Monday, November 23, 2015

Varied vs Random

So, let me lead this off by saying that I get it. People sometimes just want to work out, and work out hard - no definitive plans or outcomes. It's not something I enjoy a great deal myself - if I want to do something active and with a randomness to it, I'll play a sport - but there are those for whom just going in the gym and working hard for the sake of working hard gets them going. So all the power to them (as long as it's not some sort of "punishment" or justification for their lifestyle, nor because they're falling for the P90x "muscle confusion" nonsense - but that's a different topic). The problem lies in the fact that far too often, I think that people pick exercises simply because they're "hard" - but then the session winds up being a random assortment of exercises when just a couple of tweaks can make the session both varied AND productive.

Firstly, there should be a balance in the exercise selection - and that means that the session should aim to have as close to 1:1 ratio of push to pull. This is harder than you might think - since most people are significantly stronger in the push (front) than they are in the pull (back), the "high rep" or "more challenging" exercises end up being all pushing. As an example, I saw one of those videos shared the other day that had the "12 Minute Fat Blasteroo"-type sessions, and it consisted of the following: Jump Squats x 20, Push-Press x 10, Mountain Climbers x 20, Push Ups x 10 - and you were supposed to repeat them as many times as possible in 12mins. The problem, when you break it down is that for 3 out of 4 exercises you are pushing (squats, press, push-ups) and for the 4th, you're stabilizing while still using the pushing muscles. So although it's "hard", you'd have a mean sweat going, you'd be tired, and you burned some calories - well, unless the next 12mins is all pulling exercises, you are running a seriously one-dimensional session. Do this too often, and you can see how it would start to become an issue.

Secondly, there is often a failure to recognize that an integral part of interval training is the recovery phase. Again, in seeking that lung-burning, sweat-puddle on the floor, Gatorade commercial-type effort, people do exercises back-to-back, or integrate what is known as "negative-recovery" (the recovery time is shorter than the work time) into their "intervals". If you do this for too long, or too often, in a session a number of things start to happen: your strength decreases, you become more mentally fatigued, and there is an inevitable decrease of quality on each consecutive round. A key element of getting the most from the "work" portion of the interval is to allow the body to "recover" properly in between - and the higher intensity the effort, the longer the recovery needs to be. A side-note - programming opposite movements (ie. push-pull) can be seen as a form of incomplete recovery and may be part of the strategy - meaning that while you're doing one movement, you're recovering from the other. Just keep in mind that it is an "incomplete" recovery, and you should still be taking some time in the set/workout for full recovery. If it is an "as many rounds as possible" set, add the phrase "with recovery" into that title when you read it - in other words, how many sets can you do in a certain time while still recovering properly. Just like the "all-push" sessions, do this too frequently and you'll hit those plateaus faster and faster, finding it that much more difficult to break the plateau or worse, see a decline.

So the next time you're doing a "HIIT" session, "Metabolic" session, or "Conditioning" session, consider the above points. If you're designing it for yourself or it's self-regulated, be sure to give yourself the balance of exercises and to take the necessary recovery between exercises/rounds. If you're programming, be sure that you're looking at your exercise selection and creating this balance for your client. And if you're paying someone to do this for you - start paying attention to this and make sure that more often than not these two points are being addressed. Remember - just because a workout is hard, doesn't necessarily mean it's good.


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