Is Your Workout Useless?
A useless workout? Yes, it is such a strong statement. Trust me. I stared at my computer screen for quite some time wondering if there is a better way to make this point. If I were to bend the truth and give this information to you on a silver platter, I wouldn’t be giving this to you straight.
Before I get into the meat of this, there is one statement of assurance I want to tell you. Regardless of the workout you are doing, you still get an A+ for doing it. However, you should continue reading to determine if the workout that you are doing is continuing to benefit you.
Ways to Know if Your Workout is Useless
1. You are doing a similar workout every session. You are comfortable with your workouts — to a fault. You go to the gym, go to the same machines, do three sets of 10 and go home. Or, you walk around the block for 20 minutes everyday without changing your route or pace. While I applaud you for your commitment, you are not getting much benefit from your efforts at this point. Performing the same or similar workout routine, whether cardio or resistance training, can make your workout virtually useless.
Your body adapts quickly to the exercise stress that you place on it. In as few as two to three workouts, your strength has significantly improved, but your progress flatlines. It’s kind of like getting a tan. When you first go out into the sun, you get tanned. Go out the next day and you will not notice much of a difference in your tan. The same is true with your workouts. You note a huge improvement with your first few workouts, and then you don’t notice much improvement thereafter.
You must vary your workout routines as often as possible. Change the types of exercises you do and the type of workout you perform. Yes, some days perform a basic 3 sets of 10 workout. Your next workout, try a 20-minute circuit workout. Your final workout for that week, you may try a 250 or 500 rep workout. You also want to make sure that you vary the amount of weight that you use and the speed in which you move the weight. For optimum strength gains, you need to move the weight slowly. Four seconds up, four seconds down. But because your body can also adapt to this, there are times where you will want to move the weight up and down quickly. The key is to frequently change up all aspects of your workouts.
2. You only target certain body parts. You may be an “ab man” or a “buns woman,” but the truth is that you must exercise your upper body, lower body and core muscles equally for optimal health and fitness. The problem with exercising only one group is that you create an imbalance in your musculature. For example, if you only exercise your pectorals, or your chest muscles, you will cause your shoulders to pull forward, which will lead to poor posture. Poor posture can of course lead to back problems down the line. Therefore, you must also exercise your upper back muscles to keep your spine in proper alignment. Relate this to keeping an equal air pressure in all of the tires in your car. If one side is more inflated than the other, you will get unequal wear and tear on both sides of the car. So balance is key. If you work one muscle group, the opposite, or antagonist muscles should get the same amount of attention. You do not need to necessarily exercise that muscle group in the same workout, but at least some time that week.
Keep track of the workouts that you perform and what muscles they exercise. Make it a point to exercise your upper body, core, lower body, frontside of your body and backside of your body equally. Do this and your joints will be balanced, better functioning and mechanically healthier.
3. You do not exercise to full muscle fatigue. This may sound intense, but the truth is that you need to exercise the muscle group that you are targeting to full fatigue — meaning you absolutely cannot do another repetition if your life depended on it!
You have two main types of muscle fibers, Type I and Type II. Your Type I fibers, or the slow-twitch, muscle fibers are activated at the beginning of your muscle movement. In other words, at the lower intensity of movement or early in your exercise set, this muscle fiber dominates. Once the intensity of your exercise picks up, Type II, or fast-twitch muscle fibers kick in. Again relating your body to a car, your Type I fibers are the first three gears and your Type II fibers are the next three gears. You want to work all six gears of your muscle to “full speed” in order to maximize the benefit from your dedicated workout. If you are staying in second or third gear, you will not get much benefit in strength, endurance gains or calorie burn. You must work all of the muscle fibers in your muscle to get good benefit.
Another benefit of increasing the intensity of your workout is that you can exercise for fewer minutes each session and perform fewer sessions per week. Studies are showing variable results, but I feel confident in saying that you can get excellent benefit from your workouts if you perform only two 20-minute, high intensity (6th gear) sessions per week. For optimal benefit, you can do 3-5, 20-minute sessions.
Dig deep and push yourself to the limit with every set and every rep. Just going through the motions will not cut it.
Now that you know these concrete rules regarding resistance training, you have to change your mindset and make these improvements. Nobody has time to waste on working out and we all deserve to maximize our fitness potential, efficiently.
Now go get your workout on!
Jonathan P Little, Adeel S Safdar, Geoffrey P Wilkin, Mark a Tarnopolsky, and Martin J Gibala. A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. The Journal of Physiology, 2010; DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.181743