Ways to Improve Your Workout

Greetings! Hope everyone is enjoying the start of summer and making plans to stay cool.  I was able to enjoy celebrating my good friends’ sons’ birthdays (1 and 4 years).  This past week seemed longer than most as my experiences led to a breakthrough in my personal development.  First off, with the help of my other half, Amanda, I realized I was getting way too comfortable with my lifestyle and needed to have more of a sense of urgency to get my life started and moving.  I had to sell my first car with 258,000 miles on it because I was driving around like it were a ticking time bomb and replaced it with a Prius.  Training my high school football athletes started, along with getting the necessary facilities set up since the previous earthquake forced the school to replace a few items.

On a final note, last weekend Amanda and I watched X-men and what an awesome movie!  When you go to watch a movie with high expectations and it exceeds that, then you know it’s a great movie.

As you all know, I have been lifting weights since I was 12 years old that started with a cheap weight set that included a bar, curl bar, and a bench set.  I was so obsessed about lifting weights that I literally packed a few weights and a small curl bar in my suitcases when traveling.  I got caught when I had to check in my luggage and let me tell you that my parents weren’t too pleased…

I have been a member of a commercial gym since I was about 13.  Being the youngest of 3, I love people watching.  So the following post are ways you can enhance your workout.

Before we go into various ways you can improve your fitness, let’s get on the same page about our wording in describing what we are doing.

Physical activity is everything you do when you aren’t at rest. It’s basic movement, with no goal beyond getting from one place to another.

Exercise is movement you do on purpose. It includes sports practice, jogging, yoga, backpacking, swimming, cycling, or anything else you think is important enough to take precedence over all the other things you could be doing at that moment. (Note: If you can operate your cell phone while exercising, you aren’t actually exercising. You’re just proving you can walk and chew gum at the same time.)

A workout is an exercise session that’s deliberately strenuous. You start with the goal of working up a sweat, pushing your muscles and your circulatory system toward their limit, and giving your body a challenge from which it will have to recover.

Training is a system of workouts designed to achieve specific biological adaptations.

So the following will describe what most people do and how it can be improved.

1.  Not Having a Specific Goal/Not Working Towards Your Goal(s)

Whatever it is that you do, it always has to come down to how is it helping you achieve your fitness goal(s).  If you cannot properly defend your actions as if you were in front of Judge Judy…then maybe you need to rethink what it is you’re doing.

Say that your goal is to build muscle and most of the week you are running on a treadmill, elliptical, taking classes, or walking around your neighborhood for about 30 minutes to an hour each week  and your strength training includes performing a few machines 2 times a week before or after you run, then I hate to say it, but there’s a better way!

If your goal is to get jacked and huge and you come in the gym each day choosing to do exercises of 3 sets of 10 reps (mostly sticking to machines that doesn’t consist of a squat/press/deadlift/row/pull-ups), focus more on supplements rather than your overall diet (and not eating enough calories), and you don’t have a plan then I hate to say it, but there’s a better way!

I’m not saying that you won’t get any type of result either. If you’re used to not doing anything at all and you increase your activity levels by doing anything then you’ll get results for a few weeks.  But remember, this blog is about how you can do things better.

Solution: Create a few fitness goals with a specific timeframe.  Make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.  If you can find someone close and share these goals to hold you accountable, even better!

2.  Not having a PLAN.

Most of us have heard the quote, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’  Will you see results without a plan?  It depends.  For most people that are consistent in getting their butts to do any form of exercise and are eating healthier, then yes (until you reach a certain threshold).  For those that want to get stronger and build muscle?  Hey it worked for me in my 20s where all I did was a workout each time, but I did have 4 years of proper instruction and coaching.  I came in, lifted as heavy and as long as I could (without a warmup cause when you’re young, who needs one!).  It gave me results in that I was able to bench and squat a significant number because that’s all that mattered when you are a young male adult.  But guess what, my body eventually paid the price which left me with a banged up shoulder, elbow, and I had the pleasure of tearing my groin muscle.

I don’t know about you, but if I had a destination to reach, I would want to get there in the shortest amount of time while feeling great!  So with a better understanding of physical activity, exercise, workout, and training, I’m sure the question will arise in which one is best?  My answer is, it depends.  One is not always better than the other.  For example, if you choose to park further at work and when shopping, choose a longer route when walking to a destination, and take breaks to walk around every hour at your desk job, you are engaging in physical activity that frankly will burn more calories than exercise or training alone when you add up the numbers for the week.  So it depends on your goal.

Solution: With that said, understand that there is no perfect training program and there isn’t a one size fits all.  At the end of it all, the goal is to keep your goal THE GOAL! For starters, create a simple plan in terms of how many training sessions you can get in a week, 1-2 ways to increase your physical activity, and 1-2 things you can do to improve your nutrition.  Still confused?  Find a qualified coach or trainer, it will save you time.  Keep It Super Simple.  If not, you won’t stick to it.

