This is where things start to get confusing! There are SOOOOOOOOO many different training plans, methods, ideas, and approaches out there that it is easy to get lost. The worst part is if you are training in a way that does not match your goals you could be setting yourself up for failure!
I personally experienced this during my first attempt at an obstacle course race. I talked to 2 people about the race and how to train. One was signed up with me and the other had no previous experience with OCR (great starting point), but I took both of their words seriously and trained as if they were the Gods of training. I focused on a weight lifting regimen that was great at building muscle and losing fat and ignored cardio completely. I was told if my legs were strong enough I would have no problem with the hills on the course.
I spent several months training and was feeling great. I was in better shape, which is never a bad thing, and I felt confident that I would do well. And I did do well, on the obstacles that involved upper body and leg strength. The obstacles that required more explosive movements, the running and the hills (aka MOUNTAINS) absolutely destroyed every fiber of self respect I had. I finished and had a smile on my face, but I was demoralized at my time and knew that I could do much better! I knew I would want to try one of the OCR things again someday, but I was in no hurry and felt I deserved a break! If it wasn't for sheer dumb luck I would have not ran another OCR for an unforeseen amount of time and missed out on so many experiences and changes that have happened in my life because of my participation. This is what I want to help you avoid, missing out on something you enjoy just because you trained incorrectly!
If you are anything like me you have already opened a separate tab and googled "types of fitness training" or something along those lines. Doing this might also add to your confusion. "7 Types of Fitness Training" followed by "The 4 Types of Fitness Training You Need to Know" and so on. So many different perspectives on something that everyone seems to be an expert at yet no-one can agree on many of the best practices. For easy reference I will share an article that I feel is concise as well as accurate and you can refer to along the way.
This is where everyones mind goes when they think about packing on muscle. The first image for me still is the bench press. You do not have to be a muscle head to weight lift though, and weight lifting is actually a great way to help you lose fat, strengthen bones and so much more. You do not have to lift heavy either! Again it depends on your goals.
If you want to lift to gain power and strength you absolutely need to lift heavy, but you should also do a low number of reps per set with a longer rest between sets to allow your muscles time to recover! Performing 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps at 85-95 % of your 1 rep max rep is what would be suggested to build power and strength.
Now if size is what you are looking for then you should change things up a bit. To build size and strength you need to be shooting for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps at 70-80 % 1 rep max. This I would still recommend a few minutes between sets (2-3) to allow your muscles time to recover especially since you are pushing more reps per set!
For muscular endurance (which is what I SHOULD have been training for) you want to perform 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps at approximately 60 % of their 1 rep max. This will be a lot lighter, but the number of reps is much higher! You will feel much more tired from these, but you will be allowing yourself to lift for longer sessions. Many people only do a short 30 second rest with lifts like these, but I always encourage a solid 2 minute rest minimum!
You should also notice that with all of the different lifting methods they reference 1 rep max. This is the max amount of weight that you can lift with GOOD FORM! If you cannot lift it with proper form, then consider it too heavy! You will need to spend some time at the gym with a spotter to accurately determine your 1 rep max before you can do this. In order to progress you should also increase weight as you lift regularly. If you can hit more reps than the maximum listed above for whichever method you are using, add 5lbs on and push yourself. Add 5lbs every week or two if you are unsure and try to hit your target rep number.
When it comes to cardio, most people think about getting on a bike or treadmill and going for as long as they can. While this is a type of cardio you can do, it is not the only one! Let's take a look at the different types of cardio workouts you can do and what some of the benefits/disadvantages of each are.
First is Continuous Training. As stated above, this is what you see most people on treadmills or running through the park. Many friends of mine that are lifters HATE this however. They feel that they never should need to run and do not want to do anything remotely close! Running, and even moving at a fast pace is not the key to continuous training. The main things you are looking for would be 20 minutes or more without rest and keeping your heart rate in the 60%-80% range of your max heart rate. This can obviously be done by running, but it can also be done walking at a STEEP incline, or using the stair master. For me, my max heart rate is 183 (220-age). That makes my target zone 109-146. I can hit a heart rate of 109 easily on a stair master or a treadmill on an incline and so could you! This is a great way to train, especially if you love running, biking, or other activities that take a longer period of time but it can also be a bit boring if you are as impatient as I am! Even with my impatience I will usually try to fit in 30-60 minutes of continuous training per day in a variety of forms. Just make sure you are getting your heart rate up and you are good to go.
