Friday, July 25, 2008

My workout routine - part 1

So I promised to document my gym workout routine that I've been following (and tweaking) for the past 10 years. My fitness goal was simple: to become and stay physically fit, which to me means excellent cardiovascular health and strong muscles & bones. Looking built was not a factor in my motivation--in fact I'm not a fan of the bulky bodybuilder look at all. I prefer being lean and toned, and am proud to say that I can still fit into my old college clothes from the early 1990s (without sucking in my gut either!). My body fat level has stayed in the 6-8% range for the past several years, and although my diet has a lot to do with that (which I plan to blog about), it has exceeded my expectations.

Anyway, here are the details of the workout program that I've developed, via my own research and experimentation, and it has worked extremely well for me, but may not be for other people. As always, beginners should check with their doctors before starting any form of exercise if they are extremely out of shape or have medical conditions.

I used the following criteria in mind when choosing activities to include in my workout:

1. Safe. Above all else, I wanted to minimize the risk of injury. For me, that means no running (since it tends to be hard on the knees, which I want to preserve as I intend to be mobile for a very long time), and using machines instead of free weights. While machines offer a limited range of motion compared to free weights, the risk for injury is also far less, so it was a trade off that I was willing to accept. Also, I've never used steroids, drugs, or supplements, as I wanted to achieve my healthy results naturally. Again, the focus is on my health rather than how I look.

2. Effective. I wanted activities that emphasize the three key areas which I consider to be crucial for my well being: my cardiovascular system, core muscle groups, and bones. So the exercises that I selected had to offer a direct benefit to those areas.

3. Efficient. I enjoy the results I obtain from working out, but I didn't want to turn into a gym rat to get them. If it takes longer than 3 hours a week, I would probably lose interest in any exercise program. Currently, I go to the gym 3 times a week, for about an hour per visit. I usually go every other day (Mon/Wed/Fri or Tue/Thu/Sat, depending on the week), giving my body a day to rest between gym visits.

My workout currently begins with 30 minutes of cardio (though recently it has been extended to 35 minutes to reach the 400 "calories burned" mark--at least according to the exercise equipment that I'm using). Some say that doing cardio after lifting weights makes for a more effective workout. I've tried doing it both before and after using weights, and haven't noticed a huge difference. Lately, I prefer to just get the cardio part over with as I enjoy the resistance training more. Alternatively, you could do cardio and strength training on different days, but that means more trips to the gym, and I'd prefer to keep that to a minimum.

I do cardio primarily on the exercise bike and elliptical/crossramp trainers, alternating between them as I get bored with one. I like these machines because they offer safe, low-impact, and effective cardiovascular workouts, although sometimes I will do a brisk walk on the treadmill, play racquetball, or swim for a switch.

When I started doing cardio workouts initially, I couldn't do more than 15 minutes at a time--and at a pretty low intensity level at that. However, I stuck with it, and very slowly increased my time and intensity level. I didn't set specific goals though, because I didn't ever want to feel bad for failing, which may cause me to quit altogether (I've gone through several workout partners that stopped going to the gym once they suffered setbacks, and I didn't want to have that happen to me). Any time that I can make it to the gym--even if I end up doing a light or partial workout--is a victory in my book. It prevents the feeling of guilt for missing workouts, which in my experience also keeps a lot of people from sticking to a fitness program because they feel that they can never make up for lost ground.

Cardio is all about keeping your heart healthy, and to that end I've started using a heart rate monitor to help keep my heart rate in the anaerobic zone, or 80-90% of my maximum heart rate. I find that I sweat a lot when my heart is working that hard, so I always make sure I drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during and after my workout. However, I deliberately avoid energy drinks because of dental health concerns.

In my next post I will go into the second half of my workout program, which includes stretching exercises and muscle training.

Note: I've been hearing a lot of buzz about interval training lately, and some people claim that it's better than cardio. The key is to do what works for you. My workout has worked well for me, and that's all that really matters. If at some point in the future I stop getting the results that I want, then I'll change my routine.

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