by Benjamin Fineman
You put in a hard thirty minutes of lifting during your lunch break and even squeezed in that 10 minute ab routine you haven’t had time for in months. You’re feeling pretty good, as you should! This was the third workout you’ve completed this week. The only problem is you’ve been working with the same resistance for the past five months and your program remains unaltered since day one. Not to worry, you’re not alone.
In fact you’re probably in the majority. This is often what occurs when we neglect to differentiate ‘working out’ from training. What is the difference you ask? Two words: deliberate intention. While this may sound simple, it will be the difference-maker between shaving a few minutes off of your half marathon time, gaining those five pounds of muscle, or getting through all thirty obstacles on your upcoming obstacle race. The following lays an outline for deriving more from your weekly routine and helps you to align your actions with your intentions each and every time you hit the gym.
Develop a Cleary Defined Goal(s) using the S.M.A.R.T. system.
This is your starting point. Think of it as the framework dictating every aspect of your training program. You’ve chosen to make the commitment to bettering yourself so don’t let a lack of focus stand between you and the final destination. Choose one or two goals you want to accomplish through your fitness regimen and make sure they meet the all criteria in the following acronym:
Specific – Pertains to the definitive details of your goal and establishes concrete parameters.
Measurable – Utilizes a quantifiable method or system to track progress over time.
Attainable – Establishes a clear path that sets up the individual for success, while also posing a significant challenge.
Realistic – Prevents excessive ambition while avoiding overly-difficult tasks that typically lead to failure.
Time Bound – Establishes a straightforward, unobstructed timetable for initiation of the process and end date for reaching desired results.
Once these parameters are set, you should have a clear picture of what needs to be completed during each session. The goals may slightly deviate during your program due to setbacks, injuries, etc. This is okay! Things will not always be perfect. Expect challenges to arise during your training. Make necessary adjustments, and remain consistent. Consistency is the driving force that will keep things moving in the right direction. Planning ‘midway’ or ‘checkpoint’ goals will help to track progress over the course of your program, and act as motivating factors to help encourage positive reinforcement. Lastly, record each training session: sets, reps, resistance, distances, heart rate zones, etc. No matter the type of training you’re doing, keeping a record of what you’ve done can help highlight successes or failures at the completion of your program and provide valuable insight for the next phase of your training.
Seek Out the Help of a Professional
One shared aspect of all great athletic champions is the supporting cast that aided their efforts. From strength and conditioning coaches, to skills coaches, nutritionists, athletic trainers and more, it is typically the culminated effort of a team of professionals that creates continued success. While an ensemble this elaborate is unnecessary to accommodate your specific needs, seeking some form of professional guidance can make all the difference. A lot has changed since the routine your high school football coach gave you fifteen years ago. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and learn new concepts. A reputable trainer can teach you safe and effective form, screen you for pre-exercise health risks, analyze potential postural imbalances, and teach you how to design a training program. Safety and effectiveness lie at the forefront of all good training programs. This article will not directly address nutrition but it is crucial to your success in the gym especially for those seeking to lose weight. A registered dietitian or nutritionist can help you find the right balance of calories and nutrients to support your lifestyle, training, and specific fitness goals. In addition to seeking out a trainer and/or nutrition expert, it is a good idea to get a physical examination from your family physician before the onset of any new exercise program.
When it Comes to Strength: Train Movements, Not Muscles
The training methodology of yesteryear’s professional bodybuilders still greatly influences the modern person’s view of strength training. While six sets of biceps curls may get your arms looking great on the beach, how is your current routine helping you functionally? The body is at its strongest when it can recruit the maximum number of possible motor units (a bundle of muscle fibers all activated by a single neuron). Training movement patterns rather than isolating muscle groups teaches the body to call on more available motor units, therefore allowing more muscles to contract and assist movement. There are seven patterns of movement that are considered essential to the human body: push, pull, rotation, squat, lunge, hinge, and gait. Regardless of your conscious awareness, these are all movements you perform on a daily basis. Exercises that target improvement of these movement patterns can greatly improve your functional fitness, and allow for more efficient training sessions. The following are examples of exercises to train the aforementioned movement patterns.
Push – push-up, dip, press
Pull – row, pull-up
Rotation – wood-chops, Russian twist, standing cable rotation
Squat – barbell back squat, kettlebell front squat, body weight pistol squat, jump squats
Lunge – forward, reverse, and side lunges, split squats, split squat jumps
Hinge – deadlift, kettlebell swing, pike
Gait – bench step-up, farmer’s carry, stair climbing
Some of these exercises are more advanced, and may take time to acquire particular skills. The assistance of a fitness professional may be required to help you get started. Training around these movement patterns can lead to an overall better translation of movement into your recreational activities and sports. Functional training can focus on and improve any sport skill (Santana, 2016). After you’ve mastered some base exercises around each essential pattern, try combining patterns into one movement to place an even greater demand on your muscles!
Keep it Fresh
As you progress through your program, you may notice a point where you feel your fitness is failing to improve, and you start to feel like you’re going through the motions. This is called a plateau phase, and it is extremely common, especially among novice exercisers. It can be quite frustrating, and hard to understand. You’re working just as hard as you were before, but the returns seem to be diminishing. The issue lies in the fact that your body has become very efficient at the stress you’ve been putting it through and has adapted to the point where your training is no longer providing enough of a stimulus to deliver continued results. This indicates that it’s time to change things up! No, you don’t need to completely overhaul everything you’ve been doing, but it’s a good time to assess your current goals, and determine the course of action necessary to stay on track. It may be a matter of adding in some additional exercises, changing set and rep ranges, altering days, reducing or increasing volume/intensity, or adding in some additional cross training. This is true for both aerobic and anaerobic training. It may also be a good time to recruit a fitness professional for advice, if you don’t feel confident in making the required alterations on your own.
Surround Yourself with Those that Make You Better
No matter your level of commitment to bettering yourself, the support of others will always provide extra motivation to conquering your goals. Recruiting a training partner is a great way to increase accountability, train harder, and avoid the temptation of skipping a training session, or cutting one short. If you want to add in an additional day of cross-training to your routine, try enlisting in some group training classes. If training for a specific athletic event or leisure activity, connect with a local group that you can train side-by-side with. The positive environment will help reinforce your intentions, and expose you to a network of others with a similar mindset. In this day and age it is often hard to connect with others in real time, but luckily technology can be your friend. Seek out and join social media groups of others with similar training goals. You can virtually inspire one another by sharing progress, training tips, and setbacks. Participate in monthly group fitness challenges that align with your goals. Embracing the highs and lows of your training among a community of others will only strengthen your commitment to self-improvement. Share your intentions with your close friends and family so they can also provide support and accountability in your growth process. There will always be those seeking to mock or sabotage your efforts. Do your best to avoid and keep these people out of your life. They people are most likely jealous of your ambition while coming to terms with the lack of their own. Block out their negativity; it has no place in your life. Stay focused and committed. Your persistence will reward you.
The necessary elements for achieving your desired level of health and fitness should now appear with more clarity. The journey is not an easy one, but what you learn about yourself throughout your training will teach you a lot about your character. It is a process that never truly ends, but is ultimately a quest towards never-ending self-improvement. Carry this mentality into all aspects of your life, as you mold your future. Accept your failures along with your successes; failure is often your best teacher. Embrace it and let it motivate you to achieve success on your next attempt. Your program will probably never work out perfectly, which is fine. Over time adaptation will become second nature as you’ll be prepared to address circumstance as they arise. Rely on your support network and always be honest with yourself. The worst lies are often the ones we tell ourselves. Never be afraid to ask for help, and never let your ego prevent you from accepting sound advice. Above all else, enjoy every day. Make sure your training program allows time for enjoyment in your life. Whatever this time may consist of, make sure you have it. Rest and recovery are just as important as the hard work you put in. I’m sure you’ve already been contemplating some goals as you progressed through this article; now get out there and make it happen!
Santana, J.C. (2016). Functional Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers