Back for Principles #5-8 of exercise…at least in my opinion…
5) Exercise program specificity. This means you must prioritize what your fitness goals and go all in on those goals if you truly want to see great progress. I wrote a blog about this here, where I talk about how I learned to prioritize my goals to see better results. Often times people will say they have a very general goal of “overall better fitness,” but then get frustrated when they don’t see the “very specific” results they actually wanted; such as more tone shoulders or a 200lb deadlift. There is nothing wrong with a goal of “overall better fitness,” but not if you truly want very specific results. A great example of this is a woman who wants to build and work on her glutes that are “flat” from sitting in an office chair all day. She sets a plan of going for a jog 4 times per week and lifting weights 20 minutes 3 times per week…10 minutes of which actually target her legs. So, if her only real goal at the moment is to work on gaining muscle in her glutes she should be spending more time on hitting her glutes in the weight room. Look, there is nothing wrong with her being confused about how to achieve her goal…the point of my blogs is to educate, so you can be less frustrated; being frustrated isn’t fun. If she were my client, I would suggest dropping the jogging down to 1-2 times per week so she can prioritize or be more SPECIFIC with hitting her “glute building goal.” She would be in the weight room 3-4 times per week for 45-60 minutes if she had the time for it. I would have her work more on squats, deadlifts, lunges, hip thrusts and isolated glute exercises instead of so much jogging, as jogging is primarily a quad dominant exercise…quads are on the front of your legs…obviously your glutes on your backside. So, even though I know you want everything and you want to hit all your goals at one time, that probably isn’t realistic. Trust me I know from experience it is not possible! If I want to personally work on a certain area of my fitness I will drop time I spend on other things to make sure I can actually hit my very specific goal. We only have so much time to dedicate to exercise right? I have about 5-6 hours per week to dedicate to the gym. What do you have? If less than that you will need to prioritize even more. You might lose some progress in other areas, but the achievement of your specific goal will be worth it…then you can go back and work on something else. Remember, fitness should be a lifelong pursuit. I would rather let some area of my fitness take a slight hit so I can actually achieve a goal. By achieving that goal I gain confidence. With that extra confidence I am ready to go hard after my next goal. Each goal builds off the previous as I gain and retain momentum. Achieve specific goal = Confidence = Achieve next specific goal = More confidence = Achieve next specific goal = Achieve a body and level of health you are happy with. A real life example is of my long term client Jenny. She has her best friend’s wedding coming up this July and her main goal is to work on her shoulders and upper back as she is wearing a strapless dress. Well, guess what that means? Every workout with me on Monday’s revolves around her shoulders and upper back. She puts a direct and SPECIFIC focus on lifting for her shoulders for 45 minutes with me as she knows her two workouts on her own each week is when she spends some time doing cardio. Well, over the past 3 months or so of this SPECIFIC program she has more definition in her shoulders than ever before and now brags about deadlifting her body weight to her “bro” co- workers.
6) Exercise selection specificity. This point is talking more specifically about the how you set up an individual workout, not the program as a whole. Here you should also be prioritizing which exercises will give you the most ‘bang for your buck’ in regards to helping you reach your goals. If your goal is to get to a 200lb deadlift then you should be deadlifting right away after your warm up. Going for a 3 mile jog before deadlifting heavy for sets of 4 just doesn’t make sense. Just as you must be very specific and prioritize your exercise routine on a MACRO level if you have specific goals; each individual workout should be also be set up so you can be successful on a MICRO level. You will spin your wheels in the mud if you want to set a bench press PR, but continue to do 100 pushups before you start your sets of bench. Put the exercises first in your workout that are MOST important for your goals. What if you run and lift on the same day? Well, what is MOST important to you at this time…the running or the lifting? In college we would do our running workout first then our lifting after, since I mean….I was RUNNING track and that had to be prioritized…lifting was important but supplemental. Currently, I am lifting AND running on Fridays. My lifting is my priority so that comes first and running is after. This point really goes back to my last blog (the first four principles of exercise) and the importance of ‘workout quality.’ Being able to complete your workout as it was planned or written is not only going to help you reach your goals, but also is very important for your confidence. Yes that confidence word again. If you want to increase your back squat from 185lb to 225lb please stop running treadmill sprints right before you put the bar on your back .
