"Should I do yoga, cardio, lift weights or focus on my core?" is one of the most frequent questions I get at dinner parties. This is just like asking, "should I be nice to my wife all year long, celebrate Valentine's Day, do something special for her birthday or should I remember our anniversary?" The obvious answer is "yes".
My "yes" answer makes exercise seem like an overwhelming time commitment. Who has the time to do yoga twice a week for an hour, then "cardio" three or four times a week for an hour, then work each "body part" twice a week with resistance, and then do two separate core workouts? That's seven, 10 or even more hours per week!
Because you can't ethically neglect mobility, cardiovascular conditioning, strength and metabolism (muscles are your metabolism), or someone's core we've developed a very simple system at my gym to get it all done every time in just one hour. Here it is:
1. Ramp Up: When you sit on your butt for hours at a time (as I'm doing as I type this) you push the fluid out of those muscles which leads to something called "gluteal amnesia" _ your butt forgets how to work. If you want to sculpt your back side, protect your lower back (your low back will pick up the slack for your butt), or burn fat, you need to do something about this before you workout not after. If you wait to address function and mobility until after your workout that means you've spent your entire workout reinforcing dysfunction and potential injury. Do this first and you'll condition your body to function the right way.
This is when you foam roll for five to eight minutes, stretch (especially your hip flexors), and work on things like bridges and inchworm (there are videos of this on my YouTube channel josefb20017). (First 15 minutes)
2. Core: When you sit the chair is doing most of the work your core should be doing, so in 2013 we hit your core first when you have the most energy so that we can get the greatest training effect.
At my gym, The Body You Want, we haven't done crunches in many years because they're dangerous for your lower back and they just don't work enough muscle to help strip off that layer of fat that's hiding your six-pack right now. After someone learns how to do a real plank, we go to "move this, not this" core exercises — move your arm but don't move your hips. These are incredibly "fun." (For time efficiency, we combine core training with part 3 below.)
3. Power: The muscle fibers that can make the greatest difference in your metabolism, performance, and safety as you age are your "high threshold" muscle fibers. These are the muscle fibers that are only called upon when you need to move something heavy and/or fast. Most of us don't move anything heavy and/or fast on a regular basis, so we generally have poor access to these super-important metabolism boosting muscle fibers. This makes fat-loss harder, and also makes you less able to not fall down (people fall down fast, not slow — if you're going to stay on your feet and not fracture a hip, you need to be able to recover fast).
The fastest to learn and the safest tools for power training are kettlebells and medicine balls. To learn to do a kettlebell swing (as opposed to just swinging around a kettlebell) please go get some professional instruction which is way beyond a few sentences in this column. Look for someone with an FMS level I and II, and an SFG or RKC certification.
Medicine balls are really simple, fun, effective and tension relieving. In various positions (kneeling, standing, moving...) you tighten up and throw a medicine ball as hard as you can at a wall (not drywall!) or the floor. Don't throw at other people — too much risk of jammed/broken fingers, nose or teeth (my insurance agent said, "don't bet someone else's safety on their ability to catch everything all of the time — you only have to miss once and they are done"). Oh and test the bounciness of the ball before you throw it full tilt. (Core and power together take about ten minutes — do a core exercise, then a power exercise, then take a short break. They're non-competing exercises — the fatigue from the core exercise won't negatively impact your power exercise, and your heart and lungs will be going hard the whole time.)
4. Strength: For fat-loss (a.k.a. "tone") and performance strength training will deliver more results per minute invested than anything else you can do. The key to maximum results in minimum times it to focus on big-bang exercises _ exercises that work most of your body not just a little part of your body. Forget about "body-parts" and train movements. Gray Cook said, "If you train muscles you'll forget movement, but if you train movement, you'll never forget a muscle." Forget bicep curls and do inverted rows for example so you can get your arms, shoulders, back, core and hips all at once. (20-25 minutes)
5. Hit It: Right now we've only got five to 10 minutes left for "cardio," but don't worry. If you had a heart rate monitor on you'd see that your heart rate has been elevated almost all of your workout so far, so you've actually already gotten your "cardio" done, but to get you into even better shape and blast off a little more fat we like end with what we call a "finisher" — a short burst of high intensity interval training. We like interval training because it works better for fitness, better for fat-loss, is likely better for your heart health and takes less time than tradition, boring steady state aerobics (like, go get on the elliptical for 30 minutes). (Four to 10 minutes)
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