What Makes A Good Workout?

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I promised you that in this post I would tell you what I think makes for a good workout.  So here are my top requirements for any workout program:

  1. Focus on Compound, Free Weight Exercises.
  2. Plan exercises with a focus on movements with an equal emphasis for all planes.
  3. Plan core exercises that use stabilization and rotation.
  4. Planned and deliberate overload progression.
  5. Planned, periodized manipulation of training variables.

Hopefully you noticed my intention to use the word “plan”.  Just going to the gym and doing “10 of these” and “10 of those” will get you little to no results.

Over the next while, I’ll explain what each of these mean, and why they are essential in a training plan.

By the way, if you are a member of the site, make sure to log in on Christmas Day — I have a gift or you!

Core Training – The Plan

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In this post, the main two points were that the core has some pretty important functions, and that from the core, the body can move in three different planes of motion: the frontal plane, sagittal plane, and transverse plane.

The thing to understand today is we need to train the core movements just like we would any other movements.  And when designing a training plan, it’s important to think in cycles – weekly cycles, monthly cycles, and even yearly cycles.  Ideally, within one week’s cycle (a microcycle) we will attack all major movements in both bilateral (two-limbed) and unilateral (one-limbed).  This means for a knee dominant movement you’ll want to do something like a squat, a bilateral movement, and a step up, which is a unilateral movement.

Our thinking needs to be the same with the core.  In Core Training: The Essentials, we talked about the functions of the core being stability and force transfer.  Today, let’s call it stability (active ability to avoid movement) and mobility, which is really just active movement. So in terms of the core we’ll need to train both stability and mobility in all three movement planes.

Using the AW Training model of three workouts per week, a core training template might look like this:

  • Workout 1: Linear Stability and Rotational Mobility
  • Workout 2: Rotational Stability and Lateral Mobility
  • Workout 3: Lateral Stability and Linear Mobility

This template works very well as it reaches each movement pattern within the week.  I like this plan more for beginners, but it can be easily adapted for more advanced athletes by modifying the template a little or even just introducing more advanced exercises.

So, here’s a sample plan for beginners.

Sample Beginner Core Development Plan

  • Workout 1 (Monday): Plank and Russian Twist
  • Workout 2 (Wednesday): Stability Ball Supine Rotational Hold and Stability Ball Lateral Trunk Raise
  • Workout 3 (Friday): Side Plank and Bird Dog

Don’t forget, with linear mobility, we have to hit both flexion and extension movements.  The plank gets linear flexion stability and the bird dog hits linear extension mobility.  In the next cycle I would change it up.  More advance plans would definitely be hitting those each week.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is this:  Train your core after your bigger lifts.  Training your core first will fatigue muscles and movements you’ll need on heavier lifts.  despite what many people say, leave it to the end.  Hopefully now that you see the importance of training your core, you won’t be skipping it any more.

No Time To Workout? Try This

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No Time To WorkoutThe number one excuse I hear from people who don’t workout is time.

Well, I’d call this the 6-Minute Workout, but that sounds to “hypey” for me, so let’s just say this workout should take you about 6 minutes plus a quick warm-up.

This quick workout is based on the Tabata protocol — where you work for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest and repeat.  Because the workout is so short, you have to do it with intensity — be sure to work as hard as you can the whole time — or you won’t get the proper benefits.

So here’s how it goes:

  1. Dynamic Warmup
  2. Do as many Pull-ups, Chin-ups, or Inverted Rows as you can in 20 seconds
  3. Rest 10 seconds
  4. Incline DB Press for 20 seconds (should be about 10 reps, so pick an appropriate weight for you)
  5. Rest 10 seconds
  6. DB Squats for 20 seconds (again about 10 reps, use a good weight)
  7. Rest 10 seconds
  8. Russian Twists for 20 seconds
  9. Rest 10 seconds
  10. Repeat steps 2 to 9 two more times.

