There is no one “right way” to work out, but following a strategic order of exercises based on your needs and goals will help you get the most out of every workout.
GENERAL WORKOUT OUTLINE
WHO DOES WHAT, AND WHY?
Not everyone must do every type of exercise in a given workout, but everyone SHOULD at least do a thorough warm up followed by dynamic stretches. This is a way to signal to the muscles and joints, “Hey! You’re about to be on so get ready!” From there, people who are new to exercise will spend more time on large muscle and stabilization exercises like a bridge floor press or single leg bench squats, while those looking for a more advanced workout might spend less time on foundational movements and go right to ballistic exercises such as box jumps or medicine ball throws. Everyone’s starting point is different, but even the most seasoned workout junky should do some planks and air squats before launching right into Kettlebell swings.
Grab a friend and try this hop and balance test:
One person balances on whichever leg they choose for 30 seconds while the other hops on the foot of their choice for the same amount of time. Then the person who was balancing will start hopping on the same leg, while the other will balance on the leg they were just hopping on. Who balanced better, the person who hopped first, or the person who hopped second? Was there any difference in how long either could hop on one leg before feeling any kind of fatigue?
It’s important to work large muscles and do exercises that focus on precision, stability and balance before working smaller stabilizer muscles and doing more dynamic movements. Doing exercises the other way around would compromise the integrity of movement, so while it might be tough to jump on a leg that is somewhat fatigued from balancing, it’s a lot harder to balance on a leg after its fast-twitch muscles have been firing like crazy.
Working out on your own? No problem! You can follow this formula:
Cardio - If you are an endurance athlete with a specific schedule to follow, sprinkle in some resistance exercises immediately following your key workouts. Do not do them on your rest day - because then you’re not actually resting!
If you are doing cardio for the sheer joy of making your heart beat faster, then it is totally a matter of personal preference whether you do it before or after resistance training. Just remember to always warm up, regardless of which you do first.
Large Muscles - Alternate muscle groups so you can move from one exercise to the next and continuing working one part of the body while the other recovers. IE) Alternate sets of squats with lat pull-downs, or lunges and push-ups.
Small/stabilizer muscles - Incorporate another layer of difficulty to your usual bicep curls by standing on one foot, or do a step-up exercise adding in an overhead dumb bell press.
Dynamic movement - Sprinkle in some low box or bench jumps, mountain climbers, or the ever-popular burpee towards the end of your workout. Challenge yourself by time rather than reps so that if you do start to fatigue to the point that your form fails, you can stop for a couple seconds to take a breath, and then adjust your pace so that you can finish the set safely.
Additional Core - Sit ups and crunches are great, but if you can do 100 of them, there’s a way to do 10 and make them feel more challenging and actually be more effective. Use this time to regain control of your breathing. One of my favorites is the “slow roll” sit up. Lay flat with your legs straight and anchored together, heels pressed into the ground. Sit up as tall as you can without lifting your legs off the ground and reach up toward the ceiling. Count to five (“Mississippi”) as you slowly roll back toward the mat, do not touch down before reaching five!
Warm Down and Stretch - Take full advantage of your “me time” with static stretches that target each muscle you worked. A stretch should feel like a gentle tug, not a hard pull. IF IT IS PAINFUL, STOP! I do not recommend a full yoga class immediately following a hard workout, but certain poses are beneficial to opening up the chest, back and hips and restoring fluid motion when sore. Whether you run or not, check out studios that offer yoga for runners because these classes often target the same tight areas that many people suffer from - low back, hamstrings, hips and upper back - without making you try to do a bunch of handstands or twist yourself into a pretzel.
So as you can see, there IS a method to the madness, but with plenty of opportunity for variety and customization based on each individual’s needs and preferences. If you are interested in training in the Midtown Atlanta or Decatur area, be sure to contact me here to schedule your free 30-minute assessment!
If there is nothing else I have learned from my years of training (myself, as well as others), it is that the best advancements in strength and stamina occurred once I became comfortable being uncomfortable!
Cardiovascular training is important for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that the heart is the most important muscle in the body!
But working outside of what feels “normal” or comfortable is hard, and takes heart of a different kind. Here, I highlight two methods of cardiovascular training and the benefits of both.
