Thursday, July 29, 2010

Get strong, Get lean. But, be careful how you do it.

We all have fitness and training goals. And we use a variety of techniques to reach them. The truth is, a lot of them are pretty straightforward and a lot of them are over-hyped.

The downside to the variety of training techniques is that not a lot of folks really know exactly how they work and what's best for us, the individuals who use them. I wrote an article on the use of circuits that may shed a little light on combining strength and cardio and when its good and when its not.


Getting Strong and Losing Fat

To get strong, we lift weights. To lose fat we do cardio, right?

And who has time for all that?


So, about sixty years ago, circuits were invented.  It was shown that you could perform weight training exercises in a continuous circuit for 2-3 total sets and get both a cardiovascular and strength benefit.  But, how much benefit do you actually get?

The original circuits, done in the fifties and published in the book Circuit Training, by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Adamson, utilized such exercises as burpees, rope swings, clean and presses, barbell squats, wheelbarrow lifts, dips, pullups, and a few that I didn't recognize, but looked like fun like arm jumps across a ladder.  These circuits would vary in length from 10 to 25 minutes and although they were meant to strengthen, their main effect was cardiovascular. 

For years, circuits have been used with calisthenics, light implements, and bodyweight only exercises. Circuit weight training is a familiar sight in commercial gyms and health centers around the country using the machines that isolate a body part and take balance, core strength, and natural movement completely out of the picture.  

About twenty years ago, bodybuilders started using supersets, or short circuits with much heavier weights meant to stimulate hypertrophy and strength while keeping the heart rate up. And then a number of popular fitness trends began to incorporate high intensity circuits with heavier weights that were supposed to make us stronger, bigger, and more conditioned.  However, until recently, it hadn't actually been proven.

 What do you mean it hadn't been proven?

Well, I mean no one had actually done any appropriate controlled study to see if the observed training effect was the result of the training or other factors. 

A paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2008 by Alcarez, et al demonstrated that when comparing a mini-circuit of bench press, leg extension, and ankle extension using 6 rep max loads and 35 second rests to a 6 rep max load bench press with 3 minute passive rest between sets, there was no difference between the bench press efforts and bar velocity.  As an added bonus, the average heart rate was approximately 70% HRmax while performing the circuit. (Alcaraz, Sanches-Lorente and Blazevich 2008)
 
What did I just say?

Basically, they demonstrated that performing exercises instead of resting did not affect the individual’s ability to bench press a load known to induce strength and hypertrophy.  And, it provided a good cardiovascular stimulus. A consequent follow-up study by another group, Deminice, et al, looked at 3 different paired sets of exercises using a 10 rep max load.  This study  showed similar results and lower oxidative stress biomarkers than traditional weight training with longer rest intervals.  (Deiminice, et al. 2010)

Pretty impressive, eh?

So, this would imply that we could get all our work done in less time AND get stronger and bigger all at the same time.

But, that would be basing a whole lot of assumptions off of two papers with no long term results and the added bonus of having used machine based exercises. (I'm being sarcastic, this is not a bonus.)

To get the whole story, we have to take into account the whole picture.  Exercise physiologists have been saying (and they’re right) that to continue getting strong, especially for athletes, we need to train at or above 80% of our 1 rep max.  Willardson and Burkett did a study in 2008 as well, but they tested rest periods and intensity of the squat.  They found that resting less than two minutes diminished the intensity at which the participants could reach and that this minimum 80% could not be reached with less than two minutes rest. (Willardson and Burkett 2008)
 
I find this study a bit more useful because unlike the machine based tests, the squat utilizes more of the body’s muscles, including the core and is a more natural movement, ie one we use in athletics and everyday life.  The Willardson study did not test a circuit, but it did test a specific recovery period.


So, how do we use this information?

