Have you thought about starting a workout routine, or about improving your health, and there is just SO much information out there that it overwhelms you and gives you anxiety? Have you wondered which program is right for you? Should you do all cardio. should you just change your diet, should you follow an IG person you admire, should you do only strength training? The answer is Yes and No. (Right, I know, way to be fucking vague right? Hold your horses).
First step, figure out your general goals. In one sentence, what do you want to accomplish? Do you want to be healthier overall? Do you want to look better? Lose weight? Increase stamina (giggity)? Have a performance goal? Be more flexible? Be stronger? Do you want it ALL? well don't worry folks! You CAN have it all! (picture yelling this out in a loud, bad infomercial voice).
Second, what are your current fitness levels? On a scale of WoW playing, mom's basement, couch potato (no judgement! I would if I could, trust) to Obstacle Course Racing, Parkour Guru, where do you lie? You never want to start a crazy fitness program if you have no background in fitness. That leads to injuries, overtraining, cockyness and eventual discouragement. Plus, a lot of those programs have no method of progression, so you get to one point and stay there constantly. But on the flip side you don't want to stay in your comfort zone forever either. In order to progress, you have to step outside that box and overload yourself to some degree. The best way to do this is by educating yourself on how to do that, and not relying 100% on a program to do that for you.
I like to think of exercise, and personal improvement, like stats in a RPG game - you build characters who have attributes. The physical ones include strength, endurance, agility, stamina, etc. So a great fitness program aiming at making you perform better will touch on all of those attributes.
I am developing a series of general steps to take to help you reach your goals, whatever they may be! First in this series is, what I think is one of the most important parts of improving health, and that is STRENGTH TRAINING.
Read on for proper ways to start and progress your strength training program.....
SERIES ONE: STRENGTH TRAINING
Strength training, resistance training, weight lifting, are just a few terms that general population use for getting stronger. Here in the Nerd World I like to think of it as becoming your strongest self, Hulking up, being a badass, or becoming strong like your favorite superheros. Strength training is imperative to a fitness program. Strength allows to lift heavy things, including yourself, with more efficiency. Superheros need strength. You can't just do "cardio" and expect to make huge differences in your physique. You need to build your muscles. Benefits of strength training include:
- Increased Muscle Mass (duh) - but that also means you are stronger. You can do more
- Easier Daily Activities - things like bringing in groceries in one trip rather than making 3, playing with kids and grand kids, and impressing people with you God-Like strength....just sayin'
- Increased Metabolism - muscle requires more energy than fat, meaning you burn more if you have more. The take away - you can eat more without gaining weight. SCORE
- Increased Bone Mineral Density - strong bones, which leads to reduced instances of osteoporosis and bone breaking.
- Decreased Pain levels - especially pain from chronic stationary lifestyle (sitting all day). There is more blood flow to muscles than fat, so you don't hurt as much.
- Stronger Joints - less risk of pain and injury.
- Reduced Body fat = better heart health, better stamina, greater ability to do things longer.
- Fights Depression - not just based on how you look, but hormones come into play with weight training, which releases endorphins.
- Improves Balance - better muscular control, and again, leads to decreased risk of injury.
- You'll look better - and I saved this for last, because it should NOT be the top priority. Everything else above this should be.
BUILDING YOUR BASE (APPRENTICE PHASE)
You have to build a good base before you start adding weights or doing hardcore strength training. When building a house you don't build the walls and windows, then try to build the frame, do you? Let me think of a more applicable analogy...You know when you get a power level boost in a video game, like WoW, and you start a new character at like, level 80 or 100? You have all these new skills and you feel lost? Then you end up aggroing the boss and killing the whole raid because you didn't start at the beginning and learn your skills? Yea, its kind of like that. Go through the steps.
You have to have proper foundation movements, which means you need to know how to squat, push, pull, hinge, lunge and rotate properly, activating the right muscle groups in the proper order. Also important is appropriate mobility and core strength. Learn how to hold a plank, or open your hips enough to do a squat with your thighs parallel to the ground (or lower!). Once you have the movements, you can start to develop baseline strength. Stick to those basic movements, and add a little weight.
In this Apprentice Level, you are not only building your muscles, but you are also strengthening your ligaments and tendons, connective tissue. The most debilitating injuries happen to ligaments and tendons when they are put under too much stress to quickly. That connective tissue takes longer to strengthen than muscles, so even though you may feel strong enough to start lifting a crazy amount of weight,take it slow.