There it is.  6 minutes and done.

Try setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning, and run through this workout.  Even a workout like this, done regularly, can add up.

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The 8 Key Components Of An Effective Strength Training Program

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Too many people still rely on the outdated, bodybuilding-style body part workouts. You know, where you work Chest and Triceps on Mondays (universal bench press day), Back and Biceps another day, leg day, etc. And too often, the emphasis is on the “mirror muscles”, the muscles you can see and flex in the mirror that look all “pumped” after a workout.

But for us guys that are just as concerned with feeling good as looking good, that training approach will just lead to injury and an unfunctional body. Besides, most bodybuilding style workouts emphasize isolation exercises like chest flys, bicep curls, and knee extensions that use only one joint at a time.

While this might be beneficial to someone trying to do just that – isolate a particular body part for aesthetic reasons – our bodies never work one joint at a time.

We need to think in terms of compound movements, which involve two or more joints in the exercise. These are the kinds of movements we make everyday to help keep our bodies functional. And on top of that, we need to train similar movements with one and two limbs. A front squat would be a two-limbed, or bilateral movement, while a split squat would be considered a one-limbed (unilateral) movement.

So, here are the movement patterns that should be a part of an effective strength training plan:

1. Knee-Dominant Movements
These are movements where knee extension is the prime movement. Any kind of squat, or “pushing” motion with the leg is a knee-dominant exercise.

2. Hip-Dominant Movements
Any movement, where the hip extends as the primary movement. This requires a contraction by the glutes, hamstrings and low back, and can be considered a “pulling” motion. Good mornings, RDL’s are examples of hip-dominant exercises. The traditional deadlift has elements of both knee and hip-dominant movements which makes it a very effective exercise.

3. Supine Presses or Horizontal Push
Any movement where the weight is pushed away from the body in a horizontal motion. The bench press and push up are examples of a horizontal push.

4. Overhead Presses or Vertical Push
Any movement where the weight is pushed away from the body in a vertical motion. The overhead press is an example.

5. Horizontal Pulls
A movement where the weight is pulled toward the body horizontally, such as a barbell row.

6. Vertical Pulls
A movement where the weight is pulled toward the body vertically, like a chin up or shrug.

7. Torso Training
Torso training, more popularly known as core or ab training, should include both stabiliztion (like planks) and rotational (wood choppers) movements.

8. Explosive Movements
No, not those kind of explosive movements (I knew you were thinking that), but power developing exercises like Olympic lifts, or plyometrics.

You should see all of these movements in equal proportions with little, if any, emphasis on any movement pattern. And in any of the traditional strength movements (1-6 above) there should be equal (or at least almost equal) consideration given to both unilateral and bilateral movements.

So regardless of the program you choose, make sure you go through the program and check each component off. Don’t waste your precious time with exercises like bicep curls and hamstring curls. Make your workouts as time-efficient as possible.

Workouts don’t have to be 60-90 minutes. Focusing on these movements will save you time in the gym and give you better results.

Cut out all the crap, fluff and filler most other programs give you and go check out the AW Ultimate Strength Program to see how to get more results in less time.

Functional Core Strength Athletic Workout

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Core TrainingWho says you need to do hundreds of crunches to build a strong core?  In fact, with this workout, you won’t even have to do any kind of traditional core training to build a strong functional core. And it shouldn’t take you any more than 35 minutes, start to finish!

This workout has two main objectives: build overall functional strength with a focus on developing core stability through real-life movements.  Unilateral strength will also be developed to help prevent and reduce muscular imbalances.

I’ve even added in an optional fat burning finisher to help you show off that core you’ll build with this workout!

It is a fairly advanced workout, only because of the movements selected.  Beginners can give it a try, but I suggest using lighter weights than recommended, and as always, get a certified strength coach to instruct you on the exercises.

