The other day I was training someone and after having them do a set of 20 burpees they commented “That was so mauch harder than when I did them in gym class!” after I got over my initial shock that a gym teacher actually had the kids doing exercises we talked a little about the differences: 1. I made him do a full pushup each rep. 2. I made him try and touch my ceiling each rep. In other words I made him put effort into each rep. There is a big difference between doing burpees with a half assed pushup and a little hop at the top and doing a full crisp rep and a powerful leap like you mean it. Its like jumping rope: Its great for little kids singing songs at the park and for pro-boxers getting ready to go 10 rounds with the champ…It’s all in the effort!
The number one question I seem to get asked by new trainees is “How many sets and reps should I be doing?” Talk about a loaded question! Now of course there are certain rep ranges that are more applicable to one goal than another and a host of variables that will contribute to the answer. However, no matter what the long term plan is the answer for now is always “a little bit more than you are currently doing”. When planning out training the long term goal must be taken into consideration along with the current plan. For example: If the person is currently doing 2 sets of 15 to 20 reps of 2 exercises per bodypart training 3 days a week and they decide they want to powerlift I won’t automatically start them on 7 sets of 3 or 5 sets of 5 or some other popular program. This is because they are programmed and conditioned to doing sets of 20. If I drop their rep range down to 5 they will find that they cant even express their true 5 rep max because they are so conditioned to doing higher reps. They will usually find that if they can do 5 reps they could probagbly do 8 or even 10. It will take a while to get to the point where they can express a truly productive all out set of 5. Also, going from 2 sets up to 5 with that much more weight will lead to overtraining and burn out quickly. So I have them start adding 5 or 10 lbs a week to their 2 sets of 20 and just do as many reps as they can. So it may look like this: week 1 100x20x2 sets. week 2 105x19 on set one 17 on set 2. week 3 110x18 on set 1, 16 on set 2…. and so forth until they get to a weight that limits them to 10-12 reps and then I will increase to 3 sets still increasing weight by 5-10lbs weekly until they are at 3 sets of 5 with a good solid weight. the next week I may have them stay at that weight for 4 sets then the next week for 5 sets. This way they will have continually adapted and made gains for the entire time and will be 100% conditioned to the 5x5 when they get there. Also, the end result is usually at least 10-20 lbs stronger in the same amount of time as if they had just went to 5x5 with a slightly heavier weight and just added weight weekly from there.
Pyramid training is as old as the hills and has been written about in all the major muscle magazines since the dawn of ironman. Basically you do your first set of an exercise light for a lot of reps then increase weight each set and decrease reps until you end up somewhere around your max for the day. For example: Set 1: 45lbs(empty bar)x15. Set 2: 95×10. Set 3: 135×8. Set 4: 185×6. Set 5: 225×4. Set 6: 275×2. Set 7: 300×1. This is a good basic way to train for beginners and intermediates. It allows practice with the lighter weights, plenty of warming up and a good solid heavy weight at the end. The pyramid system has been criticized as crossing too many intensity zones and it has been suggested that staying within 10% of your targeted intensity zone will yeild better results. Depending on what your goals are this may or may not be true.
If your goal is to get as maximally strong as possible it may be smarter not to waste too much time on your warm up sets and focus more on weights 85% or closer to your max. If you are focusing on speed it may be better to do multiple sets with 50-60% of your max explosively. However, if you are trying to get a solid combination of size and strength this is a great system. Lets take a look at 2 ways it can be used:
1. Traditional way: Add a couple pounds to the max set at the end and plan your weights on the way up accordingly using the original example (45×15 95×10 135×8 185×6 225×4 275×2 300×1) as workout one the next workout would be planned with 305 or 310 as the top set and would look something like this: 45×15 95×10 135×8 185×6 225×4 275×2 305×1.
