This is a re-post of an article I co-wrote with my personal trainer some time back. It’s well worth a read as we all get started in the new year!
by Patty Azzarello & John Fernandez
In this article, I asked my personal Trainer and Fitness expert, John Fernandez to contribute to a discussion on fitness.
John will share what really works, and explain why doing things the right way gives the best results.
Our goal is not to tell you what you should be doing, but to give you some ideas and information for getting the most out of your workouts, based on John’s expertise and my suffering!
Get the most benefit from your workouts
Patty: I always talk about getting a bigger payoff for the effort you put into your work. I hate wasting time, and I like working with people to help them find ways to get a bigger professional and personal payoff for the time and energy they put into their work.
Likewise, when I met John, I quickly learned that he had the same approach – If you are going to spend time working out, you should get the biggest payoff for that time that you can.
John: When I met Patty it was clear that she was a successful executive with a hard work ethic. She was working out, doing spinning classes, lifting weights… but it was clear to me that she was not getting enough results from her efforts.
Many executives I talk to believe they are benefiting from an exercise program because they are putting regular time and effort in, but many of them also express frustration with the level of results they are achieving. Many also feel that they are losing ground in the aging process.
After a year and a half with me [now almost 4 years], Patty not only has increased the effectiveness and “the payoff” of her workouts, she has described the benefits as “life changing”.
Your workouts – what works.
Patty: The diet and fitness industry likes to sell the concept that you can get great results without strenuous exercise, because that’s what sells — not because that’s what works.
I’ve learned from John a few key lessons which I’ll share my perspective on, and John will tell you what you are really supposed to know about each one.
- Lesson #1: It has to be Strenuous.
- Lesson #2: Mix it up
- Lesson #3: Use your whole body
- Lesson #4: Stability and Core Strength
- Lesson #5: Jumping, even though it seems so unreasonable
Lesson #1: It has to be Strenuous
I am often at the gym with John, who has me on a treadmill, and the people on either side of me are happily doing their time, reading a book or watching TV, walking, or jogging for 30, or even 60 minutes.
John will get me on the treadmill, crank up the incline to its maximum setting, set the speed at an almost-need-to-be-running pace, and then give me a heavy ball to hold over my head while I do it. After 2 minutes I’m ready to throw up.
John has me running and jumping, lifting heavy weights, doing exercises where you expect to be sitting, but instead balancing on one foot (on a squishy pad), doing circuits, speed drills, and pulling on a pulley in more ways than you can believe is possible.
Always, it’s strenuous! John, why does making sure it’s always painful make such a big difference?
John: Everything I work for as a health and fitness professional is geared towards increasing your power output, which results in being more functional and developing the ability to DO MORE, whether that is exercise or enjoying life.
My approach in training is to create a workout that is very demanding and beyond the level of what “that” client thinks is hard. Then once the client performs at that level regularly, they have genuinely advanced. (Then I need to make it more demanding again.)
It’s not just about strengthening the body it’s also about challenging what you believe you can do.
Training your mind about what is possible is as important an exercise as it is to train your body, and that’s one of the pieces a lot of people leave out. If you’re not doing things to challenge yourself, you are not getting the experience of breaking through limits.
Patty often comes to the point where she thinks she can not keep going –everyone gets to that point. But the more often you get to that point and pass through it, you’re teaching yourself, body and mind, how to break through.
Whether you are an athlete, a CEO, or a busy parent, this helps you do more than you thought possible in your workout and your life. It feels great for the client, allows them to get real benefit from the workouts, and it’s exciting for me to see.
Lesson #2: Mix it up
Patty: We have never done the same workout twice, and in fact, every workout even after 2 years has at least one exercise I’ve never done before. [after 4 years, the most challenging things do repeat, but always mixed in with other different stuff.]
Apparently when your body gets used to the exercise you are doing, the elliptical machine, the spinning class, laying on a bench moving heavy weights around, you lose the benefit because as your body adapts to it and guess what: it is no longer strenuous!
