Over the past few years the fitness industry has made some great strides towards creating better and more effective workouts. The approach is shifting from simply looking great to improving quality of life in multiple aspects. Your joints should move more smoothly and with a better range of motion. You should feel energized and somehow ‘lighter’. And if a program has been written well, you should have improved posture and flexibility. This article will list and explain what I consider to be the pieces of an excellent workout.
1 – Foam Rolling / Self Myofascial Release
The first component of a great workout is a relatively new technique called ‘foam rolling. Also called self myofascial release or SMR, foam rolling is a fancy way of saying self-massage. If you’ve seen people literally rolling back and forth over white or black foam tubes, then you’ve witnessed foam rolling. Foam rolling is one of the few things in fitness that can work immediately. It provides an opportunity to reduce scar tissue, knots, adhesions, and tension in muscle and the fascia that surrounds it.I foam roll daily and before every single workout that I do. It has immediately improved the squat range of motion of several of my clients and is a key component of a warm up.
2 – Dynamic Warm Up, Movement Preparation, or Acute Corrective Exercise
Every workout should include a dynamic warm up. While the old standby of jogging for 5-10:00, doing jumping jacks, pushups, and light stretching is better than nothing, it’s certainly fallen behind the times. I write warm ups based on several factors. First, the warm up must cause a light sweat. This brings blood from the organs to muscles and makes them more pliable. Second, I focus on mobility in three areas: the upper back or thoracic spine, the hips, and the ankles. These three areas are critical for healthy movement and tend to be the most restricted. Third, I perform easy variations of the movements in the workout ahead. If my client is bench pressing, then they will perform light pushups. A warm up with foam rolling should take no longer than 15 minutes.
3 – Strength Training
Third, every workout program should include strength training. Strength training needs to have definite goals and a way of measuring progress. If you have been performing the same routine with the same weight for the same reps for months, you simply won’t see results. I vary my routines and those of my clients every 3-4 weeks for best results. One of my favorite tips is to to keep a log sheet where you write down the weight used, difficulty of the workout, and how you felt during and afterward.
4 – Cardiovascular Training or Conditioning (Energy Systems Training)
Fourth, some type of cardiovascular training is needed. This can range from slow, steady activities like walking to intense conditioning, such as burpee ladders, sprints, or sled dragging variations. Cardiovascular training should match your goals as well as fitness level. Cardiovascular training should generally be performed after weight training if fat loss is the primary goal. I often include miniature bouts of cardio in my workouts at the end as a ‘finisher’, where I’ll perform intense movements for 4-5:00 minutes to increase my metabolism.
5 – Behavior and Nutritional Habits
Finally, a program should have a flexibility plan and a way of improving behavior. I see my clients for 1-3 hours a week, out of a possible 168 hours. To see results, you must work equally hard outside of the gym. This can be as simple as parking farther from the grocery store, taking the stairs, and stretching before bed or after sitting at a desk. A good tip is to pick two behaviors a month: one nutritional, and one activity-related. Improve both, and you will slowly and steadily see progress.
Behavior 1: I will walk the dog every day for 30 minutes or I will play outside with my kids 3x a week.
Behavior 2: I will replace one sugary drink or soda with water this month.
Combined, these 5 components lend themselves to an excellent program. It’s less complicated than you think and in case you’re curious, I routinely keep my workouts to an hour or less.