2. Building the base. Now what if you’ve been training a while and 300 may or may not fall on a good day. What if you miss 305 continually? Well you could narrow the base so you would have more strength left over for your top set and maybe you would hit 305 and 310 maybe even 315. Something like this: 45×10 95×5 135×3 185×2 225×1 275×1 305×1 easy! Next workout repeat and hit 310 then the next repeat and hit 315! After a few workouts you will stall. Now what? Now we go back and start building the base. workout number 1 may be 45×15 95×12 135×10 185×8 225×6 275×3 300×1 see how we added just alittle bit of work to the sets on the way up and ended at our old max of 300? Next workout would be 45×20 95×15 135×10 185×8 225×6 275×4 300×1. Were still keeping the top set at 300 but slowly increasing the work we are doing before it. This can be done because none of those sets were an all out effort to begin with. Next workout would be 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×4 300×1. The next may be 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×5 300×2. The next may be 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×6 300×3. Then the inevitable comes and you miss 275 on the way up because the last workout took too much out of you and you didn’t heal and come back stronger. It looks like this: 45×20 95×15 135×12 185×10 225×8 275×4 and failed on the 5th one. So you end it there and come back a week later and narrow the base up like this: 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×5 225×5 275×5 300×4-and you PR with 300×4 because now you aren’t burned out from the earlier sets. The next workout you go 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×5 225×3 275×3 300×5-and PR again on 300 for reps because you further narrowed your base. The next workout you could come back and do 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×3 225×2 275×1 300×1 325×1 for a new max PR! Next time you come back and do 45×10 95×5 135×5 185×3 225×2 275×1 300×1 330×1 another PR! Maybe you could hit one or 2 more weeks with a new max if you are lucky. Let say your final max looks like this: 45×10 95×5 135×3 185×2 225×1 275×1 315×1 340×1 and you know for sure you wont hit another max next week. You just start back wideing the base with 315 as the new top. This method works great for beginners and intermediates that aren’t real close to their potential. It also works good for advanced guys as long as they are careful not too push too hard and get overtrained. The added bonus is if you pay attention and keep accurate notes you will learn a lot about how your body responds to various rep schemes and how long your strength cycles should last when considering future workouts.
Train smarter and harder!
These days most of the people I train are into “fitness” versus the old days when everyone wanted to be jacked! I think it’s the same the world over judging by how many ellipticals you see in most gyms and how many power racks you do not. I guess it makes sense most people don’t care about being strong they just wanna look good naked! So if everyones into fitness why do we need heavy weights? Well if your absolute strength increases you can use more weight on your fitness exercises. “So? I don’t care about moving weight, I just wanna look toned and burn calories” you say? Well check this out: Lets look at it using basic physics: If your max squat is 400 lbs you will be able to do your reps with 300 lbs no problem. 300lbs x10 reps x3sets=9,000 lbs of work. Now if your max squat is only 200 and you are doing your sets with 150lbs x10reps x3 sets=4,500lbs of work. Leaving out all the other variables and benefits of being stronger and concentrating merely on the work performed. Which is going to burn more calories? 9,000lbs of work or 4,500???????? Using one of my favorite crcuits as an example lets compare 2 athletes Jason and Jim. Jason is a powerlifter who watches his diet and stays very lean at about 220. Jim is a tri-athlete who also lifts weights and weighs about 175. They both carry about the same amount of bodyfat (around zero-lol) but Jim spends about 3 times the amount of time working out as jason. They both eat a very similar diet, their calories almost identical. How is this possible? Jasons muscle mass burns much more calories at rest than Jim and when they train cardio Jason’s body is burning more calories than Jims because it takes more calories to move a bigger body through space. Also, they both train conditioning with the following circuit:
Kettlebell thruster, Kettlebell Swing, Pushups with weight, pullups 5 rounds of 10 reps each.
Jim’s Weights: 25x10 50x10 200x10 175x10=22,500 lbs of work in 5 rounds.
Jason’s Weights: 50x10 96x10 265x10 220x10=31,550 lbs of work in 5rounds.
I hope this simple math convinces you of the need to increase your limit strength. Jim sees the need and is constantly trying to improve his limit strength as well. Conversely, Jason is always trying to improve his conditioning. Even though they are on extreme ends of the spectrum in relation to their athletic goals neither will overlook the importance of being well rounded physically.
After years of managing a health club and working as a personal trainer, I have learned some very important lessons about fitness.
Lesson #1: Everybody is looking for a “quick fix” There is no such thing! It’s good to have a goal such as “I want to loose 2 dress sizes before my reunion” or “I want to be a size 6 for my wedding” or “I want to fit back in to my pre-baby jeans” All of these are good goals, and without goals we wouldn’t have the motivation to even get started on a fitness program. BUT you can’t achieve any of these goals if you think a few weeks of exercise and “trying” to eat healthy is going to undo YEARS of not exercising combined with cookies, wine, McDonalds and Olive Garden!
