What’s your fitness goal? Fitness First’s National Fitness Manager, Michael Cunico, provides an insider’s perspective on how to train to get the results you want.
Depending on what you want to achieve at the gym, there are some decisions to make. Is annihilating yourself for an hour daily on the treadmill the path to a lean physique? Do you get muscular definition by chasing lifting records? Should you avoid all strength training if aerobic fitness is your goal?
In an industry that likes to talk in absolutes, I am here to tell you that there’s a lot of grey when it comes to training to achieve a goal. Here are some general tips to consider for your fitness journey.
CONSIDER RESISTANCE TRAINING
Fat loss is the most common goal for people starting an exercise program. Your aim is to reduce bodyweight while holding on to your lean muscle tissue. With fat loss, it really comes down to creating an environment in which you create a calorie deficit — you burn more energy than you consume. You can create this by gradually reducing calorie consumption and/or by gradually increasing energy expenditure.
Resistance training should be part of your plan so your weight loss doesn’t come from loss of muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is expensive to fuel, so maintaining it is a great way to burn more energy.
USE PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
Increasing muscle definition is fairly straightforward, but it’s not easy. Use progressive overloading, or consistently increase the demands on the muscle. As a training stimulus, such as load, gradually becomes more difficult, the body is forced to build muscle to deal with the added stress.
In practice, if in your first session in the gym you’re doing 50kg ten times in one set, then the next session you should increase a variable so it’s a little more challenging. This is most commonly done by increasing the load lifted, so increase the load to 52.5kg for ten repetitions. Other forms of overload include more repetitions using the same load or performing more sets.
To improve your strength, you need to use the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to an Imposed Demand. In practice, the SAID principle says that if you want to improve something, specifically practice for it.
Improving strength requires you to lift progressively heavier weights — there is really no other alternative. Training this way will have your nervous system communicating better with your muscular system. Ensure you have adequate range of motion for the movements you’re looking to perform, and that you have a history of resistance training. Heavy strength training is not for beginners.
YOU NEED PATIENCE
In my years of experience, improving flexibility and mobility requires the most patience of all training goals. Movement restrictions that affect many of us may have resulted from sitting at work for hours on end, day after day. Stretching for five minutes after your workout isn’t futile, but it also can’t reverse 40 hours of sitting each week.
A journey for flexibility requires commitment to quality movement and being aware of when we fall into a lazy position. Sitting or standing correctly is a great start, and performing strength training movements through a complete range of motion is critical. The movement practice should be part of your training plan, because the best-intentioned stretch post- workout is rarely of the quality needed to improve your mobility.
All the various forms of yoga are great places to start. Find an instructor that has a style that resonates with you and your ability level.
ADJUST YOUR INTERVALS
Improving your aerobic capacity is improving your body’s ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles. As it improves, heart rate is used to measure and manage training intensity, with other variables adjusted to suit your desired training outcome.
This may be as simple as manipulating work and rest ratios. For beginners, a 1:4 ratio may mean a one-minute jog followed by a four-minute brisk walk for five sets. In the second week you can add either an additional set or change the work to rest ratio to 2:3, so you would complete a two-minute jog followed by a three-minute brisk walk.
The SAID principle is at play here too, with the equipment and training mode you choose to use having a big impact on your end results.