December 2017 - Ageless In Shape

Monthly Archives: December 2017

Home Workout

Working Out From Home: Getting Your Exercise Done When You Cannot Make It To The Gym

Home Workout

For any fitness or physique athlete, there is just nothing more welcoming than a well-equipped modern day gym. No matter what your need or goal, there are a multiple of equipment and weights suitable for any exercise or movement. There are times however, when you are not able to make it to the gym for a variety of reasons.

fireplace

From "gym fanatics" to people just striving to stay in shape, we all run into some obstacle from time to time.  Let's be honest: Sometimes we just don't feel like getting out of the house in crappy weather and drive twenty minutes to the gym and back, all for a forty minute workout. It should not be an excuse, but we have all been there. And its not due to lack of motivation or dedication.

The good news is that, with a little innovation and with the help of some furniture, you can give all the muscles in your body a good workout, with improvised exercises and using your body weight. And all of it from the comfort of your home. Just remember, this should be an occasional substitute for going to the gym, not the rule. (Obviously if you don't have access to a gym at all, this is the perfect alternative until you can find a better option.)

Moving on to the exercises, please take note that the same principles applied in my article on your "Starter Workout" (read the article here), applies to your home workout as well.  

Use the table below to see what specific exercise can be used to target the appropriate muscle group.

Exercise

Muscles Targeted

Sets

Reps

Push-up

Chest, Triceps

2

10

Dumbbell Row

Back

2

10

Push Back Push-up

Shoulders

2

10

Standing Squat

Legs

2

10

Seated Dip

Triceps

2

10

Lying Chin-up

Biceps, Back

2

10

Crunches

Abs

2

16

The table above shows the total number of exercises and sets that makes up one training session

Don't be fooled by the term "home exercise". When properly performed, these exercises give you body a proper workout, and can still be very strenuous for any person new to resistance training or anyone who haven't been training for more than 6 months.  Therefor please heed the following warning:

Make sure to consult your physician before attempting any of the exercises described in this article.

As with the "gym version" (which you can read here) of the beginner program, the same steps and principles apply to the home workout.

The Exercises

In this section, I am explaining each exercise with the aid of a video clip of me performing the particular exercise.

Please note that I took great care to only make use of everyday furniture and objects you will find in any home. Some home exercise routines require a set of dumbbells and a bench. Off course this makes exercising a lot easier, as well as including a huge variety of additional exercises possible not otherwise available. 

Most of us, however, don't want to waste money and don't have enough space to accommodate equipment we may only use a couple of times a year. For this purpose I am focusing on an "equipment free" home exercise plan.

Here are the exercises, as laid out in the table above:

Push-up

As illustrated, performed with a straight back and elbows to the side and not at a wide angle to the body. Arms tucked in too closely to the body may put too much emphasis on the triceps, and too wide put a lot of stress on the shoulders and should be avoided.

Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

Performed with a bench or set of chairs. Rest your right arm and knee on the bench with your upper body parallel to the floor. Hold weight in left hand and start with a straight arm. Raise it all the way until the weight is your body height before lowering it. Do the same with your right side with left knee and arm on the bench.

Push Back Push-up

Very much the same as a push-up, with one big difference. As illustrated, after lowering to the floor, push back with your arms instead of up, while bending your knees to allow your body to be pushed back. Straighten your legs while in the "raised" position before repeating.

Standing Squat

With feet slightly apart, keep your arms outstretched for balance. Start lowering yourself into a seating position until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor. Keeping your arms out-stretched helps you keep your balance while lowering yourself. Don't bent forward!

Seated Dip

Using a chair, bench (or footstool), place your feet together and elevated. Make sure your butt is positioned just in front of your seat before lowering yourself until your elbows are bent at about 90 degrees. Keep your elbows tucked in at all times.  

Lying Chin-Up

Use the edge of a table or desk. Position yourself underneath it as illustrated. Place your hands about shoulder-width apart. While keeping your back straight, pull yourself up as high up as you can or until your head touches the table/desk.   

Crunches

While lying down  on a aerobics/yoga mat (or soft carpet to protect your spine), bend your knees as illustrated. With your hands on the sides of your head, lift your upper body up towards your pelvis until your shoulders are completely off the floor. Do not keep your back straight, but imagine curling it up as you try and pull your shoulders towards your pelvis. 

These exercises form the basis of a solid home starter workout program. It can be used by the beginner, but also the more advanced trainer. By adapting these exercises to make it more challenging or adding additional exercises that place even more strain on your muscles, you can turn any home exercise into a very challenging one, no matter what your level of experience or fitness.

Helpful Hints And Advice

It is important to highlight a few points to remember while performing this home workout. This section also shows you how to adapt your workout to make it easier if you are experiencing some difficulty in performing some of these exercises, as well as how to make it more challenging to help you advance past the beginner stage.  

a) Push-up

One of the evergreen exercises to effectively train your chest and biceps. Some people may still have difficulty performing one proper push-up, especially if you are not strong enough in your upper body yet.  There is an easy solution.   Rest your lower body on your knees (not your feet) while performing the push-up. This takes off almost half the weight off your muscles, and makes it much easier for you to perform the exercise.

Just don't get complacent and as soon as you can easily perform 10 repetitions on your knees with ease, start perform the exercise in its proper form using your feet and whole body weight. Remember to keep your back straight at all times, no matter which form of the exercise you perform.

b) Exercising Your Back

Two exercises that targets the back are illustrated in this program. The bent-over dumbbell row and the lying chin-ups both targets the back, directly or indirectly. If you have a very weak back or are nursing an injury, you can stick to just chin-ups to start out with. Although primary targeting the biceps in this variation of the exercise, it still stimulates enough muscle fibres in your back. 

