Saturday, May 29, 2010

How to Workout for the Rest of Your (Longer) Life: Apply Strategic Thinking!

How do you keep up your workout routine over years and years when it is so easy to quit?

There are four basic types of people who work out at my gym:
  1. The BIG Start, Never-to-Returners (70%)
    • "I gotta lose weight/get in shape/be buff/etc.  I'm gonna WORK IT!"  Lots of sweat, near-torture, major pain follows, they never come back and will forever say they hate working out.
  2. The No Sweat, No Results-ers (15%)
    • "I go to the gym EVERY DAY!"  Yeah, but they never sweat, and after a year their asses are the same size, they are still out of breath walking up stairs, wondering why.
  3. The Obsessives (5%)
    • "Girls/guys like big muscles!"  Yes, girls and guys like YOU like big muscles -- the other 95% of the population thinks you look like an insecure oddball who has WAY too much time to spend at the gym.  
  4. The Healthies (10%)
    • Pop in a few times a week and look toned and slim/trim, actually seem to enjoy the work-out.
You've seen them all on the street (and in those storefront gym windows) every day. The question is not what type you've been in the past, but which do you WANT to be, and what do you realistically have the time and mental energy to invest in being/becoming. 

I fall into the last category.  I always have and not because I come by it due to a genetic pre-dispossession, but because it's in my nature to intensely analyze what the options are, then make a rational choice that's practical.  You can call me a lot of things, but healthy is definitely one of them.

