The intermediate exerciser has learned at least 3 of the 5 important things in order to progress to this level, and it shows. Most serious health club exercisers fall into this category, though my personal observation is that no more than 20% of gym members ever make it to this level, and instead remain novices despite the amount of time they spend in the gym going from one activity to another. The Intermediate Exerciserhas lost significant body fat and has gained some real muscle, either in the form of size and bulk or muscular definition, or both, depending on their goal. The 5 critical things that the intermediate exerciser understands and conforms to:
- broad knowledge of muscle function
Lets take these 5 in order.
- Consistency is just what it says. You are committed to your workouts and have a schedule you will not deviate from when possible. You have set aside a certain number of days; typically 4-6; and a set amount of time; typically 60-90 minutes; and you train. This isn’t something you try to fit into your day. It is one of your highest priorities that you work the rest of your day around. When doing cardiovascular/aerobic training you have a protocol you follow and stick to it. When weight lifting, you typically follow some version of a split routine for your body parts, the classic example being Chest/Shoulders/Triceps on day one, Back/Biceps on day two, and Lower Body on day three. Then repeating that pattern for a six-day workout with one day off for complete rest. You will stick to this pattern till doomsday comes or until you change goals. Additionally, you understand the importance of your exercise routine; variation is not your friend in this regard. You need to stick to a routine that you can make comparative assessments on. That means the same, or extremely similar, exercises for each body part every time you train that body part. If your goal is to be the best marathon runner you can be, you don’t spend hours a week ridding a lifecycle or taking spin classes; you run miles, period! If your goal is to improve your overall muscular strength, or build muscle, you pick your exercises and do them repetitively for months on end, the only variables being that you will continuously push yourself to lift heavier weights every week or even every workout!
- Intensity is all about understanding your goal. It is the most important factor that will determine whether you actually achieve any measurable progress, whether it’s increasing you distance on a bike ride, speed in the 400 meter run, or your 1 rep max doing an olympic bench press. Trying to lose weight requires a certain intensity. Building muscle requires its own level of intensity. Improving athletic performance…has its own special intensity demands. Not understanding what intensity you need to achieve will undermine everything you try to accomplish. Too much high intensity training will undermine a marathoner, and too little will be futile for the sprinter or weight lifter. If you haven’t read my posts on intensity, or want to refresh your memory click here and here.
- Broad knowledge of muscle function means you really understand how all the major skeletal muscles move and work, and know a pretty broad range of exercises for each of them. It’s like having a large vocabulary of exercises to draw on. Since you also understand how the muscles work, it allows you to choose complimentary exercises when doing multiples per body part. You understand why you might want to do pec flys after olympic bench press, not before, or why doing lat pull downs after pull ups might be redundant, so doing dumbbell rows is the better choice to follow-up with in most cases. (Yes, there might be a valid reason to do both pull ups and lat pull downs in the same workout, but that wouldn’t be the most common combo or even the norm). You understand which exercises will enhance your athletic activities or hinder them, and train accordingly.
- Nutrition is simply the understanding that what you consume is both the fuel that moves you and the building blocks of what your body is made of. The cliche´ “You are what you eat” is precisely true. Trying to build a powerful body on a diet of McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Twizzlers, is akin to building a battleship hull out of corroded iron. If you can’t get serious about what you eat, get out of the gym. I follow the 80/20 rule. I eat extremely healthful 80% of the time, and don’t worry about the other 20%. The less fit you start, the more dedicated yo have to be. If you’re very overweight and extremely unfit, you need to follow the 100% rule; all healthy, all the time. Period. Don’t cry about fairness, it won’t help. As a fuel, the foods you eat (solid and liquid) all have their specific purposes, and understanding them is critical. Even the most wholesome foods misused can have a counterproductive effect if not properly applied. Every serious endurance athlete understands the importance of carb loading; where you consume vast quantities of mostly simple carbohydrates like pasta the day before the big race. Serious marathoners are extremely lean, carrying minimal body fat (reserve energy stores) to breakdown as the miles accumulate into the high teens. So they manipulate their diets to maximize the available energy on race day. If you don’t run over 100 miles a week, don’t eat like a marathoner, cause you’ll get fatter than a walrus in a well stocked zoo. 20 years ago everyone said eat all the pasta you want because that’s what skinny marathoners eat, now we say avoid all pasta! Both are stupid statements. The question is: how will eating all this pasta help me in my life’s pursuits! If it won’t, don’t eat so much. The strength athlete eats large amounts of protein because protein is what muscles are made of, and when trying to build bigger and stronger muscles your body needs these proteins to build your muscles into larger ones. If you don’t consume enough protein, your muscles simply cannot get bigger or stronger. It’s not magic. If you’re lifting weights with the correct intensity and not able to get stronger or bigger, it’s a pretty good bet you’re not eating enough protein. The most misunderstood food constituent is fat. Fat is neither good or bad. It is a very dense energy source and a necessary nutrient for a whole host of metabolic processes. Fat isn’t the villain in America’s obesity epidemic; people are the enemy of themselves. When it comes to weight control, what matters at the end of the day is how many calories you ate compared to how many you burned. The average 30-year-old woman burns around 1500 calories per day just staying alive. If her diet consisted of 720 calories of fat (80 g of fat; 1 g = 9 cal) and 600 calories split evenly between protein (60 g; 4 cal/gram) and carbohydrate (60 g; 4 cal/gram) she would be following a successful weight loss program! In 20 days, she will have lost 1 lb. Not the fastest program, but if we replaced all those fat calories (720) with proteins and/or carbs, her weight loss would be exactly the same. Fat doesn’t make you fat…eating too many total calories makes you fat and you not understanding your food makes you fat. Now lets not get into a debate of whether eating so much fat in a day is healthy in other ways, because that’s missing the point I’m trying to make.
- Rest is so basic and obvious that it’s absurd how little attention avid gym goers give to it, but the intermediate exerciser understands that the end of the workout is only the end of the beginning of the exercise process. For the endurance enthusiast or the strength training enthusiast sleep is understood as the point in your day when all the hard work is actually transformed into results. The results of your training and proper nutrition can only be realized after a good nights sleep. While asleep your body makes all the cellular and physiological adaptations to your body in response to what you did that day. If you don’t get good sleep, your improvement can be slowed, stalled completely, or even reversed into a negative (over training syndrome), when instead of performance improvements you see lower energy levels, lower endurance, lower strength, and more frequent injuries. Imagine if NFL players were required to play 3 days a week, or if every MLB team were only allowed to have 1 pitcher who had to pitch every single game. That’s obviously ridiculous because these athletes have a hard time going thru a regular season injury free. In my hypothetical, they’d be lucky to last a month before being permanently impaired. To a lesser intensity, that’s exactly what the majority of gym goers are doing to themselves, going from class to class to class, three to five hours a day, 5, 6, 7 days a week. Ms. Intermediate understands that if she gauges her intensity correctly she will be done with her workout in 45-90 minutes (unless a marathoner or other ultra endurance athlete) and she will eat properly and get her 7-9 hours of sleep.