To create a"proper" full range chin-up that is both more challenging to perform and put more emphasis on the back muscles as well, you have to find a horizontal bar you can properly grip and is higher than you can reach with your arms outstretched while lying on the floor. Position yourself underneath the bar so that your lower chest is directly below the bar. Reach out and grip the bar with an overhand position. While keeping your back straight, raise yourself up until your chest touches the bar before lowering yourself until your arms are fully extended. Repeat. This exercise can be very challenging, so stick with the original exercise illustrated until you are comfortable.

c) Seated Dip

As your triceps are already worked out with the push-up, this exercise can be seen as an optional exercise, use in conjunction with push-ups, if you feel the push-up does not fatigue your triceps enough.

If you find the traditional seated dip too challenging, you can lessen the load by not keeping your feet elevated, but placing it on the floor while performing the exercise. This makes performing the exercise much easier and give  your triceps the opportunity to strengthen until you are able to do a full set with your feet elevated. 

d) Leg Exercises

As you would have already seen, the standing squat is used as a good starting exercise for your leg muscles. For a large majority of people who are already strong in their legs, this can be way too easy an exercise to perform. You can immediately make this exercise more difficult by lowering yourself past the parallel position until the back of your legs touches your calves. You get a much better stretch, a full range of movement and place a lot more strain on your leg muscles, working much harder to push your body up from that low position.

You can turn your home leg exercise into a really serious muscle building routine by adding exercises like lunges and wall squats to seriously enhance your leg workouts. By adding basic equipment like a simple pair of dumbbells, can be very effective and contribute to leg muscle growth, especially combined with lunges. More on these advanced exercises later on.

e) Make Your Workout More Challenging And Effective

A final word on how you can make home workouts more effective if don't find it challenging enough. First, the 40 second break between sets can be reduced to 30 seconds. This alone will place a lot more strain on your muscles and cause them to fatigue a lot quicker. A second very effective method, is to add a 3rd set to each exercise. As with the gym version, just that one extra set will have a huge impact on your routine.

And this takes care of the basic home exercise. I covered as much detail as I can think of, but know there are still a lot of unanswered questions and additional issues to be addressed. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions and I will answer as promptly as possible. 

In the future, I may include a separate article dedicated to a more advanced home training program, and also include a section for exercises that can be done with the assistance of just a bench and set of dumbbells. Let me know in the comment section if you are interested, and I will make a point of including it sooner rather than later.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel

  

eating plan for workout day

How To Structure Your Eating Plan On Training Day: The Perfect Companion For Your First Workout

eating plan for workout day

This article forms Part Two of the “Your First Workout” series. (You can read Part One here) In this section, we focus on a typical good eating plan to follow on your workout day. Keep in mind that his will differ a little from your diet on non-training days.

The foods described in this article, can be substituted with a huge variety of alternative source, so don't be concerned if you really dislike the specific foods described. The purpose is just to show you what type of food should ideally be taken throughout the day. (More info on some alternatives sources later on in the post.)

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates

First, some good news for everyone who love their carbohydrates. This is the one day where you are encouraged to increase your carbohydrate intake. Hang on, just don't get too excited too soon. I am not referring to refined carbohydrates like sugary drinks, candy bars and refined wheat products like white bread, bagels and donuts. I am referring to "healthy" complex carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, oats and sweet potatoes.

Before moving on to describing the different meals, some clarification is in order to explain why carbohydrates plays such a big role on your workout day. 

First, your workout, if performed properly, requires a substantial amount of calories to burn to keep energy levels sustained throughout your training session. Having build up a sufficient amount of carbohydrates in your system, insures you have a sustained source of energy that will keep you performing at your optimum level, without having to worry about your body using precious muscle tissue instead of food as an energy source.

fat measure

There is lot of controversy and diverse opinions over the more "liberal" use of carbohydrates. Especially proponents of diets like the Paleo and Atkinson's Diets, believe carbohydrates should be avoided at all costs. The problem is, if you are already following a diet extremely low in carbohydrates, you have "very little room to play with" when burning calories. Without sufficient fuel to burn as energy during and post-workout, it is extremely easy for your body to start consuming muscle tissue as energy, which can put your body in a catabolic state. A situation that can sometime be tricky to reverse. 

I would rather recommend having a surplus of carbohydrates, which may turn into some fat as storage, than burning away your hard earned muscle gains. It is much easier to dial back your carbohydrate intake and lose the excess fat gained, than to rebuild the muscle tissue lost. It is a process of trial and error, and you will learn in time what amount works for you. Each person's body respond differently.

Enough about carbohydrates for now. Time to move on to the actual eating plan. I will first discuss the eating plan, and in the following section discuss how you can adopt it to your schedule. I will also go into more detail, explaining why the different foods are consumed at certain times. We will also be looking at some alternatives.

The Eating Plan

If you read through physique and fitness magazines, online blogs and watch Youtube videos, you will see that the the trend is to advocate breaking down your meal plan into at least 6 smaller meals. This is close to ideal and make it a lot easier for your body to stay anabolic and digest your food properly. It also helps to keep your metabolic rate up which helps your body to keep burning fat for much longer. Therefore, we will start with a 6 meal plan.

Meal 1

1 bowl of oats 

2 Scrambled eggs

1 cup of coffee / glass of orange juice

Meal 2 (pre-workout)

1 small protein or meal replacement shake

1 apple or banana


Meal 3 (post-workout)

1 Protein Shake (preferably whey protein)

1 Potato

1 grilled chicken breast

½ avocado


Meal 4

4-6 ounces of Cottage Cheese

1 Sweet Potato

1 cup of greek yogurt.

