Spring into Action with Ten Top Fitness Tips

by Peter J. Morel CFC, CPT, CAFS

Use these ten tips to spring into the warm seasons, ready to enjoy whatever they will offer!

#1 Remember to warm up properly

Many people neglect to do a proper warm up, an important process necessary to prepare the body and its systems for the high intensity of the exercise program to follow. In the past, trainers and fitness consultants were quick to put people on the bike or rowing machine for an average of ten minutes to increase the temperature of the body and to help disperse the blood from the viscera to the working muscles. We now know that while this is fine for the cardiovascular system as it sends valuable messages to the central nervous system preparing it for the work to come, careful attention must be paid to the intensity of the warm up. If not, the increase in blood lactate could hamper the workout.

Muscles need a different type of neural message. Your central nervous system needs to relay four things to each group of muscles you are preparing to work within the exercise session: 1) What muscles do I want working?; 2) What exercise am I asking these muscles to perform?; 3) What is the range of motion in this exercise?; 4) Will there be a substantial weight involved in the exercise? Completing a couple of low repetition sets with a lighter weight than will be used for your actual workout sets can be a very good warm up.

#2 Use efficient exercises

Exercises like the bench press, the squat, and the pull up, are the backbone of any resistance-training program. Called "basic compound movements" because they force you to use the muscles attached to more than one joint, these exercises use more of the muscle fiber pool than isolation exercises such as flyes, leg extensions, or alternate curls. By using compound movements, beginners will reduce the time that they need to exercise and will reduce the possibility of over-training and over-exertion. These movements develop strength in groups of muscles and eliminate imbalances in strength in opposing movements.

#3 Make changes

Change your exercise routines often. A beginner's central nervous system learns through repetitive motion, doing a motion over and over. It's recommended that those new to exercising wait until this neural adaptation phase is complete before making changes - for most people, this takes between four to six weeks. For more advanced exercisers - those of us who have been at it for two years or more - changes need to be made as often as every two weeks before your body adapts to the routine of your program and learns to 'cheat.' If changes are not made, you will enter a state of non-progression where advances will be at a standstill. The only way to get the body to respond to exercise is to stress it in a way it is not used to.

#4 Use training cycles

The use of training cycles is vitally important to avoid falling into the 'bodybuilding' way of life, using split routines and volume training without change. For athletes, this can be a quick path to the doctor's office. No athlete can be expected to train in the same way for 52 weeks of the year, on the contrary, changes in intensity and for sport-specific movements are essential. For example bodybuilders are concerned only with appearance and have no need for jumping power, take off speed and a-lactic recovery.

Cycles are designed to help an athlete to peak at the proper time, usually at the onset of the competitive season. Cycles for mass, strength, power, speed, endurance, and recovery must all be programmed into an athletic program when needed.

#5 Keep a detailed log

Very few people can train instinctively - those who do usually end up in my office on a referral from a doctor or chiropractor! The most important reason for keeping a training log is that it gives you an up-to-date account of where you are within the training cycle and informs you when you need to change. It also comes in handy for answering questions at the doctor's office. I've often asked people what exercise they were doing and how much weight was being used, only to be told that they don't remember.

A log will also show whether or not you are achieving your goals or have reached a plateau in your program.

#6 Eat a proper diet

Nutrition is one of the most important components of the good health formula. Nothing could be truer than the old adage, "you are what you eat." Everything within our bodies can be broken down into the elements we ingest on a day-to-day basis.

When you begin to add exercise to your daily routine many systems are taxed, and how well they adapt is what makes the program work for, or against you. Without proper nutrition, exercise cannot work for you. If you abandon your daily pizza and french fries for lean meats, fruit and vegetables and follow the same exercise routine, the difference in results will be remarkable.

#7 Eat smaller portions more often

By dividing your caloric intake throughout the day, your metabolism will be forced to work at an elevated rate in order to keep digesting the constant influx of nutrients. If, on the other hand, you eat a meal consisting of a four-ounce chicken breast, a side of vegetables, a salad, milk, and desert, your body will only absorb small amounts of each nutrient at a time. The rest will be sent out as waste. By dividing the nutrients into smaller portions, more of each will be used for the repair of the systems taxed by the stress of exercise. Humans are grazers not gorgers; our systems are not designed to binge and fast, but rather to eat small amounts more often.

#8 Get a good night's sleep

This is yet another very important component of the formula for good health, since your body does as much as 70 percent of its repair work during sleep. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that if you don't get a good night's sleep you'll be a mess the next day. Don't sleep much longer than the recommended eight hours, however, because you'll be depriving your body of food for too long, which is counterproductive to your goal of improving your physical health.

#9 Keep your workouts short

Research shows that levels of productive hormones in the body reach their peak after approximately 45 minutes of exercise. Working with weights or doing cardio past this point is counterproductive since levels of byproducts such as lactic acid and catabolic hormones like cortisol will begin to saturate the blood, impeding performance and recuperation.

By keeping your workout short and intense, you keep these levels low and create a good environment for your body to adapt to the stress. Workouts do not need to be long and grueling and many people would achieve better results by reducing the amount of time they exercise in a given session.

#10 Exercise the largest muscles first

If you plan to work on more than one body part or if you're doing a whole body workout, split your program into large and small muscle groups. By working the large groups like the back, chest, and legs first, followed by the small groups like the biceps, shoulders, and calves, you will eliminate the fatigue factor in the small stabilizers. For example, let's imagine that you wanted to do a bench press, and you know that your work weight for that given exercise is 250 pounds. Before attempting the bench press you did shoulder presses and triceps extensions, then you moved on to the bench press. You attempted to do your first set of tem repetitions at 250 pounds but could only get eight. In the next set, you only complete six. What's the problem? You're not exercising your chest at the proper intensity that this large muscle group needs, and the other small muscles used in this exercise for stabilization and as secondary mover to the chest are already tired from the exercises you did prior to the bench press. A good total body split is chest, legs, back, biceps, shoulder, calves, and triceps.

Until next time stay fit and be strong.

Peter J Morel
CFC,CPT,CAFS
President TopShape Inc.
Consultant to the Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a disability.