Last week I made it to the halfway point in my intensive personal training course at Fitness Industry Education and passed my tests as a gym instructor. The course has been really eye opening – I knew I would learn a lot but some nuggets of information have been real keepers. I wanted to share them with you here.
The Strength / Endurance Continuum
This is not something out of Star Trek but a useful chart to help you work out what strength system is being used. Strength training can be broken up into three broad areas: Strength Training, Hypertrophy, and Endurance Strength Training. In short, the Strength end is about getting stronger, Hypertrophy is about building up the size of your muscles, and the endurance end is about being able to use your muscles for an extended period of time.
To train each one you use a different number of repetitions and different levels of weight to achieve the desired benefits. This is probably pretty obvious to most people, and I had an idea about this before the course but having it clearly spelled out has been very useful.
Strength training is about building raw strength and power, this is the kind of workout you hear a lot about on social media – people talking about there 1RM – the heaviest weight they can lift for 1 repetition. There is extensive research into different training systems for this end of the continuum but, to keep it simple here, we will stick with the basic guidelines: you complete between 1 – 8 repetitions where the last rep leads to failure – you cannot lift any more.
This can be done for a number of sets but, due to the intensity of these lifts, you need a good rest in between – about 3 to 4 minutes.
Hypertrophy is about building the size of your muscles – it’s about getting the big guns! For hypertrophy you want to be performing between 10 – 12 repetitions but this time to overload. Overload is where you can finish the set but you are starting to struggle, the muscles are burning but you could push out a few more if you had to.
As with all training, this can be done for multiple sets and we’ve been trying out some interesting training methods such as the Delorme Watkins 10RM system.
Endurance Strength Training
This is the end of the continuum that I have found myself training in most – though not deliberately. Here you want to be performing, to overload again, 15 – 20 reps though you can go up to 25. Research has shown that over 25 reps stops yielding the same benefits and, if you can perform that many, you should be upping the weight to increase intensity.
I’ve found myself doing lots of high rep work, often over 25 reps, and am now looking at adjusting my training to bring it more in line with the recommendations I’ve learnt. I want to keep focussing on the endurance end of the continuum but I know I’m lacking raw strength in some areas and, if I could, I’d like to build the size of some of my muscles..
What is the purpose of stretching? If you had asked me a few weeks ago I would have given you a jumbled answer involving squeezing out the lactic acid that might have built up, increasing flexibility, and other half-baked ideas. The main purpose of post-exercise stretching is to return your muscles back to the original length prior to exercise.
This is achieved in just 10-15 seconds – I didn’t know this! That is not to say 10-15 seconds per stretch is all you need to do but the muscle will be back to its original length by then. Once the muscle is back to it’s original length then it is useful and encourage to use developmental stretching to increase the length and start fixing any problems that might exist in the muscles. This is achieved by taking the stretch further after 10 seconds, 2 or 3 times.
There are also a number of other techniques and benefits to stretching but here is the simplest. If you fail to stretch after exercise, your muscles will shorten and this will lead to all sorts of horrible problems and imbalances.
Nutrition – my eating
I’m the first to admit that I have fallen off the wagon in my lifetime. However, I do believe I have a pretty balanced and healthy diet. I’ve worked hard at changing it over the last few years and the benefits have been massive.
As part of my personal training coursework, we are all analysing each others food diaries and I have been a little surprised by mine. As a general rule, my diet is good but there are a number of times that I have felt I’ve earned something, or thought what’s so bad about a little of that and it can have a major impact on my intake for the day.
I do not believe it is possible to eat perfectly all the time, it is pretty boring too, but I’m really glad I’ve started keeping a food diary as it has highlighted some habits that I would like to reign in. I’ve been using MyFitnessPal to track my food consumption – I’d highly recommend you giving it a try and seeing how you fair. An important bit of advive though… be honest, you’re only cheating yourself!
Though not strictly a result of the course, what I have been learning on the course has really made me rethink my approach to supplements while training. Over the last 2 years I have been using different protein shakes and supplements, all to varying levels of success. What I’ve realised is that simplicity is the best policy. Oh, and quality!
I had tried a number of the main brand protein shakes but it is only recently following advice from Fitter Food, that I’ve started to cut back on ones that are meant to be doing more for you than just supplying nutrition. All the extra jazz in them is coming from man-made substances and chemicals and I’m just not sure I want that in my body.
I’ve recently discovered The Organic Protein Company who take the approach of do one thing and do it well to heart, they only offer organic whey protein. This, post-exercise has been brilliant.
One thing I’d note, though, is that though I feel the benefits of a post workout shake, I have definitely been guilty of forgetting that protein intake and thus over-doing my protein levels during the rest of the day. I’m also going to start cycling protein shake use so that my body doesn’t become acclimatised to regular doses.
Rest and Recovery
Like the protein shake point, this is not so much a direct result of the course, more a result of thinking more about how I train – and recover. I have long been a fan of the Gym Jones concept – these are the guys behind the bodies of Superman and the 300 actors. Founded by alpine climbing legend Mark Twight, it is their training director, Rob MacDonald (or Bobby Maximus, as he is known) who has been really inspirational recently.
He wrote an article recently for Breaking Muscle titled Repeat After Me: There Is No Such Thing As Overtraining and in this he made some very enlightening points the main being – you’re not overtraining you’re under recovering. This is an angle I’ve not considered before – I’ve known recovery is important but have still ignored tell-tale signs and tried to push through, tried to man-up and just get on with it. Sure, there are times when you need to do this but, also, there are plenty of times that just taking a step back, having a good break from it all, and properly resting is the only solution.
I have to admit, I’m also just as guilty of over resting sometimes but, hey, nobody’s perfect!
I’m looking forward to learning more on the final few weeks, as well as the learning more from this path I’ve chosen to take. It really is fascinating what we can get our bodies to do and the processes and strategies we can use to achieve these goals are simply inspiring.