When it comes to exercising after New Year’s, people that set fitness goals will tend to fall into 3 categories: 1) the ones who only go for a couple of workouts, 2) the ones that keep working out but doing the same workouts every time they go, and 3) the ones who completely overdo it and injure themselves. There’s a 4th group, but we’ll get there in a bit. For those people in the first 3 categories, chances are high that they are not reaching their fitness goals, and each group has its own dangers.
There’s plenty of information that already exists showing the importance of regular exercise. There’s no real need to discuss that further.
The danger behind doing the same exercises or workouts week in and week out is much more insidious and less obvious, but can be just as detrimental to long-term improvements in fitness or health. If someone is running a 10:00-minute mile pace every day on a treadmill for 3 miles 3 times a week for 6 months, did they get in better shape? Did they get better at running? Are they healthier? It’s hard to know, and we can’t even be sure that they didn’t get worse if they are underdosing their exercise. The risk here is that they are not providing sufficient stress to their body to lead to improvement. The human body is fantastic at adapting to stress, and after the first week or two, this individual is not doing enough to challenge themselves sufficiently to improve as a runner or create enough metabolic stress to burn as much fat as they may be wanting.
The risk in the person who just overdoes everything and injures themselves is obvious, but their heart is in the right place. If we take a crossfitter who started squatting at 185#, and every week they added 20# before they ended up trying WAY too much weight and hurting themself, the issue is pretty clear. Hopefully, they didn’t hurt themselves too much and they can get back into squatting again. But what if this individual had only added 5-10# each week? Assuming they were picking an appropriate starting weight (more on that later), they’d fall into the aforementioned 4th group.
This group consists of people who regularly increase their weight or time or distance or intensity in small increments. These individuals are using fitness goals and setting themselves up for long-term success, and are likely helping prevent further injury or disease in the future. This is a fairly easy thing to conceptualize, but a lot of people struggle to put these ideas into practice, so let’s break it down a little bit.
Fitness Goals For Cardiovascular Training (running, biking, swimming)
As a general rule of thumb, you can use the 10% rule to increase your weekly distance, time, or speed. For the example runner above, they started out running 3 miles over 30 minutes (a 10:00 minute mile pace, which is 6 miles per hour). This individual could: increase their distance to 3.3 miles, increase their time to 33 minutes, or increase their speed. Increasing pace or speed would use a smaller increase (say 2-5%) because the metabolic stress of running faster is much greater than running at a slower pace for more time/distance.
If getting faster is your fitness goal, consider interval training, which is when you use a set period of time to run faster and another set period of time to run slower in an alternating fashion. If this person wanted to get up to a 9-minute mile, they could run at a 9-minute/mile pace for 1 minute at a time and then at a 10-minute/mile pace for 1 minute until they reach their 3-mile mark. Interval training isn’t specific to running, but there are tons of different ideas for interval training and cardio training that can help. Runnersworld.com has a lot of information on the topic, as well as various training plans to try.
Fitness Goals For Resistance Training (bodybuilding, strength training)
Progression in resistance training varies greatly depending on a person’s goals, but the same general principles apply. Increasing your training density on a week-to-week basis is the basic goal. Training volume is basically the total amount of weight that a person lifted in a given period of time. So if a person is squatting 200# for 5 sets of 5 reps, they’ve effectively moved 5000# in that session. The goal would be to increase that total number. To simplify that (or to make it require less math), just focus on adding one of the following:
- More weight
- More reps per set
- More sets
If you’re looking for weight loss, doing the same volume in a shorter time is a possibility, so long as your form stays solid. Think about it. Will you burn more calories if you do 50 squats in 5 minutes or 1 minute?
There are hundreds if not thousands of training programs that exist, some of which emphasize shorter-term results but are much more demanding, and are therefore less useful for long-term practice. Other programs emphasize long-term growth and can be used for years and years on end. What’s important is that once you pick a program, you stick with it until the program is supposed to end. If this is your first time starting a program, you’re likely going to need your 1 rep max (1RM), which can be calculated online for free here at bodybuilding.com. It is highly recommended that you use a calculator so you can estimate your 1RM without injuring yourself in the process. Most resistance programs will say something along the lines of using 80% of your 1RM, so those calculators are helpful.
Some good strength training programs that I personally recommend are Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program (language warning, they like to swear on this website), 5×5 stronglifts, or Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. Bodybuilding.com, muscleandfitness.com, and tnation.com (again, language warning) are also all great options to search for your own programs to try based on your specific goals.
Regardless of your goals or form of exercise, the important thing is that you’re consistent. Most of the time, it’s a good idea to take a week every 2-3 months to “rest”, which just means that you’ll be doing much less mileage or less training volume for that time to allow your body to recover. If you’re having questions, give yourself a month or two to try these ideas out. If it doesn’t make sense, reach out to a trainer or Physical Therapist to help you get going.
Got questions? Feel limited in what you’re able to do? The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to live life without limits.
***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified physical therapist, your primary physician, or a certified healthcare professional for any personal concerns.