The following strength training workout is an excellent way to test your strength while still developing your muscular endurance.
It requires that you can quickly adjust the weight: Gym machines, a Smith rack, or at home with quickly adjustable dumbbells. I wouldn’t recommend doing this workout with conventional barbells or dumbbells unless you have the entire training area to yourself, such as at a home gym. Definitely don’t do this with barbells and dumbbells at a regular gym.
You basically do a lot of light, gradually increasing reps for each exercise in rapid-fire sets of just 4 reps per set. Eventually, you hit a max weight, then take the weight down and repeat the rapid-fire cycle one more time.
This can build muscular endurance while still building muscular strength, and gets your heart rate going enough to generate better mitochondrial development than your typical strength endurance weight training.
The following cross training will really challenge your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Definitely don’t do this cross training workout if you’re sore and recovering from some other hard lower-body workout.
I would save a workout like this for base training, if you’re coming off an easy workout, or you’re not actively training for a goal race in general.
The Workout: Start the spin bike at the lowest intensity, level 1.
Every time the minute counter turns over (e.g. at 1:00, 5:00, etc), adjust the level to match the number in the minute column. So at 2:00 you’ll set the level to 2, and you’ll increase the level by 1 every minute thereafter.
If the lowest spin bike levels feel too light and easy for you (for example you normally do easy spin bike sessions at level 4), you don’t have to start at or go down to level 1. If you generally bike easy at level 4, then for any level 4 and below you can just go at level 4. In this example, you do the first 4:59 at level 4, then at 5:00 you switch to level 5.
Once you get to a level that’s too tough, take it back down to a low, comfortable level. Then once the timer reaches 10:00, repeat the process by adding the digits in the minute column to determine the level, e.g. 11 –> 1 + 1 = Level 2… or in the level 4 example above, that person can just stay at level 4 for now.
If you can get to level 10 or higher without needing to slow down, great! You don’t have to add the digits at 11:00 or higher just yet. Just keep climbing levels until you need a break, then add the digits of the next minute to see how far down you can take the spin bike’s level. For example, say you get tired after 16:00 at level 16. Then at 17:00 you take it down to level 8 (17 –> 1 + 7 = Level 8).
If you’re a super strong cyclist and plan to go longer than 25 minutes, you may be able to reach the bike’s maximum level 25 (most spin bikes only have 25 intensity levels). If you get to 26:00 in this case, just take the spin bike back down to level 8 (26 –> 2 + 6 = Level 8… you must be super strong if that’s too easy for you; if so you can set the level higher to whatever level you prefer to cruise at). Then from there build the levels back up each minute. Do note that this workout method after you max out the bike won’t get you higher again than level 14 once you do so, so if maxing out is your goal and you can max out the bike then you may want to stick to 30 minutes or less.
Regardless of your abilities, you can repeat this level-up process until your spin bike workout is finished, whether it takes 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 3 hours, etc.
You could also do this workout on an elliptical, rowing machine, or ARC Trainer. But it can be very demanding to do more than recovery-level training on these devices. To do a workout like this on a machine like those may defeat the purpose of cross training unless you’re in an offseason, or are a triathlete or similar and this sort of demanding training is in line with your key workout needs.
With Nevada’s “Pause” lockdown reducing gym capacity to 25%, going to the gym to strength train or otherwise exercise could become largely impractical. I don’t foresee the restriction being lifted anytime soon. Plus, with New Year’s having arrived, what little capacity is available is likely getting swallowed up by many poorly-planned New Year’s resolutions.
Until a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t lifted weights at all, since I hadn’t been to the gym at all. I’ve had personal dumbbell weight sets at varying points in my life, but the last few years certainly hasn’t been one of them. My only free weights are a pair of 5 pound dumbbells that I once used in a clown theatre piece years ago. I long since figured I’m probably not getting swole off such light weight.
I spend a lot of time in the gym with a lot of people who work out. Social media shows me countless others who also work out, train others, etc. I don’t have a Kinesiology degree but I know what I’m talking about. I preface with this because some of you are not going to like what I’m going to say next.