I used to think that getting comfortable with a hard workout meant I was getting really fit — if it’s not as hard, I must be stronger. Apparently, that feeling of doing the workout well means it is no longer effective. Heavy sigh.
So the lesson here is that doing different stuff all the time makes sure you keep the level of misery sufficiently high to get the biggest benefit for your time.
John, tell me it isn’t so!
John: The first point is that the human body is an incredible organism built for survival, so one of its main functions is to expend as little energy as possible. In order to do so, it continually adapts to the stress placed upon it.
The second point is that fat and glucose are the primary sources of fuel for your body. In order for them to be used efficiently the body must receive enough oxygen. In the presence of oxygen your body will allow fat and glucose to be burned as fuel.
So basically, as you adapt to an exercise and it becomes easier, it requires less oxygen and therefore uses less fuel.
What is technically happening is that if you continue to place the same stress on your body over and over again,with the same exercises, your body will increase its ability to use those specific muscles, and distribute oxygen and blood to the specific areas of the body used for that exercise.
This is how your body adapts, and as it adapts it will require less oxygen so it can use the least amount of energy/calories possible.
This is why you stop seeing improvements when you keep doing the same workouts.
The way I avoid this is by constantly mixing up the exercise variables of an individual’s training program. Mixing up the stress placed on the body with varied exercise counteracts the loss of muscle and bone, allows you to maintain a high metabolism rate, (burn more fat) and fine tunes the nervous system. All these contribute to living life well, with maximum function and preventing injury.
Lesson #3: Use your whole body
Patty: Working with John, I have learned that exercising only one part of your body at a time does not provide nearly the benefit that you get when you use your whole body, both from the standpoint of the effectiveness of the exercise itself, and the efficiency of using the same amount of time to do multiple exercises at once !
Here’s an example:
Imagine being face down on an incline bench and doing reverse flys with dumbbells. You are exercising your back and your arms.
Now instead, to use your whole body and spend the same amount of time,
- First, lose the bench and stand up
- Now, stand on only one foot
- Now, do a one leg squat as you the move the dumbbells in front to start the reverse fly
- Raise up and out of the one leg squat as you do the reverse fly while extending your other leg behind your back
- …while balancing on one foot
In the same amount of time you are exercising your back your arms, your quads, your glutes, your hamstrings, your core, improving your balance, and getting some cardio in as well! Same amount of time, way more exercise!
It’s clear that you get more exercise for your time this way, but John, why is this whole-body approach more effective in general?
John: Total body workouts may be a new concept for those who have been following bodybuilding programs that focus on training individual body parts or training programs based on machines.
There’s a lot of pushing and pulling, but the hips, pelvis and trunk which are the key areas for ALL movement are not tied into these types of training.
When you take a whole body approach, you achieve more support around the joints that other machine training programs ignore, because you’re engaging groups of muscles to assist in producing, stabilizing and reducing force.
Because you are engaging so many different groups of muscles and energy systems there’s little chance of overtraining your body, you burn more calories, and become less prone to injury.
Total body workouts are what allow you to meet the imposed demands of any physical activity because they allow you to achieve functional static AND dynamic strength, flexibility, and core stabilization in all ranges of motion.
Lesson #4: Stability & Core Strength
Patty: If you’re not sure about your current state of core strength try this. Get on the floor and face the ground as if you are going to do a push-up/press-up. Like a plank in Yoga. But instead of being on your hands and your toes, put your forearms on the ground and make sure your shoulders are directly over your elbows.
Make sure your back and your hips stay straight by tightening your abs and contract your glutes so your hips don’t drop.
Now hold that position and have someone time you for one minute. If you find that easy, good for you! If not, you have found your core.
John: Many people think core is just about abs. Core development is not about how many crunches you can do, or having a 6-pack, it is about controlling posture and maintaining spine stabilization throughout movement.
