In addition to it’s long term benefits, the short term benefit of exercise is attaining your ideal shape. That means building muscle and shedding fat. The combination of Walking and Weight Lifting is ideal for that purpose. Doing each three times per week, and doing abdominal exercises before walking, can you put on the road to the body you always dreamed of!
Originally published 1998
Ok. Let’s face it. Working out is about one thing: shape. Sure, it’s also about health. Yada yada yada. And you can save a fortune by staying on your feet and out of the doctor’s office. Not to mention living until you’re ninety and being able to beat the grand-kids at flag football. (Well, it’s a goal, anyway.) That’s all to the good. But the bottom line, is we want to look good and feel good — now. You feel good when you’re “in shape”, and when you’ve got a shape, you look good. And looking good is definitely appealing to the people you want to attract. So fundamentally, working out is about shape.
Good. Now that we have that settled, the question is: How do you go about achieving your ideal shape? What’s the most efficient way to go about it? How can you do that and still have energy for work, family relationships, and recreational activities? Is it even possible? Or does it take so many hours in the gym that it’s just really impractical?
I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that it is practical, in a whole let less time than you may think. You’ll not only have time for everything else in your life, you’ll have energy for it, too. The bad news is, it does take some work. But heck, you don’t mind that. Fact is, you enjoy it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far! You’re just looking for the most effective way to do it. Read on!
Let’s start by getting a few basics out of the way. If you haven’t exercised before, or haven’t exercised in a long, long time, or you have a medical condition that could become an issue, you should probably consult with health professional before you get started. OK? That’s the standard disclaimer, but it’s still good advice. I expect that you’re a reasonably healthy individual. But just in case you’re not, check with someone, OK?
Second, if you are doing anything radically stupid with respect to your health, like drinking a lot or smoking a lot, or doing anything else totally dumb (like drugs), you should probably stop. If you aredoing something like that, don’t let it keep you from exercising. But realize that at some point you are going to be spending an equal amount of time building yourself up and tearing yourself down. If you sit down and think about that for a minute, it’s pretty dumb. One or the other will have to go. So start exercising now, and when you reach that point take a few minutes to think and then make the right choice, will you? Thanks. I did (about 10 years after college) and haven’t regretted it since. My only regret is that I didn’t make that choice sooner.
Third, you should definitely do some stretching. That’s outside the scope of this article, but for what it’s worth, the most flexible guy I ever saw did Yoga and ran marathons. His secret? He did his Yoga after running. Before running, he’d warm up by jogging a little. That got his heart rate up and increased his blood flow without risking injuries from stretching. Then, after his run, when all his muscles were warm (and begging for a stretch to release the soreness!) he’d do Yoga, relaxing his heart rate back to normal and extending his flexibility to the maximum when his muscles were as totally prepared for it as they were ever going to be.
So definitely do some stretching. It reduces the risk of injury and makes your movements more fluid. And if stretching before exercise is good, then stretching afterwards is twenty times better. Before, it can help you warm up. After, it reduces soreness and increases your range motion. Do either. Do both. Do something.
Then there is the matter of diet. You’ve got to have good nutrition. That’s a whole ‘nother topic to cover, with a lot of detail. For now, suffice it to say that some supplements are necessary, it’s important to eat good foods, and there are many ostensibly digestible substances on the store shelves masquerading as “food”. You’ve got to avoid the bad stuff, and max out on the good stuff. Knowing how to do that, especially if you don’t do a lot of cooking, is an art in itself. At some point, we can talk about that. For right now, let’s focus on what you need to do in the way of exercise.
A Matter of Shape
Getting back to our original point, the problem was how to achieve the ideal shape. There was also the matter of doing it in the minimum amount of time, with the least amount of wasted energy. For that, there are two exercises that absolutely ideal: Walking and Weight Training. Let’s see why that’s true, and then let’s talk about some specifics.
Shape = Muscle!
