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Turn On Power: Workouts to Power Up Your Muscles

You do your time on the treadmill, hoist some weights, and maybe even throw in yoga for good measure. But your regimen probably lacks one key element: power. Besides torching extra stored fat and quickly sculpting your muscles, power moves give you a mental edge­ -- in and out of the gym. So we tapped six of the top trainers in the biz for their surefire tips for squeezing that extra octane from your muscles and workouts. They will change the way you train forever.

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Joe Dowdell

At Peak Performance, the private New York City gym that Joe Dowdell co-owns, it's the deceptively simple-looking equipment, like sandbags and Prowler sleds, that will make your heart pound and your muscles burn. High tech doesn't necessarily mean fast results, and Dowdell is known for getting results, whether from A-list stars (he's worked with Anne Hathaway and Eva Mendes), pro athletes, or supermodels. The common denominator? They all focus on strength work more than cardio. "Don't make the mistake of thinking that training for power will make you bulky," Dowdell says. "It's not true. Some of the women with the best physiques train that way."

"One of the best things women can do for themselves mentally is to get physically stronger and more powerful," Dowdell says. "It will have an impact on everything you do."

Power Principles

Carve your core. "The weaker your core is, the less power you'll be able to generate," Dowdell says. Try his Stirring the Pot center strengthener: With your toes on the floor and elbows bent 90 degrees, rest your forearms on a stability ball, abs tight and body straight. Keeping your body still, use your arms to roll the ball in 10 small clockwise circles, then 10 counterclockwise.

Prioritize your workout. "Always do your power -- that is, explosive -- moves before your normal strength exercises," Dowdell says. "Because they're more neurologically challenging, you want to be at your freshest for them."

Stick the landing. "Before you jump really high, learn how to decelerate, because that's where people often get injured," Dowdell says. Start by hopping from the floor onto a 6- to 12-inch-high platform. Once you feel comfortable landing in a stable way, nix the box.

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Joe Dowdell's Head-to-Toe Routine

No matter what your level, you can add power moves into your routine with this quick total-body circuit from Joe Dowdell, co-owner of Peak Performance. You'll just need a weighted ball (heavy enough to make 10 reps of the moves challenging) and a sturdy step -- and, for more advanced exercisers, a solid gym wall. Or try his anyone-can-do-it interval workout. Walk, bike, run, skate -- choose whatever cardio you like!

Upper Body
Medicine ball chest pass

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a weighted ball in both hands in front of chest, elbows bent.
  • Throw ball forward onto floor. Pick it up and repeat. MAKE IT HARDER: If you're an experienced exerciser and you have a sturdy, solid wall at the gym meant for such purposes, stand facing the wall and throw the ball at the wall; catch it, take time to reset your position and repeat.
  • Do 10 reps.

Core
Medicine ball rotation throw

  • Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a weighted ball in both hands at your left side, elbows bent.
  • Pivot and push off of right foot as you throw ball across your body to the right.
  • Go pick up ball and repeat. MAKE IT HARDER: More experienced exercisers can stand perpendicular to a wall (a few feet away with right side closest to it), feet shoulder-width apart, and hold ball with both hands by your left side; pivot and push off of right foot as you throw ball across your body to the left against the wall. Catch it, take time to reset your position and repeat.
  • Do 8 to 10 reps. Switch directions and repeat.

Lower Body
Plyo jump

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart in front of a 6- to 12-inch aerobic step, sturdy bench, or platform.
  • Lower into a squat then jump up onto step, making sure your landing is solid. MAKE IT HARDER: For more experienced exercisers, do not use a step, jumping up from squat position then landing with feet on floor.
  • Do 8 to 10 reps.

Quick Cardio Burner

  • After a 5-minute warm-up (choose any type of cardio), sprint for 30 seconds then rest (at an easy to moderate pace) for 90 seconds.
  • Repeat four more times and work up to 10. (If you find you're covering less distance in that 30-second span as you progress through your reps, rest longer. If it feels too easy, increase your incline or sprint for 45 to 60 seconds.)

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Jeanette Jenkins' Training Tips

It's fitting that Jeanette Jenkins' company is called the Hollywood Trainer. When she's not putting celebs like Queen Latifah, Pink, and Paula Patton through their paces, she's putting out workout DVDs, like her latest, Sexy Abs with Kelly Rowland & Hollywood Trainer Jeanette Jenkins. Known for taking an eclectic, cross-training approach to fitness -- weights, cardio, kickboxing, Pilates, yoga, you name it -- Jenkins' success comes from continually challenging her clients to do more. "So many people don't ever come close to realizing their true physical potential," Jenkins says. "Power means having the mental strength to push yourself to your limit."

