Prior to delving into the details of program design, you first must understand the basics of muscle tissue and how exercise can affect it.
Our bodies contain around a quarter billion muscle fibers which can be divided into Type 1 (slow twitch), and Type 2 (fast twitch). Slow twitch fibers are endurance oriented, where fast twitch are strength oriented and have the most growth potential. We are all born with our lifelong ratio of type 1 and type 2 fibers with the ratios being different in each person.
The growth of the muscle is called hypertrophy. Muscles grow in response to specific stimulus, such as work performed by the muscles (lifting weight or other resistance), infusion of testosterone, and increasing protein with overall calories, or combination of several stimuli.
All muscle fibers are the same structurally. Each is a bundle of tiny protein strands called myofibrils. Within each myofibril are even smaller protein filaments called actin and myosin. Each myosin filament is surrounded by six actin filaments. A muscle contracts when structures on the myosin filaments called cross bridges grab a hold of the actin filaments and pull. This action shortens the muscle. Intense training increases both the number of myofibrils and the number of myosin and actin filaments within each myofibril. Long story short, lifting weights will make muscle fibers bigger. Lifting them properly and consistently over a long period of time, the muscles will grow enough to be noticeable.
Even with all the hard work, honest effort, and a perfectly clean diet there is one thing that you can’t change no matter how hard you try. Genetics play a huge factor in your body building efforts. Some people have great genetics and others have genetic flaws that just won’t change. There are three factors that are decided at birth.
First of all, your maximum number of muscle fibers is determined by genetics. When you are born, you already possess the maximum number of muscle fibers that you will have throughout life. The muscle fibers can be made larger through exercise, as well as smaller through lack of exercise, but it is generally believed they cannot increase in number. Although some scientists believe that the number can increase due to a process called hyperplasia, this is still just a theory.
Also determined at birth is the number of slow twitch and fast twitch fibers that your muscles contain. It is generally believed that slow twitch fibers cannot become fast twitch and vice verse. You’re born with a predisposition to endurance or strength depending on your muscle fiber breakdown.
The shape of your muscles is also genetic. Although you can increase the size of your muscles the shape is already determined and will not change, contrary to what many would like you to believe.
Some people are genetically blessed and are ideally suited for bodybuilding while others may be suited for marathon running, power lifting or gymnastics. If you are one of the lucky ones and you were born with the genetics that suit your sport of choice, congratulations. If not, you’ll have to work a little harder, but you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of the challenge.
Supplements tend to be vastly overused and overrated. There are no magic potions or pills and supplements most definitely cannot compensate for lack of training or imperfect diet. It is certainly possible to reach your goals without the use of any supplements. A high-quality protein powder works great as a convenient source of protein, but it is not a prerequisite to success.
A quality multivitamin is a good idea. Fish oil taken in pill or liquid form is always worth its weight due to the immense health benefits of essential fats.
Other than protein powder, multivitamins and fish oils, you can avoid the extra financial expense of unnecessary supplements.
The best program design includes a variety of compound and isolation exercises done in different orders throughout the workout. Each exercise offers its own benefit and serves a purpose. Proper form and good technique are mandatory to success, so choose appropriate exercises to suit your workout and execute them with focus and attention.
A push day will consist of training the chest, shoulders and triceps while a pull day involves the back and biceps. Legs are done on a separate day.
The following list provides some of the best exercises to choose when planning your workout.
T bar rows
Flat bench press
Incline bench press
Reverse hyper extension
Stiff dead lift
Glute ham raise
One arm DB press
Rear delt raise
Close grip bench press
Each exercise will consist of three to five sets depending on where it falls in the workout along with how much volume the athlete can tolerate. Please note that warm-up sets are not included in that number. Each workout should be comprised of 18 to 30 sets in total. This range will depend on muscle groups being trained and the ability of the athlete to sustain intensity.
Repetitions within a set will range from five to 20 and will be switched from workout to workout and sometimes within the same training session. Lower reps are usually intended to build strength and higher reps are normally used to sustain endurance. In the context of bodybuilding, however, these rules become irrelevant. Every rep and every set is used to stimulate the muscle and the several different muscle fibers. Strength and endurance are not considerations. It is a myth that higher reps need to be utilized to achieve definition.
Intensity in a workout is an immensely important factor contributing to the success or failure of a well-designed program. Looking around at the gym you’ll notice the majority of people lifting weights that are too light, talking excessively, taking long rest breaks or maybe just spending all their time chatting up the opposite sex. If you aren’t putting enough effort into your training, you may as well be one of them. Even the best designed program won’t get you the results you want if the appropriate amount of intensity is not applied.