New research has also revealed some important, revolutionary health-related stuff (click links for articles):
So how do I do it, exercise-wise?  Easy, I apply 'strategic thinking' to my workouts:
  1. 45 minutes MAXIMUM.  NEVER, ever, work out longer!  In and out, no major time investment.  Do EVERYTHING you can to reduce your time in the gym. More than anything else, this will keep you coming back.
  2. Every 3 days, no more, sometimes less.  Everyone has their own routines and rituals.  You might find a better way to discipline yourself, but I've found that if I'm not TOO hard on myself and try to stick to not going more than 2 down days in between workouts, I can stick to this schedule.  I might find time first thing in the morning, or at lunch, or after work.  I might go 4 days or a busy week without working out at all (I always try to take the stairs when I can), but if I then get back onto every 3 days afterwards, I find I don't drop too much in the weights I have worked my way up to and I can slip back into the groove.  The point is YOU DO NOT NEED MORE FREQUENCY if all you are after is being and looking healthy.   
  3. Consult a trainer regularly.  NO, most people do not need (nor can afford) a personal trainer, but if ou don't check in about the odd pains, uncertainty about certain exercises, special exercises before skiing vacations, etc. you are likely to get discouraged and quit.  Stop the girl/guy in the gym and ask questions, tweak your routine, change some things occasionally.
  4. Skip the pre-stretching!  Numerous studies of late have proven that all the elaborate stretching routines of the 80's and 90's were useless.  They actually reduce your performance and waste more time.  Post-routine stretching can be important for some physical problems (I have to stretch my hamstrings while lying on my back and my neck/back in the shower), but skip the pre-routine stretch and start getting warmed up, which is far more important.  
  5. Cardio first!  Out of every 45 minutes, the first 15 should be cardio, whether bike, elliptical/cross trainer, step machine or rowing.  Use the first 10 minutes to slowly increase the resistance, then the last 5 to sweat going as full out as you can (use the heart rate monitor if you are out of shape, but get to the number your doctor/trainer has targeted).  If you get out of breath, drop the resistance one or two levels before you have to stop, go slower for one minute, then try to go back up a level or two.  Over a couple of weeks this technique of slowing before exhausting yourself, whatever level you are at, WILL build your endurance up!
  6. SWEAT.  Whether you are 18 or 88, if you do not work up a sweat in the first minutes and maintain it for 45 minutes, don't bother coming in as you aren't doing anything good for yourself.  Push just hard enough on every machine to 'feel it', but not so much you're exhausted.  This will ensure you sweat right through to the end of your workout.
  7. Use machines, not free weights.  They are safer, less risk of twists, over-extensions/exertions, etc. and can target very specific areas efficiently.  Yes, macho men think free weights are THE thing, I call bullshit they're just more dangerous as you can lose balance, drop them, over-do it easily.  The machines are easy and safe, why wouldn't you use them?
  8. Be selfless, not selfish!  Don't sit there on a machine having a little break, assuming that you somehow currently are the 'owner' of that machine because you are mid-set, let someone else do a set, then make use of this time to rotate...
  9. ROTATE, don't rest!  Whoever told you that your biceps somehow know that you've been off working your gluts between sets targeting the biceps?  Farmers get buff by working ALL their muscles ALL the time, they don't rest between 'sets' while forking hay.  When you finish one set on the biceps machine,  move to the back extension machine for one set, then the leg extension machine, then do all three again.  Your body will stay warm and you'll be finished MUCH quicker, just make sure you are using 3 machines that each target different muscles.
  10. 3 machines in rotation, not 2, not 4.  Why?  Trial and error has proven this to be the best down time between machines.  At two I find the targeted muscles on one machine haven't had quite enough down time, at four it's a bit too long between sets.
  11. Tone, not mass.  Fast, numerous reps on a single machine in 3 sets have been proven to build muscle mass, but 2 sets of quick-in, long-out reps up to your max number at a given weight level is what will build tone and endurance, the things that are sustainable over the long-term, and that you need to feel healthy.  Forget about looking like Arnie back in the day, unless you can work out 6 days a week for 2 hours a day (and take steroids), you are NOT going to build big muscles (but you might get your 6-pack back!).
  12. Work all your muscles!  Use a variety of machines that work all your muscle groups.  I use two machines targeting the abs every workout because I want to keep my belly flat, but I sometimes switch around for variety, overall tone and to keep some under-used muscles in play.  MOST important, however, is not feeling like you need to do ALL the machines ALL the time.  Remember 45 minutes max!  (Don't let your OCD kick in and convince you to go one hour or more, you'll just undermine your long-term potential.)
  13. Stick to what works.  Don't do more than 2 sets on any machine (over-kill and extends your work-out time), and follow the guidelines: increase the weight ONLY to the point where you can do 12-13 reps in one set, but max out at 15-16.  If you have to switch mid-set to adjust, do it.  As you get strong enough to increase the weight, do so slowly and incrementally, coming down in weight if you haven't visited in a while, have pain or feel tired.  Your workout SHOULD NOT be torture!  (If it is, you won't come back.)
  14. STOP chatting!  If you use the gym as a socializing opportunity, great, but recognize who is of the same mindset and who is there to get in and out in 45 minutes.  4.5 minutes of downtime chatting is 10% of their time commitment (AND yours).  Save the chat for the locker room or juice bar.
  15. STOP cleaning!  Some people obsessively wipe down/spray clean the machines.  Why?  They either think they are sanitizing them (the most germ-laden thing in the gym is the spray bottle -- every single person touches it), or they think they're being rule-abiding citizens.  Stop it!  The cleaning staff clean the machines, you aren't responsible and it just slows you down (30 second of cleaning adds up to 5-10 minutes!), and also everyone waiting for that machine. THE ONLY thing you need to worry about is pools of sweat that gross the next user out.  Wipe the sweat off with a towel/rag, but no one is going to get a disease from the sweat dampening your shirt or shorts.  
  16. Feel your muscles, not the pain.  Feel you muscles as you work them.  Target how the ones you are using are feeling inside their fibers as you strain them.  Yes, they will begin to hurt, but if you really concentrate on them individually, you may be able to do two more reps than you'd normally do because you're letting the pain of the lactic acid building up overwhelm you.  
  17. Fix your pains!  As you age, you are going to find pains coming up and hanging around longer and more frequently than in the past.  Deal with it.  NO!  I don't mean suck it up!  I mean go to a physiotherapist, or your local trainer, or your GP, or find a good accu-pressure chiropractor (the old fashioned 'back-crackers' are largely useless, find one who explores new techniques and works with sports injuries).  90% of back pain is muscular (or can be fixed with core muscle build-up), same with neck problems.  You need to find the right stretches to do once you are warmed up, during or post-workout (sometimes pre-) and you need to protect pulled ligaments (tennis/golf elbow, knees) with pressure bands and accurate movements. 
  18. Eat the way our species is supposed to.  "Hunter-Gatherers", that's what we have always been, NOT hunters alone.  Our ancestors only got meat occasionally.  They NEVER had bacon/ham/eggs for breakfast, chicken at lunch and steak for dinner.  If you aren't eating like you KNOW we're all supposed to, you are going to get fat and stay that way forever.  Working out as I've described will increase your hunger for carbs and proteins somewhat, but it will also burn SOME calories (not many).  To stay slim, you have to stay away from pre-prepared foods and large portions, period.  It's all about controlling the portions (waiting 20 minutes before taking a second helping), and the ingredients, not the frequency of eating, per se.
Here's a good post from a pro that backs up my formula of three 40 minute workouts per week focusing on cellulite and lifting female posteriors and toning thighs:

Follow most of these tips and you'll be working out from now through your last breath, but the latter will definitely come a bit later than it will without trying to do the right thing.  Good luck and let me know what works for you!

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