Workout for the workplace

What if you wanted to work out in the gym for success at work — to get the energy, stamina and mental edge to smash the challenges of the workplace? Well, it turns out that’s exactly how Fitness First’s National Head of Fitness, Michael Cunico, trains. Here is his workout for success.

In my job as National Fitness Manager, my days are crammed with management meetings, presentations, mentoring staff, travel to clubs in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and attending fitness conferences — the job is both satisfying and draining at once. I need to be mentally and physically fit to perform at a high standard, so when I work out this requirement is at the top of my mind. Rather than thinking of “working out” as using every last piece of energy in an all-out assault on my body, I follow Pareto’s Principle, named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, which states that 20% input is responsible for 80% of the result.

If you look at some of the best athletes in the world, you’ll see that’s how they train too. The likes of Roger Federer or LeBron James wouldn’t necessarily call their training a “workout”, and don’t approach each session with the intention of going all out. It won’t serve them well on their next session or minimise the risk of injury, and it certainly won’t prepare them for their next big game.

A more appropriate term is “practice”. It gives meaning to what the outcome of that session will be — a chance to develop skills, not a total body annihilation. Practice offers progression, builds energy and encourages movement quality over intensity. Anything additional to this may be considered excess to what’s needed, so not part of my 20%.

On social media you see people using workouts as penance for potentially eating the “wrong things” or using a “more is better” mentality: more load, more volume, more intensity. I personally don’t aim to leave myself in a pool of sweat after every workout. That’s because the goal of my training is beyond the gym — I want to perform everywhere to the best of my ability; a “better is better” mentality. Sure, you can totally deplete yourself in a workout, but is it best for your body or your goals? I’m not saying it’s not effective or not required sometimes, but it’s like driving a car at redline all the time. Something will give.

If you’re like me, you may also be facing the challenge of an ageing body with some wear and tear. This may be from previous injuries, and quite possibly exacerbated by a sedentary job. So, like me, you may want to maximise your training to create a body that functions well, but respects your history of injury and any limitations you may have.

This is a workout for members who, like me, are at a desk and in meetings all day, dealing with the stresses of the corporate world. How often do I train? These days I aim to get moving every morning before I go to work. I’ve made it a routine, a daily habit that I have built into my schedule.

The workout

To minimise load through the spine, I’ve included some less traditional movements in this workout. To help explain this I’d like to introduce the concept of a moment arm. It’s basically force by distance.

For example, the moment arm at the shoulder joint is zero when you’re standing up with your arms by your side holding a dumbbell in your hand. You could maintain this position for a long period even with a relatively heavy dumbbell of 10-20kg. If you raise your arm like you would in a front raise and hold this weight at shoulder level, you’ll very quickly tire, due to an increase in the distance, not the force. We can use this concept to increase or decrease loading through particular joints, and in this workout we’re minimising the load through the lumbar spine, a common place for injuries.

Movement preparation

A1. Banded hip extensions

Using a standard weight bench position your body so the bench sits just underneath your shoulder blades. Place the band just above your knees to create a small amount of tension in your glutes. Have your palms facing up to open your chest and set your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Slowly allow your hips to drop towards the ground, keeping the entire foot planted to the floor, then forcefully drive back up to the start position. Superset with the dumbbell shoulder extension fly stretch.

A2. Dumbbell shoulder extension fly stretch

Lie back on a bench, positioning your shoulder blades slightly off the bench to allow for a full range of motion. Using a light dumbbell (2-4kg will be fine) place your hands above your face with your thumbs facing inwards. Slowly lower the weights down and back slightly while simultaneously rotating your thumbs so they’re facing down towards the ground. 3 sets of 45 seconds on/15 seconds off.

Body of the workout

B1. 1 & 1/4 Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

A great exercise to build quad strength while minimising the amount of load through the spine. Elevate your back leg so it’s slightly off the ground. Your height will dictate how high your back leg needs to be elevated, but a traditional weight bench may be too high for the average person, and I would prefer it to be too low than too high. Once in position lower your bodyweight under control. When you hit the bottom position perform a quarter repetition before returning to the start position. Please note this is not a pulse but a true one quarter of the normal range of motion. Superset with the single leg Romanian deadlift.