Lesson #2: Many people think that to loose weight they have to restrict their calories down to an unlivable number. While it is true that weight loss ultimately comes from calories in vs. calories burned; it’s not quite as simple as that. It’s QUALITY of the calories in vs. the QUALITY of effort put forth to increase calories burned. For example if you skip breakfast, have some peanut butter crackers for a snack, a small salad for lunch and then go crazy eating a huge diner because you are so hungry from not eating all day – yes the number of calories you have taken in is probably very small so in theory you should loose weight. However this is NOT how your body likes to operate. If you do not feed your body every 2 – 3 hours it thinks it’s starving! Therefore to protect itself, it does two things; #1 – it slows down your metabolism to conserve energy. #2 – It goes in to storage mode and stores everything you do eat as fat “for later” just in case you decide not to feed it for a long time. If you feed it healthy, natural foods every 2 – 3 hours it expects that food is coming and in turn it speeds up your metabolism and uses the food you are giving it as energy with no need to store anything for later because it has grown accustom to being fed on a regular basis. Think of your body as a furnace, and your metabolism is the fire; if you want the fire to burn all day you need to add small amounts of wood to fuel the fire on a regular basis all day long. If you just dump all the wood you have on the fire all at once it will burn it all up then the fire will go out; or if you wait 5 or 6 hours between adding the wood, there is not enough to keep it burning consistently so you will have just a tiny little flame trying to cling to the last bit of wood.
Lesson #3: Progression is the key to success! I watched MANY people sign up for the gym, get their free training appointment and then continue to do that exact workout they were given on day one for the next few years. At first they felt great, noticed a small change but then 5 years later they look exactly the same! Why? They did not change what they were doing so their body had no reason to change either. Your body becomes accustomed to the work you ask it to do, so if you are always increasing the workload, your body is forced to change to accommodate it. If you always do 3 sets of 10 reps of dumbbell curls with 10 lb dumbbells, your body will adapt to this workload and nothing more. BUT if your next workout you ask your body to do 6 reps with the 15 lb dumbbells, or 25 reps with the 10 lb dumbbells then it needs to grow, and get stronger to accommodate your new demand. So, constant progression is the key to successfully reaching your goals.
Lesson #4: Food should be real. If you can imagine over 2,000 years ago when God created man he made us perfect in his image. All of our internal organs work systematically together so we can breathe, digest, keep warm, keep cool, run, sleep, live….He knew exactly what we needed to keep our body running at its optimal level of performance. We needed protein to fuel our muscles, fruits, nuts and vegetables to fuel our internal organs, skin, hair, teeth, with all the vitamins and minerals we needed to function properly and survive. We had to hunt our food so we got exercise such as running to catch the food, carrying the food home, walking to look for nuts, berries and shelter. We no longer need to hunt for our food but if we think back to all the food that God has naturally provided for us – but then look at how progress has created processed foods like hot pockets, Twinkies, cookies, McDonalds etc….are we really better off? Yes and no. Progress is great, it makes our lives easier and indoor plumbing is GREAT! But it has made us lazy and more interested in convenience than quality.
Lesson #5: Exercise is important. Like I mentioned earlier about hunting, carrying, walking etc….That type of activity is still important for our survival today. Like they did thousands of years ago running after an animal you are hunting is the same as running or biking today. Carrying the animal back to your home was probably a lot of work such as weight lifting is today. Walking to look for nuts and berries is as important as taking a brisk walk for some light cardio is today. Our physical and nutritional needs have not changed in 2,000 years; only our wants and desires have changed and our ability to have anything we want RIGHT NOW!
Lesson #6: You can do anything you set your mind to. Just because your weight loss goals may not have worked before does NOT mean they won’t work this time! The most important thing to remember is to take baby steps. God did not create everything in one day, YOU DO NOT NEED TO DRASTICALLY ALTER YOUR LIFE IN ONE DAY. If every day you do one thing that is a healthy choice, and every few days or every week you add a new healthy thing; in a few months that will add up to a new healthy lifestyle! And you will have made that “lifestyle change” you always hear about without even noticing it J
To get the most out of making a lifestyle change, keep a journal. Write down EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING you eat and drink every day; and every physical activity you do – even if it’s parking a little further away from the entrance to the mall than you usually do, write it down. This is just for you, you will not be graded on it and you do not need to show it to anyone unless you want to. Keeping a journal will keep you honest with what you are actually doing and it will let you see the progress you are making when you start applying these small changes to your daily routine. All you need is a small notebook that you can keep with you at work, school, home, when you go out to lunch or dinner etc… Don’t cheat! Even if you have a bite or two of your child’s left over grilled cheese sandwich or the goldfish they didn’t eat on their play date – WRITE IT DOWN.