To use this information properly, one cannot assume anything not stated in any of these three studies.  However, the sky is the limit in how you can use this in your own workouts.  The idea behind circuit training is to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout so that you simultaneously get a strength and cardiovascular benefit.  If relative strength is an important factor in your workouts, maybe experiment using simple calisthenic or basic cardio exercises such as jumping jacks, jump rope, or rowing between sets to keep your heart rate up, but not stimulate those fast twitch muscles you are trying to rest.  Or use an exercises that use different mucle groups such as a pull-up and a squat or a deadlift and an overhead press.  Documenting your training and your results will tell you if what you are doing is working or not.

**You will not significantly increase limit strength with circuit workouts unless you are a complete novice for whom anything works for a little while.

In the end, it all comes down to specificity.  Untrained folks are much easier to train than trained folks.  What I mean by this is I can take a couch potato and have him stack cinder blocks for two hours every day and he will get stronger, have more endurance, and probably lose a little weight.  But as he becomes more fit, I have to get smarter with his workouts.  I could probably throw him into some bodyweight only circuits and have him work all of his joints through a full range of motion and that will continue to improve him for some time as well.  I would then need to perhaps introduce the heavier weight circuits and some additional assistance training.  Eventually, if he wanted to get really strong, we’d have to hit the weight room, lift heavy and rest between sets.  But, even then to keep progressing, I'd have to keep changing his routine so probably a mixture of all four techniques might be good for him.  (Although stacking cinder blocks could perhaps be replaced with something more useful or fun.)

Doing the same thing for too long will always result in plateaus, so mixing things up is good as well.  Using a mix of circuits, high intensity interval training, and traditional weight training in an undulating periodized program is a good way to keep things fresh and stimulating and will enable you to keep getting results. But, there must be a plan and an attention to detail because if you miss the plateau, you won’t know when to change. This is why a training log is your best tool in your personal fitness goals. Being able to recognize when you have stopped making progress is vital to your ability to keep moving forward, avoid overtraining, and avoid injury. Regularly test yourself on both strength and endurance to see if you are, in fact progressing, maintaining, or backsliding.

There is no “one way” to train.  If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re trying to sell you something.

References:

Alcaraz, Pedro, Jorge Sanches-Lorente, and Anthony Blazevich. "Physical Performance and Cardiovascular Responses to an Acute Bout of Heavy Resistance Circuit Training versus Traditional Strength Training." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008: 667-671.

Deiminice, Rafael, Tiago Sicchieri, Mirele Mialichi, Francine Miliani, Paula Ovidio, and Alceu Jordao. "Oxidative Stress Biomarker Responses to an Acute Sessio of Hypertrophy-Resistance Traditional Interval Training and Circuit Training." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010: 1-7.

Willardson, Jeffrey, and Lee Burkett. "The Effect of Different Rest Intervals Between Sets on Volume Components and Strength Gains." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008: 146-153.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Training Schedule July 26th - July 31st

Well, some exciting things have happened this week! First of all, we finally walled off the back area of the basement and that means, yes, the whining has paid off. We got an air conditioner! Now the workouts will only be horrible because they are hard, not because they are hard and you are doing them in a sauna.

Second bit of great news! I got a bench! Well, my husband bought a bench and I had forgotten how much I loved bench pressing. Definitely going on the regular schedule more often.

So, I did not check in last week with my weight loss which I'm sure seemed a bit suspicious to some of you. However, fear not, my methods are working and I'm down to 131.5 as of this morning. I have added in a 3 mile walk twice a week either pushing a stroller holding a pre-schooler or carrying a 25 lb back pack. Now, this is no ordinary walk, we have hills, lots of large hills. So, heart rate and fatigue come into play rather quickly (sometimes crying, me or the kid). Intensity is always the key when it comes to effectiveness. For long steady state fat-burning cardio, you want your heart rate to be at about 65%-75% of max and how this affects you is going to depend on your overall fitness level.

The truth is, wearing a heart rate monitor when you are first starting out exercising can be a very good way to measure your different intensity zones, but once you get a feel for how high you can go, you will be able to translate that more easily into a less scientific scale, the RPE or rate of perceived exertion scale. This is simply a scale from 1-10 where 1 is extremely easy and 10 is pretty much as hard as it gets. You want your fat burning cardio to be in the 5-7 range on this scale. You can still talk, but you'll be breathing hard and possibly quite aware of your muscles.

