The following eight workout tips are the basic mechanics of a winning program.
Maintain A Weekly Routine
To grow a habit, it must become routine—a routine you no longer have to think about or argue with. For example, Mondays are chest/triceps/shoulders day. I arrive at the gym at the same time, park in the same spot, go to my favorite corner in the change room, hang my clothes on the same two hooks and know exactly where all the weights and machines are. By now, I’ve done it so many times I don’t even have to think about it, it’s routine, a part of my week.
Creating a new normal takes some discipline on the front end, but given time, you’ll win the battle. Get past the first year and statistics are in your favor that you will continue to be active and in shape for the rest of your life.
Obviously a winning routine is one that you are actually going to do, and this is especially true for that first critical three months. There are loads of sophisticated routines that promise great results, but they’re useless if they are so complicated you end up bailing out. After the first year, educate yourself in more advanced routines but for the first year it’s all about not quitting.
Alright, that being said, here is my very simple routine. The goal is to hit every muscle group once a week. You can do this effectively by working out 45 minutes, three times a week. I also run or bike another three days a week for about 20-30 minutes. That leaves one rest day. If I have an unusually busy week, aerobics will be sacrificed before weight lifting.
My weekly schedule is as follows:
- Monday – chest, triceps, shoulders,
- Tuesday – legs, abs
- Wednesday – off
- Thursday – run or bike
- Friday – back, biceps
- Saturday – run or bike
- Sunday – run or bike
There is no magic to this schedule. You can change your day off to whatever best suits your week. This schedule follows two important principles: first, alternating aerobics with weight lifting; second, combining the right muscle groups together in the same workout. Always work out chest, triceps and shoulders on the same day. This also applies to back and biceps. You don’t have to work legs and abs together, I just find legs only involve about 30 minutes, leaving 15 minutes for abs. After six months to a year, you may choose to increase to a four-day, one-hour long weight-lifting program, splitting up chest/triceps and shoulder workouts into two separate days.
Strive For Consistency
Becoming fit is more about the shape of your daily routine than your body, and a good routine is all about consistency. An approach that has improved my consistency is that missing a workout is nonnegotiable, but the level of intensity is. In other words, if I’m short on time or having a bad day I still work out, but simply reduce the time and intensity; that way my routine is not broken. The reasons for this are obvious. It is easier to inadvertently end a routine than to consciously start one. Once a routine has been broken, there is lost momentum and often it never gets restarted. Even if I show up for ten minutes, throw some weight around, or run a few minutes and walk out the remaining twenty, at least my routine is still intact.
If flesh says sit, I run; says watch a movie, I write; says lust, I pray; says obsess, I focus; says do it tomorrow, I do it today. This of course is on a good day. It’s not easy, but before I know it, my spirit is doing the talking and I am the happier for it.
Free Weights Or Machines?
I know that those rows of stylish looking machines are impressive, far more sophisticated than a bunch of banged-up dumbbells. Here again, we are back to simplicity. The smart folks are using the dumbbells. The reason is simple: when you are lifting a fixed weight like a bench press machine, the only action that is required of your muscles is upward pushing. Replace this with a dumbbell in each hand and you will notice a marked difference. First of all, you will not be able to lift as much weight. Contrary to your ego, this is a good thing. Doing more with less weight means less strain on joints and tendons, resulting in less injury. Also, free weights demand balance, employing more muscle groups. Overall strength is improved because the movement is closer to real-life physical excursion. All the little balancer muscles are used and strengthened. Look for a weight-lifting book that incorporates free weights and natural movements.
Stretch Before And After
Honestly, it has not been until the last few years that I have taken the importance of stretching seriously. I noticed my knees were increasingly hurting after leg workouts. As I improved in strength, my dexterity and flexibility diminished, resulting in reduced agility at work. A simple task like bending over to pick something up was uncomfortable. I decided to increase my stretching time to 15 minutes on a mat after every workout. Added to that was another stretch while romping with my son on the livingroom floor. It only took about four weeks before I noticed a remarkable difference. My knee pain disappeared, my body felt nimble and youthful, and I even slept better. Stretching is not building muscle, but remember, this is about overall fitness. Stretching is a critical component to remaining youthful into your 80s and beyond. Once you start, you’ll be hooked for life.
Recognize Productive Pain
Start any fitness program and you will encounter two types of pain. There is the unwanted sharp, shooting pain in your back, joints or overworked tendons. This kind of pain is usually the result of poor form, obsession and short-term goals. Then there is productive pain—that next day aching muscle that every bodybuilder welcomes. It says you had a great workout and promises a stronger body. Also, there is a more ambiguous pain that occurs at the beginning of a run. It feels, well . . . like falling out of a warm bed onto a cold floor. On the other end of the run is another pain of pushing through those last five minutes while the body is telling you to stop. Productive pain is an integral part of gain. After some time, your pain threshold will increase and with it an awakened body.
Most muscle building occurs while you are sleeping. The need for sleep will increase proportionally to increased intensity. I cannot keep up my intensity without an afternoon nap. Lost sleep is lost intensity in the gym; this will be especially true after a leg workout. I remember thinking there was something wrong with me the day after I did an especially ruthless leg workout. I felt wiped out—like someone had slipped something in my carrot juice. Tear in the gym, repair while you sleep.
Change Your Friends
Don’t lounge with lazy people. Being around motivated people is inspiring, it rubs off. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that to successfully quit drinking you must cut ties with your drinking buddies. Laziness is a spirit; it gets on people, even whole neighborhoods. Find friends that have likeminded goals and are actively pursuing their vision. If you do not think this is vital to your success, then I challenge you to take one week and read through the book of Proverbs.
Vanity results in over-training, short-term goals, injury, discouragement, shallow commitment, an unhealthy diet high in protein or supplemented with stimulants and hormone boasters, and most of all, an overall lack of fulfillment. Health comes from a long-term view of building a lifetime habit of training responsibly, eating a healthy diet, and not obsessing on outward looks. You will enjoy exercise much more when the goal is overall health and not just how you look in the mirror.
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