Monday, April 21, 2008

Methods of Training for Improving Fitness - Part Two

As discussed in Part 1, there are many ways to become fit and circuit training is a great way to become stronger and better conditioned. Let's take a look at Circuit Training and how to implement it.

Circuit Training

Developed in England in the early 1950’s, Circuit Training is one of the more well-known and popular methods of exercise. The original philosophy of Circuit Training was developed to allow large groups to participate in an exercise program in a timely manner. A traditional circuit, if you will, is an assortment of exercises; usually bodyweight calisthenics, dumbbell or barbell movements along with jumping and bounding activities which are arranged so that the participant can perform a select exercise or activity for a specific amount of time - usually 60 seconds - before moving on to the next station. During the exercising period, the participant would be instructed to perform as many repetitions as possible within the allotted time frame. Upon completion of the exercise, the individual would then move to the next “station”, as it is referred to, as quickly as possible before starting the next exercise or activity. Some circuits include running or jogging activities as a station and for this, various lifting stations are arranged a specific distance apart to encourage the participant to “travel” to the next resistance station. In fact, many parks or recreation centers today have a version of this type of circuit called the “Fitness Trail” which you may be familiar with. In case you’re not, a Fitness Trail is a group of exercises set up along a predetermined running or walking path using movements such as pull-ups, dips, crunches, bodyweight squats, balancing and other callisthenic type movements. Since its inception, many variations of circuit training have become available to fitness enthusiasts and offer many benefits to improving one’s level of fitness.

Currently, many health clubs and commercial style gyms have their equipment arranged sequentially in rows, often referring to these as “circuits” for trainees to exercise their entire body. Generally, these rows utilize machine-based strength training equipment (usually selectorized to speed things up), consisting of approximately 10-15 different movements. Typically, a circuit should be arranged so that you exercise the largest body parts first and continue in a descending order based on the relative size of the muscle groups. For example, the hips should be trained first followed by the legs (quadriceps and hamstrings) before moving on to the upper body where exercises for the chest, shoulders, upper back, and arms are performed. The circuit would then finish up with movements to strengthen the abdominals and lower back, with additional work going to the neck, calves and forearms if desired.

Keeping in mind that no two circuits are alike or need to be, a circuit may contain any number of exercise stations or movements and can be modified in a countless number of ways. Also, a circuit need not be restricted to machines only, nor does it have to involve many different exercises as you will see.

The following circuit is what would be considered a “standard circuit” and would be performed for one set of each movement for a prescribed number of repetitions or time to complete each exercise. Keep in mind that this just a “cookie cutter” example. I highly recommend that you individualize your fitness program based on your goals and personal preferences.

Leg Press
Hip Abduction
Leg Extension
Leg Curl
Chest Press
Chest Fly
Lat Pulldown
Seated Row
Shoulder Press
Lateral Raise
Tricep Extension
Bicep Curl
Back Extension
Abdominal Crunch
Standing Calf Raise

Listed below are a few examples of “customized” circuits that could be followed. Whether you choose to do one or two cycles for a desired number of repetitions or for a specific time on each exercise, it is important to keep moving. Remember, a cycle is defined as “going through the entire circuit from start to finish.”

Dumbbell Deadlift
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Dumbbell Shrug
Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Abdominal Crunch

Based on the fact that a circuit consists of exercises to stress the muscular and cardiovascular systems, then the sky’s the limit for developing workout routines. Listed below is what can be referred to as “non-traditional” pieces of equipment that will enable you to work all of the major muscle groups. Because there are only three exercises in this particular circuit the movements can be done for three or four cycles for a preferred number of repetitions or designated time using the guidelines listed previously.

Sandbag Squat
Kettlebell Overhead Press
Stone Deadlift

Circuit Training’s objective is simple – to provide an efficient and productive means of exercise to train the entire body in a single workout. By the very nature of the activity, increases in muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness can be obtained. Circuit workouts are great for, but not limited to beginners, young children as well as seniors. - Fred Fornicola

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Essence of Training

Many of us who own computers and have access to the Internet will visit websites on many topics of personal interest - which I’m sure training is one of them. There are an infinite number of sites geared toward all types of resistance training, as well as information on conditioning, nutrition, grip training, bodyweight only training, strands, kettlebells and so on. Upon finding these many areas of interest within the dynamics of the field of health and fitness however comes a common theme that always emerges – one that seems to have done more harm than good. I am always very intrigued when I read or hear someone recommending advice on any topic. I often wonder what the basis is for their response and if they really, truly understand what it is they are commenting on. This, of course, happens quite frequently in the field of health and fitness with the barrage of books, magazines, Internet sites and publications - just like this one. Amazingly enough though, even with the all the information that is available, most individuals still remain in the dark as to why it is they “do what they do”. Maybe that’s the problem – too much information to sift through, especially on an ongoing basis. Month after month, year after year people blindly and without question follow the latest diets, workouts of the stars and trends in fitness to be aimlessly led like sheep to slaughter. The best part is they highly recommend whatever it is they are doing -- or better yet, heard about -- to all their friends and family based on the foundation that either 1) Johnny Guru is using it, 2) some Hollywood hunk looked ripped in a movie or 3) some chicks ass looks hot now from some four hour workout she does with her soon-to-be-famous (and overpaid) trainer. In either case, no one has the slightest clue as to whether it works or is even worth mentioning.