Your core is where your center of gravity is and where movement begins.
It consists of the abs, glutes, hips, lower back (lumbar), thoracic spine (mid back) and cervical spine area (between your shoulder blades).
Stabilization is the key to all movement, regardless of whether speed, strength, flexibility or endurance is dominating the movement. Real movement does not occur on a stable piece of equipment, in a neutral spine position, in one plane of motion.
Movement is a series of events that involves groups of muscles working together precisely to maintain our posture over a changing base of support.
As adults we need to rediscover and reactivate this type of movement into our exercise program, as we did when we were younger climbing the monkey bars, pushing up and down on the see-saw, climbing fences, crawling in the sand box, twisting, or lunging to catch a ball.
These same movements we learned naturally as children can be used to build a fitness program that will give you a more functional body that will be leaner, stronger and more powerful.
Whole body workouts also improve joint stabilization, flexibility, mobility, and everything else that contributes to your optimal posture and lowers risk of injury.
Lesson #5: Jumping, even though it seems so unreasonable
Patty: Jumping was probably the biggest shock to my system. Before I met John, I had literally not jumped for 30 years.
Through a combination of back problems, and the low impact aerobics surge in the 80’s, I decided that there was really no need to jump anymore.
Well apparently there is. It has to do with power, and keeping up your fine motor skills as you age. Remember jumping rope for hours when you were a kid. Try it now for 2 minutes. It’s much harder!
John: I stated before that movement is a series of events that involves groups of muscle working precisely together to maintain our posture over a changing base of support.
However, I did not mention that all movement is dictated by the nervous system. The nervous system is a conglomeration of billions of cells forming nerves that are designed to form a communication network within the body.
Most people are aware that the aging process causes muscle atrophy, however many are not aware that the aging process also causes neural atrophy.
This means that the substances and structures involved in sending messages to and from the brain deteriorate altering the way the brain functions.
Because of these changes, the brain may/will function slower. Older people may react and do tasks somewhat slower and some mental functions may be subtly reduced. This includes things such as short-term memory, and the ability to learn a new movement pattern. Therefore, older people are more vulnerable to injury.
Since the nervous system dictates movement it makes sense to train the nervous system too, to ensure that the communication between the nervous system and muscles stay developed to increase your reaction and reflexes.
Here is where the jumping comes in. Jumping is a form of plyometric exercise. Plyometric exercise is designed to boost your reactive strength – in other words, to train your nervous system and increase your power. Examples of plyometric training involve jumping up and down, jumping on and off of a box, running steps or jumping rope.
The goal of plyometrics is to train both the muscles and nervous system to react quickly. Combined with increases in strength, muscle size, flexibility, and function that you get from developing your core strength, plyometric training will make your body function as if it were years younger.
Patty: OK. I’ve found John’s approach to be hard work but it’s worth it. I have indeed found it life-changing. Here are a couple of things I’ll share:
Enjoying life more.
Being stronger, more fit, and improving balance and coordination, let’s you do more. You can be more energized (and successful) at work and you can have more fun. Or you can carry more groceries into the house in one trip. All in all it makes life better.
The workouts about kill me, but the improvement in my strength and energy has been remarkable, and even noticed by others.
You can eat more without gaining weight!
Ok, so all this talk about improved health, function and energy aside, here’s a real benefit! John recently informed me that for every pound of muscle you add, it requires 50 calories a day to maintain it.
What I “heard” is that for every pound of muscle you add, you can eat 50 calories more a day without gaining weight!
This lends itself to some interesting math: If you add 5 pounds of muscle, which is what I did over 2 years, (and got smaller in the process) that is 250 calories a day. That’s 1750 calories a week.
So what this means is that if you generally eat a reasonable diet, then each week, without gaining weight, you could eat a small pizza or a family size bag of chips, or two spectacular desserts, or have 11 extra glasses of wine! I’m not giving nutrition advice here (obviously!) — but in my world, this is a real payoff!)
