Men’s Health tells you that doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) three times per week is enough to get you ripped. Your trainer suggests splitting up your routine by muscle group, hitting each group once per week. Your buddy claims that total body routines are his secret to getting lean. Bodybuilding, Crossfit, functional training, calisthenics, Yoga…the list goes on and on. The point is that you’re constantly getting bombarded with fitness advice from all angles. Unless you’ve inherited a family fortune and have all the time in the world, there’s no way to test all these different training modalities on yourself to determine which one works.
Rather than stand behind one single training method, the best advice I can give to anyone who’s serious about reaching their fitness goals is the following: there is no such thing as a generalized “perfect” workout.
Us humans come in all shapes and sizes. Although we share a similar means of functioning, we have unique differences and inherent physical limitations. Therefore, the ideal workout for you should be individualized to your needs and specific to your goal. I’m going to give you three simple steps that will ensure that you make consistent progress, regardless of the exercise method you choose.
1. Assessment. Designing the ideal workout program requires one important thing: a proper evaluation or assessment of yourself. An evaluation will determine exactly where you stand at the present moment, which is a prerequisite to knowing what you need. For example, you may find that you have very poor cardiovascular endurance and extremely tight hamstrings. Your ideal workout should address both of these issues, while also providing the appropriate regimen to help you achieve your ultimate goal.
2. Purpose. Your body adapts to the specific stress applied to it. Wanting to get “in shape” is way too vague of a goal. An elite marathon runner can exercise at a steady rate for hours, but can they bench press twice their weight? A pro bodybuilder can crush the weights six times per week, but can they swim 400 meters? Being fit is relative to the activity. Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve is essential to creating the program that will get you there. You can’t know which route to take if you don’t know your final destination!
3. Strategy. Ok, so you’ve decided you want to look like your favorite fitness model. Now comes the hard part. How are you going to get there? No matter what your ultimate goal is, whether it’s decreasing your 40-yard dash time or shedding some unwanted fat, the concept of progressive overload will always be useful to you. Your body perceives exercise as a form of stress. When the body is strained, it will adapt and overcome the stress. Unless the stress is continuously increased, the body will not be forced to continue making adaptations (sometimes referred to as reaching a plateau). Progressive overload basically suggests that you must incrementally increase the level of stress (intensity, volume, frequency, duration, etc.) in order to consistently see physical changes. Ever wonder why that friend of yours who goes to the gym every day, but never changes her routine, never sees any progress?
If the perfect workout actually existed, we would all be doing it and seeing phenomenal results. Finding the appropriate exercise regimen for you will involve some trial and error, but you will gather important information about yourself in the process, which you can carry with you for the rest of you life. The most important factor that will make you or break you on your quest for fitness is consistency. Once you’ve developed a strategic program, stick to it! The only way of finding what works for you is to give your body the time it takes to make physical changes and adaptations as a response to the training stimulus. Follow the three simple steps mentioned in this article and you’ll be on your way to getting the results you want!