Anyway, back to more important matters. The training schedule. We did not deadlift last week, oh my! So,we'll be sure to get to that this week.

Monday, July 26th

Squat 5x5
Push Press 5x5 (warm up with strict press)

Tuesday, July 27th

Sandbag carry, 1/2 bodyweight, 100 meters
Pushup, 15
Squat, 25
Hanging knee raises, 15
4 rounds

Wednesday, July 28th

Deadlift to 5RM
Pullups 3 rounds, max reps

Thursday, July 29th

Rest Day

Friday, July 30th

Squat 3x10
Bench Press to 5 RM

Kb swing, 1 minute, 1 rest
3 rounds

Saturday, July 31st

Workout one

30 reps of each, use light weights (35-45 lbs)
Overhead squats with broomstick
Body rows
Lunges
Pushups
Sumo deadlifts
Push presses
Situps
Med ball slams

Workout two

8 50 meter sprints
on the minute

Monday, July 19, 2010

Training Schedule July 19th through July 26th

Monday July 12th

Back Squat 3x10
Press 5x5

Tuesday July 6th

Complete the following circuit at a moderate pace:
Rest one minute between sets
Jump rope 50 reps
Knees to elbows, 10-15
(alternative 10 chin ups or body rows, 10 hanging knee raises)
Bulgarian split squat right leg 15
Bulgarian split squat left leg
Kettlebell swing, 25
Perform 4-5 rounds.





Wednesday July 7th

This is a high intensity workout.  Make sure you have an extended warmup such as 20-30 minutes steady state cardio, body weight circuits, and/or dynamic stretches.  I will typically run 400 meters and then complete 30 reps of 6 different exercises that loosen the joints and stimulate all the muscles such as overhead squats, standing russian twists with a light bar, lunges, body rows, club bell swings, etc.

10 burpees
10 dumbbell thrusters
50 meter sprint
2-4 minutes rest

Thursday July 8th

Rest Day

Friday July 9th

Perform the following at a medium high intensity. 

Overhead Walking Lunges, 50 meters (use dumbbell, bar, plate, whatever you are comfortable with)
30 situps
100 jump ropes
5 rounds



Saturday July 10th

Bench Press 5x5
or
Perform as a circuit:
Dumbbell Bench Press 15 reps
Back Squat 15 reps
3 rounds

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Training Schedule July 12th through July

First of all, I'd like to congratulate Adam Mathias on his MMA debut win at the Bull City Brawl Saturday night.  He won by unanimous decision.  30-27, 30-27, 29-28  It is a testimony to his hard work and skill.  Adam trains at the Triangle Jiu Jitsu Academy in Durham.





And, to get back to the mundane, in an article posted on my Back to Basics Training blog, I challenged myself to reduce my bodyfat and lost 5 lbs over the next  month by adding in some cardio and making some changes in my diet.  This week, I have made progress, albeit slow progress, but that's the kind that sticks around.

I did 4 workouts this week, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday and I added in 2 additional cardio sessions, one being a 3 mile bike ride over hilly terrain, the other being a 1 mile walk (over same hilly terrain) with 20 lbs in a backpack.  I am officially down 1.9 lbs (133.1 from 135) via my morning weigh in.  Now, that may be due entirely to other factors, so next week's weigh-in will be a bit more important to see if I keep it up.  By next week, I'd like to be down to 130-131.  Diet-wise, I simply increased the quality of my meals and have greatly increased my garden vegetable intake which both replaces some of the other things I have been eating that were more calorically dense and increased my fiber intake. We'll see what happens, fingers crossed.

So, on to bigger and better things, the training schedule.