3.  Not Monitoring and Adjusting What You’re Doing

To explain it simply, if you are not losing weight or body fat, not getting stronger, not seeing an increase in your muscle size, your back still hurts (or whatever body part it is), or whatever your goal is and you’re not doing anything to change what you’re doing then nothing is going to change!  If say, my goal is to get to the other side of a wall and all I’m doing is running into it over and over again without any luck, I need to stop and come up with a different strategy!

Solution: Have a journal in which you keep a workout log.  If you want to achieve the best versions of YOU, then have a workout log like all the professionals.  At the end of the week or month, if you are not progressing, you need to reevaluate, readjust, and reimplement your plan.

4.  Exercise Technique

If there are approximately 700 muscles and each muscle has hundreds to thousands of individual muscle fibers, wouldn’t you want to be able to recruit as many of them when you perform an exercise? Won’t it lead to more strength and power?  Won’t it lead to more work being performed so that you burn more calories? Remember your body is always striving to do the opposite, to conserve as much energy as possible (like how I drive my Prius!).

Having proper technique is the most fundamental aspect of training.  If your joints aren’t optimally aligned, the muscles around it won’t be able to work together synergistically to create the maximum amount of force so you can do WORK.  If you can’t or choose not to go through a full range of motion on an exercise (for the overwhelming majority of your lifts), you are not using and stressing all of the muscles you potentially can use.

Over the years of observing, here are my top exercises that people tend to have the poorest technique with:

1.  Deadlift

This exercise gives you the most bang for your buck, meaning that it works the most muscles.  It, however, is the most difficult movement pattern to learn, understand, and actually perform.  It requires a level of ‘core’ strength to stabilize your spine (so it doesn’t move) while your hips (hamstring/glutes) do the work.

If not, what science shows isn’t pretty…

Deadlift Back Loading

And if you’re still not convinced and are afraid…let’s just say that prolonged sitting is worse. Read here. 

2.  Military Press

Most people don’t have the core stability to once again keep the body stable and spine in a neutral position.  If you watch the above video and look just at the upper body, it resembles an incline press with the lower part of the back in an awkward position that causes unnecessary shear loading.  I’m not saying it’s wrong, but if you don’t want to damage your back then stay away from it.  A good press should be like this…

 3.  Rows

Now the majority of your muscle mass is located on your backside.  So it’s important that you develop those big muscles that pretty much serves as a foundation for you to perform your movements.

human-muscles-back

When performing a row (it can be using a machine, cable, dumbbell, TRX, barbell, or a tree branch), most people tend to only use their biceps and upper traps.  I see it all the time, people’s head shift forward as they pull.  If you can’t feel the middle part of your back, including your lats, then you ain’t using them.

For starters, I love having my clients perform the infamous batwings made famous by Dan John.  Haven’t had anyone yet tell me they didn’t feel the muscles in the middle of their back after these.  I for one, go back to these to further strengthen my back.

4.  Squat

Most people are knee dominant.  Most activities we do outside the gym is knee dominant.  Knee dominant basically means that the muscles in the front are doing most of the work (your quadriceps).  It becomes problematic when there isn’t a balance between your other leg muscles (mostly your backside), hips, and ‘core.’

  

Remember there’s a common theme with all these lifts…

Your ability to maintain neutral spine by having your so called ‘core’ providing stability by contracting those big muscles is important.  There are many different variations of each of the above exercises including the squat, which I won’t go over today.  Just understand that you need to strive towards maintaining a neutral spine position.  If you don’t feel like you can do it, let me reassure you that you were able to do it before…

I’m not saying that everyone can squat deep as the above picture, but most people can improve their squat pattern to resemble something close to this…

Solution: Learn proper technique.  Find a qualified coach and learn it, unless you have months and years to learn it yourself through a lot of trial and error.  A good coach can have you performing these exercises with good form and maximal muscle contraction in as short as a few days to a few months (all depends on the individual).

4.  Not Understanding Basic Principles of Exercise Physiology

In my previous post, I explained some basic ones that people ought to know HERE.

With a basic understanding, you should know that with any form of fitness activity you choose to do in order to get the desired body you want, you are the manipulator of stressors.  How your body adapts to these purposeful stressors you impose on your body will ultimately govern whether you are able to reach your fitness goal(s).

Your body is a multi-systemic organism and you have to look at it as a whole rather than parts.  If your fitness goal is to gain muscle mass and improve strength, yet you barely get 5-6 hours of sleep a night, it will be rather difficult to achieve set goals (unless you’re one of the few genetic freaks).

For example, with some basic understanding of such principles based on science, you should know that the core is meant to prevent excessive motion rather than to create it.  Yet you see people do only such things for their core:

Now, am I saying that these exercise are bad??  I try not to categorize exercises in such categories because each may have its time and place.  I, however, like to think in terms of what is best for my client or athlete based on their needs.  If I know that the ‘core’ region is to provide stability, I would prefer such exercises because it gives my clients or athletes more bang for their buck.  For most cases, I would choose exercises such as:

or

So in closing today’s post, use these following steps to help you improve your level of fitness.

  1. Create a goal
  2. Create and implement a plan
  3. Monitor, adjust, re-implemeent, and re-evalute 
  4. Learn proper exercise technique
  5. Strive to understand what you’re doing

If you have any questions, post em up so we can create a discussion!

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