The two most common mistakes I see people make with strength training are:
People train like a powerlifter, with powerlifter goals, even though that’s not or should not be their goal.
People train continuously without taking any proactive, conscious training breaks.
I imagine that the Coronavirus lockdowns closing gyms has something to do with this, but there’s a growing movement towards bodyweight strength training (also known traditionally as calisthenics).
I ran into this recent Medium Elemental piece, which as recent others have done says that you don’t need weights to get in shape. It basically recommends you stick to basic exercises like push ups and pull ups.
And yes, in principle, you can get swole on as little as the Fundamental Few: Push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, core exercises e.g. planks, sit ups, crunches, Russian twists, etc.
All of these exercises are safe, healthy and useful for most to do, except for push ups and pull ups. Most people do not have the needed muscular strength to minimally complete push ups or pull ups.
I’ve said this before, and since we’re here I’ll say it again: 80% of your body composition is determined by your diet. And I don’t care if you want to argue that’s wrong. See the forest for the trees: If you want your abs to show up, your diet needs to change so that you burn off most of your current body fat while maintaining your existing muscle and biologically healthy function.
And a good portion of that theoretical remaining 20% is going to come from improving your posture. Improving your posture increases the “display” of your abdomen, which maximises any ab visibility. Often, abs don’t show up because a rounded back causes fat/flesh/fascia to bunch up around your abdominal area, further obscuring your abs even if you’ve burned the fat necessary for those abs to show up.
A well rounded fitness routine combined with addressing your postural imbalances will go a long way to making the necessary posture improvements. That I can and will address another time.
Meanwhile, will doing ab or core exercises help your abs show?
Today for me was a rest day, and by rest I day I mean I ran a tick below 3 miles and rode the spin bike for 45 minutes before 10am. How relaxing!
Honestly though, I mentioned yesterday how I was going to resume daily running. That almost-3 miler went well, as I kept it super easy and got out there very early.
For the sessions on the spin bike at the gym, here is how intense I tend to do these: I usually bring a book, and read that book while I’m riding. I set the spin bike around level 3 (among the lowest levels) and maintain around 85-90 rpm. Not exactly hard work, though it’s a steady easy effort.
Today I read through an old standby I’ve read a few times: 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald. I didn’t pound through pages, and I usually don’t on these spin bike sessions. I very carefully read through about 20 pages towards the beginning of the book. I’d stop reading frequently to look up and around the gym. It was about as intensive a task as the spin ride itself.
Something like this is only a workout in title. This is mostly an exercise in active lower body circulation, getting the legs to move and flush waste products while cycling in fresh blood and nutrients.
There is a hint of upper body isometric work throughout. To stay upright, I won’t just sit upright in the seat: It’s impractical to read a book this way during this kind of effort. Maintaining upper body alignment, I will brace on the handles using my hands or forearms, depending on position.
This while not exactly tiring does require a subtle bit of arm strength, and is probably beneficial for my arm development and recovery (they do already get quite a bit of more serious work in my 20 minute strength workouts).
You don’t want to make a constant habit of isometric exercise, as you can stunt range of motion and possibly generate stress fractures over time. But a bit at a light intensity every now and again can be helpful.
I’ll do these recovery spin bike sessions now and again, probably 1-2 every couple weeks or so. They can be clumped together in a week and then not happen again for a week. They can happen once in a while. I play by ear when they happen, or build them in when I know there’s a lot of other exercise behind it.
As I’m looking to stay more consistently active, this for now is a very easy way to get some work in when also trying to rest and recover. As I type this (about an hour later) I really don’t feel tired at all, and certainly not sore. I was as expected a bit stiff in the legs, but as always I did some stretching afterward and now they feel alright.
If needing a day off, you are often better off doing some sort of activity on a recovery day than sitting and doing nothing. Most people often do plenty of nothing already.
Obviously there are caveats. If you are injured or very sick, you typically should rest and do nothing. Barring that, you should at least take a 20+ minute walk. And, even if you don’t want to read, an extended session on a stationary bike is also a decent way to sneak in some aerobic exercise and fat burning.