Meal 5

6-8 ounces of lean steak (or tuna)

1 cup of rice

1 cup of steamed vegetables

1 small mixed salad with a table spoon of olive oil  

Meal 6

1 cup of cottage cheese

1 protein shake (preferably casein protein)



This is a basic breakdown of what a healthy optimal eating plan on your workout day can look like. Now let's look in more detail at the timing of the meals compared with when you do your workout, and how to adjust them to suite your schedule. 

Timing And Organizing Your Meal

The sample meal plan, is set up for your typical late morning workout. But to be realistic, who of us have time or permission to take off from work at eleven in the morning? Most people choose to do their training either early in the morning before work, during their lunch hour or late afternoon after the workday is finished. Each of these three time-slots will be used as a basis to help organize you meal plans accordingly.

Early Morning Training:

morning exercise

You need at least an hour or more (in most cases more than 2 hours) of no food intake before your workout starts. This gives your body time to digest your meal, and allow the nutrients to enter the bloodstream. Directly after eating, blood is focused around your digestive area to aide with digestion and the uptake of nutrients in the bloodstream, not the muscles where it suppose to be working when you are training a muscle group. 

For that reason, breakfast is not an option for you. Meal 2, which serves as quick "energy boost", should be taken immediately after waking up. After completing you workout, Meal 3 should be taken as quickly as possible. Around lunch time Meal 4 and repeat it mid-afternoon. Dinner should be Meal 5. Meal 6 should be taken about an hour before bed. 

Yes, you are missing out on breakfast. To compensate for it, I normally take some complex carbohydrates during my late night "snack" the previous night, as it is still in my system when training the next morning. I can honestly feel the difference if I didn't have any carbohydrates the night before workout the next morning. Try it and see if it works for you too.

Lunch Time Training

midday workout

Here, the order of your meals stay the same as described in the table. You just don't have to rush your breakfast and eat it just before leaving for work. Just remember to take Meal 2 an hour or more before your workout. As with the other two scenarios, make sure  Meal 3 (post-workout) is taken as quickly as possible after your workout. The remaining 3 meals are taken as normal.

Late Afternoon Training

afternoon workout

With this routine, your meal order get "mixed up" quite a bit, but with good reason. It looks as follows:

You start with Meal 1 (breakfast) as normal. This however, gets followed by Meal 4 to sustain energy and protein levels.  Meal 2 (pre-workout) is taken mid-afternoon to boost energy levels for your workout. Meal 3 (post-workout) is taken as quickly as possible after the workout. This is followed by Meals 5&6 as normal.

The Plan And Indredients Explained

Obviously there is a reason for the type of foods in the eating plan and when they are taken. Nutrients aren't just randomly chosen and thrown together.

Oats: A grain based carbohydrate that is the perfect way to start the day, providing sustained energy throughout the day. It also provides the body with healthy fats and help maintain muscle mass.

Eggs: Often being described as the the perfect food, it is great source of protein. Although the yolk of the egg has been "accused" of contributing to increased cholesterol in the human body in the past, recent studies showed that even though the yolk itself is high in cholesterol, a very small percentage is actually absorbed by the body. It is also easy to digest and a great source of energy, making it the perfect breakfast companion.   

Coffee: The advantages of coffee are too numerous to mention, but the obvious standout being the boost in energy it provides to kick-start your day. Recently studies showed that having multiple cups of coffee throughout the day have additional health benefits.

Orange Juice: Rich in vitamin C and fibre while improving blood circulation. The natural sugar in orange juice also provides a boost in energy. 

Whey Protein Shake: Normally in powder form, and mixed with water or milk. Whey is not just quickly digested, but enters the bloodstream and muscles very quickly, which is essential after a workout when your body needs the nutrients quickly to stop muscle breakdown and assist in recovery.

Apples: One of richest sources of nutrients to support the immune system. Eating an apple before a workout provides a surprisingly high boost in energy to fuel your workouts. Some researchers even stated that it is better source of energy than caffeine.

Bananas: Another great source of energy to be taken before a workout. It is also rich in potassium that helps with muscle contraction and nerve function, as well as assisting with digestion.

Potatoes: Also rich in potassium and vitamin C, potatoes are complex carbohydrates that is used by the body as a sustained source of energy. It is also more quickly absorbed by the digestion system than sweet potatoes, and stays in your system much longer than simple carbohydrates. This makes it ideal as a post workout energy source that helps to raise insulin levels, which in turns help with the uptake of protein in the body. Caution should be taken when consuming potatoes in numbers though, especially on non-training days when energy demands are much lower. Excess energy provided by potatoes can easily be stored as fat.

Sweet Potatoes: Very similar to potatoes in many respects, it is considered to be a healthier alternative as a complex carbohydrate. It has a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes, which means it doesn't cause an insulin spike, and therefore forms a more stable source of energy to be taken alongside a protein source later on during the day.

Chicken: (especially chicken breast): A "light" white meat which, alongside red meat, it is one the main sources of protein, used by physique athletes and bodybuilders the world over. Due to its capacity to be digested much quicker than red meat, it is ideal to be taken during the day when you still need to be active. For the same reason it can be taken in smaller portion more frequently without taxing your digestive system. 

Red Meat: Whether in the form of beef or lamb, red meat has for many years been considered the main staple food for any athlete seriously pursuing muscle gains. Packed with protein and iron, there is very little disagreement as to its position as a protein powerhouse. Only one word of caution. Red meat takes some time to digest. If you eat too much, or have a slow digestive system, it can make you feel sluggish and lethargic. This may be a problem if you still need to be active and alert. This is why I almost always recommend eating it in the evenings when you are slowing down and have plenty of time to let it digest and be absorbed by your body. Obviously if you take it in very small bites (snacks) throughout the day, it won't be a problem. As a part of a main meal and at 6-8 ounces or more, I would definitely recommend sticking with dinner.

