I started working as a Trainer in the very, early 1980’s; during the years that I have worked in the Fitness industry there have been significant “paradigm shifts” relative to recommendations made towards obtaining optimal health and fitness. A big change in philosophy was the move to recommend “carb loading” and a “no-fat” or “low-fat” diet which morphed to variations on the Atkins (low or no carb diets) which in turn, was abandoned for variations on the (currently popular) “Mediterranean diet”. In Resistance Training the popular concept of “muscle isolation” exercises (as advocated by the founding members of the NASM as well as other fitness experts), has given way to the practice of “muscle and movement Integration” also known as “Functional Training”. Unfortunately, the “net” result of these scientific and philosophical “shifts” has led to a significant amount of confusion (especially in the lay population).
After three decades of working on the “front lines” of the Health and Fitness industry, I have come to the realization that most successful programs have a number of common elements. These elements can be succinctly distilled into “10 Basic Rules/Practices”. If your fitness program includes all or most of these rules, you improve your chances of obtaining your fitness goals. One caveat though, these “Rules/Practices may not be universal or 100% scientifically supported, but “in my experience” they are realities that I deal with each working day; in other words, “I have found these truths to be self evident” (to steal a good turn of phrase!).
1. Consistency. This refers to a “Life Style” choice, not a “short-term fix” like losing 10lbs for the High School reunion, but a commitment to get in and stay in shape long term (hopefully, for the rest of your life).
2. Frequency. Workout a minimum of 2, non-consecutive days per week. I strongly recommend to my clients that they aim for doing something active “most” days of the week. However, the more days a week that you are active, the more thought that needs to go into your program (to avoid overuse injury: I will discuss this concept in more detail a little later in this article).
3. Intensity. You need to workout hard enough to obtain results, but not so hard that you injure yourself. In resistance training, Intensity is expressed in relation to a “One Repetition Maximum” or how much weight you can lift once for any given lift. A One Rep Max (1RM) is equal to 100% effort; 40% to 60% of your 1RM is relatively easy (you might do 15 to 20 repetitions (reps) with this weight); 60%(+) to 80% 1RM is moderately difficult (you might do 8 to 15 reps with this weight); and 80%(+) to 100% is difficult to very difficult (your rep range might be from 10reps (80%) to 3 or 4 reps (90%) to 1 rep (100%).
In Cardiovascular training, Intensity is expressed as a percentage of your maximum heart rate (HRmax): HRmax can be determined a number of ways. The easiest means of figuring out your HRmax is to take 220-your age=HRmax. The resistance training % values for “easy”, “moderate”, “difficult” and “very difficult” are also good, general guidelines for cardiovascular intensity levels.
You need to start “easy” for 3 to 6 weeks then progress to “moderate” for 3 to 6 weeks in order to lay the “foundation” to be able to do the more difficult work. As a general recommendation, “the harder you work, the less you should do, and the more recuperation that you need. Which leads us to the next Rule/Practice.
4. Variety. You cannot do the same thing all the time and expect to make significant fitness improvements. As I stated in Rule #3, “start easy and progress to difficult”. You should stay at each level of intensity for about 3 to 6 weeks; this allows your body adequate time to “adapt” or “grow stronger”. Once you are in pretty good shape (able to handle the demands of the “difficult” workouts, you can interject more variety into your workout week by having one workout be difficult, one be easy and one be moderate. A common mistake that many exercisers make is that they try to make every workout hard; this is impossible to sustain. You need the “variety” in order to support the more vigorous (difficult) workout sessions.
5. Recovery. Improvement occurs during rest and recuperation. When you workout, you “signal” the body that it needs to get stronger but it actually gets stronger during rest (or “relative rest”). Relative rest means that you can workout, but in a way that does not stress the body parts that were previously stressed. For example, if you “killed” yourself running, you can achieve “relative rest” by doing an easy stationary bike workout. 24 to 48 hours usually suffice for recuperation (as long as adequate nutrition is provided: please see reference to “Mediterranean diet”)
6. Science vs. Fad. Lots of scientific research has been done to support or establish the recommendations behind resistance training or running training (relatively simple activities); however, the activities that might fall under the heading of more Fad like, such a Hot Yoga or Pilates training, are more difficult to study and quantify due to the more complex nature of the movements performed in them. I am not saying that these activities are not beneficial, but science has not yet come up with a, easy to understand, system to measure the benefits of the Fad activities. My successful clients typically do more scientifically supported activities, like weight training and cardiovascular exercises like running or biking as the bulk of their workouts and “supplement” their activity levels with more Fad activities.
7. Injury. The problem is injury. The solution is R.I.C.E.S. (RICES): Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate, Support. Injury might be a sprained ankle, or maybe Achilles tendinitis, stop doing whatever it was that injured your body part and put a bag of ice (or a bag of frozen peas) on it. Leave the ice on long enough that you cannot tell the difference of being poked in the chilled area by one finger or two or more fingers. Wrap the injured part with a Ace bandage (if possible), this “compression” helps to limit swelling and hastens healing (as does the ice). Elevate the body part above your heart level (this also helps to limit swelling), and use a pillow or brace or some other device to “support’ the injured body part so that it is not further injured. If the injury does not feel a little better after a day of RICES, or if it seems to be getting worse, seek out medical help.
8. Aging. It is not a coincidence that aging follows injury. Unfortunately, one thing that most of my older clients have in common is that they have one or more injuries (usually not from my training recommendations). The majority of my clients are well informed relative to the limitations of their ailments, and I usually follow their or the doctor’s lead when it comes to designing a exercise program. You cannot go wrong by following the KISS axiom–“keep it simple stupid”. I do not get too fancy, I keep the intensity easy to moderate and try to ensure adequate recuperation between training sessions. The key here is to keep open good lines of communications and work from there.
9. Appearance. Working out to look good can and should be an ongoing process. It is easier to “stay” in shape than to “get” in shape. The secret to looking good is energy control (or diet- the current, favorite, recommendations is to eat less animal protein and fats, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, limit process foods (such as sugars and flours) and limit the consumption of alcoholic beverages to 1 or 2 a day (or less). If you keep your body fat levels low (about 10% for men and 20% for women) your exercised trained muscles will look more defined and your organs and other body systems will function better . When clients come to me in order to look better for a wedding or other social event, they usually do not allow enough time to achieve their goals. When getting married, start getting in shape when you start planning the event-give yourself 9 month to a year. For most other events, give yourself twice as much time as you think you need.
10. Performance. Training for performance varies from training for appearance in that, for performance, there is usually a specific time frame in which to prepare. You want to “peak” on the day of your competition. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover all the ways in which athletes “peak” for their sport. I recommend going on the computer and finding literature pertinent to preparing for your sporting event or finding local clubs or groups that will help you achieve the success that you hope for in your sport.
Hopefully, much of the prior information will have been old news to you, or seem like common sense, which has been my Litmus test over time as a marker for a successful exercise program. If it makes sense, and it works, I am not going to reinvent the wheel when the tried and true “wheels” get me where I (and my clients) want to go. The bottom line is to do “something” active, do it consistantly, following some simple guidelines and you stand a very good chance of achieving more than you anticipate. Good luck and good health!