Fartlek (speed play) training is often confused with interval training. Even though it can seem similar, it is more along the lines of continuous training because you do not fully stop and rest. Fartlek is continuous training, but you vary the speed, terrain, and/or elevation as you go. Something like a warm up jog (5 minutes) followed by a 30 second full out sprint, then another jog for 90 seconds, then a sprint at about 75% for about a minute with one more jog thrown in for 90 seconds would do the trick. Do that 6 times without stopping and you have a Fartlek style training. This is one of my favorite/most dreaded workouts to do. It will completely drain you by the time you are done but you will also be building a lot of muscles to help with both distance and speed. It also will break up the monotony of long runs so it does not get as boring. This is something that is difficult to do daily, but building it into your routine once a week is easy and will be very beneficial. You can also take similar methods onto the bike with this, but I prefer it as a running activity.
Interval training is often called HIIT for High Intensity Interval Training and is a great way to drop weight and feel like you are completely out of shape no matter your skill level. Like Fartlek you go as hard as you can with an exercise for a short period of time (30-90 seconds) but then you completely rest for a period of time. The rest is the important part for Interval Training. You could do a 1:1 ratio (work for :30 and rest for :30) a 1:1.5, 1:2 or a 1:3 depending on your ability, but you normally do not want to go much more than that in my experience. Typically 8 to 10 rounds of the workout will be done before you have completed that exercise and by the end you will be dog tired and you will feel it, but finishing it is always a great feeling. The "trick" is to allow your heart rate to recover. Doing this spikes your heart rate numerous times throughout the workout encouraging your body to burn fat faster. The down side with this however is that there have been some studies that show potential heart issues with doing extended HIIT workouts over the course of several years. This basically means do not do this every day. This, like Fartlek, is something I like to incorporate a few times a week. 15-20 minutes as a warm up to whatever it is I am doing that day. This will usually wake me up and get me in the right mindset for my workout and not push the envelope or my heart too much.
There are many other types of training out there and it is best to consult your doctor and a trainer/coach to determine which is the best for you, but this guide will help you get a little more insight into what you might want to consider. You need to find something that will fit your goals and allow you to gain the most from you training. For me and my goal of the Ironman and my body fat percentage I will have a combination of many of these. If you are just starting out and want to lose some body fat the perhaps you focus on a weight training regimen and some interval training. It is good to have variety in your workout to ensure you are getting the most out of each workout and your body while all working towards the same goal.
Next week we will start talking a little about diet. I am not a dietician so I am only able to go off of personal experience, but I feel confident I can help point you in the right direction to get started! After we have hit all 3 points of the training plan (goal, training, and diet) I will script out a new training routine for myself for you to show you how I do this for myself and my clients. This will give me a day by day workout routine, based off of my schedule and goals. Things may also change for me between now and then due to a few experiences I am currently working on for future blog posts (early to mid November). Once I discover the results of these experiments I will gladly share them with all of you! As always, thank you for reading and feel free to comment on here, my social media (OCRLibrarian315) or send me an email at email@example.com and I will be sure to get back to you!
Everyone starts with the best of intentions when they start working out for the first time. Some are shooting for weight loss, some are trying to gain muscle, some are trying to run their first marathon, and so many other ideas. Then you see them walk into the gym and start going at a workout like their lives depend upon it. Great enthusiasm and energy, and you can see they really desire a change. This is so common in January when everyone is making a variety of resolutions, but once mid February hits the gyms are empty and people are no longer working out. Why? There are many different answers to this question, but in my opinion and personal experience it is lack of a real plan that matches a persons goals.
I cannot express how many times I have seen someone walk into the gym, obviously new, and do a routine that makes no logical sense. Hitting machines that target different muscle groups, using different rep and weight schemes, and having no consistency in rest time between sets. There is one guy that sticks out to me from a few years back. He would be at the gym every morning at 5am and he would bust his ass but in a way that made absolutely no sense to me. I had just begun learning about the different types of lifting and the benefits so I chalked it up to me not knowing everything and I watched. I watched for months as this guy would come in and basically play weight machine roulette every morning. Sure he would sweat, probably be sore, and lose a few pounds because this was a MUCH better alternative to sitting on the couch, but he could have done so much more!
After almost 3 months of daily training this guy, like so many others started to fade away until I no longer saw him at the gym. I do not know him nor did I ever talk to him so I can only speculate why he stopped, but I assume that it was due to a lack of results. Today I wish he trained at my gym because I would have gladly stopped and talked to him and tried to help him out, but I cannot. This is my inspiration for this article and I hope that it helps anyone out there either just getting started or who wants to change things up!
To find the right training program the first thing you need to do is know what you want out of it. Just like it is not a smart move for a mother of 4 to buy a 2 seat sports car for day to day use, it is not smart to go at a training program you found online without knowing for sure that it fits what you are trying to do! The easiest way to do this in all reality is to sit down with a personal trainer or a coach (it won’t take 3 weeks of reading my blog and can be done in an hour), but if you are like me you want to save a few bucks and so lets go over the basics.
