Ah…to workout or not to workout – this is definitely not the question
here, since most of us already know how essential regular exercise is to good
health. I don’t need to spend any time, then, going over all the benefits
exercise has to offer. What I would like to do, instead, is spend some time
giving you the latest and most cutting edge tips on maximizing your workouts
for optimal results.
The first thing you must do when putting together a fitness program is to determine
what your current exercise habits are. For instance, if you already work out
occasionally but wish to add more consistency, then you might consider yourself
an irregular exerciser. If instead, you have not exercised in a while or if
you have never exercised at all, then you should consider yourself a beginner.
Maybe this sounds obvious but, by putting yourself into the proper category,
it will make a difference in how you should approach your workouts. Starting
off on the wrong foot may literally trip you up, so it is important to do it
right from the beginning.
The next thing you want to do is determine your goals. Do you want to get stronger,
have more endurance or perhaps become more flexible? Do you want to lose weight
or maybe just get more toned? Cool! Whatever you wish, establish it from the
start so that you have a point of reference from which you can chart your progress
When you know your goals and have honestly evaluated your current exercise
level you can get to the meat and potatoes of the program – actually
working out. I recognize that getting started on any type of new regimen might
be difficult at first, but it really only takes an initial push. Once you have
built up enough momentum, it should become much easier. An ancient Chinese
proverb illustrates this point beautifully; it says, “The journey of
a thousand miles begins with a single step”. This isn’t any less
true than when embarking on an exercise program.
So, now that you have made it to the gym, what next? Your first consideration
should be to follow a well-balanced program, one that has a nice mix of cardiovascular,
resistance (weights) and flexibility (stretching) exercises. Don’t try
to do everything on the same day. My recommendation is that you split-up your
cardio from your lifting routine. The reason is that each one of those exercises
takes a considerable amount of energy when done right. Doing both on the same
day will tire you out, pretty much diminishing your output for the exercise
you choose to do last and thereby reducing its benefit. Stretching, on the
other hand, should be done every time you go to the gym. In fact, I recommend
doing a little every day.
One question that I am often asked is, “How many days a week should I
be working out?” This is a tricky question considering everybody is different,
but I think that 3-4 days a week should be sufficient. Yes, some people have
to do a little something every day. Maybe they need to decompress from the
stresses of daily life or maybe it’s just the way they like to do it.
Whatever the reasons, it is definitely not necessary, and for some it might
even be dangerous.
The fact is that one can overdo it. There is a real disorder called overtraining
syndrome and it is a severe form of burnout. Some of the symptoms include:
| • Increased fatigue
• Feeling drained
• Persistent soreness
• Grumpiness or negative attitude
• Loss of appetite
• Persistent illness, colds, sore throats
• Fidgeting or persistent twitching
• Increased body fat
This syndrome is no joke and if you are feeling any of these symptoms persistently,
you might want to rethink your current exercise routine.
But let’s get back to you and me, because we don’t have that problem,
right? Yes, yes… I know, quite the opposite. Let’s say a four day
workout week is what you decide, then you might break it down something like
| • Two days weights, two days cardio or
• Two days weights, one day cardio, one day yoga or
• Two days weights, one day cardio, one day tennis
• (or boxing or pole
dancing or whatever)
Whichever way you mix it up will be great – just make sure to balance
the three activities we have mentioned earlier, and don’t forget to stretch
every time you work out.
Let me point out that you will want to do a quick warm-up before you lift,
as it is a must to get the blood flowing throughout your entire body. I recommend
doing five to ten minutes of cardio either on the bike, the treadmill or the
elliptical trainer (this is an especially good piece of equipment for anybody
who experiences foot, ankle or knee pain or hip/low back pain). You should
start slowly but increase the speed after one or two minutes. For the last
three to eight minutes you should pretty much go full throttle; build up a
sweat. Once you are warm you can go ahead and start lifting.
There are several ways you can approach your lifting routine. A full body workout
is the most comprehensive, but you can certainly split up body parts. If you
do, I strongly recommend not ignoring your legs. Not only do skinny legs look
funny in relation to a well developed upper body, but exercising them will
burn more fat than any other exercise you do, period. That’s right – PUMPING
LEG IRON BURNS FAT! It does so as a result of the high metabolic need of the
leg muscles to repair themselves following a workout session. In fact, lifting
weights with any body part will burn fat efficiently; it’s just that
the legs are the biggest muscles in the body, so they will burn the most.
I am a huge advocate of core training: working the abs and butt every session.
The abdominal muscles are the core of your body and stabilize the low back and pelvic regions during everyday movements like walking and
lifting, as well as for just about every other activity you can think of. If
you neglect to strengthen your abdominal and/or gluteal muscles, you increase
your chances of suffering from injury exponentially. Work them out every session;
it’s a must. If you do not know the proper way to work these babies,
ask me, I’ll be happy to demonstrate.
As far as stretching is concerned, concentrate on the body parts you exercise
that day, particularly since they will get tight from the workout. I stretch
between sets, so if I bench press, I’ll stretch my pecs (chest muscles)
before I do the next exercise. Stretches should be held for about thirty seconds.
This gives the muscle time to add more fibers to its ends, lengthening itself
in the process. How far you stretch is not as important as the length of time
you hold the stretch – at least in the beginning. As you get used to doing
it and subsequently become more flexible, you can concentrate on stretching farther,
but you still want to hold it for at least thirty seconds so that your muscles
have time to elongate.
Another tip concerning weight lifting: mix it up from time to time. The human
body is very efficient at adapting to stress and will quickly get used to the
same routine. You can offset this by changing exercises, changing from machines
to free weights or by increasing the amount of repetitions or sets you are currently
doing. Either way, mix it up every 1-2 months; it is important to keep challenging
yourself at all times.
Challenging yourself is also important when doing cardio. Cardiovascular exercise
is for just that – your cardiovascular and pulmonary systems; your heart,
your blood vessels, your lungs. It is essential to do some form of this exercise
regularly. But, just as you will adapt to the stresses of lifting weights, you
will also adapt to a cardio routine done the same week after week. It is therefore
important to mix up your cardio workouts every so often. If you mainly run on
the treadmill, try the elliptical trainer or the bike or the very vicious stair
climber, you know, the one with the revolving staircase. Mixing it up like this
will keep you consistently challenged while improving your strength and endurance
in the process.
Now, there is some controversy as to the best way to do cardiovascular exercises.
One prevalent theory is to bring your heart rate up to a certain percentage of
your maximum which will ensure optimal fat burning. In my opinion, this is unnecessary.
The best way to do it is to warm up for 1-2 minutes then go balls to the walls
for the remaining time, slowing down every couple of minutes to bring your heart
rate back down. You can then speed it up again after a couple of minutes, raising
your heart rate and challenging yourself once more. Just monitor your breathing
and if you feel winded, slow it down; you can always bring it back up in a minute.
This technique will give you the best training and consequently the best results.
I believe thirty minutes is good enough. Trust me; thirty minutes of cardio done
all out is just as good, if not better, than doing an hour moderately paced.
Obviously, everybody is different, so your balls to the walls level may not be
the same as mine. It may be a one minute sprint or it may be a fast walking pace.
Either way, there is no one speed that is better than another – it is just
what gets you breathing and sweating harder that really matters. So, be safe – push
yourself, but don’t overdo it.
As far as how long one should work out in total: my personal philosophy is to
not be in the gym for longer than one hour – any more is overkill. When
your workouts begin to stretch into one and a half hours, two or even more, it
can eventually become an obstacle, preventing you from working out at all if
you have to find that kind of time to do it. You want to give your body a kick,
not a whooping! One hour should give you time to exercise, stretch and have a
life too – if that is at all important to you.
Exercising regularly requires you to pay special attention to a few dietary principles.
First, make sure you drink lots of water before, during and after your workouts.
By exercising, you sweat more and you need to replenish the water you lose. Drinking
two liters per day is a minimum requirement, in my opinion. Less than that and
you leave yourself susceptible to sprains, strains and other injuries that can
be otherwise prevented.
You should also have some sort of carbohydrate replenishment immediately following
your workout. This can be in the form of a sports bar or a sports replacement
drink. Gatorade is
my personal favorite and I drink it only during and after a workout; never on
day that I am not physically active. This is because it is high in glucose which
is basically sugar. Although you need to replenish glucose stores that become
depleted during exercise, a sport replacement drink consumed when you are not
exercising will give you more calories than you want or need, and will ultimately
be deposited as fat. Sports replacement drinks also replenish lost electrolytes
which become secreted in the sweat and are very important to many metabolic functions.
Eat some protein within one hour of lifting weights. A good sports bar should
do fine immediately following your workout, but it is a good idea to eat some
real food between 1-2 hours post-session to give your body the protein it needs
to build muscle. Some good foods to try are meats, eggs, fish, nuts or peanut
butter. Either way, get something in you; don’t ignore this important habit,
even if you are trying to lose weight. If you don’t take in some form of
protein, your body will pull it from the only source it has – your own
muscle tissue. Not only will this prevent muscle growth, it will also lead to
overtraining syndrome, which, as we’ve said before, is something you don’t
want to mess around with.
Lastly, since exercising can increase the formation of free radicals in your
body, and these are known to be the cause of many cancers, you will want to add
a good anti-oxidant supplement like alpha-lipoic
acid to your diet. By doing so, you will beat down free radicals right in
This and a good multi-vitamin are a must if you exercise regularly.
Also, working out puts stress and strain on your body, so keeping up with your
regular chiropractic checkups is a must. Exercise and chiropractic go hand in
hand, and each one is definitely enhanced by the other. You will find that you
can do so much more at the gym when you are properly aligned and in-balance that
you will want to take full advantage of this option.
For the most part, the steps I have outlined are the most basic and essential
to an effective workout routine. If you follow them closely you should notice
results in a relatively short period of time. The most important thing, though,
is to consider your exercise routine as a part of your lifestyle. When you see
it in this way, you will be less likely to guilt trip yourself if you happen
to miss a session here or there. You will have no need to do that if you know
you will be back to the gym sooner or later. You will also start to notice all
the little things that come along with practicing this habit like how much better
you feel, how much better you function, and of course, what we all care about
no matter how secretly – how much better you look. I promise that if you
follow the routine as I have outlined here for a period of no less than one year,
results will be yours. Without a doubt, when that time passes you will look in
the mirror and see a completely different person staring back at you. The end
product will be certainly worth the work – you’ve got my guarantee.
- January 28, 2006
The Six Keys to Optimal Health by Dr. Nicolas Campos
For More Advice on Health and Optimal Living Read
“The Six Keys to Optimal
Health” by Dr. Nicolas Campos
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