Superior Training Tactics

There are so many fitness fads these days it’s almost impossible to keep track of them all, but it’s my profession, after all and I’m going to go through a number of the more popular ones after talking about why these fads and scams keep coming back.

Over the last 30 years, the general exercising public and competitive athletes have been on separate training trajectories. Prior to the 1980s, most athletes didn’t spend a lot of time in the gym lifting weights. Tennis players played tennis, did tennis drills on the court to practice strokes, footwork, and techniques, and maybe did some cardio work to improve aerobic capacity, but none hit the weight room. They were afraid it would make them bulky, slower, less agile, and muscle-bound. Basketball and baseball players followed the same logic. So did track and field runners. a marathoner ran miles and sprinters did wind sprints and middle distance sprints. Maybe shot putters lifted weights as that has a strong strength component, but that’s about it. NFL linemen, linebackers, and running backs always lifted weights, but the “finesse” positions of Quarterback, wide receiver, corner backs, punters and kickers, almost certainly did not.

Meanwhile, the gym industry started its major growth faze, with Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s star leading the way, picking up the baton Jack LaLanne started with in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

These men were about physical fitness and; LaLanne especially; physical health and well-being. They might’ve performed athletic events (Schwarzenegger was a competitive power lifter before he became a body building champion, and LaLanne performed feats of strength and athleticism to highlight what physical fitness made possible. Interestingly, when Arnold was 19 he participated in a publicity strength challenge against 54-year-old LaLanne and LaLanne kicked Arnold’s ass!

Unfortunately, there were few female icons involved at this stage. LaLanne tailored his pioneering TV show to housewives, and did frequently showcase his wife. As a matter of fact the most popular professional female body builder of the 1970s and early 1980s was Rachel McLish, but the vast majority of female gym goers thought she was way to muscular and unfeminine to be considered a role model. To male body builders, she was hotter than a Playboy Playmate.


I think today, she would be almost considered perfect. Back then, most women recoiled in horror at her overly muscular physique! Click on her picture to see even more of this “unfeminine” woman (I always thought she was a true ideal)

Getting back to the point, with these two men as the inspiration, Americans started going to the gym in increasing numbers and lifted weights. Around this time another pioneer, Dr. Kenneth Cooper (Cooper Aerobics Center)of the US Air force published studies he did on servicemen showing the benefits and importance of cardiovascular fitness. He is called the father of Aerobics, and in fact coined the term “Aerobics” in the first place. A number of books by runners came out and the running boom began. This was all serious training. Logging long hours doing miles of running and hitting the gym to lift serious weights (subjective to the individual, of course) and this was work.

The problem was, most people don’t want to do hard physical work, and like any business, the fitness industry wanted to make more money, and that required more bodies in the gym. How do you make grueling, dedicated hard work fun?

Enter the age of recreational fitness, and STEP and Jazzercize were its first and second offspring. Originally, step was a very good workout, and very aerobic, as the choreography was simple and required very little skill to master. You made it harder by increasing the number of risers, and by moving faster. But slowly, creative impulses and waning attendance demanded change to keep the masses coming back. Choreography became more dance like (fun), more complicated, and required increasing levels of skill to perform without pause. Eventually, as much of the class time was spent watching and learning intricate choreography as actually moving vigorously. The class would be standing still the instructor breaking down the moves in slow motion, then having the class perform the single move back repeatedly, then learning another step, and so on, as if they were getting ready to put on a dance show. Half the hour is spent doing nothing physical at all, and steps had to be much lower to perform the complicated choreography.

Moving forward in time, athletes and their coaches started realizing that being physically stronger enhanced just about every athletic endeavor, and they slowly but surely incorporated traditional strength training into all their routines. Even the best swimmers now spend hours every week lifting weights to get physically stronger.