Set a goal
This sounds easy, but a lot of times people fail because they set horrible goals. “Losing weight” is not a goal! “Getting bigger” also is a horrible example of a goal. Pretty much anything that can be summarized in a 2-4 word sentence should not be considered a goal if you are serious about changing yourself! I tell my middle school students and clients the same thing when it comes to goals, you have to create S.M.A.R.T. goals! For those that are new to this concept SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.
Without going into depth on each one, using this system is a great way to hold yourself accountable and hit your mark, or damn near close! I have set many SMART goals in my day, but the one I have always struggled to do correctly is the “Attainable” piece. I usually think I am able to do more than I can and I set this too high. For example, 2 years ago part of my SMART goal was to hit 10% body fat over the course of 4 months. I was at about 18-20%. This is not unimaginable to do, but with working a full time job and being a full time parent I found that it was kind of unattainable for me at that time. I failed at 12% body fat and was really upset with myself. This overshadowed the huge progress I did make and let me get in my head about what I was capable of. Avoid the same mistakes I made in this regard. Make your goal challenging, but doable at the same time.
It is essential to have a specific goal when you are trying to figure out your training program so that you know not only what types of workouts you need, but also what types of rep schemes and how heavy you need your weights to be. When my goal was to lose 25 pounds of body weight and to increase definition in my muscles (a very loose goal at the end there) I knew I needed to lift heavy weights for shorter reps and longer rests. ***Yes lifting weights is one of the best ways to lose weight… not cardio*** But now my goals have changed, so my training needs to change.
My current goal is to complete my first Ironman in the summer of 2021. This is something that I feel is attainable, has a time goal, is very specific, is definitely measureable, and is relevant seeing as I want to push myself to a new level in racing. Things need to change fairly drastically for me. I need to run longer, bike more, and swim. Two of these things I do not do as regularly as I would like to right now.
I also need to cut back on my weight lifting. Sure, big bulky muscles can look good, but they will just increase the weight I need to haul around with me for a very long event. At the same time however I need to ensure I am not loosing a substantial amount of muscle (some will be lost like with any cut) because I will need a lot of strength for this event.
I need to increase my ability for endurance rather than just strength. Now that I have my goal set in stone I need to start the plan. Over the next few weeks I will go over how I determine my training plan and what I my diet will look like, as well as discuss different ways to determine what your diet and training should look like. But before we get there, YOU NEED A GOAL! Take this week and put some serious thought into what you want your goal to be. Make sure it meets the SMART requirements. This will set you up for success next week when we discuss training methods and what each one will do. Until then go and be active in anyway you can and start your process, even if it is just a walk. A bad workout is always better than no workout at all!
As you can see from the picture, I have made quite a few changes over the past 6 years. This article is not to pat myself on the back, but rather lay out a basic frame work of what I did, how I did it, and how others can change their lives by changing their habits, because it really is that simple.
About 7 years ago I was in the worst shape of my life. At 6’2” tall I was weighing in at about 250lbs and 30% or more body fat percentage. I was smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day, eating McDonalds for breakfast, random fast food for lunch, and everything I could get my hands on for dinner. While writing this I started to think about my old breakfast, a number 10 (steak bagel sandwich) with the hash brown, 2 breakfast burritos and a Dr. Pepper. That is how I started every day!
Because I was an athlete in my younger years I was completely offended when a doctor (at my first yearly check up in YEARS) told me that I was obese. Other than that I seemed to be healthy, but that comment stung and stung hard. Not hard enough immediately however because I continued living the same way for a while longer. It wasn’t until I moved half way across New York that I started to actually change anything.
My move to Syracuse was what really got me going. A lot of things changed very rapidly. The place I lived (obviously), a new job, a falling out with an entire group of people that I came to love, and really a bit of boredom in my new home. I decided that I was going to start by quitting smoking.
I didn’t want to be that guy that quit smoking and gained a bunch of weight. The doctors horrible diagnosis of being obese still rang in my ears and I did not want to add to that problem so I also decided to take up running. I should point out that when I say running I really mean “running”. It took me over a month to be able to run 1 mile without stopping. I would run as far as I could then I would walk. I repeated this process every night until I hit my goal of running 1 mile, then I started pushing for 2. I had always wanted to run a 5k so that was what I thought my end goal was.
*** For those that are just starting out, a couch to 5k program is a great way to get started and ease you into things***
By the time I finally hit my 5k distance I had discovered a discouraging injury. I had planter factitious in my right heel and it quickly became debilitating. This was probably due to the fact that I ignored it for months because I did not want to stop my momentum. It didn’t matter too much at this point however, I had quit smoking and was down about 30lbs in a matter of months and was feeling good! I knew I couldn’t run for a while so I began to research how to properly weight lift.
