With gyms in the UK set to re-open their doors on 12th April there are a lot of questions being asked around how to get back into the swing of things as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Whilst my underlying message has always been for sustainable approaches to fitness and trying to avoid ‘quick fixes’ for things – there are some simple principles we can follow to get ourselves back up to speed once the big reopen happens.
An efficient exercise regime should address all five ‘pillars’ of wellness:
- Cardiovascular Fitness
- Mobility / Motor Control
- Body Composition
- Emotional Wellbeing.
How much emphasis we place upon each one will depend upon our current wants and needs – our wants are simply our current goals and desired outcomes, our needs are an understanding of our current status within each of those categories. It is completely okay for a plan to ‘dial up’ the level on one or more aspects of wellness, and in turn ‘dial down’ one or two of the others – but none of them should ever be ignored altogether.
In returning to a regular exercise program it’s important to remember that we will have regressed in various aspects of our wellness, therefore when building our plan we should be looking for exercise choices and combinations that give us the most ‘bang for your buck’.
Being smart about how we organise our workouts across a week, the exercises we choose, how we group them together within each workout means we can maximise the efficiency of our program and get back to our bests in the quickest time possible.
Organising a workout week
Most research shows us that frequency rather than intensity is the most efficient way to build progress when we are either new to exercise, or returning to exercise after a layoff.
Frequency is best achieved through following a full body training plan, rather than a ‘split’ routine (those that focus on one body part or muscle group per workout). A full body training plan allows every muscle group to be worked multiple times per week, whereas a ‘split’ routine may see each muscle group worked much more intensely, but just once every seven days.
Split routines tend to be more popular with elite level bodybuilders and physique competitors, who will perform multiple sets on a specific body part in one workout – designed to cause the maximum metabolic damage to that muscle which will then require the full week to recover.
Full body routines are the most effective way of working for pretty much everyone else!
Every movement of our bodies is built up of the fundamental movement patterns of Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, and Lunge. We can think of those as our exercise periodic table, or the key ingredients in our cooking cupboard!
When choosing specific exercises, the most effective and efficient way is to focus on multi joint or compound movements. These are exercises that cause us to use the most muscle tissue, and so both build the most strength, and require the most energy to perform.
Examples of compound exercises would be:
Push: Press up, shoulder press, Bench press
Pull: Bodyweight row, pull up, Dumbell Row
Squat: Goblet squat, back squat, Front Squat
Hinge: Romanian deadlift, hip thrust, TRX Leg curl
Lunge: Step up, split squat, Reverse Lunge
How we group them together
How we put exercises together can have a big impact on the efficiency of our program.
A technique I often employ with clients is to pair upper and lower body exercises together in supersets: so performing one set of the upper body exercise, then immediately performing a set of the lower body exercise – then rest – and then repeat that superset.
Grouping exercises together in upper-lower supersets makes use of a phenomena called venous shunt. This means that your cardiovascular system has to move your blood quickly from the upper body to the lower body as you move between the two exercises. Working out in this way means that we are training our cardiovascular system at the same time as training our muscular system.
I call this style of training Peripheral Heart Action
An example Peripheral Heart Action training workout plan using the exercises above would be:
A1 Back squat
A2 Bodyweight row
B1 Romanian Deadlift
B2 shoulder press (overhead press)
C1 Step Up
A1 Goblet Squat
A2 Bodyweight Row
B1 Hip thrust
B2 Push up
C1 Split Squat
C2 Side plank
A1 Front Squat
A2 Dumbell row
B1 TRX Leg Curl
B2 Bench Press
C1 Reverse lunge
I would then look to rotate clients through these two workouts across their week so each was performed twice. An example schedule may look like:
Monday: Workout 1
Tuesday: Low intensity aerobic training
Wednesday: Workout 2
Thursday: Low intensity aerobic training
Friday: Workout 3
Saturday: Higher intensity aerobic training