Mixed Vegetables: We all know what vegetables are, but I would put emphasis on including greens, such as broccoli, peas and spinach, as well carrots and beetroot. There are plenty of other healthy vegetables to choose from, but the five examples I mentioned, really takes the crown when it comes to supplying the body with anti-oxidants, vitamins and fibre. It also plays a big part in aiding the body's digestive system, which is crucial with a diet high in protein. Make sure you include include at least one mixed vegetable portion in your daily diet plan. 

Salad: A mixed salad is an excellent source of fibre and light in calories. You can actually combine this with any meal, not necessarily just dinner. Apart from including healthy ingredients like green lettuce, tomatoes, olives  and peppers, you can also give your body a good protein boost. Including ingredients like feta cheese, avocados and strips of bacon or chicken is just one of many ways to increase your protein intake. 

Casein Protein Shake: Normally in powder form, and mixed with water or milk. Unlike whey, casein is not quickly digested and stays in your system for hours. This make it ideal to take as a late-night meal/drink just before going to bed. As you are going to be "fasting" for the next seven hours or more, you need a protein that stays in your system for some time. Casein fits the bill perfectly.

Cottage Cheese: Another high protein source.  It also packed with essential minerals and light in calories, which means it won't keep you up at night. And the best part, is that the protein is casein based!

And that covers all the foods mentioned in this eating plan, alongside an explanation of each one, as well as the purpose and timing of each meal. I need to re-emphasize that this by no means the only correct eating plan available. It is just one of many variants, and even within this eating plan, you can substitute almost all the ingredients with an alternatives of your choice.

And Now, For A Spanner In The Works!

questions

The eating plan just laid out and explained to you, is the "ideal eating plan" for the perfect person with the perfect metabolism, digestive system and the ideal ideal body type. And that is the big problem. None of us are perfect and a surprisingly large percentage of people are unable to follow this eating plan rigorously and over the long term.

Guess what. That's OK! You don't have to and still get results.

Right now you are probably thinking why you bothered reading through this article, just to be told it is fine not to stick with it. So what was the point? Bear with me.

In an ideal world with the ideal body, you will respond extremely well to this diet. Even though most of us do not, there are some universal truths to be taken out of this plan:

  • All the foods described in the plan, are "clean" foods which means they are healthy foods that will benefit your body as a whole when taken in moderation and at the appropriate time. You now have framework of the type of foods that can benefit you.
  • Never starve yourself. That is probably biggest lesson you can learn from this eating plan. I will go as far as recommending eating something whenever you are hungry. Just try and stick to the right type of food and not reach for the closest candy bar whenever you have a food craving.
  • Carbohydrates is not the bad guy. Many nutritionists and "diet gurus" really believe any form of carbohydrate is pure evil that will immediately transform into fat as soon as it enters your body. This eating plan clearly disproves this theory. Some people with certain body types may actually require a much higher carbohydrate intake. (Read the relevant article about body types here.) And there is nothing wrong with having a "cheat day" where you can enjoy your favorite pizza and ice-cream. Again, this plan provides you with a framework as to what carbohydrates are healthy and when is the best time to take them
  • The importance of protein. I can't emphasize the importance of protein enough. It is absolutely essential for muscle and bone development, maintenance, along with assisting with numerous other important body functions. This plan clearly illustrates this point.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

This diet is a complete departure from almost 99% of the principles normal diets usually follow.  I stumbled across it a few years back as it happened to suite my eating habits at the time.

I'm one of those people with no appetite in the morning and throughout most of the day, and late night I am hungry enough to eat an elephant. After countless rebukes and attempts, I managed to adopt a healthier routine by starting to incorporate literally bite-size pieces of the diet plan, eventually managing to end with a plan close to the one in this article. Which leads me to this book: 

(Important, this section is just to illustrate to you the extremity to which diet plans can differ.)

Renegade Diet

The Renegade Diet

As I mentioned, this book literally throws all conventional wisdom about diet and eating plans out the window. It basically promotes the idea of fasting for 14-16 hours, under-eat for 4 hours and then over-eat  for 4 hours in the evenings. Yep, that is about as crazy and out there as it gets. The really crazy part? The theory and principles are actually backed up by scientific evidence. It's validity can be debated in many ways.

Since I still have my biggest meal in the evenings and struggle to take in enough calories during the day, I followed the diet plan for a while. I was quite surprised how well it worked for me. Looking at the before-and-after pictures of other participants, as well as reading reviews and testimonials, confirmed my own findings. 

Does this means this will work for everyone? Probably not. Is it a healthy diet plan. Also, probably not. Is it sustainable? I have no idea.

Therefore, I cannot condemn or promote it. I have no evidence as to its true effectiveness or hidden dangers. The eating plan in this article, however, has been proven to work and be a healthy way of reaching your goal. The goal of this section is make you aware of how different each one of us is, and responds to different diets. I would really encourage you to not just follow any eating plan blindly, but make adjustments and and don't be afraid to experiment a little. You are the best expert in finding out what is best for you.

Anyway, if you are night eater like me, go and have look at "The Renegade Diet" by following any of these links (in the book title and picture as well.) Go and find out what it is all about and make up you own mind. Who knows?

Conclusion

If you feel your head is spinning right now, I don't blame you. It is a lot of information and you may have to read this more than once to make sense of everything. The whole goal of this article is to provide you with a rough framework you can work from, especially when you are putting together a diet plan from scratch. Use it as starting point.

Now, it's up to you, and my only remaining advice to you is: Experiment, experiment, experiment.... It is going to take time, but: "Try, adjust, look at the results. Repeat."

Your body is unique and  will respond different to everyone else's. You owe it to yourself to find what works best for YOU.