First, here’s an equation to engrave on your brain: shape = muscle. Look at a skinny person. Any shape there? Nope. The ultimate in skinny is a skeleton. Definitely no kind of shape you want to look at. Ok, then, what about fat? Does that make a good shape? No way. Unless you consider “round” a shape. Seen any shapely beach balls lately? I didn’t think so. So what’s left? Muscle! If you don’t have muscle, you don’t have shape. If you have fat, you cover up the muscle that gives you shape.
The goal, then, is to maximize muscle and minimize fat. Within reason! Steroid-induced lumps of flesh bulging out in all directions aren’t very pleasing, either! And let’s not even mention what happens to your personality! Can you say, “angry”? I’ve heard they don’t help your mental acuity any, either. So you’re gonna go natural. Right? RIGHT??
To maximize muscle, the best way — the only way — is with some form of “resistance training” (weight training, isometrics (“no motion” exercises), or an equivalent). Done right, resistance training can improve your performance at every other sport or art form that you engage in. And to burn fat, walking is ideal, because you can do that without impacting your other activities. So the key to maximizing your physical shape is Walking and Weight Training. (See Integrating Other Activities later in this article for ideas on how this workout duo teams up with your primary recreational activity.)
Note: Other aerobic activities like running, cycling, and aerobic exercises burn fat, too, but they also require a good deal of strength. If one of these is your main recreational or sports activity, then you can always substitute it for walking. But even then, walking can make a great low-impact addition to your routine that keeps the weight off.
The idea of this program is to leave you with all the energy you need for work, your relationships, other workouts, and all the things you do in a day. If you do something more strenuous than walking, the combination of weight training and your other activities can lead to overtraining, the major killer of exercise programs! (For more on overtraining, see Avoid the Overtraining Trap at the end of this article.)
Let’s start with weight training. You need to lift some weights to build some muscle. Period. Unless you’re a gymnast. Then you are using your own body weight for resistance, and you’re doing more than enough.
Personal Note: I always wanted to be a gymnast. Never made it. But I love it. It’s the ultimate control of the body. But in college I was 6’2″ and skinny, so I didn’t have much of a prayer. After college, I discovered weight training. It made quite a difference. Then I got “serious” about it, and had my first major experience with overtraining. Gave it up shortly afterwards. Didn’t even recognize it as a symptom of overtraining until just recently, when I started writing this article!
Many years later I rediscovered weight training while rehabbing after knee surgery. I was lifting, like, five pounds, 50 or 60 times, 3 to 5 times a week. Did it seem like a lot of exercise? Heck no. By the time the leg had healed, it seemed like basically nothing. But when I returned to my regular sport (martial arts, at the time) I noticed a huge, immediate difference! Leg extensions that had been difficult before were suddenly very easy! It became very clear that even small amounts of weight training were tremendously effective!
To complete the story: I also put on quite a few pounds over the years (despite the martial arts) and became overweight. All right, fat. Part of the problem was that every time I started working out hard, I’d wind up re-injuring the knee, so I couldn’t sustain a high level of activity. That led to a search for a natural (low impact) method for reducing fat. Which led to walking. (I used to walk a lot as a kid. And I was never fat. Coincidence? Probably not!) OK. That’s how I got here. What’s your story?
How much weight training do you need to make big improvements. Try 10 minutes! How often? Three times per week! So, do you think you can spare 10 minutes three times a week to look great, feel great, and attract the opposite sex like crazy? I thought so. Let’s get down!
You can do that 10 minutes of weight training any time of the day, of course, but the time that makes most sense to me is in the morning, before you take a shower. Why? Because then it’s out of the way, and you can feel good about having done it all day. Plus, you were going to take a shower anyway, right? So you’ve saved the time you would have spent later in the day changing to work out, showering again, and changing back into your regular clothes. That saves a lot of time, right there.
And all you really need is a few pairs of dumbbells (10’s, 12’s, 15’s, 20’s, and 25’s make a good starter set), and a flat exercise bench. The only other piece of equipment you need is something to work your calves on. For that, you can use stairs, a exercise step, or two short pieces of 2×4 nailed together. Adjustable ankle weights are also useful. That’s all you need to get started. Later, if you really get into it, you can get an Olympic bar and plate weights, but you don’t really need them.