Intensity is defined by dictionary.com as “great energy, strength, concentration, vehemence as of activity, thought, or feeling.”
Resting too long between sets is another common error affecting intensity. There are a number of ways to increase the intensity in your workout. You could do more work in the same amount of time. Perhaps you get in three extra sets in the same 60 minute workout. You could do the same amount of work in less time. Take your 60 minute routine and instead get the same amount of sets and reps done in 50 minutes. You could increase your workout on both ends. Add more sets, reps and minutes, while keeping in mind that highly intense exercise cannot be done for an overly long period of time. Intensity tends to drop off noticeably after an hour.
So how do you know when you’re working hard enough? If you find yourself experiencing oxygen debt between sets in your workout you can be assured that you are working at an appropriate level of intensity. Oxygen debt is a physiological state produced by exercise in which the lungs cannot supply all the oxygen required by the muscles. You will be breathing heavily and not able to carry on a conversation after each set. As the workout progresses, you may need to sit down during rest periods. You will be sweating quite heavily very early in the workout. Take long enough rest breaks in order to catch your breath, but start your next set before full recovery. If your breathing and heart rate have returned to normal you have waited too long. The bottom line is that nothing good comes without hard work. The more effort you put in, the greater the returns are.
So why is intensity so important? One of the best ways to assist in the release and reception of hormones is through highly intense exercise. Studies have shown that exercise actually increases the amount of circulating hormones in our bodies as well as strengthening the receptor sites on the target cell. Testosterone is positively affected by intense exercise. An increase in testosterone leads to benefits such as an increased basal metabolic rate, decreased body fat and improved muscle volume, tone and strength. Testosterone tends to be maximized after 45 minutes of intense resistance training. The most substantial increase in testosterone is generated through training the larger muscle groups such as the legs, back and chest.
Along with testosterone, growth hormone is also increased by the same type of high-intensity exercise. Growth hormone helps to stimulate protein synthesis as well as strengthening bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. An increase in growth hormone aids in the mobilization of body fat so that it can be burned for energy.
So you can see that your workout needs to be more than just going through the motions in order to get the results you’re after. Rewards come to those who work for it.
Cardiovascular training serves a great number of purposes, and can be beneficial to your general health as well as to keeping weight under control. A regular routine of cardio has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, protect against some cancers and helps to control diabetes just to name a few.
Cardiovascular training can be defined as an effort that requires an enhanced flow of oxygen to supply energy. Oxygen spills from the lungs into your blood. Your heart pumps it back to the muscles. There it is used to break down carbohydrate, fat and protein which are used to supply the energy required by the muscles. Whether you are burning predominantly carbohydrate for fat during cardio training is irrelevant, contrary to the much talked about fat burning zone. The harder you are working, the more calories are being used. More calories burned equals more body fat lost. Although some would have you believe that you need to be working in a specific, and moderate heart rate zone to burn fat, this is largely over analyzing a pretty simple process. If your heart is pounding, your breath is labored to the point of not being able to carry on a normal conversation and you are sweating, rest assured you are working at the appropriate level. I have yet to see someone working too hard. Too long, yes, but too hard, no. If you think you may not be working hard enough, you likely are right.
When beginning a cardio training program and intensity guide can be helpful. To get an idea, subtract your age from the number 220 and multiply that by 0.60. The number you see would be the lowest your heart rate should be per minute during your workout. For example, let’s say you are 30 years old. 220 -30 = 180. 180 x .6 = 108 BPM. If your heart rate is 108 or above, you are working at a minimum of 60% of your maximum heart rate.
Interval cardio training is an extremely efficient fat burning workout. As the name implies, the effort is switched from a much labored intensity, to a recovery pace and back again in a number of intervals. During an interval workout your heart rate will rise and fall to the extremes of both ends.
Depending on the amount of body fat you need to shed, cardio should be done three to six times per week anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes. Typically the week will consist of a 50-50 split between intervals and steady-state although this is not set in stone and again is dependent upon the individual. There will also be times when intervals and steady-state are done in the same workout. For example you might start with 15 to 20 minutes of sprinting intervals followed by 20 minutes of a steady-state incline walk.
