(Continued from Part 1.)
Anaerobic (non-oxidative) Conditioning
In the last 20 years with the popularity of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), CrossFit™, Bootcamps, and similar approaches, the anaerobic system has prominently been featured center stage in the world of exercise. While certainly meriting training and attention, this trend has in my opinion pushed the needle a little too far that direction. The Anaerobic system (comprised of many subsystems likely beyond the scope of the current audience’s interest, but if not resources will be listed!) is responsible for rapidly creating cellular energy to fuel high octane tasks. Throwing a baseball, lifting a heavy weight, sprinting 50-to-400 meters, are all tasks that primarily lie within the anaerobic domain.
When training in the anaerobic domain, the key is to find methods with which one can exert maximal and near maximum effort safely. Overly complex and technical movements are not your best bet here, because the skill to perform sed task will likely succumb to fatigue before we get to an optimum systemic stimulus.
My favorite methods include:
- Hill Sprints (possibly the all-time number 1)
- Sled Drags and pushes. (Limitless options for very inexpensive homemade variations!)
- Burpee Intervals
- Air Bike/Rower Sprints/Intervals
- Sprints (Be mindful of First completing a thorough warm-up)
There are countless methods and tools available, and many when used properly can create an absolute specimen of a human. The question in my mind is the learning curve and potential for maximal output. The above methods are simple, effective, and relatively safe. If I was working with someone who just wanted to be competent across the fitness domains and didn’t need excessive novelty in training, this is where I’d invest my time.
When it comes to the dose of anaerobic training again we have a massive window of variability depending on individual needs.
Some considerations would be:
- Aerobic fitness: If this is low, build it first, maybe adding in a single session of higher intensity work every other week
- Age: Anaerobic work is brutally taxing to recover from, the more an athlete ages the less I need them pushing into the red.
- Goals, at the time: Think of fitness like a DJ’s sound mixing table. The adjustment knobs can never ALL be at maximal, nor should all be at the bottom. We never want a knob (a specific fitness attribute) to be at zero, but there will be an ebb and flow depending on what is a current focal point, if an area is deemed higher priority (for example a lifelong runner may want to prioritize strength training in order to achieve a more balanced overall fitness profile). More on this in the “Putting it all together section.”
Again as a flexible rule 1-2 sessions per week ONCE you have established a minimum of 2-3 months of aerobic build up would more than cover your bases in this regard. Even for a high level performer, I’d rarely advise more than 3 sessions per week of maximal anaerobic work, unless they were peaking for some kind of event.
Within each session you should rarely exceed about 20 minutes worth of this type of training, because beyond that point it’s unlikely one can sustain the output desired to specifically target the adaptations we want here. In terms of a blueprint for “what should I actually do?” I’d recommend the following:
- Start simple and low technicality for the movements and exercises you choose for your higher threshold conditioning work. Think something you can safely exert yourself near maximally without having to think too much. My list above of favorites aligns well with this principle.
- Aim for a low number (3-6 depending on the duration) of repeats of high level work for somewhere between :20 and 2 minutes.
- Increase the duration of each repeat, within the above window, week to week ONLY if you are able to maintain your output (i.e. you don’t drop off too much as your repeats progress).
- Increasing the number of reps is another solid progression tool. Be mindful that in this instance quality far outweighs quantity.
- Once you become more advanced you can incorporate varying movements and circuit type drills into a single repeat, if that’s something you enjoy (but it’s DEFINITELY not required). An example of this would be:
3-6 Repeated Rounds of:
- 10 Burpees
- 50m Sprint
- 10 Burpees
- 50m Sprint
(OR equivalent reps and distances that put you in the desired time window).
- As a broad rule, when training this system, you need a sufficient amount of rest in between efforts. If your output is truly maximal that means 2-5 minutes or maybe more for someone a little more out of shape. To simplify, you should have essentially caught your breath between efforts.
“Stronger people are harder to kill and more useful in general” – Mark Rippetoe, Strength Coach
The thought of resistance or strength training likely conjures up images of greased up meatheads to the uninitiated, and if you consume the standard American social media diet you’d likely only confirm that preconceived notion. However, the truth is strength training and resistance training (I’ll use those terms interchangeably for the purpose of this article) should be a staple in the fitness diet of anyone who values longevity, independence, health, and broad capability. Research has time and time again shown that aside from the aesthetic benefits, strength training is directly tied to longevity (strength being directly linked to the elderly maintaining faculties and autonomy) and muscle has been dubbed by some as the organ of longevity. The longevity benefits aside, the ability to move heavy (as a relative term) loads safely is absolutely at the heart of any type of preparedness plan.
Fundamentals of Strength Training
More so than the various methods of conditioning discussed prior, strength training is more technical, and brings with it more room for questions and debated topics. It’s fairly straight forward to lace up a pair of running shoes and go for a jog, not so much with a program that involves attempting to in some fashion move an external load (or perhaps just your body weight!). With that, I’d like to lay out the fundamental principles of strength training. The following principles are largely agreed upon and leave enough room for much individualization.
1) Exercises must be executed properly: Safety is paramount, if you are moving a load but doing so with compromised technique, injury is not far behind. Mastering any movement unloaded, or extremely lightly loaded, is a requisite first step.
Recommendation: Good- Do a little YouTube recon and get an understanding of the major points of performance of the exercises in question, videotape yourself and see how your execution compares to the video. Better- Video the movement in question and have a knowledgeable party provide feedback and specific pointers. Best- If you have the means, hiring a local weightlifting coach or established Personal trainer for a minimal number of sessions to establish fundamental technique is definitely the best bet as they can give you the hands on coaching needed to optimize your form.