Monday July 12th

Barbell complex:
Barbell Row
Clean grip hang power snatch
Front Squat
Push Press
Back Squat

8 reps each, 5 rounds



Tuesday July 6th

Run/walk 2-3 miles.

or

Complete the following circuit at a moderate pace:
Rest one minute between sets
Box Jump or Broad Jump (15) *Box jumps should be no higher than 18-24 inches
Pushups  (15)
Walking Lunges (30 total)
Pullups (15)
Situps (15)
Perform 4-5 rounds.

Wednesday July 7th

This is a high intensity workout.  Make sure you have an extended warmup such as 20-30 minutes steady state cardio, body weight circuits, and/or dynamic stretches.  I will typically run 400 meters and then complete 30 reps of 6 different exercises that loosen the joints and stimulate all the muscles such as overhead squats, standing russian twists with a light bar, lunges, body rows, club bell swings, etc.

30 Kettlebell swings, go heavy, but keep swings continuous
200-400 meter sprint
2-4 minutes rest

Thursday July 8th

Rest Day

Friday July 9th


Perform the following at a medium high intensity. 


Goblet squat, 15 reps (weight is light)
400 meter run
5 rounds



Saturday July 10th


Perform as a circuit:
Dumbbell Bench Press 15 reps
Deadlift 15 reps
3 rounds

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Back to Basics Training

Guess what?  I wrote a few articles where I talk about myself incessantly and then give a little bit of good advice.  Typical of us fitness bloggers, but you may find it useful.  Click on the links below to read the following two articles.



Holy cow!

I've been trying to lose a few pounds over the past two months and instead, I've put on five. How can this be?

(click on above link for rest of article.)


Over the past two years, my fitness philosophies have been challenged, modified, and finally returned to their original form. And all I can say is thank God I'm not as wishy-washy as I thought I was turning out to be. As it turns out, fitness is pretty basic. It doesn't have to be complicated, it just has to be interesting and challenging enough to maintain the attention span of the participant. Doing a machine circuit and walking on the treadmill is neither interesting nor terribly effective for the long run and so its no wonder most folks abandon their gym memberships a few short weeks after their New Year's Resolutions and long before bathing suit season is upon us.

(click on above link for rest of article.)

Trying to gain wisdom without hurting myself.

Over the past two years, my fitness philosophies have been challenged, modified, and finally returned to their original form. And all I can say is thank God I'm not as wishy-washy as I thought I was turning out to be. As it turns out, fitness is pretty basic. It doesn't have to be complicated, it just has to be interesting and challenging enough to maintain the attention span of the participant. Doing a machine circuit and walking on the treadmill is neither interesting nor terribly effective for the long run and so its no wonder most folks abandon their gym memberships a few short weeks after their New Year's Resolutions and long before bathing suit season is upon us.

The key to working out effectively is intensity. And when I say intensity I mean all different ranges of intensity. This must be coupled with appropriate volume and by this, I mean how how many repetitions or sets of a particular exercise you are going to do or how long are you going to be doing said exercise. Changing both of these parameters on a regular basis and getting adequate rest is essential for effective fitness. How do I know this? Well, there are a lot of very smart guys and gals in the fitness and strength and conditioning world and I have read a lot of what they have to say.  I've also had the pleasure of training and coaching a number of athletes, fitness participants, and fitness enthusiasts over the years and I have found that a lot of the principles that I have read hold true at the end of the day.

I have taught kettlebell classes, coached at a crossfit affiliate, coached a girl's weightlifting team, and personally trained a variety of folks using a variety of methods. These are the lessons I've learned so far:

Diet, exercise, and rest are synergistic. This means they work together and rely on one another to be optimal.  If these three elements are not optimal, you will not get stronger, lose bodyfat, and or perform better. All three must be in place and more often than not, at least one, if not two are completely ignored.  I have coached a number of people who are strong runners, swimmers, and workout six times a week, and yet, they cannot lose weight, increase their deadlift, or get a real pullup because they won't eat enough protein or take enough rest.

