Step up your game

After a long summer break (OK, a short one, but who's counting?), it's time to get back in shape. The question is, where to start? Don't automatically make a beeline for the bench press like everybody else. Ease into your back-to-school regimen with some modified pull-ups, which will work out your entire upper back -- the most important part of any athlete's body. Then add some shoulder, core and back workouts to strengthen your whole body.

The Workout

Modified Pull-Up

Strengthens the entire backside of the upper body as well as grip strength. It's a great alternative for anyone who has trouble doing normal pull-ups.

What to do?

Start by finding a secure and stable bar about waist high. A Smith machine works great, but you can also set up a standard barbell in a typical squat rack. Hold onto the bar with an overhand or underhand grip with your heels on the ground. Keeping your body rigid and aligned (ankles, knees, hips and shoulders in a straight line), pull your chest to the bar, pause and then lower until your arms are straight. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Perform this exercise slow and under control to maximize muscular tension. Try to do between 8-15 reps. If 15 reps are too easy, add resistance by wearing a weighted vest.

Overhead Press
Strengthens the shoulders and core and involves many stabilizing muscles.

What To Do?
Start in a balanced, athletic position (slight knee bend with "chest over knees over feet"). Hold a pair of dumbbells at your shoulders and press them as high as possible. Then return them to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps. You can press the weights explosively but always make sure to lower them under control. You can perform this exercise by pressing both dumbbells simultaneously, or you can alternate them with your palms facing either forward or each other. You can even mix it up for variety. You can perform this exercise twice a week, doing 8-15 reps.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Strengthens the entire back side of the lower body, including hamstrings, lower back and glutes. It also works the stabilizing muscles of the ankle, knee and hip.

What To Do?
Start by standing on one leg with a pair of dumbbells at your sides. Keeping your back flat, shoulder blades together and a slight bend on the leg you're standing on, bend at the waist and lower the dumbbells to the floor. Then return to your starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps. Make sure you work both legs equally. You can perform this exercise twice a week (with other lower body movements) and work between 8-15 reps for each leg.

Want help elevating your game? Email your questions to edge@risemag.com and we'll try to cover those topics.

Alan Stein owns Stronger Team and serves as head strength & conditioning coach for the national power Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) boys' basketball program.