The best time to do cardio is whenever your schedule allows you to commit to it during your day. The notion that cardio must be done first thing in the morning on an empty stomach in order to reap the full benefits is misleading. This myth was brought about the fact that you burn a higher percentage of fat when exercising in a fasted state at a lower intensity, (60 to 70% of max heart rate). While it is true that a higher percentage of fat is used for fuel, the fact remains that the total amount of calories burned is lower than when working at a higher intensity. In fact, in terms of fat, sleeping actually burns the highest percentage out of nearly any activity, however, the total calorie burn is very low. The bottom line is that it is more important that your cardio gets done as opposed to when it gets done, whether it’s at 6 a.m. or 5 p.m. after work or maybe even on your lunch break.
If your schedule allows, it is optimal to do your weight training and cardio at separate times of the day, perhaps four to six hours apart. This allows you to focus entirely on the task at hand. Realistically, this may not be an option for the average person with a full-time job and family life. If you must do everything within the same block of time, be sure to do the weight training first. If you fatigue your muscles with an intense bout of cardio, and then attempt to lift weights, your weight training will suffer due to loss of coordination, lack of focus, and fatigue. Steady-state cardio can be done separate from the weights or immediately following. When it comes to interval training however, if at all possible it should be done a few hours outside of the weights.
Types of cardio
Steady-state cardio refers to working at a pace which can be maintained for an extended period of time. It can be done in the gym on a treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc. or if weather permits, it can be done outside at a track or park. Whichever you choose, variation must be part of it. With steady-state cardio, your body adapts and becomes efficient at it quite quickly. Mix it up by making small changes in speed, conditions and equipment or adding incline and resistance, and give your body a reason to continue working hard. Walking up a 3% grade can feel quite different compared to walking the stairs at a football stadium. One is not necessarily better, just different.
Interval training involves alternating high-intensity exercise with active recovery periods. An example would be sprinting in an all out effort for 100 m followed by a recovery walk for 400 m. Intervals can be done on any machine that steady-state is done on as well as outside. You can also use a skipping rope, punching bag or body weight exercise and various other alternatives that require great effort interspersed with rest periods. Your imagination is your only limit. On the machines, timed intervals are easy to use while outside workouts are usually better suited to distance measurements.
Both steady-state and intervals should follow the same form of progression. Start with an adequate warm-up to get your body prepared. After increasing the intensity and completing the meat of your cardio, follow it with the cool down, allowing your heart rate to gradually return to normal. Whatever the workout is, be sure to work at the highest possible intensity. Obviously, you will be able to work harder and faster during the intervals compared to steady state, but steady-state should still be done as intensely as possible for the entire time required. Form should not be compromised for added intensity. For example, sprinting with poor form will rapidly lead to injury. It is much preferable to work a little slower, if necessary, to maintain proper form. This is why in both steady-state and interval training, intensity is ramped up for a certain allotment of time and then brought back down. Fatigue leads to poor form, which in turn leads to injury.
Gaging calorie burn and exertion
Most exercise prescriptions used heart rate as in intensity Gage in the form of beats per minute. I prefer to use the rate of perceived exertion or ‘RPE’. This is a scale that runs from zero to 10 with zero representing no effort being exerted and 10 representing maximum effort. Your warm-up should be done at a rating of three to four of which would be considered low to moderate effort. The working portion of steady-state should be at five or six. Longer intervals, 100m sprints for example would be seven to eight while shorter intervals, (50 m sprints) should be done at a nine or 10. This is a guide that adapts as the workout progresses. A 7 or eight effort on your first interval work set will be faster than a seven or eight on your last, yet you will be expending the same effort.
Which is better?
There are people on both sides of the fence when it comes to which form of cardio is better for fat loss. Some will say intervals, some will argue for steady-state. I find that as usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Both methods have their pros and cons. On the interval training side, you have the benefit of EP OC or excess post exercise oxygen consumption. EP OC is a measurably increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity. The extra oxygen is used in the processes that restore the body to arresting state and adapted to the exercise just performed. This keeps the metabolism elevated even after exercise has ceased. Some studies have shown an increased calorie burn for up to 38 hours. Although there is evidence that EP OC occurs after steady-state training as well, the effect is greater with high-intensity intervals. The drawback to using so much intensity is how demanding it is, as it can be difficult to commit to when following a program of reduced calories and high-volume weight training.
Steady-state cardio has the advantage of being a little easier on the body. The benefit of including both methods is that it allows you to take advantage of EP OC on some days, and yet still burn extra calories on steady-state days without being yourself into the ground.
Whatever your workout consists of just remember to put all you got into every single one. Don’t rely too much on calorie counters and heart rate monitors as they can often be inaccurate and misleading.
The best way to Gage your workout is by how you feel. Do you feel like you could go a little harder? Then do it. Full efforts will reap full benefits.