Things do not have to be difficult to be effective.  This applies to everything.  There is a learning process to every new thing we try.  Its not just a mental process, but a physical process as well.  Our bodies must adapt to become more coordinated.  Nerve impulses from the brain to the muscle are modified to allow for more precision and self-awareness.  The muscles, tendons, and ligaments all need time to adapt to the forces exerted by new movement patterns.  This means that even at a low level of stimulation, change is occuring.  Don't miss out on the subtle changes that will improve performance and maximize results down the road.

 
Just because a workout is "hard" does not mean it is "good".  If workouts only had to be hard to be effective, well, I'd have a much easier job.  I can make anyone tired, sweaty, and possibly nauseous. However, using those guidelines, I can't guarantee that you will be injury free six months from now or that you will have met any of your fitness goals.  Patience is a virtue.  Practice it.

 
Change is good, but too much change is bad.  Changing intensities over the course of a week is good.  Changing your training focus to work on one or two aspects of your general fitness or goals every two to three months is good.  Changing your routine regularly to keep boredom at bay is good.  Having completely random workouts and using such a broad range of techniques that you can't adequately practice them all is bad.  It may work for some folks, but its not ideal.  Pick the ones you are good at and keep them as your core set of movements.  If you want to develop another discipline such as yoga, kettlebell technique, or olympic lifting, try devoting a focused period of time to practicing and learning the techniques to see if they are something you want to pursue and/or use as an element in your workouts.



Lastly, take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt.  Anyone who is absolutely sure of everything is suspect in my book.  I'm working on becoming wise, but I'm finding that the path to wisdom truly is an education in your own ignorance.  I am hoping that the wisdom outpaces the ignorance soon, although Socrates himself said this is futile.

Training Schedule July 5th through July 10th

Well, it is about 3 months until the Warrior Dash.  Time flies, eh?  So, if you're not doing it already, its time to start running.  And, don't forget about the mud.



If you are lifting heavy, steady state running for 20-45 minutes after your lifting sessions is fine and will not effect your strength, but you can split up your running and lifting days if you have the time.  Three each, per week, is a good aim.  In September, we will increase the number of running interval workouts aimed at conditioning specifically for the race.  For those of you doing more conditioning based workouts, there is still no substitute for running and one to two short runs (or running intervals) and one long run a week is going to become necessary now.  Work on increasing your distance and speed each week.


Monday July 5th

Barbell complex:
Deadlift
Hang Power Clean
Front Squat
Push Press
(after last press, rack bar behind the neck)
Split Squat, left leg
Split Squat, right leg

8 reps each, 5 rounds

Tuesday July 6th

Run/walk 2-3 miles.

or

Complete the following circuit at a moderate pace:
Either complete reps or 1 minute at each exercise.  Rest one minute between sets
Jump Rope (100)
Kettlebell swing (25)
Walking Lunges (30 total)
Body rows (25)
Medicine ball slam (25)
Perform 4-5 rounds.
*Alternative for med ball slams, each round, alternate between overhead, right lateral (slam into wall), or left lateral.

Wednesday July 7th

This is a high intensity workout.  Make sure you have an extended warmup such as 20-30 minutes steady state cardio, body weight circuits, and/or dynamic stretches.  I will typically run 400 meters and then complete 30 reps of 6 different exercises that loosen the joints and stimulate all the muscles such as overhead squats, standing russian twists with a light bar, lunges, body rows, club bell swings, etc.

15 goblet squats (Choose a weight such that 15 should be relatively hard to complete)
200-400 meter run
2-4 minutes rest


Thursday July 8th

Rest Day

Friday July 9th


Perform the following at a medium high intensity.  Your rest periods are the squats/pushups.  If you need additional rest, you are going too fast.  If this isn't challenging, you are going too slow or you need to increase the distance.

Run and squat/push-up ladder:

Run 200-400 meters, perform one squat, one push-up
Run same distance, perform two squats, two push-ups
Continue in this fashion up to 8-10 rounds.
If you are working on longer distances, cut the number of rounds. 

Saturday July 10th

Sandbag work:  3 separate workouts, 3 rounds each, max rounds or distance each round
Clean and shoulder
Carry for distance
Zercher squats