Guilty! Me, that is! Guilty of relying on weights and cardio busbar bending machine for the bulk of my exercise time and effort. Haven’t you ever found yourself in a pattern that you feel comfortable with and, despite every intention of “mixing up” your routine, the weeks and the months go by and before you know it, you haven’t changed at all and your gains have come to a slow but definite halt. Last time we talked about the importance of using multi-joint compound exercise movements in our strength training regimen and the resultant increased “efficiency” in our muscle-building. Now let’s consider those other aspects of fitness that we know compose our “inner athlete” – cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, balance, speed, agility and “explosiveness” (the true mark of an exceptional athlete). For many of us, especially those of us a little older, we no longer feel the need to train these fitness variables. We just want to be “in shape”, not be competitive athletes. To a degree, this is understandable.
But, limiting our fitness training to just weightlifting and cardio is akin to going to a liberal arts college and studying only mathematics. We will make some very impressive strides in our understanding of math, but we will not be able to integrate this knowledge into a better understanding of how the world works and how math can enrich our lives if we don’t supplement it with additional understanding of language, history, philosophy and other basic sciences. Our bodies are these amazing biomechanical machines capable of really remarkable feats of strength, speed, endurance, balance and flexibility, yet most of us will never strive for or reach our bodies’ athletic potential. OK, OK, I get it – again, we just want to be in shape. But, I’m here to tell you that with a little consistent time and effort, you can dramatically improve your body’s physical function and with that can come a dramatic improvement in your enjoyment and appreciation of life. Being able to easily bend over to pick up something off the ground, reacting quickly with balance and agility when one of life’s little surprises such as unexpected speeding car races through an intersection crosswalk, being able to coach and demonstrate sports basics and mechanics to our children even at an older age, bounding up steps in an office building without being breathless after one flight, not to mention looking vigorous and healthy – all contribute to our satisfaction and happiness with life. So, if you are like me and sometimes you neglect or only pay minimal attention to these other fitness tenets, maybe it’s time we look at ways to efficiently incorporate them into our training. Now some of this will seem simple and obvious, but I am always amazed at the number of people I see at the gym who are sabotaging their workouts.
First, let’s look at cardio. Yes, machines are great and for most of us, will always be the cornerstone of our cardio training. I force myself to use different machines and to try every single type of cardio regimen at the gym, even if it looks like one I won’t like very much. We have talked about high intensity interval training (HIIT) before and so I won’t re-hash the details, but suffice to say, HIIT is unquestionably the most efficient form of cardio exercise in terms of fat-loss and cardiovascular conditioning. What does need to be reinforced, however, is the fact that HIIT can be performed on almost any cardio machine and that it is best devised by using the “manual” setting on the machine and changing the intensity and it’s duration as well as the rest period length as befits our present level of conditioning. Remember, these “intense” intervals have to be such that we are near the point of absolute maximum exertion by the end of the interval, and for most of us that interval’s duration will be between 30 and 90 seconds. Some forms of sabotage I see are people using the “interval training” setting on the machine. Usually these intervals are too long for someone to maintain maximum effort and so the trainee never really reaches maximum effort – inefficient and wasteful. Remember, HIIT cannot be done every day and true HIIT should probably not be done more than 3 times a week, otherwise, de-conditioning can actually occur, presumably due to excessive stress hormone (cortisol) release. For more details regarding HIIT, the reader is referred to my previous articles or virtually any fitness website description. The other way I see cardio performed inefficiently is similar to the lifting of weights using poor form or momentum to hoist the load. Trainees often bend over on the cardio machine using the side-rails for support and balance. They then fool themselves into thinking that they are handling a higher level on the machine and are in better condition that they actually are. Sit or stand up straight on the machine and reach for the handlebars in front of you, not the side-rails.