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Finding Time for Fitness
By Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS, CPT
"I just don't have time to work out..."
Sound familiar? Perhaps the biggest excuse for not exercising is a lack of time. There is a prevailing misperception that exercise requires a large time commitment. This simply isn't the case. The truth is, virtually everyone can find the time for fitness and achieve all the terrific benefits that go along with it: heightened energy levels, improved posture, elevated metabolism, increased strength, better health, and of course, a terrific looking body!
So if you are one of those people that have been procrastinating to start an exercise program because you don't think you have enough time, take heed. Here are five surefire ways to make exercise efficient enough so even the most time-pressed individual can get in a good workout.
1. Turn commercial breaks into exercise opportunities: One of the easiest ways to increase workout efficiency is to make better use of your down time. Prime target: TV watching. Next time you're viewing your favorite show, take the opportunity to use the commercials breaks as a means to get in a little exercise. For example, the first set of commercials you could perform sets of crunches; the next do some push-ups; the next jump rope. Given that the average one-hour show has twenty minutes worth of commercials, you'll have gotten in a full day's workout while staying entertained!
2. Space out your cardio throughout the day: There is a long-held belief that you need to perform one long session of cardio to derive benefits. If you don't have a big block of time, the thinking goes, then you can't get in a good aerobic workout. Right? Wrong! The fact is, you can split up your cardio over the course of the day and still see excellent results. In fact, three ten minute sessions have been shown to be just as effective as one thirty minute session. This provides a great deal of flexibility. You can surely fit in ten minutes before going to work or getting the kids ready for school. Get in another ten minutes on your lunch or coffee break. And then find ten more minutes towards the end of the day before sleep. The realization that you aren't bound by having to squeeze in a workout all in at once should open up a world of possibilities for making exercise a part of your life.
3. Interval train: Most people seem to subscribe to the misguided opinion that cardio should be performed in the 'fat burning zone' (generally considered between 60 to 80 percent of target heart rate). While there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, you actually can improve the rate of fat burning by utilizing a concept called interval training. Interval training involves combining periods of high intensity cardio with periods of low intensity cardio. On the high intensity intervals, you train 'all out', as hard as you can. On the low intensity intervals, you bring the pace down to a level where you can carry on a conversation rather easily. The exact protocol of your intervals will be dependent on your abilities, but a good starting point is to employ a ratio of 4:1, where you do four minutes of low intensity cardio followed by one minute of high intensity cardio. Not only will you burn more fat over the course of the workout, but you don't have to exercise nearly as long. In fact, a twenty minute interval training session on the treadmill will burn as many calories as if you jogged for forty minutes!
4. Reduce the number of sets you perform: The majority of people who start a weight training program perform multiple sets of an exercise. While multiple set training is most definitely effective, it's also quite time consuming. The thing is, however, you don't necessarily need to employ multiple sets to achieve results. For all but the most hardcore exercisers, performing one set of an exercise has been shown to be about as effective as performing three sets. Assuming you aren't looking to compete in a bodybuilding or fitness show, one set may be all that's necessary to reach your goals. Here's a simple strategy: The human body can be classified into nine major muscle groups-chest, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, thighs, glutes, calves, and abdominals. Choose one exercise for each of these muscle groups and perform one set of each exercise. If you take a minute's rest between sets, you'll train your entire body in less than twenty minutes!
5. Employ supersets: Supersetting is an excellent technique not only to make your weight training session more time efficient (literally cutting your training time in half), but also to jack up the intensity of your workout and thus improve results. Simply stated, a superset comprises two exercises performed consecutively, with no rest between them. One of the best ways to perform supersets is on muscle groups that have an agonist/antagonist relationship. Agonist/antagonist muscles are opposing muscle groups where one muscle contracts while the other relaxes. The quadriceps/hamstrings, back/chest and triceps/biceps all possess this ying/yang relationship. For example, when the biceps (agonist) are trained, the triceps (antagonist) act as stabilizers. Conversely, when the triceps are trained, they become the agonist, while the biceps play the role of the antagonist. The beauty of performing agonist/antagonist supersets (as opposed to other superset combinations) is that it allows you to generate a more forceful contraction on the second exercise in the series.
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Don't utilize more than a shoulder-width grip when performing barbell movements. Doing so will decrease your range of motion and therefore diminish the force that you can exert into your muscular contractions.
You can handle approximately 50% more weight on negative (eccentric) repetitions than on positive (concentric) repetitions.