A fitness blog post : thinking about time and training.
This post is next in the series of fitness blog posts after gym/non-gym and directly relates to the earlier post. In that post talked about the idea of training in terms of financial outlay for personal equipment and to buy either gym time (membership) or training aids for the home gym. I briefly mentioned the idea of time ‘budget’ and time constraints for training especially when the ideal gym is 20 miles away. In this post i am going to pick up the idea of time for training and especially the idea of getting the most benefit from time-limited workouts.
Time, or lack of it is one of the main reasons that people give to not engage in some degree of physical training. Although that is something i understand in the context of busy people and complex lives i do think that generally it is also a weak excuse especially when the same people would find the time to sit in front of mind numbing and instantly forgotten TV programmes night after night. At the opposite end i completely admire people like Jocko Willink who can roll out of the sack at some ungodly hour and go straight into a hard workout : i will admit that i don’t have the discipline to do that although i am becoming more and more consistent with my early morning ‘work’ workouts. My example this week is that i nailed 200 press-ups in between arriving at work and actually starting work : i’m just not quite convinced that was the best use of the time available even though it was a ‘good effort’.
The question i have been asking then is how best to use the limited time that i have for training and exercise for the best effect from that time and, if you will, how to get the most ‘bang for buck’ from my time investment. A simple example here is walking, i really enjoy just going for a walk and i am lucky to live in an area where i have a river valley and extensive woodlands to walk about in…..but aside from its general health benefits it doesn’t have much training effect unless i make it harder by carrying load and choosing to walk both off-route and across more demanding terrain. Lets leave the walking question for now and focus on deliberate training sessions that are time limited for one reason or another.
For 2 days a week i have to be in one place at a specific time (work) and at the end of the working day am generally too tired to then do a heavy workout. My time-limited solution is to get to my place of work early and treat that as an improvised training space : to be honest all i need is floor space and ideally somewhere that is a bit private and is reasonably warm and dry. My actual routine is to try and be on-site about 45 minutes before my actual shift start time and use that as training time. By chance it also makes the drive in and parking easier and i don’t find the early call any more difficult than one slightly later. I allow about 30 minutes for the actual workout and then 10-15 minutes to have a protein shake, coffee and to do some reading. What we get to then is how best to use that precious 30 minutes of training time and where all i have is floor space ( i actually also have a useful lintel for chin-ups). In the absence of the specific space that i do use i know of other micro-sites within the hospital where i could also get a useful workout : it just takes some creative thinking to find them.
A half-hour workout with very limited equipment suggests just a few things to me : first that i should concentrate on the things that i can do without equipment and that means either running or bodyweight exercises and applying intensity to the exercise to gain the most benefit from the short time. In a way the time/intensity goes together because i can just about keep up a high degree of effort for a short time but would struggle at the moment to do that during a long (say one hour plus) session. As you know i don’t like running and in fact to run i would have to leave my department again whereas i can do the bodyweight exercises within the building. If i succeed in my efforts to bring short-burst running back into my workouts i might well do one session as a sequence of short ‘fast’ runs (my running is never fast). The best approach i have found so far though is to concentrate on simple and effective bodyweight exercises that can be done just about anywhere. For reference my main bodyweight exercises are : planks, press-ups, get-me-ups, chin-ups and air squats and all based on Mark Lauren’s excellent book. Looking through my training diary i find that i am now always getting through a hundred press-ups per session at minimum plus about 30-40 other movements although i note that in my last session i achieved 200 press-ups and just 22 other moves. I can probably reckon on making around 150 movements per workout during a half-hour session and that is also enough to get my heart rate well up enough to be getting a cardio/training effect and most likely a glycolytic pathway effect as well. The way to achieve maximum training benefit is to mix my exercises and sets such that i say crank out 25 or 30 press-ups in a set and then immediately start another exercise using a different muscle group eg by doing air squats say. Right now i have a challenge in mind which is to create a ‘300’ style move workout to be completed in 30 minutes….thinking about it that’s only 10 moves a minute which isn’t a lot !
Long aerobic exercise. I have often needed to have a higher level of fitness as a mountain/bush walking outdoorsman and that fitness might be described as the ability to carry load over distance and for several days at a stretch. That practice has left me with a useful carry-over which is the enjoyment of walking as an exercise in its own right but especially when done in a natural environment. I have in the past done some distance running up to training for marathon distance but wouldn’t contemplate doing that now mainly because of the likelihood of impact injury to my back. I dislike running which really doesn’t help but i do concede that some amount of running might be useful in a general fitness programme. The evidence though seems to point to the practice of doing non-aerobic running ie short fast sprints/hill sprints as having as good a benefit to aerobic performance as longer/slower running but a much better effect on anaerobic performance. With that in mind i accept the idea of doing several short and hard runs during a home workout. They of course are very short and my practice now is to do a quick run in between sets of other movements during a home session. What i do instead of longer runs or unloaded walks is my practice of ‘rucking’ which is deliberately carrying load over distance and on difficult terrain. During my first stage of fitness training i completed 100 short but heavily loaded sessions which each included a hill component. The distance loaded was quite short so i would aim to do somewhere between 3 and 5 as one exercise of a longer workout and do sets of other moves in between ‘rucks’. My sessions now are longer as the trip out is about 40 minutes and the loaded return about the same and carrying around 25-30kg and definitely including a 10 minute plus intense hill section. In terms of short high intensity exercise i do think that the loaded carry hill section is worth the effort as i get a tough cardio workout and i think push into the anaerobic pathway for some of that time. Clearly this kind of exercise doesn’t work in the frame of a time-limited session and is what i do when i have more time available and i couple it with other exercise to form what i call ‘heavy’ days.
The 100 load stack.
Resistance exercise : free weights. In times past i used to consider my gym time as the core of my training and that the whole session including getting to and from the gym, the warm-up and workout and then a swim took up anything up to 4 hours and its that kind of session i can no longer afford to do. If i say that i can and do allocate a 2 hour slot for a long workout and that includes a rucking session then once again i get about 30 minutes for the weights training component. My actual practice now is to combine one primary free weights movement with 2 other bodyweight exercises for example to combine the deadlift with sets of press-ups and pull-ups. My thinking is that i only have one barbell and it seems best to leave that loaded for one exercise and use the bodyweight moves as ‘filler’ between loaded sets. To maintain intensity i find it essential to move straight from the weighted exercise onto the bodyweight move and/or for example to complete a weighted set and then go straight out and do a run/sprint on the hill.
I believe that the crucial elements of my weights training are :
- To only do the large compound lifts eg the deadlift, squats, overhead press rather than isolation exercises. The theory being that the large compound moves utilise more muscle groups per movement than isolation exercise.
- To do them only with free weights so that i have to do continuous core work to keep the weight stable and :
- To keep up the workout intensity with ‘filler’ movements ie don’t sit and rest in between sets. What this does create is great simplicity in my workouts in that i know i am only focussing on one free weights movement and usually 2 bodyweight moves plus or minus some runs.
The new carry stack begins to form : the new stack will be smaller because the carry distance is much greater.