I went a little further than the intended scope of this article, but I hope this article was useful in helping you better understand how a diet plan works and can be followed, especially on your workout day.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and start stocking up on some of these super foods for your diet plan!

Wessel


your first workout plan

Your First Workout Plan: The Best Starter Weight Training Program For Men And Women

your first workout plan

Finally... You just convinced yourself and decided to commit and get yourself into shape.

You literally went to town on your gym outfit. New sweatpants, gym shirts and the all important new pair of training shoes are all laid out on the bed. You even remembered to get training gloves, a good training belt, a water bottle and a very cool looking gym bag to complete your go to accessories list for your gym workouts.

Your first month's membership? All paid up. All set then. Very well, but now what? Did you plan what exactly you are going to do once you walk through those gym doors?

your first workout

Maybe you read an article in a fitness magazine or watched a Youtube video that inspired you. Is the athlete in the article an advanced weight trainer and following an exercise program suitable for a beginners? Worse case scenario, your friend, who has been a gym fanatic for years and already competed on stage, hands you his best and most intense workout schedule.

But most probably, once you walk through those doors, your general floor instructor will do what almost 99% of gyms do when joining for the first time...  Introduce you to circuit training, which you are suppose to follow for the first few weeks.

(A circuit is a combination of exercise machines, roughly placed in the shape of a circle. Each machine trains a different muscle group. You train for a set period of time, an alarm goes off and you move on to the next machine and start exercising as soon as the next alarm sounds. The idea behind circuit training is to exercise each muscle in you body and get you body as a whole conditioned and used to weight training.)

In general, I agree with the principles and goals of starting out with circuit training. I agree with the goal to get your whole body ready and prepared, by exercising and training every muscle in your body to allow it to get used to weight training. I disagree with the practice of starting out with circuit training for 2 reasons:

1. I don't agree with the idea of using a group of exercise machines to prepare your body for weight training. Obviously certain muscle groups can be trained very effectively by exercise machines, but I prefer using the actual exercises you will be using later on during your more advanced weight training programs. There is just no real substitute for doing exercises you will end up doing anyway at a later stage, especially the use of free weights (barbells & dumbbells).

Gym Circuit

2. More often than not, you are left to your own devices doing circuit training week after week. Inevitably you end up getting bored out of your mind or getting despondent after seeing no results after months of doing the same thing over and over again. The big unfortunate outcome is that you give up. The point is, no matter what your definition of getting in shape is (building muscle, getting a well-toned body or losing fat), at some point you must move on to a more specific workout program targeted towards reaching your goal. Circuit training was just supposed to be a starting point. Don't blame yourself though.

Here I lay the blame with big gym franchises and authoritative fitness magazines and online authorities who, I feel, should pay more attention to educating their members/readers. Teaching exercise basics, following up on your progress and goals, and adjusting a trainee's program accordingly (or at least point them in the right direction), should form the foundation and number one priority of any fitness authority or institution. 

With that out of the way, I am going to take you through a full body workout program, using exercises you will probably be using throughout your training "career". Remember, this is a starter program. It is not for anyone who has already been training for a while and are already on an intermediate to advanced level and accustomed to weight training.

So, I am going to assume the following: You are over 30 and/or starting to train for the first time, or haven't trained for more than a year and are starting all over again. Before starting the exercise plan, please heed the following warning:

Make sure to consult your physician before attempting any of the exercises described in this article.

I am going to lay out the program first, then explain how it should be performed, before moving on to each exercise and explain it in more detail.

The Program

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Flat Barbell Bench Press

2

10

Lat Pulldown 

2

10

Seated  Dumbbell Shoulder Press

2

10

Leg Press

2

10

Lying Leg Curl

2

10

Lying Triceps Extension

2

10

Standing Barbell Curl

2

10

Standing Calf Raise

2

10

Crunches

2

16

The table above shows the total number of exercises and sets that makes up one training session

In the following session I will describe how you should proceed through the program and how each exercise should be performed.

How To Follow The Program

The program consists of a full body workout followed 3 times a week for the first 3 to 5 weeks. Before starting the program, please take note of the following.

  1. Take it easy on yourself, you are just starting out. If you find it hard to cope with 3 full sessions per week, don't hesitate to restrict it to 2 sessions per week. Where you would have trained on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, simply reduce it to a Monday and Thursday. Try and stay active during non-workout days though, by going for brief walks or even doing some cycling. Staying active helps to keep your metabolism active and "up to speed".
  2. Ideally, completing one exercise program should take 40 - 45 minutes maximum. (Read my article about optimal time spend in the gym here). At first, you may have some difficulty finishing the session within this time, especially if you haven't done any exercise for some months or even years. That is completely fine and understandable.  You can drastically reduce the time and stress on your body by doing just one set of each exercise. Remember you are just starting out so your body is adjusting to sudden change. Just don't get too complacent, so try and increase your sets back up to 2 per exercise during your second or third week.
  3. You WILL feel sore and stiff a day or more after each training section in the beginning. I can almost guarantee it. This is very normal. Don't worry, it get's better as your body adjusts and you get used to the exercises. (To be honest, I still look forward to being a bit sore the day after training a muscle group. For me it is a sign that I trained properly and exhausted my muscles sufficiently. No, I am not a masochist, it is just a "happy pain" many a seasoned fitness enthusiast enjoy, knowing the results that stems from the "pain". ) If you find the soreness to be intolerable, you can lessen its effects by deploying any of the 2 previous points. Just hang in there and don't quit. It will get better.
  4. One last point before moving on. As already mentioned, please take the time to go see your physician for a quick checkup before commencing with the program. Especially  you heart and lung function is important and must be functioning properly. You will be putting your body on a lot more stress than it was probably used to for years, so just play it safe and make sure everything is in order.