You can get by working out two days a week, but to really make any kind of progress, you need to do your weight training three days a week. If you get really intense, you can also work out 4 or 5 days a week, or even more. But that assumes that weight training is your “main gig”. Here, we’re assuming that you want to improve your strength (and shape), not devote your life to it.
The idea when you’re weight training is to target each muscle group once per week. That means you work different muscle groups with each workout, so you get back around to the same muscle group after 7 days. According to sports physiologist Dr. Michael Colgan, it takes 7 to 10 days for a muscle to complete rebuilding after a strenuous workout. It takes 3 or 4 days to fully recover, then it spends another 2 to 3 days “overbuilding”. After 10 days, it starts to atrophy from lack of use. So coming back to the same muscle group a week later is the ideal training format.
You’ll want to train every other day, too, rather than 3 days in a row. That gives your body a good 48-hours of general recovery time. That amount of recovery time has also been shown to be necessary for healing and muscle growth to occur.
Commit to variety!
So let’s say you plan to devote 10 minutes to weight training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, right before you take a shower. There are many muscles in your body, and a lot of ways to divide them into a training schedule that makes sense. I’ll give a series of exercises to get started with, but many other divisions are possible. You should experiment to see what works with best for you. And you should try new things as much as possible. A triathele friend (Don Dasher) once told me: “If you want keep training, you’ve got to commit to variety.” Variety not only helps to prevent injury, it also keeps you from going “stale” so you don’t give up from sheer boredom.
One common division that makes a lot of sense is: Arms and Shoulders, Chest and Upper Back, Legs and Low Back. So, for example, you could do Arms and Shoulders on Monday, Chest and Upper Back on Wednesday, Legs and Low Back on Friday. But by all means, you should experiment to find a workout schedule that makes sense for you. For example, if you spend Saturdays bicycling, then maybe moving Legs and Low Back to Wednesday would work a lot better. Above all, keep listening to your body and pay attention to how it feels. Those feelings will be the clues to the adjustments you need to make.
The table below shows a few exercises to get you started. The page references are for the detailed descriptions in the book, Banishing Your Belly (Rodale Press, 1997). Unless otherwise indicated, the target for each exercise is 8 to 10 repetitions. If you are just starting out, you should do one set of eight to 10 repetitions for each exercise. If you can’t do eight repetitions, you should decrease the weight. If you can do more than 10 repetitions, you should increase it. No matter how much training you’ve done before, when you start in, you’re going to feel for a few days after a workout. So start easy. After a few weeks your body will acclimate to the load, and your recovery time will be measured in hours, rather than days. But for the first couple of weeks, it’s going to be hard. So take it easy.
After a week or two, you should do a second set when you’ve finished the first. In other week or two, you can increase to 3 sets. And that’s as many as you need to do! If you move quickly, three sets of the exercises shown can be completed in 10 minutes or less. (By doing the exercises in sequence, one muscle rests while another is working out, so you can keep going without wasting any time. How’s that for efficiency?)
Note: For other exercises, take a look at Banishing Your Belly or check out the video in the sidebar: “Video Variety”. Another super book for your exercise library is Kinesiology of Exercise by Michael Yessis (Masters Press, 1993). It does a great job of describing what exercises to do and how to do them properly, all based on the body’s biomechanics. Always do 10 reps, except where another amount is shown. For example, squats are shown as “Squats –20reps”.
