Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Intense Resistance and Anaerobic Training

I have recently made a major shift in my fitness program.  Last July, after experiencing some burnout from several months of high volume cycling (5800 miles in six months), I retreated to the gym for some diversion.  I began slowly, but soon was doing four sessions per week of rather  intense resistance training. After almost six months I am still at it.  I have significantly reduced my long slow distance cycling and increased my resistance and anaerobic training. Here's why.

The bottom line is that I have concluded that resistance training, combined with anaerobic training (sprints and intervals) is better for my overall health and fitness.  Cycling, of course, is excellent for cardiac fitness and building/maintaining muscle mass in your lower body.  I noticed, however, that, as I age, I was losing muscle mass in my upper body.  Also, I had fallen into a pattern of doing mostly long, slow bike workouts which consumed lots of time, often 15 - 20 hours per week.  The training that I do now is more effective at building fitness and usually takes about 5-7 hours per week.  I especially appreciate the visible muscle mass development and fat loss that has occurred during the last few months.   I have also developed a stronger, firmer core, especially abdominal and lower back muscles.

Let me be clear.  I do not believe that there is one best fitness program.  Each individual should find the program that meets their needs.  Cycling is an excellent exercise.  When combined with some weight training, and incorporating intense interval and hill workouts will provide outstanding overall results.  While I still go out on my bike a few times per month, my main emphasis is in the gym, at least for now.  I have become a gym rat. 

My inspiration for specific workouts have come from Richard Winett and Charles Staley.  Winett's website and newsletter provides excellent training advice, especially for senior bodybuilders.  For the past month or so, I have been trying Staley's Escalating Density Training (EDT) workouts.  Staley thinks "outside the box" when it comes to resistance training.  Many weight training programs emphasize multiple sets of the same exercise and lifting heavy weights to failure.  Traditionalists also prescribe doing multiple exercises per body part during each training session.  The emphasis is on 'attacking' muscle groups with increasing stress and from various angles.  There is usually relatively little attention given to building optimal endurance and cardiac fitness.

On the other hand, most aerobic training programs do the opposite.  The focus is on building cardiac fitness, endurance and speed, with relatively little emphasis on all-around muscle development and strength.  Staley's workouts offer a combination of muscle growth together with anaerobic training, which he claims builds all-around fitness, including cardiac fitness, and results in faster fat loss.  His workouts can stand alone as a fitness regimen or used to improve performance in specific sports.

Central to EDT is to perform as much work as possible within a specific amount of time.  In Staley's words, "How can I organize sets, reps and rest intervals in such a way that I can perform the most amount of work in a pre-determined frame of time?"   Instead of performing multiple sets of exercises for several body parts over an undefined period of time, Staley's program divides a resistance training session into two or three defined periods, usually 15 minutes each.  The goal is to perform as much high intensity work within these time periods (called personal record (PR) zones).  The goal is to improve by gradually increasing the amount of work done in each PR zone building strength, muscle mass, endurance and cardiac capacity.

To optimize work output,  EDT organizes the exercises, number of sets and rest periods to expend the most energy possible within a PR zone.  During each PR zone two (sometimes three) exercises are performed.  Antagonistic muscles or muscles in different parts of the body are chosen, so that as one muscle group is worked, the other is rested.  For example, a PR zone might include bench presses that work the chest muscles and seated rows that would work the antagonistic upper back muscles.  Another example would be bicep curls combined with tricep extensions.   In the latter example, the exerciser would start a stop watch set at 15 minutes and perform sets of bicep curls alternated with sets of tricep extensions.  Each set would be composed of 5 repetitions of each exercise.  The goal is to perform and record the total number of repetitions performed in each PR zone.  The next time this PR zone is repeated the goal would be to increase the number of repetitions performed thus building strength and endurance.

Staley(pictured left) advises that the weight selected for each exercise should be the maximum that can be performed in one set of 10.  For example, if 10, but not 11, repetitions can be done with 50 pounds, that is the appropriate weight.  Then cut the number of repetitions per set in half.  So if the 10 repetition maximum is 50 pounds, each PR zone set of that exercise would be 5 repetitions at 50 pounds.  Here is an example of an EDT workout session incorporating two PR zones:

Warmup for 10 minutes on an exercise bike, treadmill or rowing machine.

Stretch for 5 minutes or so concentrating on the muscle groups to be used during the session.

PR1 (15 minutes):  Bench Press/Seated Rows - Alternate exercises doing 5 reps of each per set.  Use 10 rep maximum weight for each.  For example, currently I would use 115 pounds for the bench press and 80 pounds for seated rows.  Once I increase my PR zone workload (number of repetitions) by 20%, I would increase the weight by 5-10%.  If my initial PR zone of this exercise set produced, for example, 100 repetitions, when I reach 120 repetitions I would increase the weight.

Rest - 5 minutes

PR2 (15 minutes): Squats/Leg curls - These sets alternatively work the front and back of the legs (quadriceps and hamstrings).  I do 1 set (5 repetitions) of squats followed by 1 set (5 repetitions) of hamstring curls, then repeat this sequence as many times as possible within the allotted time, resting as often as needed.  The rest periods are more frequent (and longer) toward the end of the PR zone period.  Also as I fatigue I will usually decrease the number of repetitions per set.

After I complete two PR zones, I usually do 20 minutes or so of rowing or exercise bike followed by 5-10 minutes of stretching to complete the workout. 

These are very intense workouts.  Depending on fitness level, it is important to start easy and build up to higher and higher levels of intensity gradually to avoid injury.  It is also important to use excellent form on each exercise, again to avoid injury and get the most benefit.

I have been doing these sessions three times per week.  Each session typically lasts 1- 1 1/2 hours. I choose the exercises so that each muscle group is worked at least once per week.  I incorporate abdominal/low back exercises 2-3 times per week

On off days, I rest or do aerobic workouts - walking or cycling.  Each of the aerobic workouts incorporates anaerobic work including sprints and/or intervals. My total number of workouts per week is 4-5.

This combination of intense resistance training (EDT) combined with additional short 'bursts' of anaerobic  training seems like a very effective training regimen.  When combined with a healthy whole foods plant-based diet, we have two of the major components of an excellent lifestyle. I will continue to report on my progress as I gain more experience.  For more information on Escalating Density Training see Charles Staley's website or his book.

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