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” - Benjamin Franklin

Too often in today’s fitness world there is an overabundance of misleading information that seems to reek more havoc than good - actually failing miserably at providing some sense of solution. Most individuals who are searching to find what is “best” or “optimal” are given guidance by those who merely regurgitate what someone else prescribed, or will echo advice based on what they think they know to be right – albeit way off base. This industry has become one that is 90% opinion and 10% science, and because of these off-base recommendations espoused by “those-in-the-know” many will become caught up in experimenting with the latest fads, trends, “new magical discoveries” and labor endlessly over all the little intricate reasons of “why” a particular lifting strategy may or may not work. Because of this direction, it has made it more and more difficult for anyone to truly understand what is and isn’t an effective means of training, usually because they fail to have a true understanding of what an effective approach to fitness entails. Unfortunately, the so-called magical discovery becomes the focal point for many trainers and trainees alike, and usually causing one to lose sight of what is truly important: the actual training itself. If this kind of thing happens to these “experienced” individuals, just imagine how devastating and paralyzing all this information is to the beginner? Regardless of age or experience, we are all beginners in some capacity every time we undergo a new endeavor. The challenge, however, is in knowing how to circumvent your way through all the crazy turns based on what experience has taught us by using our noggins for more than a hat rack. If people took the time to use their intellect to evaluate information instead of being lured in by the many people or groups who claim to have the answers to all the important questions, there would be less time wasted laboring over what will produce the best results.

“The desire to know is natural to good men.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Now, my personality is such that I like to understand why things happen. I don’t necessarily need to get down to the last nut and bolt, but I do strive to have as good a comprehension about things as my gray matter will allow. I ask many questions (too many at times which many of my peers can attest to) with the goal of learning “why” – not mimicking what is told to me. I have had the great fortune of speaking with many individuals who truly understand and know training. The funny thing is, none of them ever get caught up too much in the science and research or what they think may work, they just tell you what they know to be true – straight forward, like it is, no bullshit. These guys understand “the essence” of high intensity training which, when you get right down to it, is simple to comprehend yet missed by many. Our discussions are often about how so many individuals are misguided and confused about such a simple concept for training safely, efficiently and effectively. It has become unfortunate but the industry of strength has been so polluted by money whores, cult followers and an endless line of ignorant know-it-alls that few can filter out what is a productive approach to health and fitness. Neither I nor anyone else can give the exact specifics of how someone should train, however I do believe that there are certain criteria that needs to be met such as consistency of effort, proper form, hard work, ample rest and solid nutrition. When these principles are met they will produce gains in strength as well as conditioning while maintaining integrity to ones health - both short and long term. A simple concept of using an intense level of effort on a handful of basic exercises along with some recreational/cardiovascular activity, eating wholesome foods and having adequate rest -- all of which should be done on a routine basis -- has been a mainstay for hundreds of years. But this philosophy surprisingly is still vehemently opposed. There are no perfect routines, exercises, repetition ranges, diets, or miraculous findings that are “best” and anyone claiming otherwise is a flat out liar.

Training isn’t just about the X’s and O’s; it’s about a true understanding of the process. It’s about what takes place in the body and mind when you exercise and what benefits you receive – not how much you squat while wrapped up in a suit and knee wraps and shoving ammonia up your snoot to “get psyched”. When you bring training down to its purist form, it is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. The problem is that most are frozen in one place – deathly afraid to take a step for it might not be the “perfect” approach.

“The maxim "Nothing avails but perfection" may be spelled "Paralysis." - Winston Churchill

Training for strength and fitness should be an individual journey that needs to be discovered on one’s own. Making mistakes are a part of life, let alone in your training so trying to have a flawless approach will only provide time wasted which could be better spent learning from doing. Discover the “essence of training”; realize that “necessity is the mother of invention” and that there are no restrictions when you set your mind on your goals. Uncover the freedom of training that enables you to enjoy “the process” and the benefits of your efforts. Recognize and learn that “simple” is the solution to a healthy and strong life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. - Fred Fornicola

Friday, April 11, 2008

Active Rest

The term “active rest” is a bit of an oxymoron, but a term I’ve referred to for many years. Active rest is when you partake in an endeavor that is not exactly what you deem as the normal scheduled activity, but put forth a solid effort nonetheless. It’s basically a situation in which you are somewhere between your normal level of effort and just sitting around on your gluteus maximus doing nothing.