Meanwhile, in the consumer health club, men were dropping out of organized group fitness classes faster than raindrops fall during a tropical storm, and everyone who remained noticed they weren’t losing weight anymore. The public, looking at their athletic heroes, noticed how hard the athletes bodies looked and concluded it was all that athletic training that the athletes did, and group exercise classes got a second wind. Members started participating in all kinds of sports conditioning type classes; boxing, kickboxing, cardio kick boxing, sports conditioning, yoga, ballet workouts, P90X, Crossfit™, TRX™; while the athletes themselves spent ever greater time lifting boring old weights. Click on either Crossfit or P90X above to read a journal article about the research, but here’s the conclusion of the study:

In summary, though ECPs (extreme conditioning programs) such as CrossFit and P90X are very popular, this popularity does not appear to be warranted. There is little evidence from peer-reviewed studies that ECPs are safe and/or effective, particularly when compared to established training programs documented to improve military task performance. Though much more research needs to be conducted, ECPs do not seem, at this time, to represent training programs likely to improve military Guy Leahy, Med, CSCS,*D

Club members aren’t looking any fitter, by and large, but are, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning and the Journal of the American Medical Association dealing much higher frequencies of exercise related injuries. Athletic Performance has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with winning at all costs. Is this your goal? Is this important to you? Have you even thought about it?

Ask yourself why you go to the gym. Is it to get healthy, fit and strong, and to improve your appearance? Is it to improve your athletic performance in competitive or recreational sports? Is it recreational for you, in and of itself? All are valid, as far as I’m concerned, but you must be willing to match your reason to your method.

In conclusion,

If you’re trying to get healthy, fit, and strong to improve the quality of your life, be careful about’ training athletically! You will get hurt. Repeatedly. and 10, 15, or 20 years later you will feel every one of those injuries for the rest of your days. If you’re training because you’re a recreational or competitive athlete, make sure you pick a training style that transfers well to your sport of choice, and lift weights to enhance your physical abilities and reduce your risk of injury because you have a strong musculoskeletal foundation that can better withstand the stresses of athletics. If going to the gym is, in fact, your favorite form of recreation and entertainment, in and of itself, make sure you have a daily plan that minimizes your risk of injury so that you can continue for the long-term. Overtraining and improper form from overly complicated skill drills will have you convalescing at home far to frequently otherwise.



Results Orientated Training: the novice in the gym

There are many variables for a beginner to think through when deciding how to start a training program in a gym setting.

The first thing a beginner needs to do (in reality, everyone needs to do this) is decide on a clear idea of what they want to accomplish.  Need to lose weight?  Build a little muscle?  Are you training for something specific, like a New Years resolution to run the NYC Marathon this year?  Have you decided to take up a sport or activity like tennis or cycling?  All of these considerations need to be taken into account if you intend on actually accomplishing anything in a reasonable amount of time.

For the teenager and young adult, it tends to be mostly about aesthetics and social mingling…wanting to look better and meet people.  For the 30’s-50’s somethings it tends to be some combination of aesthetics, mingling, specific training for a new hobby like tennis, and physical health.  And once we hit the 60+ category, health tends to take paramountcy, though aesthetics almost always remain in the background.  Humans never seem to stop wanting to look better… Keep in mind that there is constant debate among “experts” as to proper protocols and where to focus your beginning efforts.  The main thing to remember is that as a beginner you need to develop a foundation of general fitness, as I’m assuming you’re starting from scratch, out of shape, and in a state of complete “de-conditioning”.  That means you need to develop a baseline of aerobic fitness (think endurance), and musculoskeletal strength and coordination.

Many trainers will argue that you should start on exercise bikes or elliptical trainers and weight lifting machines, as these pose the lowest risk of accidental injury.  I cannot agree with the latter.  Weight lifting machines are important tools, but they do nothing to train foundational core coordination among all the normal musculoskeletal interactions that occur in real life movements.  They are safer to do in the gym (from the health club’s liability perspective), but many experts (myself included) would argue that learning and depending on machines in the beginning leaves you more vulnerable to injury in real world situations because you don’t learn how to coordinate you body movements and your muscular system when you need to do some actual pushing or pulling.  If you don’t know what your doing, hire a good trainer for a few lessons.  It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment if your goal is to learn how to do a few exercises correctly.  If you make it a priority, almost anyone can afford 3 or 4 hours of proper instruction.

Also, if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are starting out in your 40’s or older you should get yourself a good medical check up first. So let me take you through some exercise recommendations for the novice.   Commit to 45 minutes/day, 4 times a week.  And Don’t tell me you can’t fit that in, cause my bullshit detector  will go off.  It doesn’t matter if you’re tired after work, or a have a little muscular soreness from a previous workout at this level.  Just show up and do the best you can.  Any four days will do.  Stick to this order.  Follow this routine for 4-6 weeks.  Don’t get fancy.  Don’t improvise.  And make sure you eat properly with quality proteins, carbs and unsaturated fats.  If you’re trying to lose fat weight, cut down on portion sizes.  If you’re trying to build and gain muscle weight, add 1 or two high quality small meals to your day.  That’s it.  No magic formulas.

