It can be difficult to know how much exercise to do to get the results you want; here’s what we do know for sure: working out too hard too often, or not exercising hard enough or that frequently, will NOT lead to the changes you want. Getting results from your workout program first requires determining the proper amount of exercise for you and your fitness needs. How can you do that? Keep reading to find out…
First, here are a few questions to ask yourself about your workouts:
How long have you been following the same exercise program? By that I mean how long have you been taking the same classes, doing the same exercises, using the same equipment or running the same route and distance? When doing strength exercises how long have you been using the same amount of weight?
Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results (not the best name for an exercise program, but that’s another topic for another day). Doing the same workouts repeatedly, not changing the type of exercises or not adjusting the intensity (level of difficulty) are some of the most common mistakes that could be sabotaging your workout program.
When it comes to exercise common mistakes include following the same program for too long, using weights that are too heavy or too light, doing exercises that are too easy, doing really hard exercise and not allowing enough rest afterwards or changing workout programs too often. Here lies a fundamental paradox of exercise: we need to follow a workout plan long enough so that it creates the desired physiological changes to the body, yet if the same program is followed for too long the body will completely adapt and will stop making the desired changes (commonly called reaching a plateau).
Here are 7 things you should know about how exercise affects your body so that you can develop an exercise program that is just right for your needs.
- Exercise is a function of movement, and movement is a skill that must be developed over time; therefore changing exercises with every workout does not allow your body to learn the movements of the exercises you’re doing. In order for muscles to adapt to an exercise program there must be some consistency for a period of time. Thanks to the work of an endocrinologist named Hans Selye we know that when a new stressor (exercise) is first introduced the body will experience a ‘shock phase’ that can last a few week before going through an adaptation phase where the tissues of the body change in response to the exercise. After a period of eight-to-fourteen weeks (every person is different) the body has experienced the adaptations and can hit the dreaded plateau where no more changes will be made.
- Periodization is the term used by us exercise geeks to describe how to alternate different phases (periods) of exercise based on volume, intensity and movement complexity. The greatest benefit of periodization is that it uses rest as a means of allowing for adaptation to the physically demanding stresses of training. Wait, rest? Many die-hard exercise enthusiasts consider that a four-letter word, but here’s a little secret: Your body makes changes in the time after the workout, not during it. Exercising too hard for too often will not give your body the time it needs to make the changes you desire. Allowing your body to rest and properly recover so that it adapts to the exercises you do doesn’t mean staying at home binging on Netflix, instead it means alternating between hard, moderate and easy workouts. Specifically, it means structuring your workouts so that you consistently adjust for training complexity – the level of difficulty of the exercises, intensity – the amount of weight or the level of exertion and volume – the total amount of exercise performed in a workout which is a product of the intensity and number of reps and sets completed.
- Resistance training causes two specific types of stress on muscle tissue: metabolic and mechanical, both of which can provide the necessary stimulus for muscle growth. However, the research is undecided on which type of stress provides the greater benefit. A properly periodized program can alternate between phases of heavy weight for low reps to create mechanical stress and phases of light-to-moderate weight for high reps to induce metabolic stress.
- The purpose of periodization is to manage the amount physical stress applied to the body; when training intensity is low – i.e., doing bodyweight exercises, the volume in terms of reps and sets can be high. As the intensity becomes more challenging by using heavier weights the volume can be reduced so you’re doing fewer reps or sets. The goal of periodization is to manipulate the training stimulus to focus on either creating metabolic fatigue, mechanical overload or a combination of the two in order to allow optimal adaptations over an extended length of time.
- The actual exercises you do in your workout should remain consistent to allow for efficient learning, however the amount of weight used, number of reps performed, length of rest after a set and the number of sets completed should all be adjusted in a progressively challenging manner. It is well established that physical adaptations to exercise, including muscle growth and definition, depend on the application of these variables. By systematically changing them you’re applying different stimuli to the body which is essential for creating the changes you want.
- In a Linear Periodization scheme volume, intensity and movement complexity are inversely related; over the course of training cycle as the intensity of the or the complexity of movement gradually increase, the volume should decrease. A Linear program can be organized into various components based on length of time for each training phase and should include occasional periods of off-loading or active rest for optimal adaptation to the training stimulus. In a Linear periodization program the segments of time can be organized into short microcycles of one-to-two weeks, intermediate mesocycles which include a block of microcycles and long-term macrocycles that work towards a specific goal. For example: you have a goal of looking great for a vacation that is twelve weeks away – that is the macro cycle. You can organize your workout into 3 periods of 4-week mesocycles. In each 4 week mesocycle you can do 2 2-week microcycles. Mesocycle 1 (month 1): 2 weeks of 3 sets of each exercise for 8 reps, 2 weeks of 4 sets each exercise for 8 reps. Mesocycle 2 (month 2): 2 weeks of 3 sets of 12 reps, 2 weeks of 4 sets of 12 reps. Mesocycle 3 (month 3): 2 weeks of 5 sets of 12 reps, 2 weeks of drop sets.
- The Non-Linear model organizes adjustments to the acute variables on either a week-to-week or a training-session-to-training-session basis. Non-Linear models apply varying levels of training stress which can induce metabolic challenges while allowing for rapid neuro-endocrine adaptations. Changing the applied demands of training on a more frequent basis can high intensity training for one or two sessions per week while allowing for lower intensity workouts on the other days of the week which can reduce the risk of overtraining for clients who feel they must exercise everyday. For a while I’ve been using a non-linear model of a heavy strength or power workout followed by a bodyweight workout followed by an energy system workout – if I go hard on day 3 I take a rest day, if I go easy on day 3 I go right back to the strength or power workout. This model yields 2-3 hard workouts a week and 2-3 moderate workouts which is perfect for maintaining my current fitness level.
Non-Linear models allow for more frequent variations so they may be better for your needs. The idea is to alternate between easy and hard workouts so that you allow for proper rest and do not do too much damage to your body. Linear models are better if you are working towards a specific goal with a hard deadline, you will want to gradually increase training intensity to allow proper adaptations to the training stimulus. Whichever model you choose make sure to apply the appropriate recovery strategies so you get the required rest after each workout.
Most professional and elite athletes follow one of these periodization models, if periodization works for a person who makes a lot of money playing a game, it will work for your needs. The main two pitfalls to avoid are doing too much work which could lead to overtraining or not working hard enough to make the desired changes to your body. Just like Goldilocks had to try all three bowls of porridge to find the one that was just right for her, you will need to try a few different variations to identify the best application of periodization for your needs.
Here is a sample of a training program that I’m currently following:
Kettlebell RDLs: 3 sets x 12 reps
One arm kettlebell overhead presses: 3 x 8
Kettlebell clean and presses: 5sets x 6reps, rest 1 min. after both arms
Kettlebell swing snatches: 4 x 5
Kettlebell swings: 4 x 12-15
Kettlebell goblet squats: 3 x 12
Pull-ups: to fatigue
High planks: 45 sec. x 3
Side planks: 45 sec. x 3
1 leg hip bridges: 3 x 10
Medicine ball lifts: 4 x 12
Medicine ball chops: 4 x 12
Medicine ball transverse lunge to lift: 3 x 10
Single leg squats: 3 x 12
2 hand-cable press: 3 x 12
Mountain bike ride, or 15 min of steady state on a rowing ergometer and 15 minutes of steady state on a Stairmaster Airfit bike
1 full rest day per week (okay, not total rest, I do go and play with my kids at the playground)