Time to move on to the performing actual exercises. Follow it as closely as possible, and try and keep good form throughout each exercise. Here are the steps:

Follow These Steps

1

As already mentioned, the program consists of a full body workout followed 3 times a week for the first 3 to 5 weeks.

2

Each workout consists of 2 sets, and each set consists 10 repetitions.

3

When choosing the appropriate weight, choose a weight that you can do a maximum of 15 repetitions with. (Yes, you will be doing 10 repetitions, but as you do more sets with little rest in between, you will soon realize how hard it is to finish 10 reps. Especially as you get more advanced and move on to 3-4 sets).

4

Start each exercise as described, making sure you use a controlled movement (no jerking or throwing the weight around). Use 3 seconds to lower the weight slowly to bottom, before applying force and lift/contract it all the way back up over a period of 1 second.

5

After finishing your first set, rest only for 30 - 40 seconds before starting you 2nd set, no more. Use the same rest period when adding a 3rd or 4th set.

6

When you finished your 2 sets, rest as little as possible before moving on to the next exercise on the list. No more 1.5 to 2 minutes maximum rest.

7

This completes one workout session, which should not last longer than 45 minutes, but will most probably take you approximately 30 minutes. 

And that is how one workout session is done,  performed 3 times a week. The goal is to make you body used to weight training while starting to transform at the same time. If you are a quick starter and your body adapts rapidly to the exercises, here are a few ways to move to the next level. (This forms part of the slightly more advanced or "intermediate level" workout plan,  before training regimes become more specific and start splitting programs into differently sections as well as using multiple exercises per muscle group.)

  1. Once you reach a point of finishing your workout well within half an hour and you still feel energetic and "fresh", it is time to step up your training. Add a 3rd set to all of your exercises, but stick to the same amount of repetitions and time resting between sets. You will be surprised just how much of an impact adding just one set to all your exercises have.
  2. The second step to advance, should be used whenever you reach the end of your 2nd or 3rd set (whichever is your last set of an exercise). Once you are able to finish 10 full repetitions of any exercise on your last set, you should increase the weight in order to keep your muscle under sufficient tension. In other words, you must always battle to finish 10 repetitions of the last set of an exercise.

I don't want to get ahead of myself and stick to the topic of your "first or starter program". At least now you know how to keep advancing once you reach a goal in your training. 

Next up, the exercises themselves. What major muscle groups the exercise target and how it should be performed. 

The Exercises

Here are the exercises in no specific order of importance, but just following the list. I will just point out that, if you look at the list, you may have noticed that your bigger muscle groups are targeted first and smaller ones last. The reason for this is simple. When you start your workout you have more energy and since your bigger muscle groups require more energy, it just makes sense to do them first. As your energy diminish, you move on to the smaller muscle groups that require less energy. 

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Muscles Exercised: Pectoral 

Hold bar more than a hand's width outside shoulders. Lower bar slowly until it touches your lower chest and push it back up rapidly to the starting position. Repeat. 

bench press

Lat Pulldown

Muscles Exercised: Lats (Upper Back) 

Grip the curved section of the lat pulldown bar and pull it all the way down behind your neck until it touches your shoulders.

Slowly let it lift all the way back up until your arms are fully extended and allow it to stretch your back. Repeat.

lat pulldown

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Muscles Exercised: Shoulders (Deltoids) 

Although not shown in illustration, please use some back support. Preferably use a bench with an adjustable back, set at 90°.

Hold the dumbbells just above shoulder height, elbows all the way out and flush with your body. Push the weights straight up and let them touch at the top of the movement, while making sure your elbows stay out throughout the movement.

Lower weights slowly to the starting position, keeping elbows out. Repeat.

seated shoulder press

Leg Press

Muscles Exercised: Upper Legs (Quads) 

Place feet at least a body width apart for stability. Slowly lower the platform past a 90° angle until the back of your legs and calves almost touch. 

Push the  weight back up rapidly until your legs are straight, keeping your knees together. Don't "lock out*" your knees at the top of the movement as it may damage your ligaments. Repeat.

leg press

Lying Leg Curl

Muscles Exercised: Hamstrings 

Hook your ankles behind supports. Curl your legs up slowly until it reach an angle of at least 90° before returning to the starting position. Repeat.

lying leg curl

Lying Triceps Extension

Muscles Exercised: Triceps 

Using an EZ-bar, start by holding it about the width of your body with arms straight.

Slowly lower the bar down and backwards to just behind your forehead. Push it back up in the same fashion until arms are extended. Keep your elbows  together throughout the movement.  Repeat.

lying triceps extension

Standing Barbell Curls

Muscles Exercised: Biceps 

Using an EZ-bar, start by holding the weight about the width of your body with arms extended. With your arms tucked in tightly against you body, curl the bar up until fully contracted. 

Slowly lower it back down to the starting position. Using just your elbows, keep the rest of your body as still as possible. Repeat. 

standing barbell curls

Standing Calf Raise

Muscles Exercised: Calves (Lower Leg) 

Adjust the height of calf raising machine to allows you to stand with your calf muscles fully stretched while still under weight.

Keeping your legs straight (but not locked out*), slowly lower your body until you feel your calves fully stretched, before raising it up again until your calves are fully contracted. Repeat.

standing calf raise

Crunches

Muscles Exercised: Abdominals 

While laying on a flat surface, raise your upper body until shoulders are lifted off the ground. (Imagine trying to pull your shoulders towards your pelvis.)

Lower back to starting position. Repeat.

abdominal crunches

* "Locked out" or "locking out " means straightening your arms or legs so far that your elbows and knees literally "clicks" into a fixed position where all the load is taken off the muscles and transferred to the joints and ligaments, putting a lot of pressure on them. This can potentially lead to serious injury or damage.

