Spring Is Here! With a full three months of 2014 and the official beginning of Spring behind us, fitness is on everyone’s mind. Those who didn’t give up their New Year’s resolutions have redoubled their efforts, spending more time in the gym.
If you’re one of them, you have seen the number of people in your gym dwindle by a staggering 78%. That is the number given by many psychologists for the percentage of people who have given up or failed on their resolutions by the end of March. So, if you are one of them, I guess you could say that you are in good company. If you are one of the 22% who have stuck with your plans and are moving forward toward your goals, be proud of yourselves and carry on.
Achieving your fitness goals is not easy, but it is simple. Following the right nutrition program is an essential starting point. If you missed my last article, which addressed nutrition, please go back and read it.
For most people, a leaner, more toned body is what is desired, the coveted swimmer’s build or gymnast’s body. So, many people want to know the best toning exercises. I want to be very clear and dispel a major myth in the fitness industry here: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TONING EXERCISE. None. Not low weights, high reps; not "the three best exercises to tone the arms" article that was on the cover of whatever monthly magazine you read. None. Muscles can only grow or not grow when they are exposed to forces, like lifting weights. They do not have a "tone" setting. Done correctly, strength exercises will make muscles grow. In order for the body to appear leaner, more cut, we need to burn the fat that lies all around the muscle tissue. Bodies with muscle, in the absence of fat, are what we think of as “toned”.
Whether your goal is muscle building, fat loss or both, the first step should always be adding muscle by doing a strength and growth phase. Muscle is metabolically active and adding just a few pounds of muscle to your body will increase your metabolism so that more fat is burned from your body around the clock, even while you sleep. Once we add some strength and muscle to the body, the next step toward that sculpted swimmer’s or gymnast’s build is fat burning, coming up in the article that I will send out next week.
In order to add muscle to the body in the most efficient way, there are only a few things that we have to do, but we have to do them very well. Muscle will grow only when subjected to a force (weight) at which the muscle reaches fatigue, also called Momentary Muscle Failure (MMF). So, if we are doing 12 repetitions of an exercise we should choose a weight at which we can complete 12 repetitions with good form but not 13 (or as close to that as possible).
When a muscle reaches MMF, a process called Adaptation begins which causes the muscle to grow stronger and larger. This is similar to what happens when we go out into the sun which is at a certain strength for a certain length of time. The Melanin will cause our skin to grow darker in order to protect it from burning. It is much like this with muscle - there are signals which strengthen the muscle so that it is capable of lifting the weight to which it has been subjected.
What happens next? During the time we spend outside the gym between workouts, say 48 hours, the muscles adapt to the last workout by growing stronger and larger. If we were to come back to the gym for our next workout and lift the same weights for the same number of repetitions, no further growth would take place; the muscles are already capable of lifting at that intensity so no further adaptation would occur. To go back to sun tan analogy, if we go outside the next day for the same amount of time, and the sun is at the same strength, our skin need not darken further. This is where the next concept comes into play. In order to continue to grow stronger and add muscle to the body, the muscles must be subjected to a greater force (weight) each time we work out - This is called Progressive Resistance (PR).
From a conceptual standpoint, this is all we really need to know about how to gain strength and size. We just need the nuts and bolts of an exercise program to start the process. It is important to choose some of the best exercises for each part of the body, for each muscle or muscle group. This is the most efficient way to add muscle without spending hours and hours in the gym. Choose big exercises that target multiple muscle groups like Squats, Lunges, Dead Lifts, Chest Presses, Lat Pulldowns, Rows, Overhead Presses, etc.
The body can add muscle aggressively for 4-6 weeks for most people. We want to optimize muscle growth in this first phase of the exercise program so adding muscle is our only goal. Fat loss comes later for the reasons discussed above. If you try to add muscle and lose fat at the same time, you will not get very good results for either. The Chinese Proverb applies: ‘He who chases two rabbits catches none”.
There is one other important tool that a lot of people forget. As we did with our nutrition, we want to track our exercise program as well. If we do not, we will never know exactly the right weights, sets and repetitions we should be doing to get the best results. So, create a simple workout sheet, bring it to the gym with you and track your numbers so that you will be able to progress from workout to workout and from week to week. I cannot stress how important this is - not doing this is part of why so many people fail to get results in the gym. Simple, but very true.
If you are an experienced exerciser who gets great results in the gym, following the above tips will only improve your progress in the gym. If you are newer to strength training or feel like you are fumbling and guessing in the gym, get in touch to learn about training with me or joining one of my 10-Week, Small-Group Programs. While getting dramatic results and moving quickly toward your fitness goals is NOT easy, I do make is very simple and doable for absolutely anybody.
Greg Rothman, MS PT, is a fitness professional, writer and the owner of Empower Fitness in NYC. He received his Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from Columbia University and has twenty years of experience in the fitness and rehabilitation fields. He believes that absolutely anyone can have the body of their dreams once they understand how to eat and exercise in a way that supports their goals. It is his mission to Empower as many people as possible to do just that. His “Recession-Proof” Fitness Programs are an affordable way to find dramatic physical change over the course of 10 weeks. Greg is happy to hear from you if you have questions about any topic related to fitness or nutrition, and can be found at www.GetEmpoweredFitness.com.