Getting strong and fit doesn’t have to be difficult and you don’t have to spend hours every day at the gym either. But it won’t come accidentally. Deliberate practice and effort sustained over period of time will get there reliably. There are simple rules for strength.
What follows are some easy ways to maximize your strength gains and staying healthy, while minimizing effort and time commitments needed. You can take on the first three one at a time or even all at once, but remember that it’s more about persistance over long period of time than one time quick fixes. You want to get strong, but also stay strong. The last three should only be introduced to your life only after the first three are a part of your normal routines.
Break up work with movement
Take a break every 25 minutes and complete an easy set of five reps of one of the following:
Squat jumps, Burpees, Lunge jumps, Explosive push ups, (or if you have a pull-up bar or kettlebell where you work) pull ups or swings.
Focus should be on proper technique and explosive movement. The point is not to train to failure, or even to the burn.
By doing frequent sets of few reps you strengthen your nervous system instead of building big, fluffy muscles with little power in them. Five explosive reps will strengthen your nervous system while still retaining capability to work and focus after the break.
As an added benefit taking a 5-minute break every 25 minutes, let’s your brain rest and recover, while fighting against the adverse effects of being sedentary in front of screens. You will keep your metabolism going strong and delivering blood and nutrients to your muscles as well as your brain.
You can rotate between the exercises or you can choose one for a day. Ideally, do this routine every day at work, and you don’t have to worry so much about going to the gym to get strong. And remember: More is not better here.
One set of Kettlebell Swings three times during the week
Kettlebell swings are the best tool for getting the sculpted look. Your aim should be a single set of 75 reps with a 24kg Kettlebell. One set of 75 reps is plenty for strengthening your body and getting the sculpted look.
If you are new to the swings, you will have to work up to the 75 swings as a single set. The most important thing is proper technique, and only after that, you can start thinking about adding reps or increasing weight. Schedule the swinging session 2-3 times a week, and you don’t need to think about the gym if you don’t have any sports specific requirements.
You can read more about benefits of kettlebell swings and the proper technique here.
And remember to manipulate your diet if you want to lose weight. Exercise is for changing body composition.
Protein first thing
You can get strong without eating protein. The problem is the progress will be slow and laborous, the opposite of what we want. A simple way to make sure you are getting enough protein is to make sure you are getting 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up and eating some animal products and lentils/beans at every meal.
For mathematically inclined people you want to aim for 0,8 g of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight, for maintaining. If you are training hard or trying to add muscle you should consider doubling the intake. A helpful way to quantify your protein intake is to use apps like MyPlate or Myfitnesspal. That way you don’t have to guess how much protein, fats, or carbs you are getting and what are the results of your dietary decisions.
The advanced rules for those who have the first rules down and want to maximize their results
Focus on deadlifts, squats and bench press. Workouts should be as simple as 2 set of 5 reps, completed at relatively slow pace lowering the weight 3 seconds and exploding the weight up. Take a 5 minute break between sets to allow full recovery to nervous system. Use as heavy load as you can manage safely and with proper technique.
If you can manage getting to gym 5 times a week you can complete only one of the moves. If you want to manage with two gym trips you should alternate between deadlifts and squats with bench press to supplement the workout.
Never train to failure when using heavy loads and training for strength. It is compelling to think you are getting everything from your muscles and they will then grow to be humongous big and strong. But it could also be you are training your muscle to fail regularly. I don’t want to train my muscles and nervous system to fail when I most need them. The rate of injuries grows, and the time you need for recovery skyrockets. If your goal is to be active, healthy and strong, I suggest you train with as heavy as you can “comfortably” lift two sets of five reps. No screaming or huffing and puffing allowed. Less can be more.
Charles Poliquin has an excellent warm up routine you should adopt to using the percentages:
So lets say, you want to do 5 sets of 5 reps at 100 kg, the process would look like this:
4 @ 40 kg rest 10 seconds
3 @ 60 kg rest 30 seconds
2 @ 75 kg, rest 60 seconds
1 @ 85 kg, rest 120 seconds
1 @ 95 kg, rest 120 seconds
1 @ 105 kg, rest 120 seconds
1 @ 112.5 kg, rest 120 seconds
5 x 5 at 100 kg, resting 3 minutes between sets
Incorporate HIIT training once a week for a positive hormonal response
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is probably the most efficient way to train for strength and endurance.As an added benefit you end up burning a lot of calories with a short training session.
An effective ratio to working fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers is 30 seconds of maximum effort to 90 seconds of light, active recovery. Eight sets of 30 to 90 will exhaust your fast twitch muscle fibers as well as forcing your slow twitch muscle fibers to work and get stronger.
HIIT training is especially valuable for those training combative or endurance sports. Things where you need explosive movement and endurance. Of course, if you can complete HIIT with a sports specific movement patterns, that’s always great, but not always possible. That is because with sports specific movement patterns you have to be aware not to train any faulty movement patterns. HIIT training will exhaust anyone, done properly. When exhausted completing complex motor patterns becomes impossible. Thus the risk of training faulty movement patterns, and of injury increases substantially. All that being said it can be as easy as cranking away on the elliptical increasing the resistance for the work periods and lowering it for the recovery.
I suggest 2 minutes of warm up and 2 minutes of cool down. Both should be completed with the same movement pattern with light intensity and with full range of motion. So the whole routine takes just 20 minutes.
Great infographic about the benefits of HIIT training here
Sleep: You need Quality AND Quantity
It probabaly comes as no surprise that sleep is vital. Benefits from sleep cover the psychological repair as well as the physical repair. You need both to be strong, injury-free, and maybe even healthy.
Most people feel guilty about sleeping more than the bare necessity or simply don’t have the time to do it. Lack of sleep is even seen as a badge of honor in the workplace. Like that somehow made the person effective or important.
Everyone knows sleep is important for health and longevity, but it is still seen as a commodity or a necessary evil. The fact is that if you want to get strong and healthy you have to prioritize recovery over everything else, even over weight training. No sleep, no training. You need to first recover before you can build anything more. It’s about building the proper foundation for injury-free training and body.
Some of my favorite tips on sleeping better here
Check out this infographic about the benefits of proper sleep (and dangers of lack of the good stuff).
In addition to maximizing sleep, you should strive to eliminate mental stressors as much as possible. Prolonged stress and anxiety keep your cortisol levels elevated. Cortisol is not evil, but high levels of cortisol for long periods will prevent your body from recovering, getting stronger, and healthier. A simple rule of thumb is that intermittent, periodic physical stress good, prolonged physical stress, mental, spiritual stress bad. But more on that later.
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