|Workout||Arms & Shoulders||Chest & Upper Back||Legs and Low Back|
|Cool Name||Bi’s, Tri’s, and Delts||Pecs, Lats, and Traps||Glutes, Quads, Hams, Calves|
|Muscle Groups||Biceps, Triceps, Deltoids, Upper Trapezius*||Pectorals, Latisimus Dorsimus, Mid Trapezius*||Gluteus Maximus (rear end), Quadriceps (thigh), Hamstrings (rear leg), Gastrocnemius (calf), Soleus, Erector Spinae (low back), Seratus (sides)|
|Week 1||Alternating Curl (p.261)|
French/Tricep Press (p.266)
Front Delt Raise (p.300)
Lateral Raise (p.298)
Rear Delt Raise (p.301)
D’bell Flys (p.282)
(Narrow) D’bell Row (p.226)
D’bell Bench Press (p.278)
Squats –20reps (p.313)
DeadLifts** –20reps (p.232)
Single-Leg Calf Raise (p.327)
Double-Leg Calf Raise
Ankle Curls/Foot Flexion (p.332)
Arch Curl (roll up the towel)
|Week 2||Concentration Curl (p.264)|
Kick Back (p.271)
Overhead Press (p.294)
Upright Row (p.296)
|Pull Up (palms out) (p.225)|
Bench (Incline) Pushup (p.287)
D’bell Row (p.226)
D’bell Bench Press (p.278)
|Bench Step Up|
Good Morning** (p.222)
Front Lunge (p.234)
Side Bends (1 D’bell)
Single Donkey Calf Raise –20reps
Double Donkey Calf Raise –20reps
|Week 3||Chin Ups (Palms in)|
Rear Delt Raise (p.301)
Front Delt Raise (p.300)
Upright Row (p.296)
Wide D’bell Row (p.220)
D’bell Flys (p.282)
Narrow D’bell Row (p.226)
D’bell Bench Press (p.278)
|(Same as Week 1)|
|Week 4||Reverse Curl (p.259)|
Kick Back (p.271)
Alternating Hammer Curl (p.262)
Lying Tricep Press (p.268)
Lateral Raise (p.298)
Overhead Press (p.294)
|Chair Pull Up|
D’bell Row (p.226)
D’bell Bench Press (p.278)
|Quad Press w/ankle weights|
Hamstring Curls w/ankle weights
Good Morning** –20reps (p.222)
Side Lunge (p.236)
Bench Rear Leg Lifts (p.241)
Side Bends (1 D’bell)
Rear Leg Raise
Single Seated Calf Raise –15reps
Double Seated Calf Raise –15reps
*The trapezius runs from the neck and tapers down across the shoulder blades to the spine in the middle of the back. Shoulder work tends to develop the vertical trapezius muscles, mostly in the shoulders. Upper back work tends to develop the mostly-horizontal trapezius muscles in the middle of the back, between the shoulder blades. (The trapezius muscles actually fan out in all directions, but that’s a good way to think about it.)
**These two exercises must be done correctly. Otherwise, there is a chance of injury. However, the good news is that, done correctly, they not only develop strength, but also teach how to lift things so you can do so safely without risk to your back. There is really only one major trick. It’s this: Stand straight up and arch your back, so there is a nice little hollow above your butt. Now keep that position and bend forward. Bend forward no farther than you can go without losing that arch. After that, bend your legs to go any further down towards the ground.
Remember that old saying, “Lift with your legs”? What it really means is to bend your knees in order to keep the arch in your back. Here’s why: As long as your back is arched, the strain is on your backside and hamstrings. As soon as you bend your back, you shift the strain to your back. The Good Morning exercise (where you hold a barbell or broom handle across your shoulders and bend forward keeping your back arched) is terrific for teaching you the form you need to lift safely, and for helping you discover the point at which you must bend your legs to maintain that arch. (If you can’t go very far at first, don’t worry. You’re flexibility will improve over time. Just don’t lose that arch!)
SIDEBAR: VIDEO VARIETY
One way to get variety in your workouts and also get tips on good form is to get an exercise video called “The Campitelli Advanced 10-Minute Speed Exercise Method for Men.” (BioTech Research, Canton OH. 800-466-7688. There’s also a version for women.) What’s great about ithis video is the variety of workouts. There are 4 different workouts for each of 5 different muscle groups — 20 workouts in all. The video is great. It’s like having a personal trainer and an experienced lifter in your living room — one showing you the moves and the other explaining them.
