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Exercise: how to get better results

All body workout ... traditional pushups trump machine-based workouts.

All body workout ... traditional pushups trump machine-based workouts.

Working out without seeing any results? Focus on these five areas in order to get you over a plateau and give you real improvements you can see and feel.

1. Stay off your butt in the gym. Most of us have desk jobs (or driving jobs) where you just sit down all day long. Nobody in their right mind believes that more sitting will help you get in shape. Yet, we've evolved gyms where people expect to go and sit on some machine to get into better shape. This makes no sense.

Seated exercise machines (like seated leg extensions) are popular with gyms because they eliminate the need to maintain an expert staff, or give members real guidance - all you have to do is sit down and look at the picture on the machine. Machines are not safer, nor do they deliver better results.

Think about the difference between a "seated chest press" machine and a push up. The "seated chest press" will work your chest, front of your shoulders, and the back of your arms (it's right on the little picture on the machine), but since you're sitting down you give your core a chance to relax, and your legs can just chill.

Contrast that with a push up: hands on the floor (or on an incline if you can't do them on the floor), and toes on the ground - it works everything between your hands and toes versus just a little bit of your upper body as with the machine. In a good push up, you have to move your arms and shoulders while the rest of your body stays perfectly still and tight, so your core and legs have to work right along with your upper body. More muscles working leads to more results, and forcing your core to engage leads to more safety.

2. Keep track. The people who get the best results from their workouts keep the best records of them. The single most fundamental principle in exercise is progressive overload: that is you progressively and systematically progress, and overload (not kill) your body. This overload stimulates your body to adapt. These adaptations are your results. Without progressive overload you get no adaptation over a long time period, and no sustained results.

You need written records of what you did, when you did it, how many times you did it, how intensely you did it, and how much rest you took.

The records tell you everything: if you're not getting better, then that tells you something is not right - too much exercise, too little sleep, poor nutrition, too much intensity, or too little intensity. And you'd only really know if you were getting better or not if you wrote things down. Your emotional and overloaded memory cannot be relied on to keep this all straight over the course of many months. If you are getting better, then you want to know so you can keep that up, and then adjust things when whatever you are doing stops working.

3. Hit the pillow. By the end of a workout you are actually weaker than when you started. Your results happen between workouts, not during them. Training + recovery results. Training + training + no recovery no (or poor) results.

The most important factor in your recovery is sleep. Both the quantity and quality of sleep is important. Six to nine hours of high-quality sleep nearly every day will allow you to get the most out of your workouts regardless of your goals - fat loss (sleep is especially important for fat loss), strength or muscle growth.

4. Do resistance training first. It doesn't matter what kind of "cardio" you're doing - interval training, or boring old steady state aerobics, you should always do your resistance training first. Why? Because you want to do the exercise that matters the most when you have the most energy. The more energy you can invest in your resistance training, the better your body will look, feel and perform.

If you run out of time for your "cardio" after your resistance training, that's fine, unless you're training for a marathon, you do not need much for heart health. Try this as a "finisher" after your resistance training: for 30 seconds, sprint as fast as you can on a bike, then go slowly for 30 seconds. Repeat for five rounds. If you really went fast, your heart and lungs will get all the work they need.

5. Consistency is king. Consistently doing less (but doing it regularly) will absolutely outperform doing more total exercise sporadically.

For example, let's say Jane exercises six days per week for two weeks, and then does nothing for two weeks. That's an average of three workouts per week. But Paula sticks to two consistent workouts week in and week out. If Jane and Paula are on the same program, Paula will get better results than Jane even though Jane actually works out more on average. Pick a schedule you can stick with, and stick.

MCT

42 comments

  • As a woman in her forties with osteoarthritis (and there are a LOT of people who are paying for active lives when we were younger) I find the sit down cycling is better for my joints. It is aerobic, and is great for leg muscles as well. The machines definitely target particular body areas, and can help rehabilitate after injuries. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm not looking for easy options, just safe ones. Not everyone going to a gym intends to run marathons or become an ideal muscle specimen for display. Is Pilates a waste of time too?

    Commenter
    KC
    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 4:17PM
    • You definitely have a point - certain equipment is suited to clients with special exercise needs. I spent long hours on the recumbent bike when I was doing surgery rehabilitation, as there was no way I was going to be able to jog or sprint.

      Similarly, for really heavy lifts there are limitations on what can be achieved through body weight exercises only.

      However as a set of general principles, the five points above are all valid. In the case of the pushup (assuming a similar amount of reps to exhaustion) the pushup is better than the bench press because of all the extra muscles engaged.

      Commenter
      Wagtail Fitness
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 5:07PM
    • Riding a bicycle is better for you than using a stationary bike or spin class bike as it engages your core muscles to stabilise you. If your personal circumstances allow for it, go for a ride in preference to using the stationary bike at the gym. Also if you do use a stationary bike and can concentrate on reading a book or magazine while doing it, you aren't trying hard enough.

      Commenter
      KK
      Location
      Balmain
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 5:18PM
    • KC and Wagtail ... true, but complementing those seated exercises with some others might provide a happy medium.

      IMO, many women (and some men) don't give enough attention to load bearing exercises ... important for muscle and bone health as we age. So a standing curl, for example, will give benefits to your biceps specifically, and your upper body generally, but it will also benefit your core and legs as you naturally balance and stabilise yourself. All without putting too much stress on those osteoarthritic bones ... done sensibly of course!

      The article makes some very basic points ... but we often need to be reminded of the basics.

      Commenter
      Farr
      Date and time
      April 17, 2012, 7:44AM
    • KC

      You are certainly on the right track with your own fitness programme. Finding the right way to exercise that suits your body's condition is the secret in maintaining an exercise programme.

      Anything that stops the pain in the joints and gives an aerobic workout at the same time, is a very good exercise. As we all know, not everyone is suited to performing push ups, and the seated exercise machines were designed so that everyone could have the chance to exercise different body parts.

      Pilates and yoga are brilliant forms of exercise as well, and are enjoyable. And enjoying your exercise times is a key factor in keeping up an exercise programme.

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      April 17, 2012, 9:30AM
  • Why the pic of the anorexic..um woman I suppose. You really think this stick could actually do any real exercise? Eat a hamburger woman.

    Commenter
    NRG
    Location
    Here
    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 5:00PM
    • Pretty much the same thing as fat bashing, NRG. She doesn't look anorexic, just slim. She might be towards the lower end of a healthy weight range, but she doesn't seem underweight.

      I imagine her collarbone, sternum and other bones are showing partly because of the angle of the photo and the fact she's tensed.

      Commenter
      Bob
      Location
      Carlton
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 5:18PM
    • Right on, Bob. The woman in the pic looks healthy and normal, makes you wonder why people feel the need to comment on her shape at all? Oh I forgot, she's a woman so her body is public property...

      PS: And what exactly is a "hamburger woman", NRG?

      Commenter
      Donna Joy
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 5:51PM
    • Couldn't agree more, NRG. Put some food in front of the girl. Anyone who thinks that the degree of projection in the sternum bones is normal or healthy is a twit.

      And yes, why not use a picture of someone who looks like they reap the benefits of exercise rather than starvation.

      Commenter
      GrowaBrain
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 6:36PM
    • must admit i did think too many bones sticking out, not what i think off when i think of healthy body image. would not like my child to have the same look. The main thing is the person in the photo is happy with her shape.

      Commenter
      Fionadunks
      Location
      Randwick
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 6:51PM

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