And there you have all you exercises explained in as much detail as possible. A few notes on the exercises:

  1. All the exercises illustrated targets a primary muscle group which is mentioned. Quite a few secondary muscles are used in the exercise as well though, especially during compound (multiple joint) movements. Most of the illustrations show these secondary muscles that come into play.
  2. Although the ideal grip for exercising the target muscle group is described, a variety of different grips and grip positions can be used to change the emphasis of the exercise, and changing something as simple as a grip position, can completely change the primary muscle that gets targeted. More on that in a later article.

I hope this exercise program will help you make a good start when embarking on your path to getting into shape. At the very least it should make things  a lot clearer for you, and point you in the right direction.

If you are looking for a complete workout plan, from beginner to advanced, including valuable information as to what diet to follow and when to eat what, read my guide to the best programs I can recommend here.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, if you haven't yet, you now have no excuse not to walk through those gym doors.

Take care!

Wessel


anxiety and exercise

Anxiety And Exercise: How Exercise Can Help Reduce The Symptoms Of Anxiety And Depression

anxiety and exercise

Most of us experienced it to some degree. You feel your chest tightening up, you break out in sweat and finding it hard to breath. It feels like you have knot in your stomach and your heart is beating so fast it feels like it is going to to jump out of your chest.

I just described the most severe form of anxiety. At some point we will all experience this sensation, and it is normally as a result of very stressful, and sometimes sudden event. For most people it will only happens occasionally and not the extend I just described.

However, for a large number of people this is a real problem. They suffer from what is called, chronic anxiety syndrome. I am one of them. I already described the symptoms of anxiety, but what is it and what causes it?

Definition

I am not going to go into detailed descriptions and bore you with details. There is more than enough information you can find online. In general, anxiety can be defined as the excessive fear experienced as a reaction to either external factors or sometimes "medical condition or predisposition".

There are various forms of chronic anxiety, but the important thing to note is that people experiencing this disorder, experience it so often and to such an extent, that it can have a severe and debilitating effect on normal daily life.

One thing it is not however, is an illness or disease. It simply is an disorder that is very hard or sometimes almost impossible for some people to control.

Causes

Normally anxiety is build up over time by everyday stress, or can be caused by a sudden traumatic event. As mentioned, most of us experience this to some extend at some points in our life. 

For some people, there may be an underlying medical condition. A certain percentage of individuals are just genetically predisposed to experiencing anxiety. (This seems to be hereditary, and can be determined by studying the person's family history.) Studies has also shown that people with abnormal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which cause an imbalance in brain chemistry, are also more prone to anxiety disorders.

In some cases, as in mine, anxiety can appear out of the blue in the form of a panic attack. There seems to be no external event or underlying medical condition that seems to trigger it. For instance, I may sit on the couch listening to music, when all these physical symptoms I described in my opening paragraph, appears "from nowhere".

All in all, there are a variety of causes, and lot more questions than answers remain. It is just important to note that it is a very real and serious disorder that affect more people than you may be aware of.

Treatment

A whole book (literally) can be written about all the different approaches and treatment of anxiety and related disorders. I will just mention a few, and they can be roughly be divided into 2 sections.

Lifestyle and Holistic Approach: Holistic approaches like meditation and breathing exercises are used to control and reduce the frequency and severity of anxiety. Lifestyle choices, like avoiding unnecessary confrontational or stress inducing situations, and promoting activities like adequate and regular sleep, are actively pursued. Adequate sleep, for example, has been proven to promote a general sense of well-being which assists in reduces anxiety. 

Medical: Through prescription medication, a variety of different anxiety disorders can be treated. From treatment for specific anxiety episodes, to long term treatments that help to control the frequency of anxiety are used. Sometimes, even antidepressants are used as a long term treatment for certain types of anxiety disorders. 

Interesting Side Note: You may have noticed that I used the term "depression" more than once when discussing anxiety, and with good reason. For years, researchers in the medical field were able to showcase the similarities between the root causes of both disorders on a continuing basis. Although the symptoms of depression and anxiety seem to be worlds apart, the root cause seems to have a lot more in common. Many experts go as far as stating that the main cause for both disorders are exactly the same when looking at biochemical interactions and brain function. The fact that many anxiety disorders are treated with antidepressant medication, highlights this point. Therefore, when I point out the advantages of weight training to combat anxiety, take note that it is just as beneficial in reducing the effects of depression.)

Moving on, I would like address one uncomfortable issue when it comes to both anxiety and depression. It is one very unhealthy form of "treatment" many of us choose as coping mechanism, which is…

Alcohol and Anxiety

So who is guilty of going down this road? Let me be the first to put up my hand. Those of you who already read my life story (you can read it here), will know I mentioned a few "bad habits" I had in my past. Well, this is one of them.
I am not going to make a deal of it, but just make a case as to how easy it is to use the wrong solution like alcohol to deal with stress, more specifically anxiety in my case, and how quickly it can spiral out of control. Soon after moving into my new apartment close to my new job in my early twenties, I started to feel the stress of work and the ever increasing responsibilities of everyday adult life.

Having a glass of wine in the evenings after work seemed to have a very calming effect. Not too long after that I needed a second glass of wine to have the same effect, which turned into three a few months later. Not wanting to feel like I am drinking too much, I changed to using bigger wine glasses to consume "the same" amount every day. The size changed yet again at a later stage that could hold the same amount of liquid as a coffee mug!
Let's just say I finished up consuming the equivalent of 3-4 bottles of wine. Yet, I convinced myself I didn't have problem. After all, I only drank in the evenings after 6pm and never changed to more potent alcoholic drinks like whiskey or vodka.

