Ok, so we have made it through winter and it’s time to get back into shape. The hibernation, or cold- induced sloth- like behavior, has wreaked havoc with our waistlines and our overall health. It’s time to get back into the gym, hit the road or dust off the bike- or is it? Does the thought of the old ‘tried and tested’ training regime fill you with dread? You are not alone!
The good news is that this motivation- sapping state is reversible and avoidable. By making a few changes to your training program you can spice things up and benefit on multiple levels. First things first: you need to realize that your body is a complex system that responds positively, on many levels, when provided with the correct stimulus. Your muscles don’t know whether you are working on a state of the art chest press machine in the gym or doing a push- up, all the know is that they need to exert a force. So break out of the mould and venture away from the norm.
Let’s start with a simple example: if you are used to doing your running on a treadmill in the gym, go outside. If you run a set route, change it or run it in reverse. Join a running club or create your own mini- club by putting a small ad on the intranet at work. If you already run on the road then consider trail running, even if it’s just on weekends. Obviously safety is key, so be sensible about the time of day you run as well as the area you are in.
If you are used to training alone with your Mp3 player for company, scrap it. Find a training partner that can motivate you and in turn you can motivate them. In a world of impersonal communication, this social element to your training may make it more bearable even enjoyable. If the Mp3 player has to stay then plan your playlist around the workout you are expecting to do- for long endurance sessions keep the beat a little slower and for more intense sessions, up the tempo.
Another option is to join a class at the gym or join an outdoor training program. These offer a great training environment in terms of supervised training and there is the social aspect too. You can set aside one session a week to try a new class and you might just find that you actually enjoy a particular one and become a regular participant. Based on what your normal training schedule looks like, these classes can be utilized for active recovery or cross- training too.
There is an underlying requirement for all of the above: you must have a training program that is based on your clearly defined fitness/ health goals and takes into account your current physical state. You have all heard that you should plan your training but that is so 90’s. This is the era of project management and now your body is the project. As with any project you need to get the advice of specialist in certain areas. So go to a Personal Trainer or Sports Scientist to have a comprehensive fitness assessment and get them to design you a program. You do not have to start spending huge amounts of money on seeing a trainer 3x/ week, just get a personalized program you can work with. If you cannot afford a trainer, then do some research on the internet. There are many reputable sites that you can download programs from as long as you remember that these programs are generic and you might need to change a few things to best suite your project. The next thing is to start logging your workouts either with a diary or on your i- pad/ tablet. There are many sites where you can store this data online and you also become part of a community of active people. You could even pick up a training partner in cyber space.
Let’s step down to micro management: what can you do to make a particular workout or exercise more exciting/ challenging? There are a number of options to keep in mind.
- Selectorized weight stack vs. Free weights vs. variable resistance.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is sticking to one form of resistance when we do our strength training. One way to spice things up a little is to change the equipment you use: if you are used to training on free weights use a machine instead and vice versa.
- Unilateral vs Bilateral
Instead of doing an exercise where you use both arms or both feet to perform the movement, did the same exercise using one side at a time e.g. squat on one leg instead of two; dumbbell chest press- have a dumbbell in one hand only.
- Stable vs. unstable
‘Think quick!’ When did you last have to stand on one leg? Try it now on both sides before continuing. If you are like any other normal person who spends their lives on nice even ground or basically any environment that does not stimulate the mechanisms in our bodies that help us balance, then this is a great way to challenge your body. When we add instability to an exercise, we put more stress on the nervous system and thus make the exercise more difficult e.g. a normal squat versus a squat on a Bosu ball (an inflatable dome on a solid base) The instability can be induced by using an unstable base like a Swiss ball instead of a bench when doing exercises like chest presses, etc. or by decreasing your base of support like doing an exercise on one leg instead of both. Try doing a bicep curl with a barbell standing on one leg for 1 set and then the other for the second set. Another one to try is doing a normal push up but lifting one foot off the ground for half the set and then swopping legs for the second set. The addition of instability, or the removal of stability, also assists with strengthening your core muscles.
- Single joint vs. multi-joint/ Single plane vs. multi plane
So you set aside an hour for gym- why? Time is really only a factor when doing cardio or when you are training for an endurance event. You can be in and out of gym in 30- 40 min by just combining exercises into compound movements. Get off the leg press machine and do some lunges. Or do a lunge and lateral raises at the same time or do a squat with dumbbells combined with a shoulder press. Thus we increase the number of joints involved in the movement, the number of muscles involved and the number of calories we burn.
- Speed of exercise
Instead of doing exercises as fast as possible, rather slow things down. If we do them fast we end up using momentum and also increase the chance of injury. Focus on the lowering (Eccentric) phase of the exercise as your best strength gains and growth are stimulated this way.
- Change your program regularly
Make sure you change your program every 4-6 weeks to get your mind and body stimulated. This is where the advice of a trainer may come in handy or a little research on reputable websites.
So get you project underway- give it a name. ‘Sam’s beach- body’ is boring. Think of something funky, but serious enough to create that commitment. Project S.3BT (Sam’s beach body , bum and thighs.)
By Derek Archer
Director at FitPro