What should my training program look like?
There are many different ways to approach this monster of a question. Should I lift heavy weights, should I do long swims, bike, or run? How many time a week should I do these things? Do I train if I am feeling off? The questions can go on and on. The answer can be broken down into a few pieces.
How often should I work out and what kind of exercise?
Science tells us that the best training schematic is 3 days on and 1 day off. This seems to allow for the most work production and recovery in a short period of time.
The best way to work out is to tax the anaerobic energy system with short aggressive bursts of intensity lasting 2 minutes or less. This type of training helps burn fat, boost metabolism, and create stronger leaner muscle. When training with such intensity our days off have to be packed with recovery. Recovery includes mobility work and care for our tissue and muscle. It also includes nutrition packed with high anti-oxidants, lean protein, micronutrient dense vegetables and healthy fats. Lastly, good sleep!
Should I be lifting Heavy or Light weight?
Both! When we lift high volume loads for 8-12 reps we are training like body builders and we begin to develop bulkier muscles. When we lift heavier loads 5 reps or less we get leaner stronger muscles. Remember variance here is key. Though you may want to focus on going after those leaner muscles, once in a while it will be good to lift a little lighter and do more reps. Variance!
Sounds simple, so why don't we all look alike physically if we do the same workouts?
For starters, hormones play a huge part in the outcome.
Big muscles are built with testosterone (of which men have more) and Growth Hormone, which is a natural hormone that increases muscle growth and plays a huge part in maintaining the health of muscle tissue and other vital organs. Growth Hormone is at it’s peak when we are going through puberty and then takes a very sharp decline after the early 20’s. In other words for those of us in our 40’s and beyond, packing on muscle isn’t that easy. In addition to building muscle our hormones need to be balanced in order for us to get the benefit of the exercise we experience. When our hormones are out of balance we feel more "off", tired, retain water, feel stress more physically and a number of other symptoms. Focusing on recovery will help to realign ourselves and get a better hormonal/physical response from our workouts. Finding ways to get more rest and nourish ourselves will bring about a better environment to achieve your goals.
Muscle Type & DNA
Also, there are several types of muscles fibers. To make this simple we will focus on fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. Although growth can occur in both types, fast twitch fibers are more likely than slow twitch to grow with intense strength training. We all have a different number of each type of fiber, some of which is pre-determined by our mitochondria, in our DNA. Basically if we are more of a fast twitch person we have a greater chance of experiencing larger muscles with weight lifting when we lift loads in that zone mentioned above (8-12 reps). If I have more slow twitch muscle fibers than I typically will have a more difficult time developing muscle mass. Muscle building is affected by the type of muscle fiber that is more dominant in your body.
I bring this up, because sometimes it’s not what we are doing for exercise that makes us lean, but rather what we are doing for nutrition. Take for example the model in the magazine that looks lean and athletic. Then take a 400 meter sprinter. They may both have the same body, but one is more fit than the other. The model might not be able to do a single push up, but through nutrition he or she is able to look lean. Likewise, when you see a lady that has very muscular and defined arms and shoulders, that is most likely intentional through specific training and nutrition, as well as hormone supplementation. Eating a diet that consists of whole foods that are organic, and proteins that are grass fed and wild caught will help me stay lean. Processed foods and foods that have added hormones to them can also have a strong effect on our hormones and therefore affect not only systemic inflammation but muscle growth.
What does this mean for me?
Well, it’s simple. Find ways to measure your goals. Are you focused on getting faster? Leaner? Stronger? Feeling better? Start to measure where you are right now. Then follow this recipe for your training:
1. Do as many functional movements as possible when you are training. Functional movements are those movements that are built into our DNA. Running, Throwing, Picking things up, Squatting, Swinging things, …. You get the idea. The hip abductor machine that promises to work your thighs at the fitness center up the street isn’t so much a movement that is natural. Functional movements are unique in their ability to express force, power, and intensity. They work multiple muscles all at once and give us a way better bang for the buck!
2. Vary what you are doing. Lift things that are heavy for 5 reps or less, then lift things that are light for 15 reps or more. Of course this all fits under the umbrella of “I must move well and be safe”. Mix these heavy workouts with some light workouts. How many? Well, this is kind of like perfecting a recipe. Measure what you are doing and see what results you are getting. Then tweak the dosage until it starts to work. I recommend most people lift heavy and do short aggressive workouts most of the time and then some of the time, like 1-2 times per week do something longer and lighter. Remember this all goes under the constant varying of my training, so it’s a fantastic idea to take some time and do something total different. Hint, Hint….sign up for the road race challenge!!! Seriously, take advantage of doing new things that are not in your everyday routine. Your body will respond to new things and it will keep you motivated.
3. Recovery!!! I can’t stress this enough, but you will only see change during recovery. This is when you will see increase in metabolism, energy systems changing from burning carbs to fat, get faster, stronger, and more fit while recovering. Make it a priority to recover! Nutrition, sleep, mobility, and lifestyle, are all so much more important than you know. We all train very hard and we have to really dig into recovery technique and lifestyle that allows us to recover and therefore enjoy our training. Take time to recover and listen to your body as to how much you need. Sleep is huge with recovery so get your zzzz!