Work it out

I promised I’d try and provide more fitness-related advice and information on here, but it’s hard to give out workouts as I’m so aware that everyone has different needs and preferences. Instead, I’d love to help give people the tools they need to design their own workouts and programmes – and that’s not to say I’ll never give examples or more specific tips!

One thing I see a lot is people doing too much of a good thing. You know the saying on too much of a good thing… Most general life advice applies in the gym too. It’s great if you’ve found a sport or style that you enjoy, but it’s only going to come right back and bite you in the backside if you don’t give yourself some variety. I know – I’ve been there.

So this post is aimed at those who are already in the gym, training for overall health or athletic performance (as opposed to aesthetics, or rehab overseen by a professional) who already have their sessions planned, but who maybe find they have plateaued or – worse – are finding that injuries and niggles keep cropping up.

In the same way that a healthy diet is generally built according to macronutrients whilst ensuring variety, a good workout routine is comprised of a number of components aimed at developing certain types of fitness. And in the same way that in a healthy, balanced diet, the micronutrients tend to take care of themselves, with a diverse yet well-planned training regime, all the different muscles and energy systems should develop to similar standards.

I like to divide the components as follows:

  • basic cardiovascular fitness; that is, being able to be active for a reasonable amount of time at a reasonable pace,
  • basic strength; developing or maintaining muscle mass so that any imbalances created by repetitive sport-specific movements or lifestyle (e.g. sitting hunched at a desk, carrying a handbag…) are corrected,
  • explosive strength and power; high-intensity training such as olympic lifting, plyometrics, or intervals on cardiovascular equipment,
  • technique; drilling and working on sports-specific movements, or performing more technical exercises such as balance or mobility work,
  • recovery

Apart from recovery, none of these need a session to themselves exclusively, nor do all of them need to be worked in one session. In fact, by combining two or more components in various orders, you can achieve even greater variety and challenge your body in different ways. I know it’s not ideal to do any strength training after cardiovascular work, as the fatigue prevents you from lifting the maximal amounts needed to push your strength boundaries, but if it’s overall fitness you’re looking for in the long term then I think it’s highly beneficial to turn things upside down and back to front every once in a while.

So how could you build your weekly routine along these principles? Obviously this will vary from person to person according to time, fitness level, goals, but say you train 4 times a week for general fitness and strength, you could do:

Monday – basic strength + basic cardio

e.g. upper body weights circuit (12-10-8 chest press, bent-over row, overhead press, upright row, lateral raise, tricep pushdown), ab circuit (3 x 20 full crunch, Russian twist, toe touch, speed abs), 20mins cross-trainer at a steady pace

Tuesday – explosive

e.g. dynamic stretching, 4 x 6 walk-outs, 4 x 6 drop squat to isometric hold, 4 x 6 drop squat to rebound, 10 descending sets of burpees from 10 reps down to 1 for time (with as much recovery), 3km best effort on stationary bike

Wednesday – recovery

Thursday – technique + basic cardio

e.g. single-leg squats, bosu squats, hip stability work, foot strength work, 20mins running at steady pace or skipping rope

Saturday – basic strength

e.g. 4 x 8 weighted back squat, leg press, lying hamstring curl, incline press, seated row, bicep curl, 3 x 15 unweighted back extensions, 1 set of press-ups to failure

Sunday – recovery

I know some of you may not be familiar with some of the exercises I’ve listed, or not know them under the names I’ve given them, but please don’t see this example week as a prescription for your own workout. If you are training on your own, please stick to the exercises you know, and that you are confident with. My point is simply that you don’t need to do everything every single time (apart from a warm-up and a cool-down!).

I suppose a good way to sum this post up would be to remember to see the whole wood as well as the trees (or the gym as well as the treadmill, or the weights rack as well as the dumbbells…). You might feel that all you need to do at the moment is high-intensity intervals or technical drills (guilty), or that you want to get bigger and stronger, but those are just a fraction of the bigger picture. If you develop your body and your abilities holistically with a long-term plan in mind, you’re far more likely to achieve efficient fitness (along with an aesthetically popular physique, though I don’t want to open that door!) whilst staying healthy and injury-free and without getting bored or demoralised. Remember that your body is an extremely advanced (and occasionally pricey!) piece of kit, and all the pieces need to be well-oiled and regularly maintained.

So with that said, get your sensible plan together and then go play!