Remember what I said about making small changes every few days?
Here is an example:
Day 1, Week 1: Today start drinking more water than you usually do.
Day 3, Week 1: Today park further away from the entrance of Fry’s than usual
Day 5, Week 1: Today switch from whole or 2% milk to skim milk
Day 7, Week 1: Evaluate all the changes you have made in just 1 week and feel proud!
Day 1, Week 2: Today instead of snacking on a candy bar or something from the vending machine at work, eat 1 piece of fruit – whole / real fruit; not dried fruit or fruit juice!
Day 3, Week 2: Start paying attention to portion sizes. Right now don’t worry about changing WHAT you are eating; but start to look at HOW MUCH of it you are eating.
Day 5, Week 2: Now that you have started to notice HOW MUCH you are eating, start to get control over your portion sizes; the palm of your hand (or the size of your fist) is 1 portion of food – Not your entire hand including fingers, JUST your palm. For dinner tonight each thing on your plate should be no bigger than the palm of your hand. So if you have decided on chicken nuggets; that is about 4. If it’s a grilled chicken breast, it’s about ¾ of a chicken breast. If you are having mashed potatoes and corn on the cob with dinner 1 portion of potatoes is about ½ cup and corn is about ½ an ear of corn. So right now you aren’t changing WHAT you are eating, just HOW MUCH.
Day 7, Week 2: Look back at the 6 small changes you made and be VERY PROUD of yourself! How hard was it to make these changes? How do you feel this week compared to 2 weeks ago?
This is just the beginning. For the next few months, each week think about and implement small changes you can make that will add up to big success.
Next time you train legs try finishing with 2 sets of car pushes. An suv works best because its a little higher. Get someone to steer. For the first set put your butt against the back of the car so you are pushing backwards. Try and go at least 100 feet-300 would be better. For the second set push it normally with your hands on the bumper. Make sure your good and warm fist. If you are in awesome shape try and go as fast as possible. If not start off slow for your first few times until your body gets conditioned to it then start picking up the pace. If you put your heart and soul into it its definitely a puker!
…but to make it to your destination you must:
1. Know where you are trying to end up.
2. Be travelling in the right direction.
3. Keep on stepping!
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For many of my friends living in the Northeast regions of the United States, right now you are all locked in a pattern of blizzards, Nor’esters and frozen EVERYTHING! So only the hardiest of New Englanders venture outside of the gym and get their cardio from cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and skating. If you are lucky enough to live in the southwest or a warmer climate you have the luxury of getting outside for running, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, walking, rock climbing, swimming, baseball, basketball, football etc…. So while outdoor sports can definately be weather dependant; don’t feel like you need to be stuck inside running in place staring at the same spot on the wall for an hour…. Get outside! Breathe some fresh air! Enjoy the world around you! All while getting the great health benefits of cardiovascular exercise :)
Train harder AND smarter!
My dad Skip moved out to AZ and has been training with me. He’s 67 and only been training for about a month now. Today we did a nice quick day and its a good example of something you can do if you’re in a rush and how to scale it for a beginner.
We started with a general warm up circuit, 2 times thru without stopping of 25 bodyweight calf raises, 15 bodyweight squats, 10 RDL with the bar and 15 band rows with purple bands.
The meat of the workout was One arm dumbell snatches going back and forth left arm to right without stopping I did 5 reps each arm with 20 30 40 50 60 70lbs. Skip did 20 20 25 30 35.
Then we did Olympic Squats 30 sec rest between sets. Skip did 5x5 with 95lbs. I did 225 (my groin injury is finally starting to heal a bit).
For a finisher I pushed my xterra 100 yards at an all out sprint. Skip did 50 step ups to a 12” step alternating feet each rep.
We then went for an hour walk.