Here’s a familiar scene at the gym: Person enters the gym with earphones on with music blaring in an effort to drown out physical discomfort (but also, unfortunately, body awareness). Person uses the elliptical, recumbent bike, or treadmill for five minutes to warm up. Person then walks around in an unstructured and unfocused manner, randomly moving from exercise to exercise, all with variable intensities and volumes (for example, five sets of 15 bicep curls followed by two sets of 10 back squats followed by 6 sets of abdominal crunches for 60 seconds each). At the end of the workout, the person may sit down on a mat and hang out in a forward fold and a pigeon stretch for 30 seconds each. It’s awesome that our example-of-what-not-to-do person is taking time out of their day to move their body and get healthy. Incredible! Love the effort. BUT… there are better ways to go about planning and structuring a workout. After reading this article, my hope is that you learn from our hypothetical gym goer’s mistakes, and instead of unconsciously moving through random, unstructured workouts, you take the time to plan out a well thought out, organized training session so that you may achieve your fitness goals in the most efficient way possible. In part three of this series, I describe what type of exercises to choose for your specific health, fitness, or performance goals. Keep in mind that I will be describing types of exercises rather than listing specific exercises. I cannot and will not bring myself to write any of these popular, but bullshit “5 best exercises for belly fat loss” articles out there these days. Instead I’d rather educate you, dear reader, on the overarching concepts and principles of exercise science, rather than spoon-feeding you cookie-cutter advice that may not work for your specific needs…
EXERCISE SELECTION FOR COMMON FITNESS GOALS:
- Fat loss. When it comes to choosing exercises for fat loss, there are two important factors to consider: how many calories one can expend engaging in a particular exercise, and what kind of metabolic demand the exercise places on the body. To make sure an exercise burns enough calories, make sure to only choose movements that involve multiple joints and work the largest muscles in the body. Goblet squats are a good example, as they force movement out of at least three joints (ankles, knees, hips), and work almost every muscle in the body, especially the large leg muscles. Secondly, make sure to prioritize glycolytic exercises, or exercises that create a deep burning sensation in the muscles; this will ensure that you lose fat without sacrificing lean tissue. To stress the glycolytic energy system, make sure to perform your chosen (multi-joint, large-muscle-working) exercises for 30 seconds to a minute with an appropriate load in order to gain the biggest bang for your fat loss buck.
- Muscle gain. Most of the exercises in your muscle gaining workout should involve multiple joints. Research shows that multi-joint exercises, when loaded appropriately (i.e. are performed with enough weight) cause the greatest release in testosterone and other growth hormones in the body such as IGF-1. Single-joint exercises (for the triceps or biceps, as examples) should also be added into the workout in order to shore up visual asymmetries or increase size in desired areas of the body. Again though, multi-joint compound exercises should make up the bulk of the workout. And similar to the metabolic demands needed for fat loss, you should aim to stress the glycolytic energy system by keeping your working sets within 20-40 seconds in order to create that gnarly “burn” in the working muscles.
- Other performance goals (strength, mobility, power, speed). Reach out to any vetted, exercise science-obsessed personal trainer (we have a few here at Crux Fitness), or certified strength and conditioning specialist (we also have a couple at Crux Fitness) for the improvement of specific performance goals. Although exercise selection for fat loss and muscle gain need to be individualized, exercises for performance goals like improved mobility really need to be individualized based on factors such as injury history, training age, or training status.
I said it in part 2 of this series and I’ll say it here again: nobody wants to set aside time for the gym and put in full-ass effort for half-assed results. This is why exercise selection is so important. Bicep curls are not the most efficient way to lose fat, and 2 minute long sets are not the most efficient way to build muscle. Know what your fitness goals are, and workout accordingly! In part 4 of this series we’ll discuss how to structure my favourite part of the workout – the cool-down.
As always, if you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs.
Patrick Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond