There’s more to an effective training program than just slapping a bunch of random exercises together and hoping it works, in fact there is quite a science to it and there is a lot more to it than most people think.
At an elite or Olympic level, what you include and don’t include in a training session, when, how much, how long, how often etc are all extrememly important variables when talking about improving performance by 1% and reducing risks of injury – it can mean the difference between winning and losing or gold and silver.
But even for your everyday folk like us, there is still a big importance for a properly designed, well balanced and thought out training program. To be honest even a lot of personal trainers don’t think about this much when designing programs for their clients – I’ve seen some real strange things that boggle my mind…
So if you’ve never really thought about it yourself, here’s a simple guide to what to think about when structuring a training session – with fat loss, fitness, strength, muscle tone as the main objectives.
If nothing else, it will help you understand what you’re doing at The Fit Stop when you’re training.
To get the biggest ‘bang for your buck’ in an hour of training, most people are best off doing ‘full body’ workouts, this will ensure you’re:
– Stimulating as much muscle on your body as possible
– Getting the biggest metabolic disturbance as possible for fat loss
– Maximizing the beneficial hormone response from exercise
– ‘Toning’ as much muscle as possible
– Burning as many calories as possible.
– More likely to be training ‘functional’ movements
To sufficiently train your whole body, certain exercises will need to be chosen to ‘hit’ certain muscles or segments of the body, we do this by performing certain movements we know are going to use certain muscles.
But it’s important to not necessarily think of training muscles, but rather training ‘movements’.
Your body works as a synergistic, co-operative system, so muscles work together to produce movement. (It’s impossible to completely isolate one muscle anyway so it’s rather pointless when people focus on this).
Plus when you’re next running to catch the tram, pulling yourself through your toilet window cause you’ve locked yourself out of the house, tackling 8 flights of stairs coz the lifts are broken, or when you’re 80 years old and just have to get around, you’re not gonna care about muscles, but you’ll be thankful you’ve trained and strengthened functional ‘movements’ (plus you’ll look pretty good as a welcomed by-product of being fit and strong)
The human body has several primal movement patterns, each of which should be trained and maintained for optimal functionality, fitness, and just general quality of life:
– Gait cycle (walking & running)
If you can’t do all of the above movements with some level of proficiency and strength, then that’s a good sign you’re not at a level of fitness which is ideal, and your body has broken down somewhere in regards to strength, stability, mobility or flexibility. (this is why weight training on machines are no good!, they do most of the work for you and have you move through a predetermined, fixed line of movement requiring no thought, coordination, or self stabilisation on your behalf)
So it’s a good idea to include ALL of the above movements in a training session for a total body workout (makes sense really!). This will ensure all muscles are stimulated, and all ‘functional’ movements are trained and kept fresh. Sitting down at work all day is not what the human body is used to doing and if this is the bulk of your day, week, year – sooner or later you’ll pay for it.
Here’s an overview of some of the exercises to incorporate which fall into these basic movement patterns
Squats have been labelled the ‘king of exercises’ by many. Everybody should at least be able to perform a good looking, controlled, deep squat for a basic level of fitness and quality of life. This exercise is very ‘metabolic’ meaning that it will stimulate a huge amount of muscle on your body for the one movement, this is why squatting with weight can make you very out of breath, as your lungs struggle to oxygenate all the blood pumping to your legs! Squats will target your quads, glutes hamstrings, and lower back muscles predominately. Of course within the squat there are plenty of variations: jump squat, weighted squat , wide stance, narrow stance, HOW you hold a weight, what kind of weight you hold (barbell, dumbell, slosh ball, sandbag) etc etc
There’s a lot of ways to do a lunge, we have the reverse lunge, forward lunge, static lunge, front or rear leg elevated lunge, bulgarian lunge, walking lunge, & even step ups fall into this category. Then when you add in all the different ways to hold a weight the options are endless. Lunges hit the leg muscles much like squats, but will hit the intricate stabilser muslces a little more, as stability and balance play a lot more of a role with this movement. Lunges will typically require less lower back strength, so with the lower back often being the limiting factor for squats, the legs can be targeted more effectively with lunges as more weight can be used comparitively on the one leg. Different lunges will hit your muscles in a slightly different way, and stimulate your nervous system and pro-prioception in different ways, so it’s always good to mix it up. Training on one leg is important from a functional movement point of view too, not many people pull a hamstring standing on two legs!
Exactly how it sounds, pushing exercises are literally anything that involves a pushing movement.
Pushing can be further broken down into horizontal and vertical pushing.
Horizontal pushing can be: push ups, barbell or dumbbell bench press, 1 arm bench press, medicine ball passes etc
Vertical pushing can be: overhead presses, push presses, medicine ball push presses (anytime you lift anything above your head), dips also come into the vertical pushing category.
Then there’s every angle in between (like and incline bench press which is halfway in between)
Any pushing exercise will ‘hit’ some combination of chest, shoulders and triceps (back of arms). Depending on the angle of the push, these muscles will be stimulated and used slightly differently.
This is the exact opposite of pushing, so literally any exercise which involves some sort of pulling movement. Pulling exercises are VERY important to include in virtually everyone’s program due to back weakness and postural issues, and ironically, they’re generally the most overlooked. (probably because these aren’t muscles you see in the mirror everyday)
Most people go to work, sit down all day with bad posture,(head forward, shoulders rounded forward, hunched back) and in doing this they shorten chest, shoulder and neck muscles, and weaken postural muscles in the back.
So it’s very important that in the time we spend exercising we don’t exasperate this with more and more PUSHING to further tighten those muscles, without balancing it out. The most common exercises for most people when they head to the gym is bench press and push ups, often with not much else. This will lead to further postural issues, and then dysfunction and pain in the shoulders, neck and upper back.
In this day and age with the lifestyles we live, we need to counteract this with our exercise programming and include MORE pulling exercises then pushing.
Pulling can also be further broken down into horizontal and vertical pushing.
Horizontal pulling can be: standing or seated cable row, 1 arm dumbbell row, ring row, reverse push up, face pull, band pullaparts,
Vertical pulling can be: chin ups, single or double arm lat pulldowns.
Pulling exercises will predominately hit the biceps, as well as all muscles in the back.
Think of this as a deadlift or Romanian deadlift, learning the correct ‘hip hinge’ pattern, avoiding movement at the spine and disassociating your hips from you lower back when you ‘bend’ is a very important movement for both total body functionality and injury prevention. Most back pain is caused by incorrect lifting technique and movement patterns, lack of hip mobility as well as glute and lower back weakness, which can all be helped with the deadlift.
The deadlift is one of the best total body exercises around, it will stimulate more muscle on you entire body than any other movement alone, making it a great bang for your buck exercise and one that’s very worthwhile learning, getting good at and getting stronger in. Biggest muscles hit with a deadlift are hamstrings, glutes and entire back musculature, making it a great postural exercise as it will strengthen basically every muscle on the backside of your body to help ‘straighten’ you up.
This is pretty straight forward – walking, running, sprinting. This is another important movement to regularly incorporate into our lives. It involves total body co-ordination, balance, mobility, agility and especially with sprinting, a high amount of strength and power to propel yourself forward at a fast pace.
So there you have it, now we know the basic ways which a human body can move, and the corresponding muscle groups they target. Keep in mind that nearly all of these movements incorporate the ‘core’ in some way for both stabilization as well as to transfer force between your lower and upper body.
So to design a training program, choose 1 -2 exercises which fit into each movement category, include more pulling than pushing to counteract posture and you will have stimulated every single muscle on your body for a highly metabolic workout. (assuming you’re pushing yourself, working hard and getting out of your comfort zone)
A bad program will have an imbalance in one or more of these movements, the ONLY time this is ok is if it’s purposefully training in an imbalanced way to counteract or fix a pre-existing imbalance. E.g. only doing pulling movements and no pushing movements to fix posture, or only doing ‘bending’ movements like deadlifts to strengthen the glutes &lower back and to give the quads and knees a break from being overworked in the past.)
You’ll notice a typical full body workout at The Fit Stop will always incorporate these movements:
– A squat or deadlift (this is often done first as it’s the hardest exercise with the biggest risk for breakdown of technique and therefore – injury)
– A push (horizontal and vertical)
– A lunging exercise
– A Pull – (horizontal and vertical) remember this is very important for a balanced body and improving posture!
– Gait – running, walking.
Rest assured that when we design your workouts at the gym, we’ve put a bit of thought in to it! Hope this has given you something to think about!