You may want to follow the complete program for a while, to see all the moves. I did, and it was very beneficial. It was also hard. Five days a week was too much for me. When I cut down to four, I did a lot better. But cutting down to three (with the addition of walking and adding more abdominal work) turned out to be the best schedule I’ve found. I still use the video for arm/shoulder and chest/back sequences, but make my own leg and low/back and abdominal sequences.
Give it a try and see what you think. When you talk to them, let them know you’d like to see the exercise program on a digital disk. That would make it easier to select the parts you want so you could design your own program. (I’ve run mine so often, it’s starting to lose the sound in some places. It was well worth the money, even then. But a digital disk would solve that problem, too.)
So why would you want to spend 10 minutes lifting weights, three times a week? Well, in addition to getting a great shape by building muscle, that muscle also burns a heck of a lot of fat! A competition weightlifter burns more calories in a day just sitting still than a marathon runner does in the course of a marathon! How’s that for burning fat? So the muscle you build helps to burn off the calories that would otherwise accumulate while sitting at your desk or driving the forklift. Not bad for 10 minutes’ work!
In addition, the improved back muscles will make you stand straight and walk tall. The strength in your legs make your sports easier to play, and your other activities easier to do. And all that chest and arm work will make you look as well as make it easy to carry things. So for a 10-minute investment, three times a week, the payoff is huge. How could you not spend those 10 minutes?
Like weight training, aerobic activity is something you need to do three times a week. You can get by with two workouts, and you can withstand more, but three times is ideal. That’s wonderful news! It means that your walking schedule dovetails nicely with your weight training schedule, with one morning off for church, romping with your partner, or doing whatever ekse you can do to prepare yourself for the week ahead.
Again, I am going to recommend that you do your walking before you take your morning shower. And for the same reasons: it saves time, gets it out of the way, lets you feel proud about it all day, and gives you the evening free for your other activities. In addition, alternating your walking days with your weight training days makes it to ingrain the exercise habit, because you are doing something each morning. That makes the “exercise period” a standard part of your day, 6 days a week. After a while, it becomes automatic. (On the 7th day, find something to do that continues to reserve the time for personal growth. Meditate, do Yoga, or work the neck and forearms with the exercises in the section below, Maximizing The Minor Muscles.)
Why is walking good? It turns out that when your heart is working at 55% of it’s maximum capacity, that is the ideal rate for burning fat. When you’re running, you’re typically in the 65% to 75% zone. And there’s a lot less stress on the rest of your body, so the walking is almost painless. In fact, the increased blood flow can help you recover from your weight training workout or from other activities the day before.
So, how do you keep your walking at the 55% rate? One useful rule of thumb is to walk as fast as you can do while breathing through your nose. To the degree that you can do that, you’ll build your lung power, filter the air you’re breathing, and burn the maximum amount of fat with minimal stress to your muscles, bones, and joints. You’ll also have energy for your other activities, and you’ll even be kind to your gums! (Saliva kills bacteria. Mouth breathing dries out the mouth, which gives bacteria a better chance to grow.) But don’t be surprised if you wind up doing a lot of mouth breathing. I do. (Must improve!)
Ok. You’re set to walk three times a week, and you know how fast to walk. How long do you need to spend? It turns out that you only need 20-60 minutes to achieve maximum benefits. Less than that isn’t very effective. More than that isn’t enough more effective to be efficient. So twenty minutes should be your standard target. Maybe on the weekend you could go for something longer, say 40 to 60 minutes.
Those are nice targets to go for, but when you start out, just do what’s comfortable! If you go halfway down the block and then come back. That’s great! You’re moving. You’re getting there. In no time, your endurance will be up to where it needs to be. And if you’re already an athletic stud (but are finding a little pot belly growing, despite that) then a short 20-minute walk is a nice, no-strain way to do something about that fat you need to burn.
In addition to burning fat, the walking delivers improved cardiovascular fitness (heart, lungs, and blood vessels). Plus, the 20 extra minutes of sunshine is great for the mood — especially in the winter. Of course, if the weather is too bad, you can always get on a treadmill, but outdoors is the best. If you can find a quiet patch of woods and get away from city noises for a while, then it rejuvenates the soul, as well as the body. There’s nothing better than that.