I can't tell you how many times I started down that path and thought, "Well, maybe I'm just not a trail runner." From the burn of lactic acid that seemed to build in every part of my body to the frustrated tears that came with every misstep and ankle twist, I legitimately thought this was a thing, like so many other sports I had tried in the past, that simply wasn't for me.
Stretching is a natural and instinctive movement. When we wake up, we extend our legs to break out of the stiffness of slumber. After sitting at a desk for several hours, it can feel good to lift the arms overhead and reach up high through the fingertips. But there is some confusion around stretching and when or how to do it before or after a workout.
A Pair Of Weights
Body That's Ready To Move
The sun was setting on Michigan Bluff, and my chances of doing what I had come to California to do. My arrogant voice echoed in my head, repeating the words I’d told everyone leading up this race: “The only way I’m coming home without a buckle is if I break a leg or die.” Yet there I was, just 30 minutes from the final blast of the air horn signifying the closing of the aid station, absolutely convinced there was no way I was going to make it to the finish.
Back at the starting line, I was anxious but confident. Just standing there with the other runners at the 45th running of the Western States Endurance Run was an honor in and of itself, and I was ready to prove what relentless determination and a hefty dose of East Coast grit can do. To be clear: I am NOT fast and I had zero time goals. But I also don’t DNF (that's runner-speak for "did not finish"). I have never had to battle against the clock to make cutoffs, which is why I was so unprepared to have to do just that.
Our first and biggest climb up Emigrant Pass was simply amazing. I felt strong, running slow but steady on the few flatter stretches and maintaining a strong power hike for the rest. As we neared the top, the sun rose over Lake Tahoe, illuminating the valley below. The magnitude of these mountains quite literally took my breath away. Cresting that first incline, I was filled with optimism and gratitude for what the day might hold. A large group of spectators and volunteers, who had woken up just as early as the runners they were cheering, awaited our arrival at the top.
I wanted to take a moment and dive a little deeper into how I used to train (incorrectly) and how that has made me the trainer I am today.
As I may have mentioned before, my first run after years of smoking, drinking, and Taco Bell lunches was about 1.5 miles and TERRIBLE. That first run sucked so bad, and hurt so much, that the first thing I did before brewing my coffee and getting ready for work was smoke another cigarette. Despite my years spent running track and cross country, in that moment I thought I had no business calling myself a runner ever again. Luckily, I had a little bit of coaching from my high school days that I could latch onto, to recognize that maybe I needed a slightly more structured approach to training. I knew that not exercising was not an option, nor was winging it. But what could I do to make it not suck?
There’s actually really no secret about sweat... but there is a lot of misinformation. One example of this is the idea that sweat can carry away the previous nights’ sins and help the body rid itself of impurities. People go to hot yoga because they swear they can feel their body detoxifying when it's actually the water they are chugging afterwards that is helping to flush out the liver. I've actually gotten scolded by a rider in one of my classes for having the fans on too high because he wasn't sweating enough and therefor was losing the benefit of the workout.
In 2017 American adults spent an average of nearly three hours on their phone EVERY day. Still, the number one excuse I hear from new clients about why they have struggled to start or maintain a fitness routine is NOT ENOUGH TIME. Surely, in this digital age, I know we rely heavily on our handheld devices for any number of functions, and with a countless variety of workout apps and fitness trackers it seems like it ought to be easy to get on a routine, with all the alerts and reminders these technologies can give us to get up and get moving.
“I just... I just can’t. I just can’t focus. My brain can’t...” The words failed as my eyes welled up with tears. My husband and only pacer tripped just five miles into the 25 he was planning on running with me, and while avoiding a faceplant, he severely aggravated a persistent back injury. I felt bad for him and knew he didn’t want to tell me here, at mile 86-point-something, that he was afraid to run anymore. The problem was, without someone to push me (or clap their hands two inches from my face) and keep me awake, I was afraid to keep going, too.
My time goals were slipping away as the night stole confidence from my stride. My headlamp was fading along with my brain. My feet burned from blisters thanks to multiple water crossings and kicking a few rocks myself. Really, everything between my knees and my neck was fine... just the bottom and top were coming undone. And the top part - my mind, so desperate to curl up in the dirt and close my eyes - this was the beast I wasn’t expecting to battle.