Nevermind the fact that I started feeling horrible most mornings, battled to get out of bed and had to find excuses to call in sick for the day or show up late for work. I walked around with bloated stomach and face and were feeling nauseous more often than none. My eyes were constantly sore and bloodshot, and I needed more eye drops than I can remember to make life tolerable. To make things worse, I started getting anxious more often than I used to, and experienced it more severely.

Surely all these signs and symptoms should have served as enough of warning to stop? Well, try and tell an alcoholic who is set on denying he/she has a problem and need to find any excuse for drink, to stop drinking.
I literally had to be yanked out of my delusion and address my problem very quickly, after a random blood test revealed I had serious problem and I was diagnosed (again) with Hodgkin's Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). I was told by my specialist if I have more drink, I could die. (Yes, he was obviously over-exaggerating the situation to scare me, but it worked and I stopped drinking and went cold turkey that same night.)

"Ever heard of term, "alcohol anxiety"? Neither did I until I realized it was one of the side effects of my unhealthy little habit, making an already bad situation much worse. As I mentioned earlier, after following my drinking routine every night, I started feeling more anxious more quickly, especially after the effects of alcohol, and found it harder to control. Well, that is "alcohol anxiety" in a nutshell.

So, why am I bringing up alcohol abuse in an article about anxiety and exercise? Simply for two big reasons. First, it is SO easy to fall into the trap of abusing the wrong type of "solution", especially alcohol, when you are battling with anxiety. It starts as an innocent way of coping, but gets out of control very quickly, and is a vicious circle extremely difficult to break out of.

Secondly, and tying in with my first point, is that you DO need some way of coping with the symptoms of chronic anxiety. And no, using prescription medication is not nearly enough on its own or a complete solution to the problem. The outlet and release that exercise (specifically weight training) provides for all the pent-up anxiety and energy, can just not be matched.

In my opinion, there is no healthier and more productive way of dealing with the symptoms, and in some cases even the root causes of anxiety, than a healthy exercise regime. Obviously part reason I am advocating exercise so strongly, is that it literally saved me from going back to my old habits, especially after recovering from cancer and having to face everyday life again. And as you should know, the stress and pressure you are confronted with day after day, year after year, will NEVER go away. And if you want to see exercise as just another "crutch" to lean on, I am perfectly fine with it. This is the one "crutch" or coping mechanism I will gladly embrace.

How Exercise Help Reduce And Control Anxiety

By now, you should have formed a general idea as to how exercise helps to alleviate and sometimes prevents the symptoms of anxiety on many levels. But how exactly does it manage it achieve this?

Exercise is not a cure for anxiety in any form. Let's be clear about it. But exercise, especially weight training, can play an invaluable part in how you experience and cope with anxiety until it pass.

It plays an important role through a direct and indirect means.

Basically it works on 4 levels to dramatically reduce the effects of stress:

  • 1
    Vigorous exercise quickly acts to reduce the tension and tightness that build up throughout your body as a result of stress and panic attacks.
  • 2
    Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, the "feel good" hormone crucial in fighting off emotional pain and stress. This immediately starts to counteract the effects and symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.
  • 3
    Studies further found that sustained exercise decreases one's sensitivity to the body's reaction to anxiety. It also discovered that exercise also decreases the frequency, as well as intensity of panic attacks under certain circumstances.
  • 4
    As a result of a reduction in these stress hormones that occur as a result of exercise, one's overall sense of well-being may be greatly improved.

I can personally testify to all 4 these facts. Whenever I experience severe anxiety, and the situation and time allows it, it is the ideal signal for me to hit the gym. The one "advantage" of the pent-up stress and energy developed through anxiety, is that you have so much more energy to realise and take out on the weights.
One of the first things I notice, is how tense your body is when you start training. You don't realize it as much when inactive, but when you start exercising with weights that put resistance on your muscle, you quickly find out how "tightly wound-up" you are. Within 10 minutes of vigorous training I can already start feeling my muscles relaxing.

I can testify to the other advantages as well, but the ONE thing I want to focus on, is the importance of the endorphins released during my workouts. In all honesty I cannot think of a single exercise session where I didn’t feel much better afterwards, than I did before my workout. Almost everyone who experienced that euphoric feeling after a vigorous exercise session, will know what I am referring to.

I have been going into training sessions feeling "completely stressed", tired and overworked or even very depressed due to some external factors. I sometimes even have to force myself to go, as more often than I care to admit, I just feel too drained, tired or depressed to do it spontaneously.

But I can also add, that not once did I regret forcing myself to do it. I am always glad I pushed through an exercise routine afterwards. I feel better and more positive about everything and my whole sense of well-being are vastly improved, relaxing after a training session. I also seem to be able to think more clearly and be more alert. Somehow exercise seems to also clean up all the cobwebs in your head that build up throughout the day. And this is just not personal experience, it has actually been scientifically proven. Go ahead, Google it!

There are numerous other advantages of exercise, both directly and indirectly. It improves sleep and sleep patterns, which has proven to reduce stress and anxiety. It has also shown to deplete the level of cortisol, the hormone released by your body under stressful conditions that is closely associated with anxiety disorders. These are just a few examples of the additional benefits of working out / exercising.

In summary, the importance and advantage of exercising to combat anxiety disorders cannot be dismissed. As I already mentioned, it is not cure by any means, but goes a long way to help you live a happy and relatively stress free life.

To read a personal account, you can read my story here. I hope you found this article helpful, especially if you are battling anxiety on a daily basis. To be honest, I feel a little embarrassed mentioning my alcohol misuse. I think it’s the first time I actually wrote or express it in so many words. Oh well, admitting it too myself was harder than everyone else knowing it. But if it helps only one person, or make him/her aware of this danger and realize that there are better and healthier ways of dealing with anxiety, it would be more than worth it.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, get motivated and stay motivated, I dare you.

Wessel