You’ll find that the combination of Walking and Weight Training will produce noticeable results, surprisingly quickly. But here’s the big secret: Work your abs before you walk.
[PullQuote: Work your abs before you walk!]
Working your abs first does great things for you. First, you get in three abdominal workouts a week, with a 48-hour rest between them. That’s pretty much exactly what you need! (Sound familiar?) Second, working your abs before walking helps you focus on them, pulling them in as you walk. That’s not only great for your posture, but it gives you a lot more abdominal work than if you walked around without thinking about them.
Note: There’s a third benefit you’ll notice after you’ve been doing the routine for a while. Your body, being the smart learning machine that it is, will quickly figure out that walking follows abdominal work. You’ll find that your abdominal exercises start to trigger a trip to the bathroom. That’s helpful, because walking tends to be great for your regularity (yet another benefit), and the pre-walk visit to the bathroom will keep you from having to cut your walk short when it loosens your bowels!
Since you’ll be doing 3 abdominal workouts a week, it probably comes as no surprise that you can “divide and conquer” the different muscles that make up the abdominal region. Those muscles are conveniently divided into the upper abs, which bring your upper body forward, the lower abs, which bring your hips forward, and the inner and outer obliques, which run to the sides and control twisting and rotating motions. So the goal is focus on the upper abs one day, lower abs the next, and obliques the third. Sound good? It should. It is good.
Aim for about 20 repetitions of each exercise. Again, start with one set and work up to 3 sets of each over several weeks. Here is a good schedule of abdominal exercises:
|Focus:||Upper Abs||Lower Abs||Obliques|
|Week 1:||Rotating Crunch (feet free, without weight, p.209)|
Curl Up Crunch (p. 199)
|Rowing Crunch/Bench Knee Lift (p.206)|
Bench Leg Raise (p.207)
|Medicine Ball Twist (great for golf)|
Leg Overs (p.217)
|Week 2:||Rotating Crunch (feet braced, with weight, p.209)|
Straight Leg Crunch (p.198)
|Hanging Knee Raise (p.205)|
Reverse Curl (knees to chest)
|Seated Twist (p.210)|
Straight Leg Bench Rotations (p.216)
|Week 3:||Twisting LegUp Crunch (p.208)|
Negative (1/2) Situps (p.214)
|Hanging Straight Leg Raise|
Hip Raise (p.203)
|Seated D’bell Twist (p.211)|
Russian Twist/Hip Rolls (p.218)
For maximum abdominal training, you can work all three areas at each session. But start out with the suggestions above, build gradually, and remember the need for variety! With 4 different weight training workouts and 3 abdominal workouts, you won’t repeat the same week of exercises for 3 months! So if you decide to work all three areas, try to set up several different workout plans to maintain the variety.
Strong abs stabilize the body for all sports motions, look great, and are vital for preventing back injuries. As one writer put it, they are the “national playground for women”. Who needs more reasons?
Maximizing the Minor Muscles
On your “day off”, you work a number of the smaller muscles in the body that usually don’t get much work. For example, you can spend time on the neck, forearm, inner and outer thighs, and the hips. Here are some exercises for those muscles:
|Week 1||Week 2|
|Neck||Neck Pull Downs (p.288)|
Neck Push Ups (p.289)
Head Twists (p.291)
|Forearms||Forearm Curls (p. 273)|
Reverse Forearm Curls/Extensions (p. 274)
Tennis Ball Squeeze
|Wrist Roller (p. 275)|
Front Hammer Lift
Rear Hammer Lift
Grip Strengtheners (p. 276)
|Inner and Outer Thighs|
|Lying Inner Leg Raise (p.325)|
Lying Outer Leg Raise (p.247)
|Standing Side Leg Extensions (p.356)|
Kneeling Leg Raise (p.243)
The smaller muscles make life better in ways that aren’t always obvious. For example, the neck muscles contribute to good posture and help prevent whiplash injuries. The forearm muscles make it easier to carry things and lift heavier weights in your other exercises. The inner and outer thighs and hips contribute to lateral mobility, which is important in many sports. The hips especially can be used heavily in the martial arts.