Throughout my running and lifting journey, I was embarrassed. I thought that these trainers at gyms would look down on me, make fun of me behind my back, and that I would never be able to achieve the things they did. This hurt me more than I can describe. If I would have worked with someone at either of these points in my journey I probably would have avoided a few injuries and sped up the timeline a little, but with my loaner mentality coupled with my embarrassment I just went at it alone, but I read A LOT of books, articles, and blog posts to go at it the best that I could.
Once I found a weight lifting program that made sense to me I started going to the gym 5 or 6 days a week and really started pushing myself. I started modeling my weight lifting habits on those that were body builders, even though I really did not want to be a body builder. I learned what a compound lift was, what lifts hit each muscle group, and how to properly alternate the muscle groups throughout the week. After about a total of a year I was down about 40lbs total (210 range) and I was feeling more athletic than I had in years.
Now I would love to tell you that it was all training, and that is all I had to do to cut some weight, but that is not the case. I needed to change the way I was eating daily, which sounds obvious. I was fortunate that ANY change to my diet at the time was a healthier move, but again I started researching ways to go about this. Realistically I should have been seeking help for this, but this is all hindsight.
I went through a variety of different phases during this time. High protein and low carb, calorie counting, macro counting, fasting, and so many other variations that my head and body where spinning. Finally, through lots of reading and “experiments” with diets I learned that food is not bad! It is just the types of foods that can be bad and I needed to learn to stay away from them. Today, and for quite some time now, I am just mindful of what I eat. I eat a lot more natural foods, watch my portions and try not to obsess too much about them. I want to be comfortable and healthy, not obsessive. It has turned into a nice mix of foods that I enjoy and I do not hate myself completely when I do spoil myself with the occasional pizza.
It would be wonderful to say that this has been a consistent way of life for me over the past 6 years, but it has not. Life happens. When my daughter was born she became my focus, not so much working out. My healthy habits of good eating had an impact though and I did not revert to type. I would make my family healthy meals each night and even made my daughters baby food from the veggies I grew in my garden.
Now that my daughter is a little older I have been able to embrace training on a new level. Now it is not a struggle for me to reach a mile or two while running. I ran a 5k this morning before work and in a break from writing this. Weight lifting is something I truly enjoy doing and now I am setting goals for doing things that once seemed impossible for me to do!
Even more important is the impact my healthy lifestyle is having on my daughter. At 4 years old she has already ran her first 1 mile race (a 15:59 time that beat her fathers first 1 mile “run”) and we have plans on hiking her first mountain. She regularly lifts her toy weights while I lift my real ones and her favorite snacks are grapes, oranges, cucumbers and carrots. Because of the changes I have made, she stands less of a chance of falling into the hole I was in. The girl doesn’t even know what pop (or soda for all you non Buffalo folks out there) tastes like! It is truly a beautiful thing to see her grow up and not feel bad that I am teaching her unhealthy habits. Instead, she knows the basics of how to live a long healthy life and really has not seen a different option!
If you are just getting started like I did just a few short years ago I am writing this for you. I want you to know some of the mistakes I made and changes I needed to make in order to make this a permanent change and not just another yoyo style diet.
First, stop looking for the quick fix! Too many times I meet people that are starving themselves to drop 30lbs for a few months just to go back to the life they were living and gain it all back. Consistency is key and you need to change your daily habits to make permanent changes! Start small and progress so that you do not get defeated easily.
Do not be afraid of asking for help. Trust me, I understand what it means to be self-conscious about how you look. I spent YEARS away from the beach and the pool because I didn’t want to take my shirt off in public. This is actually something that is still nerve racking for me because of how embarrassed I was years ago. Now that I am a trainer and a coach I am able to understand where clients are coming from with this self-conscious feeling. I also know that there are many other trainers out there that have a similar experience. There is nothing to feel embarrassed about when it comes to changing your life! Reach out and people will be there to support you and hold you accountable. The more you surround yourself with healthy people, the more likely you are not to slip back into your previous state.
Lastly, when things do not go your way remember why you started or how far you have come. I am not where I want to be, but that is because I have pretty high expectations and goals today! It is easy to get down on myself and think I should just give up. Seeing the picture of me from 7 years ago was a huge kick in the ass to never quit! Be proud of what you have done and where you are at and strive to improve! If I can do this so can you.
I genuinely hope this article has helped at least 1 person, and I thank you all for reading. In the upcoming weeks I will cover some other topics that will include things like healthy eating, best ways to train, what 100 pushups a day can do, and so much more. If there is anything you want me to cover, you are curious about, or you have an interest in feel free to leave a comment below!