7) Exercise desensitization AND training movement patterns. The concept of exercise desensitization goes back to my last post when I said “your body adapts fast to exercise, faster than you think.” Well just as you will stop seeing progress in strength, gaining muscle or improving your work capacity if you never make your workouts ‘harder.’ You will also eventually hit plateaus if you never change up the exercises you complete. You might be hitting a sumo deadlift, barbell bench and some dumbbell lunges 3 times a week, adding some weight each week and seeing progress. But, in most cases it is smart to change up the specific exercises you are using…or at least the equipment (barbell, dumbbells, machines, kettlebells etc)…every so often. How often? Well that really depends on if you are a beginner or advanced lifter. If you are a beginner you can probably keep the same exercises in a routine for 12-16 weeks and be good. If you have been lifting for a few years now, I would recommend switching up the specific exercises every 4-8 weeks. This doesn’t mean a complete overhaul of a program, every 4 weeks, but minor changes in the equipment or angle of lifts can be enough to provide your body with a different stimulus. This brings me to the concept of training ‘movement patterns’ instead of training ‘exercises.’ There are 8 movements the body can do in the weight room when it comes to lifting (don’t worry runners reading this…I will get to you) which are: squat, hip hinge (think deadlift), lunge, horizontal push (pushup, bench press etc), horizontal pull (dumbbell row, seated cable row etc), vertical push (barbell overhead press, single arm shoulder press etc), vertical pull (chin up, lat pull down etc) and carry (dumbbell farmer carry, trap bar farmer carry etc). Under each movement listed above there are 100s or even 1000s of different exercises that each will give your body a slightly different stimulus. That is what you are looking for to avoid plateaus….and avoid injuries. We want slight changes over time instead of drastic changes in the weight, reps, sets or exercise difficulty. Most of my clients are completing 4-6 of those movements in each workout with me, but every 4-6 weeks I will change up the exercises for variety, to avoid boredom, to challenge the body differently and to avoid over working muscles and joints in the same EXACT movement for weeks or months on end. So you do not need to flat barbell bench every week for the rest of eternity…sometimes a dumbbell bench press for a phase of 4-6 weeks is enough to mix it. When you go back to flat barbell bench your body will have lost a bit of strength, but the rate at which your body will respond to the “new” stimulus will be huge for your ability to gain strength and muscle. I do stuff like this all the time with my own workout and with clients. For example, my client Michelle had been using a trap bar to deadlift for about 4 or 5 months and recently we switched back to a straight barbell deadlift in a sumo position. Obviously different exercises, but both still fall in the “hip hinge” category of movements. This hits her legs at a different angle and although she can’t lift as much yet, she has some “different” muscle soreness which is sign that her body is breaking down and building muscle. What about runners? Well, you can also avoid plateaus in your training if you change up the pace at which you run. Change up how much mileage you run each week. Change up doing speed work on a track or hill sprints. If you are a runner who runs a 5k at 10 minute mile pace, you should not be running every training run at 10 minute pace; run some faster and some slightly slower. You also probably shouldn’t be running hill sprints every week. For me, I like to do 4 week phases of different ‘types’ of runs. For example, for 4 weeks I will run shorter (10-20 sec) hill sprints. Then for 4 weeks I will run longer hill sprints (30-45 seconds). Then for 4 weeks I might switch to running sprints on a track. When I get back to the shorter hill sprints, they will feel challenging again which I know is the change in stimulus my body needs. It doesn’t need to be very 4 weeks that you switch things up, but a coach should be good at knowing when to mix it up.
8) Reversibility or how fast will you lose progress? The short answer is “no, after one week of vacation to the Bahamas, you will not lose all the progress from your previous 6 months of training.” OK that is a good thing! But, you also shouldn’t push your limits on inactivity if you don’t want to be frustrated by losing “gains.” I recently went on a 10 day vacation to the Philippines and only worked out for about 30 minutes during that time. The week before my trip I also didn’t workout much and didn’t lift any “heavy” weights. So I had nearly 3 weeks without a heavy bench press, squat, deadlift, lunge etc. Well, when I got back the weight I lifted 4 weeks prior felt HEAVY. Really HEAVY. I knew this was going to happen, but I was still disappointed. I concluded that if you don’t workout for 3+ weeks you will probably begin to lose strength, stamina, flexibility etc. That isn’t that long of a time unfortunately. My suggestion is simply to always make sure you get one workout in per week that challenges you. This could be a difficult lifting session in the gym with your trainer or a hard run where you push your pace faster than normal. If that is all you can get in that week, it at least keeps you from going two weeks without a challenging stimulus for your body. So, the 3 week cut off of no workouts, lets go with that. Again, I am very realistic in my personal life and as a coach. “Life happens” and sometimes you just can’t get workouts in due to personal or family issues, or illness or work stress. It is OK! If you go 6 weeks without a workout, when you come back to the gym there will be a bit of a “learning curve” again, but not nearly as long as the first time you walked in the gym.
That was really long. I appreciate you taking the time to read or at least skim it.
One more post in the series coming next week.