"Start a habit of working harder for part of every session," Jenkins says. "To see big results, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable."

Power Principles

Channel Flo Jo. "A favorite move I use is Sprint on the Spot," Jenkins says, a nod to the world's fastest woman, Florence Griffith Joyner. "You don't need a treadmill; simply sprint in place for 15 to 30 seconds, pumping your arms and raising your knees high."

Man up. "The most empowering thing for a woman to be able to do is push and pull her own body weight," Jenkins says. "Do push-ups from your toes instead of your knees, even if it's only two, and add reps from there. Then aim to do a pull-up. Start with the Gravitron machine and lat pull-downs in the gym, then have a pal spot you on the pull-up bar."

Mind your power portions. "For experienced exercisers, make plyometric moves like burpees and jump kicks about a quarter of your circuit," says Jenkins, who demonstrates the meaning of plyo here. "They're great for toning, but limiting the number you do will keep you from overtraining or getting injured."

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Jeanette Jenkins' Fat-Blasting Exercises

Trainer-to-the-stars Jeanette Jenkins says her clients love it when she adds high-intensity moves to their routine. To make it more fun and help them visualize exercises, she also incorporates sports-oriented drills. She gave us five of her favorite oomph-building sculptors to rev up your routine. Just one caveat, says Jenkins: Any exercisers who may be overweight should skip the jumps -- she recommends against doing such taxing plyo moves until you've hit your healthy weight range.

Burpee combo with side shuffle

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Squat low, placing hands on floor shoulder-width apart and hop or step legs back into full push-up position.
  • Do a push-up, then step or hop feet in toward your hands again.
  • Jump up (reach high!), then land in a squat and immediately shuffle twice to left.
  • Lower into a squat, touch both hands to floor, stand up, then repeat shuffle and touch to the right to complete 1 rep.
  • Do 10 reps (that's 10 burpees and 20 shuffles).

Jump kick

  • Stand with feet slightly staggered, left in front of right, and hands in fists next to chin.
  • Jump up and land on left leg as you kick forward with right.
  • Bring right foot down to starting position then lean forward and extend left leg back behind you.
  • Do 10 reps then switch sides and repeat.

Pendulum

  • Stand with feet hip-width and extend arms out to sides, palms facing down and fingers long.
  • Keep arms raised as you hop on left leg and extend right leg out to side, then quickly hop onto right leg and extend left leg out to side.
  • Finally, hop back onto left leg and lift the right leg out high to the side for one count as you balance on left leg. (You should feel the glute of the lifted leg working just as much as the glute on the balancing leg.) Switch sides and repeat lift to complete 1 rep.
  • Do 10 reps.

Power plyo lunge

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips or by sides.
  • Jump up as you scissor legs, right leg forward and left leg back, landing with knees soft and feet side-by-side.
  • Immediately jump up and switch legs (left leg forward and right leg back), then jump up again and switch (right leg forward, left leg back), this time lowering into a full lunge to complete 1 rep.
  • Jump up and repeat (the rhythm is "scissor, scissor, lunge").
  • Do 10 reps.

Volleyball block

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and picture a volleyball net in front of you.
  • Lower into a half-squat and raise arms at your sides, elbows bent and hands next to your shoulders, palms facing forward.
  • Shuffle three times to your left, then jump up as if you were blocking a shot, extending arms overhead. Immediately shuffle back to the other direction and jump up.
  • Do 10 shuffles to each side.

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Gunnar Peterson's Training Tips

Name just about any überbabe -- Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, or Angelina Jolie, for starters -- not to mention some of the world's best athletes, and Gunnar Peterson has trained her. He's the go-to guy whether you want to get in shape for a movie, win a title fight (yes, he's even trained Mike Tyson), or firm up for a close-up. And because he uses athletic training, including power exercises, with everyone, even his everyday clients do plyometric moves and speed drills. "I see power as the ability to 'do' with emphasis and authority," says Peterson, who has been perfecting physiques for more than two decades. "It's a form of control, and as a self-admitted control freak, I'm a fan."

"When you do power moves, you switch to burning fat stores sooner," Peterson says. "That will help you change the proportions of your body."

Power Principles

Add explosive movements. In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed. Peterson knows his physics: "Plyometric moves, like squat jumps, where you're catching air, train your muscles to work faster." Start with three sets of five to eight reps one day a week and build from there.

