reps with your left leg, and rest before repeating the move with your right leg. Do 1 set of 8 reps per side with a weight you normally do 12 times.

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