Workout Guidelines

  • If you do not have access to a barbell, use dumbbell exercise substitutes.
  • Complete the dynamic warm-up as a circuit twice, resting 30 second in between circuits.
  • Then perform the mobility section, and finish with the development section.
  • Finish with some static stretches for sore or tight areas.
  • Use a 1-0-1 tempo on all exercises except the power clean — lift the weight explosively and return the weight under control.

Equipment

Dynamic Warm-Up

Exercise SetsxReps Rest Load
1a. Bodyweight Squats 2×10 0 BW
1b. Push Ups 2×10 0 BW
1c. Inverted Rows 2×10 0 BW
1d. Reverse Lunge w/ Twist 2×5 each leg 30 BW

Mobility

Exercise SetsxReps Rest Load
1a. Ankle Circles 1×30 sec 0 BW
1b. Overs 1×30 sec 0 BW
1c. Unders 1×30 sec 0 BW
1d. Wall Slides 1×30 sec 0 BW

Development

Exercise SetsxReps Rest Load
1. Power Clean 3×6 90sec-2min 8RM
2a. Overhead Barbell Lunge 3×6 0 6RM
2b. 1-Arm Standing Cable Row 3×6 90sec-2min 6RM
3a. Suitcase Deadlift 3×6 each side 0 6RM
3b. 1-Arm DB Press 3×6 90sec-2min 6RM
4. (Optional Finisher) DB or KB Swing 4-8×20 sec max 10 sec 25RM

 

Training Phases And How They Fit Into Your Plan

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After the last post, some of you may be wondering what each of the training phases I talked about really mean.  Here’s a brief discussion of each, and why they’re beneficial to a complete training plan.

Typically, a performance-based program will follow a deliberate progression, and the program is broken into various phases, each with it’s own purpose. After an initial introductory phase to let the body become accustomed to training again (or maybe for the first time), the program will move into more focused phases. Every sport or activity has its own unique physical requirements, and not all programs are the same. A shot putter would certainly not follow the same program as a marathon runner. But most sports will use a model similar to the following. Keeping in mind this is a simplified example, after what I call the adaptation, or introductory phase, athletes will then move into hypertrophy phase. Following the hypertrophy phase will be a strength phase, then finally a power phase, before the season starts.

Next, I will elaborate slightly on the purposes of the hypertrophy, strength and power phases.

Hypertrophy – Lean Mass
The definition of hypertrophy is increased lean muscle mass. Hypertrophy is important to athletes because increased muscle mass helps protect joints and bones from injury, and in many sports having a higher body weight without fat is beneficial. Secondly, larger muscles are capable of producing more force. By training to increase muscle mass before moving into a strength phase will help you develop more strength as your training progresses. Lastly, more muscle mass leads to an increase in resting metabolic rate, resulting in the ability to burn more fat.

Strength and Power
Strength can be defined as the ability to exert force. You perform work when you apply force over a distance. Power is how quickly force, or more correctly, work can be applied.

Strength = Force – strength is equal to the absolute force produced

Work = Force x Distance – you perform work when you apply force over a distance

Power = Work/Time – power is a result of how quickly you can perform work

Power = Force x Distance/Time – power is how quickly you can apply force over a distance

 

So, the ability to move a given load over a further distance during a shorter period of time means greater power. That mass may be yourself during a sprint or a jump, it may be an opposing player during a pick, a block or a tackle, or even the golf club you’re swinging or the ball you’re throwing. Maybe it’s that grocery bag we were talking about earlier, or hitting a nail with a hammer. Obviously, the quicker you can perform these activities, the better your performance will be.

In most performance tasks, power is a more valuable asset than pure strength. However, as the equations tell us, an athlete must have good strength in order to be more powerful. In a performance-based strength program, we increase your lean muscle mass, then we make you strong, and finally, we make you powerful.

You will find you are able to perform everyday tasks more easily following a performance-based program. Imagine being able to keep up with your kids, not having to struggle carrying your groceries, or huffing and puffing just climbing a flight of stairs.

