Whether we are high-performance athletes with very specific goals, have a specific amount of weight loss/gain we want in a certain timeframe, or simply just have the goal of becoming a little fitter and healthier, it’s imperative that our training and exercise regime complements and suits those goals.
So, that’s the question I want you to think about right now and try to answer: “Does my training align with / make sense for my health and fitness goals?”
What this usually amounts to is simply: is there a ‘why’ behind the exercises and activities that you are doing to improve your health and fitness? Now there is an obvious caveat to all of this – if you include / perform certain exercises and activities because you enjoy them, then that’s fine; don’t stop doing things that you enjoy just because they might not benefit your goals and objectives.
What I’m trying to get at with this blog is that we often end up doing certain exercises or exercising in a certain way because we think it is helping us achieve our goals, or because we are told we should – and we don’t always question the received wisdom, or actually step back and reflect on whether it’s actually the best idea or even necessary for us.
To help you assess whether your training is actually suitable for you, I’m going to provide a few specific examples, and a few pieces of advice on how to critically assess your current training program.
1) Is running a part of your programme because you enjoy running, or because you need to do ‘cardio’?
Most of us understand the importance of cardiovascular health, but mistakenly believe that in order to improve or address our cardiovascular health, we must adhere to one of the ‘traditional’ methods of cardio training… most often running. Now, running is a great form of exercise for several reasons – it is great for improving your cardiovascular fitness and has an extremely low barrier to entry – you need no equipment (besides clothes) and can be done absolutely anywhere.
However, if you don’t like running, why on earth would you force yourself to do it? It’s not the only option for cardiovascular fitness, and nor is it superior to other methods. Cardiovascular exercise is simply any exercise where you keep your heart rate elevated consistently for a significant period of time. So yes, this could be running, but it could equally be: cycling, rowing, walking/hiking, calisthenics, weightlifting circuits etc.
There is no ‘one’ way to perform cardiovascular training, and don’t even feel the need to include specific ‘cardio’ sessions if you perform other exercises and sports on a regular basis. Unless you need to run (for your sport or job), or enjoy it, then why do you ‘need’ to do it?
N.B: the same logic applies to any other exercise listed above… not just running!
2) Are you measuring strength in the appropriate way?
(While I’m using strength as the specific example here, the principle could be applied to any progress or improvement measure)
In our approach to exercise and training, we should be basing everything around the individual. When planning / evaluating your own training, that individual is obviously you – so the point I’m getting at is whether your performance measurements are appropriate for you, your training level and goals?
The most well-known type of strength testing is 1RM testing (one repetition max) – how much weight can you lift on a specific exercise for 1 repetition. Is it an excellent way to measure absolute strength? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean you need to test your 1RM if you want to measure your strength and see if you are getting stronger. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that 99% of the population needn’t do 1RM testing at all. The only individuals who need to test their 1RM are those who compete in weightlifting, powerlifting or ’strongman’ events. Even high-level athletes in team sports have a very limited need to do 1RM testing.
Think about it, unless you are actually going to do a single repetition of a certain exercise or action, why do you need to work and train at such a high (100%) intensity? The answer, you probably don’t.
Again, preference is going to play a part in it – if you really want to test out your 1RM, and enjoy doing so, then there might be no real harm in doing so. However, it’s simply not appropriate for most of us, as it puts a huge amount of stress on our joints, connective tissues and central nervous system (CNS), while requiring a huge amount of technical skill and core stability. The risk of injury is also far greater than other methods of strength testing.
For example, why not measure your 10RM? If you used to be able to squat 50kg for 10 reps, but can now squat 70kg for 10 reps, are you not getting stronger? Or if you used to be able to squat 100kg for 5 reps, but can now do so for 8 reps, are you not getting stronger? The answer is yes, of course you are! There are many different ways to see if you are getting stronger, so don’t fall into the trap of persevering with one that might not even be the right measure for you.
3) Is your program consistent?
Now, to be clear, I am not talking about consistency in terms of your adherence to your program, but rather the program itself. Is your program consistent, or random?
For example, if you want to improve at your ability to perform a deadlift (for argument’s sake we will use the conventional deadlift), are you including conventional deadlifts 1-2 times per week in your training? Performing a different deadlift variation every single week isn’t going to be very beneficial in helping you to increase the amount you can lift on a conventional deadlift, is it?
Designing a program that is too consistent can be boring – and we get that. So, don’t feel you need to do the exact same set of exercises, every week for eternity. However, in order to actually improve, you need to both practice skills (exercises) over and over again and accumulate volume in these skills in order to get better at them (whether that’s stronger, fitter, or whatever your goal may be).
What we recommend is keeping your compound (main) exercises the same for at least 4-6 weeks continuously, aiming to progress in those exercises within that period. If you want to add variety to your training from session to session, then we suggest doing so in the form of finisher exercises – either mini circuits, or ‘burnout’ exercises at the end of your sessions. Then, after the 4-6 week block of training is complete, re-evaluate what you want to work on, and change your training program to match your needs, wants and goals.
Variation for the sake of variation is not a good idea!
So, now we want you to try and reflect on, and critically evaluate, your own training – are there aspects that need changing and/ or improving? We hope you’ve been able to take something from this blog, and if you have any questions or need any guidance in planning your own training, then please feel free to get in touch by either commenting below, or sending us an email at: