Amp Up Your Workout with Fun Fat-Burning Sports Drills

The monotony of cardio machines makes it easy to find excuses to avoid working out altogether. Why not make like an athlete and add a few sports drills to your routine?

"These whole-body moves not only improve sports skills, but the high intensity also burns an extraordinary number of calories both during and even after your workout," says Neal I. Pire, MA, CSCS, author of Plyometrics For Athletes at All Levels. Try a few of these before your workout (after warming up) or in place of your cardio workout once or twice a week (with two to three days rest in between):

1. Corner dash
Arrange four small objects as markers into a 5-yard x 5-yard square. Stand in the middle and start jogging in place (quickly lift each foot as if it was on fire). Alternately dash to each corner, touch the marker and return to the center—without turning around to do so—and continue jogging in place. This works well with a partner: have your partner randomly point to cones as you dash to them and return to the center. Start with two, 15-second sets. This routine helps develops speed and quickness and particularly benefits tennis and volleyball players.

2. Side-to-side shuffle
This is a great full body exercise, says John Garey, MS, CSCS, owner of John Garey Fitness and Pilates, Long Beach, Calif. and star of the DVD, CORE: Total Body Tone with Tubing – Upper Body and Core . "The side-to-side shuffle emphasizes the muscles of both the outside and inside of the thigh. In addition, this exercise focuses on coordinating upper and lower body movements, which is great training for athletes." Start in an athletic stance position, both knees and hips slightly flexed, which works the quads, hamstrings and glutes. Your upper body should have a slight forward lean and knees and feel should point directly ahead and remain parallel to each other throughout the move. To add challenge, perform this move while holding a medicine ball and toss (or bounce) the ball, shuffle to the other side and repeat two to three times.

3. T-run
Set up a T-shaped path: 10 yards straight ahead of you and two "branches" of five yards on either side of the top of the T. (Practice this a few times at a slow pace before going full-speed.) Stand at the base of the T. Sprint straight up to the top of the T and touch the ground near the base of the cone or marker, shuffle to the right without crossing your feet, touch the base of the cone with your right hand, then shuffle to the left cone, touch the base with your left hand and then back pedal to the starting line in reverse. Time yourself and work on reducing the length of time it takes you to run the T.

4. Upper body plyo push-ups (advanced)
Before attempting these intense push-ups, try them first against a wall or incline bench, recommends Pire. "Build up until you can perform modified (knees on ground) plyo push-ups and then do them on your toes." You must be able to perform a regular push-up in good form before attempting this move. Start with your hands on the sides of the medicine ball, drop to the floor and then immediately pop back up onto the ball. When dropping from the ball to the floor bend your elbows into the movement, to lessen impact on joints. The pop back up onto the ball should be immediate. Start with just a few reps near the beginning of your workout so you have more energy to complete them with good form.

5. Backwards running/short steps
Quadriceps are naturally stronger than hamstrings, so running backward, or performing a backward cycle or bounding drill emphasizes the hamstrings and provides for a better balanced approach, says Pire. Make sure you have a flat surface free from obstacles to avoid tripping or running into anything. Start by running in place and slowly start moving backwards. Run backwards with your feet and center of gravity close to the ground and arms swinging rapidly; focus on using the ball of your foot. Keep your head up and back straight and look straight ahead. Reps vary depending on the length of the run.

6. High knee skip
This adult version of childhood skipping uses using exaggerated arm swings as you hold the opposite knee (from the raised arm) at 90 degrees, concentrating on height. Place straight markers (pencils, strips of paper, etc.) on the ground approximately 18 inches apart about 10 yards out. Keeping eyes on the ground about a yard in front of you, start stepping high by raising each knee until thigh is parallel to the ground as you alternately step between each marker, moving to the end of the "ladder." Keep elbows bent at 90 degrees and swing them alternately with each step. Turn and repeat the opposite direction.

7. Crisscross (a.k.a. the grapevine)
These were a popular aerobic dance move in the 80's. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands on hips; step to the left by crossing your right leg in front of your left leg, stepping sideways. Uncross your legs by bringing your left leg out and over to the side. Now, continue moving in the same direction by crossing your right leg in back of your left leg. Repeat for the length of the room or 30 seconds, and then switch directions. Increase speed and distance to greater challenge.