Upping your Aerobic Intensity
If you’re already in pretty good cardio-vascular (heart-lung) shape, or if you’ve been doing this program for awhile and you want to (a) increase variety, (b) burn more fat, and (c) get more fit, faster, then you may want to try varying your cardio-vascular activities. This section contains some ideas to help you do that.
The idea of this aerobic schedule is to start with the highest intensity workout at the beginning of your workout week, and end with the easiest. (That’s the opposite direction of the weight training sequence, which works out nicely.) So, starting from the end, you’ll keep your 40-60 minutes of walking. That day should be the day after your weight-training workout for legs. (The day after a good leg workout, you’re not going to want to do much more, believe me!)
Note: Since you’ll schedule your weight training days around your other activities, the “end” of your workout week could come anywhere in the week. For example, my most strenuous activities occur Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings. So I schedule my leg-training day on Fridays, to give myself a bit of revovery time after Wednesday night, and the maximum amount of recovery time before the following Monday. The “end” of my weight-training week is therefore Thursday, which makes my last aerobic-activity day Saturday. So Saturday is the last day of my workout week, and a new week starts on Sunday.
For the first session in your aerobic-training week, you can walk hills, use a stair climber, or walk on a raised treadmill. The idea is to make it an interval training day. That means doing short periods of intense effort interspersed with periods where it’s more comfortable, so you can recover and get ready for the next burst of activity. These days, electronic stair climbers, treadmills, and cycling machines all have interval-training programs. They’re great for working the heart, muscles, and lungs to the limits of your capacity.
Note: Over a long period of time, they can also reduce your flexibility. I trained on a treadmill exclusively for a little over a year, while recovering from knee strains. When the knee had finally recovered to the point I could go out and run, I pulled a hip muscle! All the uphill walking with little or no downhill or level walking had shortened the hip muscle! So be sure to include stretching and walking in your routine — or both!
The second (middle) session in your 3-day per week aerobic activity schedule can be a 30-min, steady-effort, cardio-vascular workout. You can run or walk on level ground, or use a cycling machine, treadmill, or stair climber. Cycling machines are particulary good for this day, because they build the steady pedaling rhythm you want to have when you’re cycling. (The idea when cycling outdoors is to shift gears so as to maintain the rhythm, not vary the rhythm drastically.) Rowing machines are another good choice, but rowing is another activity that takes a steady, seemingly-effortless motion.
Note: Since the second aerobic activity day now works the legs more intensely, it makes sense to move the “off day” (neck and shoulders) just after it, so it precedes the leg training day (which otherwise would come just after the aerobic training day. That gives an easy training day before weight-training with legs, and an easy walking day afterwards, which is pretty much ideal. See Putting It All Together, below, for the full schedule.
Combining these ideas adds variety to the aerobic week, as well intensity, producing a schedule that looks something like this:
|Focus||Interval Training||Aerobic Capacity||Fat Burning/Recovery|
|Time||20 min.||30 min.||40-60 min.|
This is a schedule you can move in and out of your main routine. If you have time off from your other activities, or haven’t been breaking a sweat recently, use this schedule. On the other hand, if your other activities are taking a lot of energy or you are starting to wear down, drop back to walking. Be flexible. Enjoy your life!
The interval training day builds your muscle strength and increases your recovery capacity (how long it takes to resume breathing normally after strenuous activity). It really pushes blood through your veins and arteries, improving capillary flexibility and acting like “weight training” for the heart muscle. The 30-minute aerobic day builds your aerobic (breathing) capacity. It’s basically endurance training for the heart muscle. Finally, the long walk after your leg day gives them a break and helps them recover. It’s also ideal for burning fat, and exercises the muscles you’ll use at the shopping mall or walking on the beach with your partner.