Allow me to explain with more detail. Personally, I have a difficult time taking off from training. I never cycle my workouts, I don’t plan layoffs and I very, very rarely miss a workout. If I vacation, I try to find a place to train or I’ll improvise and incorporate some “active rest”. An active rest approach will allow those who feel the need to train a way of down shifting a bit, physically, as well as mentally, yet still achieve a level of satisfaction from their efforts.

Let’s take for example a way of incorporating active rest for someone who strictly weight trains. Take a day that you would normally lift weights at the gym and but choose to go to the local park or high school and do some pushups and chin-ups and run the bleachers or sprint up hills. The goal isn’t to go to complete exhaustion or set any new world records, it is just to throw in a different activity to relieve some of the physical and mental stress that can build up from constant weight training. How about those of you who have dedicated cardiovascular training days? Your normal approach may be walking on the treadmill, riding a stationary bike or using a stair climber for instance. You constantly beat away at those pedals and pads, trying to beat your previous best distance or time and feel as though you really could use a little change from the same old, same old. Why not deviate and go play a few games of basketball, take a hike in the woods or go for a hard bike ride along the ocean.

Some people would say, “Hey, what you just recommended is just called variety”, and I would agree, but there are times when you physically and mentally just can’t rise to the occasion for your normally scheduled workout but still feel the need to do something and just want to do something off beat, yet still productive. Trust me, I know what I’m saying here is nothing new, nor am I trying to make “active rest” a new catch phrase, that is not my intent at all. I’m just trying to offer you a way of making you think about your alternatives when you may not be able to mentally or physically gear up for your regular workouts or when you really need a break from training but don’t want to sit around all week on your duff wishing you were working out.

I have found that this approach is quite effective with my clients. It keeps things fresh mentally and physically by keeping them off guard a bit. Most of my clients will stay with a program for a while to master their technique and allow us to monitor progress and before they get bored, BANG! we through in some “active rest” to jolt their body and enthusiasm for continued progress.

Give active rest a try some time and you’ll be looking for more productive ways to keep your training new and exciting.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Methods of Training for Improving Fitness - Part One

As we all are pretty aware of, there are countless ways for an individual to improve their level of fitness. The endless array of popular systems and philosophies can be somewhat overwhelming - even downright paralyzing at times. To help narrow your thought process down just a wee bit, I have taken some of the “oldies but goodies” and expounded upon these methods of training. They have been chosen for their unique ability to stimulate and develop the cardiorespiratory and muscular systems, as well as having the added element of creating flexibility, thus making these training methods very efficient and effective for improving one’s overall level of physical fitness. Of course, there have been many spin-offs and interpretations of these approaches so that’s why I thought bringing it back to the beginning might be helpful.

These structures represent basic guidelines or training concepts that were initially designed to overcome various challenges or shortcomings associated with what was to be considered “traditional” training protocols at the time. These methods, which have been well established for many, many years have proven to be very successful applications to becoming stronger and well-conditioned are still valuable today – in fact, in many ways, they are more appropriate today then when they were first implemented. Other than safety being the first and main priority in any exercise program, it is the efficiency and effectiveness of one’s program that allows that individual to perform their exercise program on a consistent and progressive basis - and these methods will provide you a good template.

In keeping with my own philosophy of not worrying about “breaking the rules” or be “kicked out of any club” don’t concern yourself with following these programs verbatim. Remember, part of becoming stronger, leaner, and better conditioned (as well as improving your health) is to educate yourself, experiment and apply different applications. Fitness should be a personal journey that you and you alone take in deciding what and how you individualize your program.

As you experiment with the following training protocols, you may find a few of the methods to be more appropriate for building muscular strength, while other systems may benefit your cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory systems more effectively. Still, there are applications that offer the best of both worlds and provide the total package of strength and conditioning. The beauty of all of this is that you can experiment, mix and match and do whatever you feel is beneficial to reach your goals. However, keep this as a consideration, it is important to pay close attention to the details of each method that are offered so you can have a clear understanding of their application so you can intelligently incorporate their practices into your personal fitness program. - Fred Fornicola

In Part Two I will discuss Circuit Training

Thursday, April 03, 2008


The Internet has created such a dogmatic view on what is the "best way" to exercise that it has paralyzed more people than helped them. Implementing protocols such Tabata conditioning, high intensity training, CrossFit etc., etc. have erected stone walls and kept people from thinking for themselves. Individuals have laid stakes to claim idealistic opportunities - making others feel that if they can not follow through on their "optimum recommendations" they will not fullfill their true potential - speaking as if their way is the only way. Is the Tabata 4 minute protocol enough work to satisfy one's "health needs"? I don't know, maybe, maybe not. Is that all the time you truly have to exercise? If so, then by all means train for those 4 minutes. Hell, a little bit of something beats a whole lot of nothing any day. Can you find 15 consecutive minutes in your day to do something for your physical, mental and emotional being? If so, then do it. It's not the exercises, the routines, the training systems, etc. that makes the body healthier and stronger, it's in the DOING that does and for anyone who sits and plans yet does not execute will find themselves standing in the exact spot where they started. - Fred Fornicola