8. Single-arm alternate leg bound (advanced)
This drill mimics an exaggerated running gait where you try to cover as much distance as possible with each stride. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Start by jogging at a comfortable pace, and begin the drill with the left foot forward. As the left foot contacts the ground, push off, bringing the right leg forward until the thigh is approximately parallel to the ground and the knee is at 90 degrees and simultaneously bring your left arm forward. Land on the right leg and immediately repeat the sequence on the other side, and continue alternating strides.

9. Split scissor jumps (advanced)
Stand with one foot in front of the other in a lunge position with your back knee almost to the ground. with one shoe-length apart between feet. Jump as high as possible, switching legs in air. Minimize ground contact time. Bend into the landing and put on the brakes to use the muscles and not the joints for a safe landing, says Garey. "Minimizing ground contact (by immediately jumping back up) is a great way to get more power." Land with your feet hip distance apart for greatest balance and control and try to push into the heel, which uses more glutes and hamstrings. This movement helps increase running speed. Repeat after a brief rest.

10. Four-cone drill
This drill incorporates a tough mix of various running styles. Set up four cones in a square, 10 yards apart (increase the distance to 20 yards once you become more fit). Start in the lower right hand corner and sprint to the first cone in front of you. At this cone, remain facing forward and shuffle sideways to the left until you reach the second cone. Continue facing forward and backpedal to the third cone and then sprint back to the starting cone. Rest briefly and repeat.

11. Broken up 100-yard sprints
Another popular soccer drill, these are often called "suicide drills" among athletes. You'll see why once you try them. They focus on speed and the ability to change directly quickly. Place five cones or markers on the ground five yards apart. Stand next to the first cone. Sprint up to second cone (five yards away) and back; sprint up to the second cone (10 yards away) and back. Continue sprinting back and forth, for a total of 100 yards. Rest for a minute and then repeat.

12. Jump and reach
These jumps not only burn calories but will make you a star on your beach volleyball team come summer. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Squat slightly by bending at the knees and hips and bring arms back slightly before explosively jumping up and reaching for an object or target such as a basketball hoop. Land in the starting position and immediately repeat jumping. Focus on getting the most vertical height with minimal lateral or forward or backward movement. Start with one to two reps and increase as you become more fit.

13. V-drill sprint
A popular soccer drill, set up cones or markers in an inverted V, with a 10-yard "base," with a cone at each corner and a third cone in the center of the V five yards up from each base cone. As quickly as you can, start at the first corner cone and sprint around the second cone (at the tip of the V) and then change direction and sprint around the last cone. Alternatively, using the same set-up, start at the center cone (at the peak of the V) and sprint to one of the other cones, touch it and backpedal quickly back to the first cone; repeat with the other cone, starting from the base cone and backpedaling to the starting cone. Repeat three times on each side.

14. The spider drill
Ideally, this works best practiced on a tennis court: Arrange eight tennis balls around all points of a tennis court: the four corners and at mid-points down the baseline between each point. Stand in the center and run to each ball one at a time and return it to the center. Note the time it takes you to complete the drill and strive to reduce your time. Or, set up five cones, one in the center and four equally distributed around it; run to any cone, run back to center and continue running from cone to center and to cone until you form a complete circle and time yourself.

15. Ladder drills
These drills use a "ladder" you construct with strips of paper, or you can buy an agility ladder from a sporting goods store. Place straight markers (pencils, strips of paper, etc.) on the ground approximately 18 inches apart about 10 yards out. Typically performed as part of an agility course, the ladder drill may also be done in intervals. For intervals, a 2:1 work to rest ratio is standard, says Garey. For example, perform the ladder drill for 40 seconds and then rest for 20 seconds and repeat the same or a similar drill. "This is a fun and creative way to burn lots of calories in a short amount of time," says Garey.

Start at the narrow end of the "ladder" for these drills:

Hop Scotch:
Start on two feet in the center of the first box. Hop into the next two squares with both feet. Hop, landing with both feet outside the third box, straddling it. Continue hopping with two feet for two boxes and then two feet outside

Two in the hole:
Stand sideways to the ladder and hop laterally into each square, landing on both feet, for the entire length of the ladder. For a variation, stand slightly off to the side of the bottom of the ladder and alternate hopping into a square, outside and slightly up the square, into the next square and outside, progressing up the latter the entire way.

High knee hopscotch:
Stand at the base of the ladder and hop into the next two squares with both feet, than land on alternating feet (left foot, right, then left) for the next three squares. Repeat two feet for one square and one foot for the next three.

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