Putting It All Together
Here’s a sample of the full workout schedule, with everything we’ve talked about in this article:
20 min. Walk
30 min. Walk or Aerobic Training
Neck, Forearms, Hips
40-60 min. Walk
Integrating Other Activities
Hopefully, you have some “serious” recreational activity or sport like running, dancing, swimming, martial arts, aerobics — something that you want to get better at, that takes your full attention and gives you somewhere to go after an exhausting day to work off the stress. You may be wondering how all this extra exercise will affect your ability to participate in that activity. Will it make things better, or will you be too exhausted to move?
Well, you won’t know for sure until you try, but odds are good that these workouts will increase your ability to perform, rather than detract. (Remember to adjust your workouts to fit your activity schedule, as mentioned earlier. See Experiment.) You can also get creative about merging your regular activities into this program. For example, if your “serious” activity is your morning swimming club, you could do this program in the evenings. For dance classes or martial arts classes that take place in the evening, this program works well in the morning.
On the other hand, if you run, swim, bicycle, or do aerobics, you can replace one or more morning walks with that activity. Many swimmers and runners, in particular, really love morning workouts. But if you can’t make a workout for one reason or another, try the walking. Be flexible! Say you have to get to work one day and don’t have time to run. You can walk at lunch! It can do you a surprising amount of good.
The same thing goes if you don’t have time for a walk in the morning. Do your abs then, and do the walk later in the day. It’s not quite as effective, but it beats the heck out of the alternative.
Avoid the Overtraining Trap
Even with good scheduling, you need to keep yourself from overtraining. The trick to reaping the benefits from any kind of exercise program is longevity. You make small gains each time, but over a long time they add up. Weight training and walking can produce noticeable benefits in only a few week’s time but, still, the really big differences occur over a long time span, so you want to keep at it consistently.
The one thing that will kill your good exercise intentions faster than anything is overtraining. That occurs when you’re doing more than your body can adapt to. If you don’t do enough, your body has nothing to adapt to, so you don’t grow at all. But if you do too much, the fatigue and general malaise make you lose interest. So you have to keep things in balance. As a veteran of many, many bouts with overtraining, I can tell you that the keys are to recognize it quickly and treat it promptly.
Recognizing the Symptoms
After you’ve experienced it a few times, you’ll recognize the feeling right away. It may start as general irritability and progress to general fatigue where you just feel really tired. If you keep pushing, you’ll begin to feel deep muscle fatigue, like you have the flu. Then comes listlessness — no energy, no motivation. Nothing much matters, you have no interest in anything. You don’t know why you work out, or why you bother with your job, or your relationship, or anything. You begin to wonder if life is worth living. That is definitely not a good place to be. So the earlier you recognize the symptoms, the better.
[PullQuote: If you’re not looking forward to your next workout, back off!]
One big clue to overtraining is whether or not you are looking forward to your next workout. If not, you’re overtraining. So, remember: If you’re not looking forward to your next workout, back off.
Handling the Problem
There are several things you can do to fix yourself up. The first thing you can do is to increase your carbohydrate intake, which fuels your muscles, your brain cells, and your general motivation. (In effort to lose fat, I went to a an all meat and fruit/vegetable diet. Virtually zero carbs. I found myself in serious overtraining mode in a matter of days. Fortunately, I remembered this advice from exercise physiologists, had a big bowl of rice, and went to bed!)
The second thing you can do is go to bed early and get a really good night’s sleep. Finally, back off your exercise program. Skip a session or two. Take some time off, or significantly reduce the intensity and “dog it” for a time or two. Pretty soon you’ll be feeling great again, and you can start flirting with overtraining once more! (Maxmizing growth means living at the edge — working hard enough to grow without taking away from your ability to meet all your other responsibilities. It’s a tough act to balance. Keep working until you find it!)
Ok. That’s a lot to digest. Hopefully, you got most of it. At least it’s there, in the back of your head, and you know where to go find it when you needed. Now go grab yourself a few dumbbells, put on your walking shoes, and go to it!
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