B2. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

A favourite movement of mine due to its ability to load the hamstrings but minimise the amount of tension on the lower back that comes with traditional deadlifts. Soften the knee on your working leg then tilt forward from your hips. While tilting forward try and push your hips backwards to load the rear of the body. Tilt till you can no longer maintain your back’s natural curve. Driving hard through your planted foot, maintain alignment and return to the start position. 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions each leg.

C1. Feet Elevated Inverted Rows

A tremendous exercise to build upper back strength with very little stress on the lower back. It’s much harder than it looks, so if you need to, revert to the more traditional style of row that doesn’t elevate the feet. The upper body should be positioned right underneath the suspension strap anchor point with feet elevated off the floor. Try different hand positions, rotating your arms and wrists to find a shoulder-friendly grip. Ideally, pull the body up till your thumbs brush your chest to complete the movement. Superset with narrow grip floor press.

C2. Narrow Grip Floor Press

This variation of the press limits the range of motion at the shoulders, making it a very shoulder-friendly exercise. It works to build your chest, shoulders and triceps as your legs can’t help as much as with a traditional bench press. For maximum safety set up pegs on a lifting cage a few feet off the floor so you can rerack the weight if needed. Lower the bar under control and keep your upper arms relatively close to your body to further emphasise your triceps and protect your shoulders. 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

D1. Elevated Step Through Lunges

The elevation on this exercise is a slightly advanced version, so if you find this too challenging you can perform the same movement without the riser. Standing on the riser, step forward into a lunge position planting your front foot entirely on the ground. Driving off your front foot transition immediately into a reverse lunge without stepping back on the riser. Repeat this movement for the whole set with a step forward and backwards counting as one repetition. This one is sure to generate some tension in your quads and increase your heart rate. Superset with Swiss ball 21s with 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions depending on your ability level.

D2. Swiss Ball 21s

Most gym goers have heard of bicep curl 21s, and this version for your hamstrings is equally as challenging. The first 7 movements are simply raising your hips up so your ankle, hip and shoulder are in alignment — don’t let your hips touch the ground. Draw the ball into your hips on the 8th movement, flexing at your knees and driving your hips up simultaneously. At the top of this movement keep your knees bent and perform 7 repetitions of just hip extensions. This is a tough one. 3-4 sets of 21 repetitions.

Finisher: Sled drag

The reason this movement is a great finisher is that it’s safe even if you’re fatigued, and there’s virtually zero eccentric loading on the legs (the portion of the lift that generates delayed muscle soreness). With this in mind it’s great as a finisher, as we’re doing in this workout, or as part of a light or recovery training session. It’s as simple as loading weights onto the sled and dragging it backwards, keeping an eye out for anyone behind you. Expect some tingling in your lower body and a significant increase in your heart rate. 3-4 sets of 30 seconds on/90 seconds off. Reduce rest time or increase the sets to increase the difficulty.

You’ve done the workout, now what do you eat? Check out our nutritionist-designed 7 day meal plan for eating for success. 

Want to find out how the pros do it? Read our special feature about how the athletes of the business world utilise fitness in their every day life to succeed in whatever they want! 

Michael Cunico is National Fitness Manager at Fitness First, — essentially the fitness boss, the guy responsible for the fitness offerings in Fitness First clubs. Another way of seeing it is that it’s his job to make sure you get the best value from your training experience in the clubs. That means he oversees everything from training programs to personal trainers, in a role that’s helped make Fitness First one of the most innovative gyms in the world. Michael got his start in the fitness industry when he was a first grade professional soccer player in Australia’s National Soccer League many years ago. He was known as an uncompromising defender, already a clue to his relentless determination to succeed, which found a further outlet when his club offered players courses in fitness and personal training to set them up for life post-soccer. Michael did the courses and discovered a fascination for the science behind fitness. It was also when the fitness industry began exploding, so he took the opportunity to become a personal trainer, and it just went on from there.

Videography by Nathan Ford
Photography by George Fetting
Photography by Lee McCluskey