2) When seeking to improve their fitness must be some form of progressive overload/metric that increases the stimulus. Plain and simple, something must gradually increase the challenge overtime, in a way that’s intelligent. And this doesn’t simply have to be load used. Some examples include: Number of sets, number of reps, decreasing a rest interval, slowing down the speed a rep is completed,
3) There are no “mandatory” exercises everyone should perform, but there are general movement patterns that should be trained to round out a balanced approach. People vary so much in size and proportion that not all exercises will optimally “fit” a person. Obviously, some movements are challenging, and are meant to be so, but there is a difference between being challenged, and something that for a number of reasons your body cannot safely complete without severely compromising technique. Thinking instead of general movement patterns, and finding a way to load them that works for you as an individual is a much better mindset for long term results and also compliance. In general, most exercises will fall into one of the following categories and with a little analysis and perhaps creativity most people will be able to find suitable fits for each category.
Upper Body Push: Pushing something away from your body
- Bench pressing and all variations
- Variations of Pushups
Upper Body Pull: Pulling something towards your body or pulling your body towards something
- Pullups and all variations
- Rows and All variations
Squat/Knee Dominant Movement: Any movement on 1 or 2 legs that involves a deep bend at the knees
- Squatting and all variations
- Lunging and all variations
Hinge: Any movement that involves hinging at the hips (Note: this is NOT just bending coming from the spine)
- Deadlifts and all variations
- Most Hamstring curl type movements fall in this category as well
Carry: Moving with some kind of weight in the hands or on the body
- Farmers Carries (walking with heavy stuff in your hands)
- Rucking/Walking with some kind of load on your back
Core: Various movements that challenge the stability and strength of the torso, either dynamic or static
- Planks/various holds
- All various manner of sit-up/crunch type exercises
Notice in these principles that I didn’t mention anything about needing to train for 2-3 hours a day, or completing only X number of sets of X number of reps, because really that is not as foundational. What is most important is hitting those three items, consistently, and having at least a rough idea of some way shape or form in which you are trying to incrementally improve (hopefully you’ve picked up on that pattern by now). If you abide by those three principles, proper execution and mastery of the movement, having some tangible variable in your training you’re seeking to improve over time, and training the body’s movement patterns and muscles in a balanced fashion – you will be a stronger, healthier, and more resilient version of yourself for years to come.
So with those principles in mind what is the next step? Does one need a gym membership or can I do this all from home? The answer is, both will work wonderfully! Obviously, I think this audience would be a fan of something they can call their own and use wherever and whenever they like, so let’s focus there. When it comes to home workout equipment it can very quickly escalate into an expensive endeavor, but it doesn’t have to. There are many resources out there (especially now and during the past six months) on DIY gym equipment if you are looking to get fit on the cheap. I would caution you to test everything before use in a safe manner. As a starter setup you could do a tremendous amount with:
- A loadable barbell and plates
- And/or A set of dumbbells (weights dependent on the individual) or adjustable dumbbells
- A rack (either built or bought)
- A bench (either built or bought)
- A sled (mentioned in the anaerobic conditioning section) (again super easy to build one from an old tire… I’ll link a YouTube video in the resources section)
- Loadable Sandbags (super easy to build inexpensively)
With those items, you can effectively work everything I stated in all the previous sections, and make incredible progress for years and years. In the resources section (in Part 2) I list some of my favorite books on specific programs that are incredibly easy to follow for all levels of trainees, and take the guesswork out of all the possible questions you might have in that arena. All of which would be doable on this amount of equipment.
When it comes to the details of how many days per week and how much should one train, the following would be very general starter guidelines:
- Beginner: 2x per week (new to strength training) Train all movement patterns 2x per week
- Intermediate: 2-3x per week (some experience) Train all movement patterns 3x per week or alternate upper/lower
- Advanced: 3-4x per week (well-established recent background of strength training) Ideally training 2 days Upper Body and 2 days lower body
Specific Set/Rep Breakdowns: This gets tricky because there is so much that goes into it. But let’s give you a place to start! When it comes to training a movement pattern in your session, since I recommend most engage in full-body workouts to start, I would begin with 1 exercise per movement pattern, 2-4 Sets per movement pattern, and 6-20 repetitions per set, resting between 60-120 seconds per set. It is far better to begin at a lower amount of work (termed “volume” in the lifting world) and leave room to steadily progress than to smash yourself out the gate. No matter what you do if you are just beginning, expect some soreness, that’s normal and will subside with time. You will learn to know the difference between soreness and anything more severe pretty quickly.
When it comes to efficiency, a good program of strength training should take NO MORE than 45-60 minutes per session, with the possibility to shrink that down to 30 mins if you are looking to go minimalist.
What if you have no equipment and can’t acquire any? Can you make progress on a bodyweight/limited equipment program? Absolutely! It is entirely possible and the very same principles still apply. For example, let’s isolate the progression of an upper body push pattern over 5 weeks for someone who has zero equipment.
- Week 1: 4 Sets of Pushups totaling 75 reps
- Week 2: 4 Sets of Pushups totaling 90 Reps
- Week 3: 90 Pushups in a shorter amount of total time than week 2 took
- Week 4: 90 Pushups with hands on textbooks to add 1-2” range of motion
- Week 5: 110 Pushups with hands on the same books
Again, with no equipment, this person has just become stronger in their upper body push pattern, and could arguably do so indefinitely with a little creativity. If we’re being technical, they might not improve their “maximal strength” but that is a few layers deeper than we need to dive at this time; suffice it to say they have become a more physically competent human! The same principle can be applied to all movement patterns. Add to this person’s arsenal a DIY sled and sandbag for short money and they are on the fast track to fitness and fortitude!
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)