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5 Tips to Engineer the Hard Work Back into Your Workout

It’s not an overstatement to say that many (dare I say most) well-meaning exercisers have found a way to engineer some of the hard work out of their workouts.  To be sure, the act of going to a health club and spending an hour there is not a guarantee that you will make meaningful improvements in health, fitness, appearance or performance.  It always surprises me that people will pay for a health club membership, buy high-tech workout clothing, take the time to drive to the gym, park, change clothes, etc. etc. but still miss out on the valuable part of the workout: intensity.  The key is to present a meaningful stimulus to the physiological systems of the body, not to simply spend time in an exercise facility.  Here is a list of 5 tips to engineer that stimulus back into your cardio-respiratory and strength workouts.  Make no mistake; the vast majority of exercisers are not meaningfully integrating these tips.

  • When using a Stairmaster, take your hands off the railings.  Earlier this week I was using a Stairmaster Step Mill at a local health club.  The 8 exercisers on either side of me had the speed set far too fast and were essentially “lying” on the machine.  This drastically decreases the caloric expenditure and cardio-respiratory benefit.
  • Skip the boot camp class that has you do 50-100+ reps with a 3-pound dumbbell.  Your muscles may “burn,” but research clearly demonstrates that a heavier weight that produces momentary muscle failure within a rep range of about 6-20 is far more productive for increasing strength, tone, definition, etc.
  • Never perform an exercise on an unstable surface (Bosu ball, balance board, etc.).  Research shows us that the benefits of strength training are drastically reduced when strength exercises are performed on an unstable surface.  What about balance?  Research clearly shows us that we don’t improve balance by practicing balance exercises (balance is “task-specific,” if we improve balance on a ball, it does not transfer to other “real-life” contexts).  Balance requires a complex synergistic effort between many different muscles, and the best way to improve performance is to strengthen those muscles.
  • Don’t try to mimic everyday tasks or sport skills during your workouts (popularly referred to as “functional training”).  Science tells us that movement patterns in strength training DO NOT transfer to athletic or daily tasks.  However, the ability to produce force does transfer.  So strength training does not have to (and should not) look like the task or activity that you are training for.

When strength training, eliminate momentum by moving slowly.  This forces the muscle to do the work.

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