Hello all, it is the start of a new year and this is the second full week of the year to where all the ‘magic’ is suppose to happen. We make new years resolution of how we are going to workout everyday, go to spin class x amount of times per week and / or lose however much weight is desired. We all know it starts with you and it starts with putting on your shoes and making it to the gym which sometimes can be half the battle. However though, when you do make it to the gym, what is your game plan? What is your plan of attack on how you are going to sculpt the body of your dreams? Do you head right for the treadmill, bike or elliptical and just start mindlessly and slowly pedaling your legs daydreaming of other things and when the misery is over? Or do you hit the machines and go through your own fitness routine you have been performing for the past however many days/months/ years? How has your progress been going? Are you getting the results you want? These are all things we need to think about when we are exercising and trying to better ourselves and our bodies.
One thing I think remains constant in any good exercise program is lifting weights. Lifting weights is great for anyone, anytime and at any age. We could all afford to be stronger because I believe there is no excuse for weakness. Lifting weights is great for our muscles, tendons, ligaments and especially our bones. Our bodies need to be exerted, pushed, strained and exercised or order to get stronger and leaner. The more weights we lift, the stronger we get, the stronger we get the more muscle mass we obtain, the more muscle mass we obtain, the more calories we burn, the more calories we burn the lower our fat mass and body fat percentage becomes. I think lifting weights needs to be the essential component of every exercise program and not just any weight training exercise but specific exercises that I want to cover in a minute.
Just recently my brother and I were talking about how we want to have a mantra or training philosophy we want to abide by just like our fellow mentors in which we follow and look up to. Then, I started thinking about what my philosophy would be as a trainer and what I truly believe in with the fitness world. What would be my key fitness components to cover for a successful, safe, effective and long lasting fitness program? I am talking long term here as in something I believe everyone can benefit from now until the later years.
My top 6 key components are:
- Lift the big lifts
- Body Weight Exercises
- Games / Multi-directional
Lift the big lifts. Everyone can afford to be strong, like I said before there is no excuse for weakness. The big lifts offer the most bang for your buck, are good for the whole body, are a great way to add mass and strength and are very important to perform correctly. What are the big lifts you are asking? The big lifts are: squat, deadlift, bench press, bent over row, split squat and shoulder press. These should be the staples of any great program. I am a big fan of starting from the ground up because I feel the foundation is the most important part of any structure. I feel too many people neglect their legs during their training, opting more for the beach, show off muscles like chest, arms and abs. Well, you can add to your beach muscles just by squating or deadlifting heavy. Those two lifts alone put the whole body under stress and everything has to fire in order to perform those lifts correctly. If you feel like your form is not so great with those lift, think about hiring a trainer for a session to go over how to execute them correctly. With the squat and deadlift I would perform them early on in your workout when the body is the freshest. I think a great rep range to go for is reps of 5. Anywhere between 2 to 5 sets of 5 is a fantastic way to increase strength and size, just remember to go heavier each time if you can safely. With a short rep range, chances are you may feel not tired or fatigued enough to your liking but trust me, less is more on this. Walk away even is you feel good and you could do more. All of these lifts can be performed with either a barbell, kettlebells and/or dumbbells. If it was me, I would get awfully comfortable with the barbell. It is simple and highly effective.
Body weight exercises. Either after you have performed your big lifts or you do not have access to equipment for them, I believe the next best addition to any great program is body weight training. Your body is the greatest machine ever created and the only thing we need to provide resistance is gravity. There is almost an unlimited amount of exercises you can perform with just your own body weight and I will only scratch the surface with my list: squats, lunges, back lunges, side lunges, step ups, step downs, 1 leg reach, single leg squats, pistols, push ups, pull ups, handstand push ups, horizontal rows, rotation, bear crawl, crab crawl, rolling, cartwheel, handstands, bridges, bird dogs, planks, side planks etc….. I am not limiting body weight exercises just to your own body but I am also included the other fun toys I like to use in this category such as the TRX, mini bands, super bands, stretch bands, elastic cords, airex pads, medicine balls, exercise balls, ab wheels and boxes. All of these combined with your own body weight gives you one heck of a great workout to engage the whole body. We are only limited by our own imagination but I love to stick with the recipe and what works. I think the basic human movements that should always be covered are: push, pull, squat, lunge and rotation. When designing your own mini circuit always try to have a push exercise for every pull such as push ups and pull ups and always try to have 2 leg exercises which are a knee dominant and hip dominant such as a medicine ball squat and glute bridge. The beautiful part about body weight exercises is we can always change the intensity of the circuit by either changing the rep ranges like say 20 of everything and/or changing the rest time either between each exercise or the whole circuit. You want to supercharge your workout, time yourself. TIme how long it takes to perform a circuit, time how long rests you get between sets like 30 seconds to a minute or time your rests at the end of a circuit before performing it again like 2-3 minutes. A sample circuit example could be: 20 push ups, 20 squats, 20 body weight rows, 20 back lunges and 20 burpees.