Ramp it up. On a treadmill, walk or jog for 30 seconds at a 0 or 1 percent grade, then increase the incline to a challenging hike -- aim for between 10 and 15, depending on your fitness level -- and walk or run as fast as you can for five to 10 seconds; repeat this eight to 10 times. (Do the same thing on a bike by adding resistance and standing up as you sprint.) "Think 'Push!' during the sprint and then back off; then 'Push!'" Peterson says. "Yell it to yourself. Forcing the words and air out make you exert more energy."

Get a beeper. When you're trying to crank out as many reps or rpms as you can for a set amount of time, keep your eyes on your form, not your watch. Peterson uses the Gymboss interval timer ($20, gymboss.com). Program two different interval lengths -- sprint and recovery -- and the alarm will sound to mark your next set.

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Gunnar Peterson's Plyo Exercises

These power-boosting moves from Beverly Hills-based trainer Gunnar Peterson will light a calorie-torching fire under your weight workout -- and firm up your body from head to toe.

Depth jump

  • Place two platforms about a foot or so away from each other (use plyo boxes at the gym or sturdy aerobic steps or benches at home). One should be slightly higher than the other (you can increase the height as you get stronger).
  • Stand on the shorter platform facing the taller one. Hop down off shorter platform, landing on both feet, then lower into a squat and jump up onto the taller platform.
  • Step off the taller platform, go back to the shorter platform and repeat.
  • Do 8 to 10 reps.

Plyo push-up

  • Get in full push-up position on floor, arms extended with body forming a straight line from head to heels. MAKE IT EASIER: Place hands on a low sturdy platform or a countertop (the higher the surface, the easier the push-up). Or, start in modified push-up position on your knees and progress to your toes as you get stronger.
  • Bend elbows, lowering chest down, then push up as hard as you can, trying to catch some air.
  • Land and immediately lower into a push-up again.
  • Do 8 to 10 reps.

Band squat press

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart on the center of a resistance tube and hold an end in each hand next to shoulders, palms facing forward. (The tube should be taut.)
  • Lower into a squat, keeping hands next to shoulders, then rise up as fast as you can.
  • Press arms overhead. MAKE IT EASIER: Keep hands by shoulders.
  • Do 10 to 12 reps, repeating squats as fast as you can.

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Elena Brower

Fast-paced power yoga classes may get your heart rate up, but for Elena Brower, the founder of Virayoga in New York City, the real power of posing is in the mind and body recharge. Her celebrity-packed studio -- Gwyneth Paltrow, Christy Turlington Burns, and Carla Gugino are fans -- offers different styles, but it's Brower's magic touch for fine-tuning alignment and physiques that is her signature. "Any consistent, regular practice will help you be stronger and more stable," Brower explains. "But the real key is to connect with yourself so you can mentally tap into those benefits off the mat."

"Tightness, whether it's in your muscles or your mind, drains your power," Brower says. "Loosen up to unleash what you can do physically, mentally, and emotionally."

Power Principles

Optimize your abs. The secret to a flat, steely yoga belly? "In order for any muscle to work its best you have to take it from full effort or contraction to full relaxation," Brower says. Whether you're doing boat pose or bicycle crunches, consciously relax your abs between reps, then bring your navel to your spine as you contract them again. (Hint: If you're breathing from your chest, you're not relaxing your middle.)

Shore up your foundation. Spend some workout time barefoot to strengthen your feet and other stabilizing muscles. Practice Brower's prescription for steady footing: Press into the floor with the balls of your big and pinkie toes, not the digits in between; this helps release the gripping motion and frees up energy to nail the pose. (Kick off your shoes for Brower's favorite asanas at fitnessmagazine.com/powerup.)

Just breathe. To maximize your muscle control and mental concentration, try to increase the number of breaths you're holding each pose for. "If you're at three now, work toward 10," Brower says, and inhale deeply, "as if you're trying to fill the periphery of every limb" with the oxygenated blood that is your muscles' power supply.

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Elena Brower's Favorite Yoga Asanas

Much of your power comes from your core and yoga is a can't-miss way to strengthen these muscles. Yogi-to-the-stars Elena Brower, co-owner of New York City's Virayoga, recommends working your abs and back with these five moves; they'll give you 360 degrees of strength, stability, and power.

Full Plank

  • Start on the floor on all fours, hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Tighten your abs as you lift your knees and step your feet back so your body is straight from head to heels. (Try to reach the top of your head forward as your heels reach in the other direction so you're elongating your spine. Keep your shoulder blades pulled down your back.)
  • Hold for 3 to 10 breaths.

