Looking at your exercise workout routine for 2017 in the rear view mirror, how did things go for you? Were you able to stick to your plan? Did you incorporate the SMART goal setting we talked about in previous issues when you set up your plan? Did you have that roller coaster feeling as the year progressed or did you just feel lost when you got to the gym? If you have been following me in the Current, I know you have received the message about exercise and how important it is in your life for staying fit and active. So, let’s refocus in 2018 and look at how to put an exercise program together that will work for you. The following questions are the most commonly asked whether you have been going to the gym for years or just starting out:
1. How many days a week do I need to train?
2. Do I need more cardio then strength training and can I do them together?
3. When is the best time to train and for how long should a session last?
4. How many sets do I do in an exercise?
5. How many repetitions (reps) of a movement do I do?
6. How many different exercises per body part?
7. How fast do I do the rep and how long do I rest between sets?
The first three questions are among the most I hear as a fitness professional, so I will address them together here. It is a great question because those that ask it usually think that 2 to 3 days a week is sufficient. That is a great start for the strength training component of your exercise program, but for the cardio piece of your program, the correct answer is “most” days of the week. The translation for “most” in this article is 5+ days a week. Your cardio training should push 45 to 60 minutes. I like to direct clients to mix up their cardio workouts between 2 or more machines if in the gym environment. So, start out on the treadmill and after 20+ minutes move over to the elliptical and pick your pace right back up. Also, doing intervals is a great change of pace and will challenge your body as well. This is where you go hard for 30 to 60 seconds to raise your heart rate to the top of your training zone and then backing the intensity down for 2 to 3 minutes into the lower end of your training zone and repeat. If training both cardio and strength in the same workout, I like to have a client strength train first and then finish the workout with cardio. This is based on the energy sources used to fuel your workouts. As far as timing goes, there are studies that support getting your cardio done first thing in the morning. This is due to glycogen stores decreasing overnight and the body looking to burn fat to energize your run or power walk. If doing both cardio and strength during the same workout, I like to have clients strength train first as energy from blood glucose will be used for energy first.
Okay, let’s look at your strength training routine a little deeper now. As stated earlier, 2 days a week is a minimum with 3 days being more ideal. How many sets and how many repetitions (reps) will depend on your training experience, your individual goals, and the body part(s) you are working. A set is a completed number of reps of a movement. For example, performing 10 reps of a chest press movement would be 1 completed set for the chest press. For the general fitness trainee, 3 to 4 working sets is plenty. For the first movement being performed, the first 2 sets are warm-up sets and then everything else becomes a working set. A superset is where you work two muscle groups back to back. This can be completely different parts of the body like a chest press with a bicep curl movement or opposing muscle groups like a seated row movement right after your chest press movement. A set can also be a circuit where you do multiple movements one after the other. I like to take my clients through 5 or more movements alternating between upper and lower body parts and push and pull movements. These are just 3 examples (out of many) of what a set can look like. Just as sets can vary, so will reps depending on the training program goal. If your goal is gain muscle size (hypertrophy) then the training weights will be heavier with the number of reps being lower, 6 reps minimum to 12 reps maximum. When you are doing a rep, you want to lift a weight that your form is correct for each and every rep, but the last rep is tough to complete and you cannot do another. I always preach quality over quantity to my clients. When training for endurance, think lighter weights and higher reps, 12 or more.
For the number of movements to perform for each muscle group, again your experience and goals play into the formula. A trainee performing general conditioning for let’s say, their chest, 3 movements are plenty. I would have them perform a flat bench press, a stretch movement or a chest fly and then an upper chest movement like an incline bench press. Important on the incline bench movement is the amount of angle used on the bench. Getting above 40 degrees will start to put more emphasis on the anterior or front deltoid (shoulder) muscle and less on the pectoral (chest) muscle. For your back, I like four movements that separate the upper, middle, lower and outside regions of your back. For your legs, doing total lower body movements work best. I like squats, lunges (all directions), Bulgarian split squats, and Romanian dead-lifts. Your shoulders and arms will get plenty of work as they assist in all of your push and pull movements and you can finish them off with a couple of isolated sets at the end of your training. As for your abs, I like to save them for the end of the workout. They need to be fresh and able to stabilize you throughout your workout. Working abs first and working them hard can fatigue them and jeopardize your form later when they are needed to stabilize you. Get them ready prior to your workout during your warmup. Remember that your warmup is used to raise your core temperature and get your muscles prepared for the workout.
Your tempo (speed) of the rep is one that allows you to perform the movement in good form, under control and with a full Range of Motion (ROM). General fitness is about 2 seconds in the concentric, or shortening of the muscle being worked. Think of the biceps muscle when you do a biceps curl with a dumbbell. The lowering of the dumbbell back to its starting position is called the eccentric or lengthening of the muscle and is about 3 seconds. You may have also heard it referred to as the negative where you resist the lowering of the weight. You should rest no more than 60 seconds between sets when doing general conditioning. Rest can be longer or shorter depending on your training program and goals. After you perform a set, whether it is focused on a single muscle group or all of them as in a total body circuit, you need to stretch. I love to incorporate stretching as active rest between each set. This stretching is static where you get the worked muscle into a stretched position and hold for approximately 10 to 20 seconds and never bounce the stretch. Also go back and read the Foam Rolling 101 article and incorporate foam rolling into your workout routine. If you need any help with putting your exercise program together, please seek the guidance of a certified fitness professional and make 2018 the year for a stronger and more fit you. I wish you great health and fitness.