  • Day one: bike or elliptical for 45 minutes.  At level one, get your rpm (bike) or strides per minute (spm; elliptical) to about 80.  Stay there for 10 minutes, then gradually begin increasing the level of difficulty by one, every 60-120 seconds (resistance or level) while maintaining a steady 80 rpm/spm.  When you start huffing and puffing in order to continue, reduce your resistance down to a more comfortable level (not necessarily all the way down to 1 again) until your breathing becomes almost comfortable and your legs stop burning.  Then repeat the process.  Do this as many times as you can fit in for 30 minutes, then spend the last 5 minutes cooling down at level 1 at a slower speed.  Done.  Please read my blog posts on intensity, before starting this workout, here, and also here.

Animated cartoon on a exercise bike, Svenska: ...
Animated cartoon on a exercise bike, Svenska: Animerad streckgubbe på en motionscykel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



  • Day two:  Hit the weights.  Start with Dumbbell Squats.  You won’t know how heavy to go because you’re a beginner, so do a warm up set of 10 reps and see how hard it is to finish.  If it feels less than a moderately intense effort; 7/10 on a ten point scale; then grab a set of light dumbbells and try again after resting 60-90 seconds.  Keep trying until you determine that correct starting weights to use.  Then do 3 sets of 10 reps with 60-90 seconds rest between each set.  If you don’t know proper form, find a bench or low medium platform and sit on the edge of it while holding your weights.  sit with good posture, then stand up strongly, slowly returning to the sitting position on the edge, without relaxing completely, and repeat.  You are doing a “box” squat and all you need to do is remove the “box” when you get used to the movement pattern.
an exercise of thigh
an exercise of thigh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
an exercise of thigh
an exercise of thigh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Push ups come next.  Do a warm up set of 6-10 reps, rest for 60-90 seconds, then try to complete 3 more sets, 10 reps (or as many as you can finish if you can’t finish 10) each, with 60-90 seconds rest in between each set.  Push ups can be done modified (on knees) if proper form cannot be maintained.

an exercise of chest
an exercise of chest (Photo credit: Wikipedia

an exercise of chest

Next up are Lat Pulls .  Since a 1st timer won’t know how much weight they can pull, the first set is an experiment.  If you’re a male, try loading 50% of your body weight; if female try 30%.  Attempt to complete 10 reps.  If you cannot, make it slightly easier and try again after resting 90 seconds.  If you completed 10 reps, and could have continued to do more, make it slightly harder, so that 10 reps becomes a real challenge (see this link on intensity).  Do three fairly intense sets (7/10 perceived exertion), 10 reps each.

an exercise of upper back
an exercise of upper back (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
an exercise of upper back
an exercise of upper back (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now it’s time for dumbbell shoulder presses.  Like all the others, you first need to determine how heavy your dumbbells need to be.  The same intensity rules apply.  If you’re female, grab a pair of 7.5 or 8 lb. dumbbells, a male should grab a pair of 10-15 lb. dumbbells.  Try to do 10 reps.  match the weight and the reps to the desired 7/10 intensity, and make any weight adjustments (up or down) you need to in order to get the proper workout.  complete 3 sets, 10 reps each, once the correct weight has been determined.  This exercise can be done seated or standing, but avoid supporting you back against anything, if possible.  Doing it without back support will enhance abdominal conditioning as well as the other associated muscles of the core.

an exercise of shoulders
an exercise of shoulders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
an exercise of shoulders
an exercise of shoulders (Photo credit: Wikipedia

That is the whole weight lifting workout.  Every major muscle of your body has been stimulated to adapt and get stronger.  Once you’ve really learned it it won’t take more than 30 minutes to complete.  If you have energy left at the end, hop on an elliptical, bike, or treadmill and move at a moderate pace for an additional 15 minutes to get a little extra calorie burn and endurance training.

  • Day three repeats day 1
  • Day 4 repeats day two

Always remember to follow the intensity rules I’ve laid out in my previous blog posts (linked above, and here, here and here), for both weight training and cardio/aerobics training during the 4-6 weeks you will follow this beginner routine.