Side Plank

  • From full plank, lift right hand off mat and turn torso so that your shoulders are stacked (right shoulder directly above left) and you are balancing on left hand. (Left hand should be aligned directly under left shoulder.)
  • Raise right arm straight up toward ceiling, reaching high, and either stack feet (resting on the outside of left foot) or keep them staggered (resting on the inside of right foot and outside of left).
  • Keep hips raised so body is straight from head to heels.
  • Hold for 3 to 10 breaths then switch sides and repeat.

Dolphin pose

  • Kneel on floor with knees under hips, toes turned under so heels are up, and rest on forearms so shoulders are aligned over elbows, palms on floor.
  • Lift knees and straighten legs (as much as you can) so you're in an inverted V; let your head hang between arms. MAKE IT HARDER: Walk feet closer as you get more comfortable.
  • Hold for 3 to 10 breaths.

Sphinx

  • From dolphin, lower belly, hips, and legs to floor (soles of feet facing up) but continue to hold yourself up on forearms so chest is lifted and palms are pressing into the floor.
  • Look forward as you inhale and extend back into a slight backbend; pull your shoulder blades together but don't squeeze glutes.
  • Hold for 3 to 10 breaths then lower your head and chest to floor and move immediately into Cobra pose.

Cobra

  • From facedown position, place palms on floor next to shoulders and squeeze elbows tight to your body.
  • Keeping hips, legs, and feet firmly on floor, inhale as you press hands into floor, straightening arms and lifting chest and abs forward and up. (Don't squeeze glutes or lift higher than is comfortable. Keep your shoulder blades pulled down and back; look forward.)
  • Hold for 3 to 10 breaths, then repeat the Sphinx and Cobra once more.
  • Finish by sitting back on heels and lowering chest to floor as you reach arms forward (Child's pose).

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Tony Horton

"There are three things we lose as we age: speed, balance, and power," Horton says. "Power training can help you get all three back."

One of the hottest workouts still on people's lips these days -- seven years after it was released -- is P90X, the high-intensity DVD routine that everyone from office workers to celebrities raves about. Tony Horton, the man behind the juggernaut, just released P90X2, a next-level series that has more skill-based exercises and core and stability moves. "People are starting to understand that fitness isn't just about strength," Horton says. "It's having your body move with ease and having good range of motion in multiple planes. Real power comes from what your body and gravity can do together."

Power Principles

Find your weak spot. "If you focus on improving your weaknesses instead of bolstering your strengths, everything gets stronger," Horton says. "Instead of simply doing what you enjoy and know you can do, try something new and don't worry about being embarrassed." The first 30 to 45 days will be difficult, Horton notes, "but dramatic physical and emotional change will follow."

Multitask your muscles. "Get away from myopic training programs and traditional movements that do only one thing," Horton says. "Rather than a regular push-up, add a hand clap or travel across the floor during it." The same goes for squats or lunges: Add jumps or an upper-body element.

Adjust your cadence. Get more toning out of moves like the chest press or leg press by doing the lift portion in a split second, then taking two to three seconds to lower. Mixing in such power sets will challenge your muscles differently so you don't get stuck on a shaping plateau, Horton says.

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Tony Horton's Circuit Workout

P90X creator Tony Horton doesn't consider lack of time or a gym to be good excuses for missing a workout. You can do this mini total-body strength-and-cardio circuit in your living room without any weights. Just combine an upper-body move with a quick interval burst followed by core and lower-body exercises. That's one "round." Rest for 30 to 45 seconds after each round, then repeat the circuit again. Do up to 5 rounds. Here's a sample:

Upper Body
Crawling push-up

  • Get in full push-up position on floor, arms extended, body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  • Lower chest down, press up, then bring right arm and step left foot forward (as if you were going up a ladder).
  • Lower chest down again, press up, and bring left arm and right foot forward. Continue for 1 minute.

Interval Burst
Free sprint

  • Sprint for a minute in place, pumping arms back and forth, then freeze with left knee raised so you're balancing on right foot.
  • Hold it for 2 or 3 counts then sprint again.
  • Freeze every few seconds or every 10 seconds -- surprise yourself! -- alternating standing legs. Continue for 1 minute.

Core
Mason's twist

  • Sit with knees bent, feet on floor or slightly raised.
  • Clasp hands in front of you, elbows bent, and lean back about 45 degrees.
  • Tighten abs and alternate bringing hands down to floor on each side. Continue for 1 minute.