So what does this type of workout look like? It could look like a typical circuit station at a gym, or it could be an at-home circuit with light dumbbells, or even body weight. Weight should be body weight to light weight. Rep ranges should be 15-20, and number of sets should be about 2-3. Rest periods should stick to about 30 seconds, its not that intense so you don't need to rest much. Frequency should be at least 3 days, up to 5 days per week. Don't get stuck though! Initially the body develops quickly and neuromuscular strength increases a lot in the first few weeks. Aim to increase weight lifted by 5-10% per week if you can do 15 reps relatively easily. If you struggle to get 15 reps, stick with that weight for another week. This phase usually lasts 4 to 6 weeks.
Quick note: So many people get stuck in this phase. They develop to a point, and get comfortable and stay there. Remember, nothing progresses in your comfort zone! Get out of it! And move onto the next phase of strength training!
STRENGTH AND BUILDING MUSCLE (JOURNEYMAN PHASE)
You have built your base, your frame for your house, your awesome video gamer character, and now you are ready to see what kind of stuff you can really do! The strength phase, or journeyman phase as we are calling it, is a great place to start playing with how much you can lift, building great muscle, and starting to develop athleticism.
Here is when you will start breaking training down into body parts and adding weight. You will do more exercises per body part, because they will be properly prepared to take more load. Your training splits might looks like push/pull/legs or chest/shoulders/back/legs etc. You can put a lot more focus on each body part, but do not neglect any! (ehem, leg day). Neglecting body parts will lead to muscular imbalances that can lead to injuries. Even if you have no interest in having nice, strong, shapely legs, and would rather have a ginormous upper body with
chicken legs, don't neglect them. Imbalances suck. It's like having an awesome ranged DPS character trying to fight melee, it doesn't work and it brings everyone else down (everyone else being your muscles, if that wasn't clear. Bear with me on the analogies).
This type of strength training will go a bit heavier, usually in the 8-12 rep range, 3-4 sets, with a frequency of 4-5 days per week. Rest periods are a little longer becuase the exercise is a bit more intense, somewhere between 45 and 60 seconds for optimal recovery. This phase is entered at about 4 to 8 weeks of training. Remember, don't get stuck in one phase! Progress forward, or even take it back! Its important to reinforce phase one every now and then!
MAXIMUM STRENGTH AND POWER PHASE
You have build your base, you have developed a great character and done all the raids and dungeons. But now its time to go to Mythic Levels of Fitness.
Challenge yourself by now increasing your weights so that you are maxing out at 3-6 reps, in about 3-6 sets. This type of training is very intense, and requires a lot of recovery. You are no longer lifting for the sake of lifting. Rather, you are lifting to become a machine, a warrior. You need optimal recovery after each set to be able to perform the same, if not better next set. Your rest time should take about 2 to 3 minutes. People generally enter this phase of strength training between weeks 8 and 12 of training.
As with all other phases, jump around a bit once you have reached this phase. Deload yourself every few weeks so you don't over-train, take it back to Journeyman phase, or even Apprentice phase for a week or two. Once you have given your muscles a chance to actively rest and recover, you will find you will be able to lift even more.
Now I mentioned Power - Power is the ability to move a very heavy weight over a short amount of time, and this generally refers to fast, heavy movements involved with Olympic Lifting. But it can also refer to fast movements with a lighter weight, like plyometric (jumping) exercises, medicine ball throwing, or other very ballistic exercises. There are some exceptions to the phases rule, meaning you don't always have to wait 8-12 weeks of strength training before starting these types of fast, ballistic movements, but you never just want to jump right into these exercises initially. You always need to establish your baseline strength and quality of movement.
For More Reading….
If you like video games and fitness, click below for the link to the FALLOUT FITNESS CHALLENGE - Level 1. This is meant for beginning exercisers and you can modify the exercises as you need to make them more applicable to whatever phase of training you are in. Play game, work out, have fun!
Future posts in this series include ENDURANCE training, and AGILITY training. You need them all to be your best RPG character. For more personalized training, use the contact form that the bottom of the page to contact me. I have a few limited spaces open for online training, to get your own personalized program written for you each week.