The simplicity of it is what makes performance training so efficient and effective. No fads, no hype, no gadgets, no fluff.  Many average athletes have become great by training with these principles in mind. What will you be capable of?

The Best Types of Foods to Fuel Your Goals

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This is by no means a definitive guide, it simply helps you identify which types of food are best suited for your goals, so you can make better choices when selecting foods to meet your specific requirements.  This information doesn’t take into account any kind of macronutrient ratio, or amount of calories needed specific to your needs.

Fat Loss

For fat loss, you will need to make sure you take in less calories than you burn (but make sure you are strength training so you lose fat, not muscle when in a caloric deficit). To do this, you want to select foods that are nutrient dense, but filling and low in calories. This way, you’re getting all of the necessary nutrients, you feel satisfied after a meal, and are keeping your caloric intake below your energy expenditure. Here are some types of foods that will help with this:

  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Low-Fat Dairy and Egg Products
  • Fish and Poultry

Weight Gain

Opposite to fat loss, to gain weight, you’ll need to take in more calories than you expend (the trick is to make sure the surplus isn’t so high that the weight gain is fat mass). The key to selecting foods for weight gain are that they are nutrient dense, high in calories, and not very filling. This allows you to eat more food, more often to get your caloric intake up, but ensures you are making healthy food choices.

  • Cereals
  • Grains and Pasta (save the higher GI foods for breakfast and workouts)
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Poultry and Fish

Optimum Health

Food is meant to be fuel for our bodies (but I do believe it is more than that – consider social occasions, and so on). As long as you treat it as fuel 90% of the time, you will be eating optimally. To eat healthy, you simply want to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs, while meeting your caloric requirements to maintain a healthy body composition. Foods that promote optimal health have a high nutrient to calorie rating. Meaning that per calorie, these foods contain more essential nutrients than other foods.

  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Poultry and Fish

Remember, this is not meant to be a definitive guide. The amounts you eat and in which proportions are dependent on many factors. These foods are simply the kinds you should select most often given your particular goals.

The Best Workout Ever?

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To me, the best workout ever is very simple — it’s the one that you actually do, consistently.

Of course, there’s much more to a quality workout than actually doing it, but I think with so many people out there that don’t train, finding one that you will actually do is much of the battle.

But with that out of the way, there are just so many bad workouts and training programs that people follow, thinking they are getting benefit.  Personally, I think this can be even more of an issue than doing nothing at all.

For a lot of people, it can be so discouraging to put in so much effort for no results, or worse get injured.  I worry that some of these people will never find the passion to train again they’ve become so discouraged.

So what does make a good workout plan? Well, I go back to my first statement — a great start is one that you will actually stick to.  It doesn’t matter how good the workout is, if you don’t do it, you obviously will not get any results or benefit.

As far as what else to look for in a workout — stick around.  Next time, I’ll talk about the essential components of any quality workout plan.  See you then.

Core Training – The Essentials

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Core TrainingAsk 100 guys if they want “six-pack” abs and 90 will say yes – the other 10 are lying to you. This may or may not be true, but when you talk about core training, six-pack abs and cover models are usually what most people are thinking about.

But the core is not really about aesthetics. Your core has some extremely important functions. Including stabilization (for posture and protection of the spine), rotation and the transfer transfer of forces from lower to upper body and upper to lower body.

This is not an anatomical definition, but I look at the core as any muscle that is involved in moving or stabilizing the trunk. In many cases, this will include muscles the join the trunk or pelvis to the lower body.

But remember, my philosophy is to NOT train muscles, but to train movements. When we look at the movements of the body, they occur in three different planes:

  • Frontal Plane – Lateral (or side-to-side) movements
  • Sagittal Plane – Linear (or front-to-back and back-to-front) movements
  • Transverse Plane – Rotational (or twisting) movements

So when we train our core, this is what we need to be thinking about. Training movements that occur in these planes of motion, or combinations of them (because we would be working in more than one plane at a time with most sport movements or daily tasks). We also need to train the stabilization, or resistance, of these movements.