Summary: Three Things
If I had to summarize what I have learned from John and experienced — what gives you the most benefit from the time you invest in working out, and has the biggest impact on strength, fitness and losing fat, here it is in 3 points:
1. Strenuous: If it’s kind of comfortable, it’s not doing you much good.
2. Mix it up: If it’s the same all the time, it’s not doing you much good.
3. Jumping: It not only trains/maintains the nervous system and increases your power as John described, but it’s a great way to accomplish #1 and #2!
Thanks John for providing so much interesting and specific information about what works and why it is so.
You can contact John Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website at www.personaltrainingsf.com
John Fernandez has been involved in all aspects of the fitness industry for over 18 years from personal training to directing sales and business development initiatives for large health club chains. He was awarded Gold’s Gym Personal Trainer of the Year in Northern California.
John has been featured in national fitness magazines and has competed in 10 bodybuilder competitions, winning the title,” Mr. New York” in 1995. He holds certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine for Sports Performance and Corrective Exercise.
Carving out and committing time
You’re not alone if your work is interfering with your workouts. Many people I work with have this topic on the agenda — How to manage being fit and having a career.
I mention this only to let you know that you are not alone if you are struggling to be both fit and successful at work.
Everyone must find their own solution to this, but I have found some of the common factors to be:
Clarify your motivation:
Is it feeling better, looking better, living longer, aging better, more energy to enjoy your family and life? What’s yours? Focus on it. Any successful fitness program consists of three things: diet, exercise, AND motivation.
Really consider your schedule:
Can you find 2 hours a week? Even if it’s only 1 hour each day on the weekends? Once you achieve that, then maybe one more hour once during the week?
Can you ask your spouse, or children, or boss to provide some flexibility so that even one day mid-week you can get home one hour later or get to work one hour later?
Schedule it, for real
Make an appointment with yourself, or make an appointment with a trainer. As wonderful and smart as trainers are, I have found a huge part of the value is that when you have an appointment with a trainer and you are paying for it, you actually do it!
I admit without shame that this is a crutch for me, and it works. With our without a trainer, schedule time, protect it, and use it.
Younger Next Year: A Book Review
Read this book: Younger Next Year: by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge.
You can’t stop the aging process entirely, but there is science to prove that you can turn off the decay and the degenerative aspects of aging.
It explains the science behind this in simple terms, and outlines a program that anyone can follow if you want to be, well, Younger Next Year.
I found it quite inspiring. It’s written by a former lawyer and a doctor. To summarize briefly:
- The lawyer retired at age 60 and his biological age measured at 70.
- For the next 10 years he worked with this doctor and they wrote a book about it.
- The punch line is that when he turned 70, his biological age measured at 50!
The basic scientific premise is that your body has one of two chemical processes at work at any point in time: growth or decay. The important thing to note is that is one or the other, there is no neutral.
But the great news is that you can flip the switch from decay to growth at any age. How?
The short answer is: Exercise 6 days a week, one hour a day. And it’s important to use a heart rate monitor to make sure that you are really exercising. The exercise specifics the book recommends are as follows:
- 2 days a week, exercise at 80% of your maximum heart rate
- 2 days a week, lift weights
- 2 days a week, exercise at 60% of your maximum heart rate
This may seem an unreasonable amount of time when working in the peak of your career, but if you think forward to retirement, it’s a great deal. It only takes an hour a day to turn off the decay completely! There are examples in this book of people in their 80’s and 90’s skiing black diamond runs and cycling mountain passes. It is inspiring.
To round out the review of the book, the other (non-exercise) parts of the program are:
- Eat healthy (not any specific diet)
- Stay connected, care about people
- Stay involved, care about causes
- Keep learning and challenging yourself
- Have a good time and enjoy living
I can tell you from my experience that even 2 hours a week of the right kind of exercise makes a huge difference. In terms of movement, power, energy, balance, stamina, I definitely feel younger than I did two years ago.