People do a lot of crazy things in gyms. Sometimes I almost (ALMOST) miss working out in commercial facilities and seeing the wild things people think are good ideas.
This is the first post in a series of installments I plan on writing (and am really excited about) on simple ways to have better and smarter workouts…which in turn will make you all around fierce at life.
I chose these three first because, as basic as they are, I believe they’re the most important and form a solid base for success, no matter what your goals are.
1) Follow A Program – There’s a big difference between training and just working out. When you’re training you are focused, have a plan, a set goal, serious determination and specifics to improve on each session. Walking into the gym, with no plan, tossing around a pair of 8lb dumb bells doing whatever silly routine you found in “Fitness” magazine and then finishing with “abs” and an hour of cardio…is not an optimal use of your gym time nor is it “training.”
First, figure out realistically how many days a week you truly have time available to train and go from there. If you have 2-3 days, doing a full body routine is the best use of your time. If you have 4 days, you can split these into upper and lower body sessions. Prioritize strength training* – a solid full body routine 3x a week is a good place to start for most people. After you’ve nailed that down, work on incorporating sprinting or some other short duration/high intensity activity 2x a week. From there, with any leftover time you have, schedule in restorative activities and/or play time – stretching or yoga, light cardio or playing tag with your kids at the park. Stick to your plan..don’t do 3 days and throw in the towel because you didn’t instantly get results. There is no magical program that is going to make all of your dreams come true. The real magic is called consistency – staying on track with continuous effort every day (have fun with it!) and not bouncing around from routine to routine.
And no, P90x does not count as a solid routine.
*Side Note: It’s called strength training for a reason – you are training to get stronger. Always focus on lifting heavier loads, with good form – whether it’s adding a small amount of weight or completing a few more reps with the same weight. This is called progressive overload and it is your best friend and key to success. If you can easily smash all of your reps with good form, add more weight. No matter what your goals are, getting stronger supports them. Increasing strength will reduce your risk of injury and will improve your performance in everything from endurance sports to grocery shopping. Plus, a strong body = a strong mind.
2) Use Compound Movements – These are movements that allow you to use multiple muscles, incorporate your entire body and give you super powers. I get all giddy just thinking about them. Ditch the idea of training specific body parts on specific days or isolating anything. If a big sasquatch was chasing you through the woods and you had to move a big rock out of your way to avoid becoming sasquatch chow, your body wouldn’t isolate a single muscle to pick it up, would it? No. Use compound movements to get your body working as a whole, make your hormones happy, get you in and out of the gym in less time, make you look and feel like a boss and get you the best results (I mean think about the metabolic stimulus of doing a tricep kickback with 12lbs resistance vs. doing a push–up with your entire body weight as resistance…)
When thinking about compound movement patterns, we want to train these variations:
- Knee dominant (squat and lunge variations)
- Hip dominant (deadlift and bridging variations)
- Horizontal and Vertical Pulling (Row variations, chin-ups, pull-ups)
- Horizontal and Vertical Pushing (Push-up, bench/chest pressing, overhead pressing variations).
Ok, so, programming is a wee bit more complicated than that, but make sure you choose a program that focuses on these movements.
Now, does everyone have to squat with a bar on their back or jump right to conventional style deadlifts? No…and the majority of the population doesn’t have the mobility or neural awareness to. But it is recommended that everyone train these patterns –there are tons of variations for each movement. All of your compound movements should be trained using your own bodyweight, dumb bells, barbells or kettlebells. Forget the smith machine and leg press, I beg of you.
I know these movements and exercises aren’t as glamorous or cool as the latest Kim Kardashian style workout, but these are the basics..these have been the bread and butter (err..steak and broccoli..) of strength training for decades and have stood the test of time… sticking to the basics works.
3) Begin With A Dynamic Warm-Up. Ah, the staple commercial gym “warm-up”: 5-30 minutes on some sort of dreadful cardio apparatus…or maybe you do your cardio workout as your warm-up. OR maybe you don’t even warm-up at all! (All that stretching is totally for pussies, right?!).
A proper warm-up should:
- Increase the quality of your movement (in your workout AND daily life)
- Improve your range of motion, strength and flexibility
- Wake up dormant muscles to ensure you can properly activate them during your workout
- Increase blood flow to your joints to prepare the body for training/lifting
- Decrease your risk of injury
- Improve your posture and reduce every day aches and pains
- Raise your heart rate and core body temperature
Everyone always wants to stretch themselves to Gumby status before any kind of physical activity, but static stretching is best done AFTER your workout. Think about it this way – what happens when you bend a (cold) piece of plastic? It goes right back to its original form. What about if we heat that piece of plastic and then bend it? It elongates and takes on this new shape. Static stretching also “releases” your muscles, which can reduce strength – not ideal when you’re training to get stronger. Dynamic stretches are active movements that are similar to the movements you will be performing in your work load. Think of them as “stretches in motion.” They will get all of your body’s systems firing and signal your muscle fibers and connective tissue that it’s time to wake up, man up and do work. Here are a couple of my favorite dynamic stretches:
-Yes it looks like my girl parts are totally hanging out in this. But don’t get excited, I promise you, it’s just my leg.
-This is a great bang for your buck movement..hamstring lengthening, hip and ankle mobility, scapular, serratus and core activation all in one.
A proper dynamic warm-up should take about 10 minutes and should ideally begin with foam rolling to improve your soft tissue quality and then progress to mobility and activation. You should also use this time to get your mind right/forget about everything else going on in your life, get yourself into the zone and ready to totally dominate your workout. Warming up is crucial. If for some reason you are pressed for time on a particular day, don’t even think about skipping or skimping on your warm-up. Go through the entire 10 minutes and then smash an upper and lower compound movement (deadlifts and push presses for example) or get through as much as your workout as you can.
So there ya go. Following these first three tips are a great place to start. If you have any questions or need help implementing this stuff, shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)..I’d be glad to help!