Sprint. Sprinting to me is hands down, by far the best form of cardio ever. Period. Want to get lean? Sprint. Want to drop pounds, lose body fat and stimulate fast twitch muscle fibers? Well guess what, sprinting is where its at. I am not a fan of cardio, I never have been and never will be. You will never catch me on a machine mindlessly plotting along at a snails speed for hours on end. Why? Well one because it is insanely boring to me, two because I think it is unnecessary and three it is not the most effective way to optimal performance and health. Sprinting is very similar to the big lifts in which it works the whole body, jacks up your metabolic rate by sending your heart rate through the roof and it is just hard. At the end of a sprint, we should all be out of breath and huffing and puffing, if you are not then you might want to try to go a little harder or faster. Sprinting can be done almost anywhere, on anything and for various amounts of time. My method of sprint choice would be outside on a natural surface such as the beach, grass or dirt. Why? Because it is easier on your body. The hardest surfaces to run on for your body are concrete and asphalt, I guess thats why it is called pound the pavement. When sprinting outside, start with a small distance such as 40 yards and gradually work your way into a full sprint. Start with a good warm up and then sprinting at 75, 85 and 95% of your max speed before going full blast. Sprints should be anywhere from 40 yards to 400 meters. The best protocol is to sprint your desired length and slowly walk back to your start and sprint again when fully recovered. If you do not have access to a natural running surface than need not to worry because treadmills, bike, ellipticals, rowers and aerodyne bikes all work the same. When on the machine of your choice, try to go as hard as you can anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. If you want more of a challenge try to either have your work to rest ratio equal as in 1 to 1, like 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off or for the brave 2 to 1 like a tabata format of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds rest. Sprinting 1 to 2 days a week is all you need to really see an impact in your fitness level.
Explosive. In combination with the big lifts, sprinting, and body weight training there is being explosive. Being explosive means, jumping, throwing, slamming, hitting, kicking and throwing weight up as fast and as hard as we can. Our bodies are meant to be strong, are meant to sprint and are also definitely meant to be explosive. Explosive means power and it means our bodies are capable of generating enough force quickly to stimulate fast twitch muscles. Explosive training is very difficult and hard on the body because it takes a lot of effort to exert enough energy to make your body leave the ground. Explosive training can be squat jumps, box jumps, lunge jumps, medicine ball slams, throws, tosses, explosive push ups, pull ups, punching and kicking. The olympic lifts are explosive as well such as cleans, clean and jerk and the snatch. Anything where your body leaves the ground or where you make an object travel a distance or where you transfer energy like a punch or a kick is explosive. A great variation to mix in with your workouts.
Walk. Walking is the only other form of aerobic activity I believe needs to be done everyday. It is done everyday and everywhere but few actually go for walks. Unfortunately I believe most of us our to caught up in our day to day busy lives to slow down, take time out for ourselves and enjoy and 20 – 30 minute walk. Walking is a fantastic low level, low impact, natural human movement which enables us to go from one place to the next without even remotely thinking about it and the benefits of walking for out weigh more than we actually think. Walking is terrific for the cardiovascular system, the circulatory system, helps build strong legs, lowers stress, burns calories at a very slow rate, can be rich in vitamin D if performed in the sun and is 100% completely free. Walking can be enjoyed solo, with a friend and even with a furry 4 legged companion. It is also not limited to hiking, taking the stairs or stomping through uneven terrain. Our bodies our meant to move and move naturally and walking provides everything we need. We our able to get outside, feel the weather, breathe the air, feel the wind, hear and see the sights and sounds of the wonderful world we live in and enjoy all that is around us. If we could all incorporate 30-60 minutes of walking to our day we would all see and feel an extravagant change in our health, our stress, our minds and our bodies. We can either bang out one long walk and call it a day or it can be broken up to several short 15 minute walks, whatever it is you choose, get outside and start moving those feet. I am fortunate enough to live really close to a busy street with access to everything at my disposal and I take full advantage of it. We walk to get groceries, to grab a bit to eat, to the store, to one of several parks for my kids and of course to take my dogs out.
Games / Multi-directional. Agility, quickness, reaction, change of direction, acceleration and deceleration are important and valuable qualities we all need train and use on a regular basis. Our bodies need to be responsive, able to move rapidly from one side to the other and explode from a dead stop without hesitation or worry and done so with extreme confidence. I believe this is definitely an area missing from most workout programs with most of the emphasis on weight machines and cardio machines mostly of which is performed in the sagittal plane. This is why I think playing games plays a huge role in moving in all directions. Most of your ball sports require reaction, agility, change of speed, lateral movement and deceleration. Sports like basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse and baseball require the body to move in every direction. One of the greatest parts about sports is that we do it all involuntarily, without thinking about it, just reacting to the ball and what we need to do where we need to be. Plus games are fun and anything you can do that is fun where you are not thinking about what you are doing well than thats the greatest type of workout ever. Having fun means being engaged without knowing how hard you are actually working. One way to train multi-directional if you are unable to play games is to go to your nearest field, park, patch of grass or even safe slab of concrete and practice moving in all directions. Every one of my clients performs a high intensity movement warm up before we start training which includes: side shuffling, skipping, high knees, butt kickers, shuttle runs, running backwards and cross overs. It is a great way to get the heart rate up, prepare the body for the workout, lubricate the joints and activate the muscles. And plus, every time you make someone skip they can’t help but smile. It is classic.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my exercise philosophy and I hope it helps a lot of you train differently and think outside the box. I believe lifting the big lifts, using body weight exercises, sprinting, getting explosive, walking and playing games are the keys to optimal fitness. Break out of your shell, move your body, get strong, lift heavy, play and have fun while doing it all. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Now is the time to do it differently and get the right result. Happy Training.