Lastly, we should be eliminating, or at least minimizing, the number of ab crunches we do. I’ve eliminated any ab crunches from my programs. The reason being is the motion of a crunch puts the spine into an unnatural state of flexion, leading to back and spinal problems and poor posture. While there isn’t a lot of research on this, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

Check back on Thursday for a sample core training program, and tips on when you should be training your core.

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Soccer Conditioning Plan

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Soccer Conditioning Plan

Let’s face it, most people workout to get a better body. But with this plan, you can not only build the body of a soccer player, but get the conditioning of a soccer player to go along with it.

And for ectomorphs (hardgainer types) like me, the athletic body of a soccer player is more realistic than building the body of a linebacker. And hey, soccer players get some pretty good recognition for their bodies, too.

OK, back to some theory, before we get into the program.

Before you can even begin to decide how to train for a sport, you need to know what the physical (metabolic) requirements are. This is called the principle of specificity. Here are some numbers for you:

A soccer player, in any given 90 minute game will approximately:

Walk for 26% of the game, or about 2600 meters
Jog 49%, or 4900 meters
Cruise 17%, 1700 meters
Sprint 8%, 800 meters
and have the ball for less than 2%, 180 meters.

In other words, a soccer player travels about 10k in one game!

This gives you an idea how much you should be focusing on each component. You should be training for aerobic endurance about 75% of the time, and anaerobically only about 25%. This also gives you an idea on how to structure your training with respect to interval times and distance.

That doesn’t mean that 75% of your workouts need to be aerobically based, but 75% of the volume of the workouts should be.

Based on the analysis, here is the breakdown of training. Keep in mind this may or may not be for you depending on your age, training history, injury history, level of play, and many other variables.

Aerobic Training:
80-90% HR Max, 6-30min per rep, 1-8 reps with no more than 1 min rest. (rest should be a walk — you would never stand still in a game)

Lactate Threshold Training (Anaerobic Lactic):
>85% HR Max, 3-6 minutes per rep, 4-8 Reps with a 1:0.5 to 1:1 work to rest ratio. In other words if you were to perform a rep that lasted 3 minutes, your rest would be anywhere from 1.5 min to 3 minutes.

Anaerobic Training:
>90% HR Max, 20sec – 3 min per rep, 2-4 sets of 4-8 reps with a 1:4 work to rest ratio.

If you want to do the math on the volume for each, it closely resembles the portion of aerobic to anaerobic needs.

I would prescribe each type of workout on its own day, along with two strength training sessions per week. I would also have my athletes perform speed, agility and quickness work on strength days, or before the anaerobic training day.

So early in the off-season a training week might look something like this:

Monday – Anaerobic Focus

  1. Sprint 30 sec, Rest (walk) 90 sec, 4 times
  2. Rest 3 minutes
  3. Sprint 30 sec, Rest (walk) 90 sec, 4 times

Tuesday – Strength Workout

Wednesday – Aerobic Focus

  1. Jog 8-10 min, walk 1 min, 3-4 times

Thursday – Strength Workout

Friday – Anaerobic Lactic Focus

This workout is done on Fridays, because it’s the most taxing.  This will give you 2 days rest before getting back to it.

  1. 3 min cruise (almost a sprint, and you should not be able to go for much longer than the 3 min), rest (walk) 90 sec, 4 times

The overall plan would of course include mobility work, flexibility, speed drills, plyometrics, agility and quickness drills, as well as warm ups, cool downs and so on.

The great thing about this plan is that it develops all three energy systems, without the focus on just “cardio” or “HIIT”. It’s a much more rounded way to develop performance, fitness, and a lean body.

Image courtesy of bplanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net