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Friday, January 15, 2010

Choosing Exercises for Your Workout

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

So you're ready to start a workout program. You intend to approach this whole "getting in shape" thing intelligently, so you give yourself the best chance of reaching your fitness goals and, hopefully, so you'll enjoy the process itself.

Yesterday I gave you some overall guidance on how to workout successfully. Today I'm going to give you a few more basic principles that will help you choose what exercises will be best for your workout; then we'll spend the next few days looking at some of the typical exercises you might want to include. I'm going to focus on what I have called bodyweight, self, and imagined resistance exercises, because these require no special equipment and you can easily adjust how difficult they are.

First principle: Don't do workouts that you can't recuperate from in one day. This principle was borrowed from Charles Atlas, and I make it the bedrock of our approach simply because it helps us guard against doing too much. If you work out today and wake up the next day a bit tired, that's one thing; but if you work out that second day and then wake up tired again the next morning, you're doing too much. In that case, you would take that day off, then pick up your workout the following day but doing a little less. I know that may mean you can't do more than a couple of exercises when you first start... but that's the point. If your body can't handle it, you shouldn't be doing it! I want you to enjoy getting into shape, and I want you to see progress; that simply won't happen if you do too much starting out.

After you've been doing your workout for three months, you can stretch this rule slightly. Once a week, you can pick one or two of your exercises and do as many of them as you can, then do a less intense workout the next day, and return to your normal workout the third day. But you don't have to do it that way; it's just an option you can try if you want to... after you've been doing your workout for three months.

When you get your workout right, you'll start waking up each morning feeling GOOD and ready to attack the day. That's what we're after!

Second principle: Limit your workout to no more than 7 exercises. This one probably needs some explaining.
  • If you're going to recuperate fully in one day, then you simply can't work out as hard. After you've been working out for a while, your body will get strong enough to recuperate from more exertion, and then you can add more exercises if you like or make your existing ones harder; that's up to you. But for now, take the safe route; you'll thank me when you've been working out for a whole year and still haven't had any major injuries.
  • Using fewer exercises will force you to think about what you're trying to do and make better workout choices.
  • Fewer exercises means less time spent working out, so it's easier to fit a workout into your schedule... and you have fewer excuses not to work out.
  • With fewer exercises in a workout, changing just one or two can totally transform a workout. Result: Less boredom.
  • To get the most from a workout, you need to concentrate on each exercise; that's expecially true if you use the imagined resistance exercises. Fewer exercises means it's easier to get a good workout.
  • We'll be adding some golf-specific exercises and some aerobic work later. Don't worry, you'll get a good workout!
As time goes on, you'll find even more reasons. But this should be enough to convince you of the wisdom of this approach.

Third principle: Focus on exercises that work lots of muscles at once. If you have only 7 exercises in your workout, it follows that some exercises will have to work more than one muscle group. This saves time and promotes balanced muscle development. You'll want at least two or three of these exercises in your workout; the rest can focus on special groups where you're weak.

Fourth principle: Always work on your weaknesses. It's easy to romp through a few exercises using strong muscles, but it's those weak areas that will trip you up and cause injuries. You want to get your body strong all over. As an example, when I was working out at Gold's Gym, years of lifting boxes of books in a bookstore had given me extremely strong back muscles, but my abs were weak. My advisor specifically minimized my back workouts - just enough to make sure I kept my existing strength - and focused on my abs. This is how you work on muscle imbalances: Maintain strength in the strong muscles while building the weaker ones. So remember, work the weak muscles enough to strengthen them, and do maintenance work on the stronger opposing muscles. (Yes, I said that twice on purpose. PAY ATTENTION!)

Fifth principle: Don't do "all you can." Don't work out until you're ready to drop. There's a difference between "I got a good workout" and "I couldn't do another rep." I know bodybuilders say the last rep gives the most benefit, but that's also why so many people get hurt weightlifting. You'll need to learn the difference, but it's not that hard to learn. Here's my rule of thumb: Always stop while you've got one or two reps left in you. You'll still get a good workout, but you won't hurt yourself and you won't be tired all the time.

Sixth and final principle: Remember that progress isn't a smooth road. That simply means that you won't always see a nice linear progression of reps - you know, I can do 3 pushups today, 4 in two days, 5 in four days, 6 in six days, etc. Sometimes it's more like, I did 7 pushups for 3 days, then I spent a week where I had trouble doing 6, then suddenly I could do 10! This is called a plateau, and everybody has them. If you hit one and can't seem to break through, try the radical concept of reducing reps for a couple of days! For example, if you get hung at 6 pushups for a few days, back off to 4 for a couple of days, then try to do as many as possible the third day. Sometimes this will get you unstuck. But don't do anything to hurt yourself; remember that plateaus are your body's way of preparing to improve.

There are your basic principles. Over the next few days I'll be showing you some good exercises to use as building blocks for your workout.

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