Lower Body
Spiderman squat

  • Stand with feet wide and squat low, arms bent and torso turned slightly to right.
  • Look to left as you jump up and to the left, pivoting off of left foot and turning 90 degrees. (Swing your arms around to left to help propel you.)
  • Land in a squat and repeat jump-turn back to right. Keep left foot lightly on floor or catch air with both feet if you can. MAKE IT HARDER: As you get more comfortable with the move, turn 180 degrees or more with each jump.
  • Continue for 1 minute.

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Jackie Warner

"This is not my 'normal' shape," Warner says. "I had to work to change it. Cardio can alter your size, but to change your body shape you have to use resistance training."

"It's not how long; it's how strong." This sums up Jackie Warner's no-nonsense approach to training. Push yourself harder in less time and you'll be more powerful, both mentally and physically. "If you're trying to run away from the burn, you're not going to see results," says the Los Angeles-based makeover guru, whose latest DVD is Personal Training with Jackie: 30-Day Fast Start. "Chase the burn. Get to it and through it faster and you'll shorten your workout time and speed up sculpting changes."

Power Principles

Turbocharge your toning. Warner does back-to-back supersets of 12 strength moves -- each superset pair works similar muscle groups -- interspersed with cardio bursts. "I call it power circuit training," she says. "It releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins in a big way, improving your mood and helping you feel more emotionally balanced."

Rev your results. Interval-phobes, take note: Speed drills change your body quickly and give you a burst of energy. "Pick up a jump rope and try to do 200 rotations (start with fewer if you need to) as you time yourself," Warner says. "The next session, attempt to do those 200 rotations in less time. Moving faster in the same amount of time builds power."

Face yourself. "Do your strength moves in front of a mirror so you have to focus on what you're doing and make that mind-muscle connection," Warner says. "Research shows this also improves muscle growth."

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Jackie Warner's Upper-Body Superset Circuit

Try this upper-body power circuit from Los Angeles trainer Jackie Warner. Do the moves in each circuit back-to-back, without any rest, then proceed to the cardio acceleration (try to get through these high-intensity bursts faster each time you do the workout). Choose a weight for each move that you can only lift 10 to 15 times. Repeat both circuits twice.

Circuit 1:

Chest press

  • Lie faceup on a bench or the floor and hold a dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent and palms facing forward.
  • Press arms up over chest then return to start.
  • Repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Decline push-up

  • With balls of feet on a couch or low stool, place hands shoulder-width apart on floor.
  • Tighten abs so body is straight from head to heels in full push-up position.
  • Bend elbows and lower chest toward floor.
  • Press up, then repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Military shoulder press

  • Sit on a chair or bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand next to shoulders, elbows bent by sides and palms facing forward.
  • Press arms overhead then lower.
  • Repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Lateral raise

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at sides, palms facing thighs.
  • Raise extended arms out to sides, palms down.
  • Lower, then repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Close-grip barbell curl

  • Hold a barbell or Body Bar with both hands in front of hips, hands close together and palms facing forward.
  • Bend elbows and curl bar to chest, then lower.
  • Repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Hammer curl

  • Stand and hold a dumbbell in each hand at sides, palms facing thighs.
  • Keeping elbows tight to sides, curl weights to shoulders, palms facing each other.
  • Lower, then repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Cardio acceleration
Jump rope for 200 rotations, then move to Circuit 2.

Circuit 2:

Incline press

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit on an incline bench or lean back against a couch with abs tight and back straight.
  • Bring weights next to shoulders, palms facing forward, then press weights up over chest.
  • Lower, then repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Push-up

  • Get in full push-up position on floor with hands shoulder-width apart, arms extended and body forming a straight line from head to heels. MAKE IT EASIER: Keep knees on floor.
  • Bend elbows and lower chest toward floor.
  • Press up, then repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Barbell upright row

  • Hold a barbell or Body Bar in front of thighs with hands close together, palms facing body.
  • Draw elbows up as you raise bar to chin height.
  • Lower, then repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Bent-over wide row

  • Hold a barbell or Body Bar with hands slightly wider than shoulders (or hold a dumbbell in each hand) and bend over from hips about 45 degrees, back flat.
  • Extend arms toward floor, palms facing behind you.
  • Draw elbows up and back until bar is close to chest.
  • Lower, then repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Wide biceps barbell curl

  • Hold a barbell or Body Bar in front of hips with hands slightly wider than shoulders, palms facing forward.
  • Curl bar toward your shoulders then lower.
  • Repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Biceps curl

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand at sides, palms facing forward.
  • Keeping elbows tight to sides, curl weights to shoulders.
  • Lower and repeat until you can't do another rep with good form.

Cardio acceleration

Jump rope for 200 rotations, then repeat circuits 1 and 2.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2012.

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