While time spent training in the gym, at the track, in the pool, or on the road obviously matters to the overall success of your training program, how you spend that time during each session will impact your ability to optimally train during the next session….and the next one….and the next one, etc.
It is the continued application of training that leads to the most gains in fitness, but you can’t make the improvements you want if your program isn’t structured correctly.
Below you’ll find three things that I consider important towards maximizing training adaptions.
1. Know the intensity of muscular damage your exercise choices make.
Movements with higher levels of eccentric loading will result in increased amounts of muscular damage, resulting in increased soreness and decreased neural drive (think of the muscles not being able to receive the contraction signals from the brain as well). An eccentric muscular contraction occurs when the muscle is lengthening, yet contracting. In a gym setting, this occurs when a weight is being lowered back to the ground. For example, in a squat, the eccentric portion of the lift is the descent. High volume back squats will stress the body differently than a heavy sled push. Compared to a heavy back squat, a sled push involves next to no eccentric loading, given that there is no load being lowered.
Does this mean you should avoid high eccentrically loaded movements? Absolutely not! Increased training time on eccentric muscular contractions helps improve positional awareness, increases the metabolic cost of training, decreases the stress on the central nervous system, and is a key pattern for most field sport athletes (better eccentric contraction equals better ability to change direction). However, if you were looking for a way to train the legs really hard between squat sessions, the sled push would be a good alternative.
In short, varying the type of movements you employ in your training program will keep you keep you progressing towards your goals without the cost of decreased training time from excessive soreness or, even worse, injury.
2. Fuel your body appropriately: Pre, Intra, and Post Workout Nutrition
Go into a workout dehydrated and lacking enough carbohydrate and chances are you won’t have the gas necessary to get you through that challenging training session. Simple guidelines for adequate hydration: 1/2 of your bodyweight in fluid ounces per day. However, if you are training more intensely you will require larger amounts of hydration.
High intensity training like weight training, is fueled primarily by carbohydrates found in the blood in the form of glucose and in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Simple guidelines for adequate carbohydrate intake for performance improvement: 2 grams carbohydrates for every pound of body weight.
Probably the most time sensitive macronutrient, ingesting the right types of carbohydrate at the right times will not only fuel your workout appropriately, but help you recover better. Easily digestible carbs (think bananas, berries, oranges, fruit, etc) should be consumed an hour or two before and immediately post workout. During your more intense workouts, a carbohydrate heavy sports drink can be sipped throughout the duration of training. This will keep blood glucose levels high sparing muscle glycogen, allowing you to train longer and with more intensity. More dense, complex carbs, like whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. can be ingested thirty minutes to an hour post workout. Ensuring you get enough carbohydrate post workout helps return your body to an anabolic (muscle building) state, by reducing your body’s cortisol levels, which spike after a tough workout.
Adequate carbohydrate is naturally important pre, during and immediately post workout, but you cannot ignore protein and fat consumption as important towards post workout recovery. Simple guidelines for protein intake: 1 gram protein for every pound bodyweight per day. In terms of how to break this amount up, split that amount equally into three meals and two snacks. Without adequate protein intake, muscles won’t have the raw material to repair themselves and immune system function can even suffer. Nothing like being sick to derail the gains train.
Fat is also an important fuel the body uses at rest and lower intensity exercise. Ensuring that your diet consists of between 30-40% of fat helps you achieve the necessary training results in a number of ways. Some studies showed that low fat diets for an extended period of time reduced male testosterone levels. Given that testosterone is a major anabolic hormone, this impacts your body’s ability to increase lean muscle mass. For women, decreased fat intake can be a cause of exercise related menstrual irregularities.
3. Manage your mind.
Emotional and psychological stress has physical impacts. Let’s say you’ve had a stressful day at work or you are going through some struggles with your family, friends. Those daily stressful interactions may trigger slightly higher than normal hormonal and neurological responses. The stress hormone cortisol is not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s important to towards activating our body’s sympathetic nervous system. The “fight or flight” response which keeps us out of danger originates from here. Too much cortisol and too much sympathetic nervous system activity takes us out of a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) where all of our recovery occurs.
Ensuring you have adequate strategies to deal with stress, such as mindfulness meditation, forest-bathing, and effective breathing patterns are essential towards managing your body’s recovery.
Big gains in fitness happen over months and years. Employing these three simple guidelines in your training plan ensures your ability to train over the long term and be better positioned to achieve those long sought after goals!