With my background in high performance sport, my definition of a workout was pretty complex. Workouts had to contain a dynamic warm up, main lifts such as Olympic lifts, squats, presses and pulls, an assistant circuit, a core circuit, and some sort of cool down. My workouts back in the day would easily run 60-90 minutes.
In the past four years, the chances of me fitting in a 60-90 minute workout have been more or less zero, and because of my slightly Type-A personality, if I couldn’t find 60-90 minutes, I would just skip the workout because I didn’t see the value in doing part of a workout. With a hectic life running a business, getting the dog walked and parenting, this approach to training didn’t leave many days when a workout was possible. To make matters worse, when I finally had a day to fit in my workout, it had often been 7-10 days since my last session, and my typical 60-90 minute workout left me sore for days.
Needless to say, I re-evaluated my approach to training, and I took lessons from the work I do with elite athletes to revamp my own personal approach to training. During the competitive season it is next to impossible to fit in strength workouts with my elite speed skaters and skiers. Skipping workouts is not an option due to the detraining effect on strength and power so we fit in smaller workouts that may last 15-20 minutes at select points in the training week. Obviously these workouts are considerably different than the workouts they perform in the summer but it allows us to hit the gym and maintain strength and power throughout the competitive season without conflicting with the rest of the competitive schedule.
Here are a few characteristics of these workouts:
- The warm up is short, focused and specific. It includes mobilization and activation of problematic areas. It does not address the “full system” warm up that we typically do in the summer months.
- The program addresses one or two main lifts, and when possible, these lifts are done in a paired fashion. To a lot of you a paired exercise approach may resemble circuit training but the difference is the appropriate rest interval between working sets is always taken with a paired approach.
- We build to one hard set. I always indicate a hard set on my training programs with a ‘+’ sign. The rep and set scheme might read: 3×4+. This would mean the athlete increases the weight each set and performs the final set to technical failure. Remember, technical failure doesn’t mean a complete destruction of lifting technique. It means you couldn’t perform an additional repetition with GOOD technique.
- The repetition scheme is usually in the range of 2-5 repetitions.
- If time permits, after the main lifts there is a short finishing circuit that focuses on the key weaknesses or physiological needs of the athlete.
I took the principles above and tweaked them to meet the needs of a 30 something guy who wants to stay in shape. Instead of one hard set, I might perform two hard sets, which is written as 3×5++. I also keep the rest intervals short. The rest intervals are usually 60-120 seconds but I often shorten them to 30-60 seconds. For all you strength coaches out there, you are probably citing scientific research in your head right now that shows the negative effects of short rest intervals on strength and power production but guess what?? I don’t care! If given a choice between hitting the appropriate rest interval and getting the workout into my day, I choose the latter. I always pair three main lifts that includes a complex lower body exercise, a pushing movement and a pulling movement. I rip through these three movements in a paired fashion, building up to one or two maximal sets where I hit technical failure. After my main lifts, I finish my workout with 1-3 sets of higher repetition assistant exercises, performed in a circuit fashion. My main lifts are done in the range of 2-8 repetitions and my assistant exercises are done anywhere from 8-50 repetitions. While still respecting the exercise categories (i.e. lower body, push, pull) I change my exercises on a workout by workout basis. While the large variety in my exercise selection may limit my potential training gains, I find the variety in the movements prevents pattern overload and resulting overuse injuries, and it is also important for me mentally as it reminds me that I’m not working out for maximal gains in strength but for fitness and health.
Start to finish, my workout takes me about 10-20 minutes. Because I am performing some sort of exercise for the entire 10-20 minute period, I also get a reasonably good cardiovascular response. I’ve recorded my heart rate during these workouts and my heart rate remains between my Aerobic and Anaerobic Threshold for most of the workout and often hits my maximum heart rate minus 10-15 beats. When I have time, I always include a warm up focused on mobilization and activation of my problematic areas. I usually focus on T-spine, shoulder and hip mobilization, and core activation. My mobilization warm ups are based on movements from Pilates and Yoga, along with my own unique exercises that I have developed over the years.
Here is my workout from Sunday (performed while I played with my 4-year old):
Start Time = 12:10 pm
Shoulder Mobilization on Foam Roll
Hip Flexor Mobilization on Foam Roll
Legs Up The Wall Myofascial Stretch
Pilates Sit Up
Prone Pull In on Swiss Ball x 10
5 Minutes Lego With Son
Main Lifts Pairing (3x Each Movement Building Weight Each Set. Rest Interval = 2’ Lego)
Low Pulley Split Squat 3×30+ (Build Up To a 45 Second Set on the Final Set)
Parallel Bar Dips 4×4+ (Built Up To A Set With 80 lbs and Banged Off 6 Reps on My Last Set)
Thick Grip Pull Up 4×4+ (Built Up To a Set With 30 lbs)
Assistant Circuit (2x Each Movement With a Constant Load and No Rest)
Offset Lunge x 10/side
Thick Grip Dumbbell Zottman Curls x 10
Blast Strap Back Fly
Finish Time = 12:30 pm
This style of training is extremely effective for improving body composition, staying fit and remaining healthy. If you want more advice on this type of training, drop me a line or visit my website and click on myElite Training Program.