It’s easy to overcomplicate things when it comes to fitness and nutrition. There’s a lot of information on exercise program design and what’s best. It can be confusing, making it harder to hit your fitness goals. But, if you know the scientific basics, it’s easier to wade through the trends and start creating workouts. Three things to keep in mind when building your own exercise programs are: 1. How to create change, 2. Build a solid foundation, and 3. Be strategic.
How to Create Change
The body will adapt and change when it’s under stress. It’s called the general adaptation syndrome and it’s the cornerstone in creating workouts. It will make physical and physiological changes to handle stress. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, is scientifically accurate here. After extended periods of stress, the body will fatigue and start to break down (not for 8 weeks or so). This might seem straightforward and it is. However, people tend to overlook the time it takes for the body to change. Most stressors will take about 4 – 6 weeks to result in a change.
The second important concept in How to create change is the principle of specificity. This means your body will change exactly according to what you put it through. In the principle of specificity, there are 3 types of changes you put your body through.
Stressor 1: Movements and weight
People commonly change their workouts by adding more weight (resistance) or changing the exercise. This is mechanical specificity and is usually a first go-to in developing workouts. For example, choosing a turning lunge over a forward lunge or a push up over a chest press. You should only be making those decisions based on what you want to accomplish. For example, if you just want your legs to be strong enough to easily walk up a flight of stairs, body weight lunges are the right choice. If you want to improve a golf swing, you might do exercises in the gym like a cable rotation.
Stressor 2: Coordination and speed
This is neuromuscular specificity and involves communications between the nervous and muscular systems. It’s seen when choosing a chest press with rolling resistance versus a traditional barbell. Or when doing squat jumps versus regular squats. These examples all involve brain-muscle communication. Alter the neuromuscular specificity when creating workouts to improve balance or speed & power.
Stressor 3: Use of energy
Metabolic specificity is the scientific term for how your body uses its energy. For example, if you want to run a marathon, your workouts should use a similar type of calorie spend. This can sometimes get complicated in discussion of interval training and endurance training. More research is showing the importance of interval training in programs for endurance athletes. Check out this article for an easy overview of how and why interval training works. The concept of metabolic specificity still applies, though. When training for long distance, work on what types of energy your body uses and how it recovers.
Build a Solid Foundation
Eager exercisers tend to overlook the importance of building a solid foundation before increasing intensity. The challenging exercises can be fun! But they can also cause problems if you haven’t built a good foundation first. Think about how a house is built. They don’t build the walls, ceilings, and then the concrete foundation. The foundation comes first and its after even more pre-work is complete. The foundation of a house is important so it can stand the test of time and stress. Your body is the same way and you should be creating workouts the similarly.
If you want to get to your goals quick, that’s fine. Building your foundation will get you there for three reasons. First, you won’t be able to keep exercising if you get an injury or are in pain. Second, any initial stress to the body causes change. Finally, the more solid your foundation is, the quicker you will progress to higher intensity workouts. Your foundation should focus on two things, your core and muscle balance.
Your core is the center from which all movement begins. If it’s weak or unstable, then you can’t transfer forces to your arms and legs without risk. Risk aside, a weak core will make it harder for you to progress. Visualize this by thinking of how high you can jump off your living room floor versus a sandy beach. The beach would be harder because it has more give. Your core is the same way. If it isn’t strong, it can be a roadblock for your success. As you work on your core foundation, start with stable exercises for longer periods of time. This will build endurance you can maintain throughout the workout.
Certain muscles tend to be too tight or too weak. When this happens, the balance of muscles change and some are long and some are short. This is muscle imbalance and can make your exercises less effective and create injury risk. When you have muscle imbalance, your body doesn’t move as it normally should. You can work on rebalancing things by doing foam rolling (these are our favorite and provide amazing instruction and relief) and stretches for the short or tight muscles. If you have the time you can also work on strengthening the weak or lengthened muscles. The most important thing to note here is that muscle balance is important for your foundation. You can’t have muscle balance without incorporating flexibility. Click here to learn more about the effects of muscle imbalance and posture.
Be Strategic in Creating Workouts
Don’t forget what you’re trying to do. There are so many fun exercises and pieces of equipment out there. This is great to keep your workouts interesting but it can distract your body from getting what you want. Think of creating your workouts like cooking homemade soup. Only a few key ingredients will make the best soup. If you start adding in everything you love, you lose the flavor intention of the recipe.
To be strategic, be specific with what you’re trying to accomplish. Only select exercises you know are in line with your goals. This brings you back to the first concept, How to create change. If you know what and how you want your body to change, choose those exercises. Keep your workout development simple, not complicated. Also remember your body will take at least 4 weeks to adapt. This means, outside of boredom or injury, there is no reason to switch things up on a regular basis. Plan when to make your changes and how to make them for the best results.
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