One of the commonly asked questions that I get is how many times a week do I need to train for the training to work? I have the attitude that any training is better than nothing, but realistically you should be aiming to train a minimum of twice a week and actually you will benefit from training more than this (as long as you aren’t training so much that you can’t recover from it).
For beginners, I would suggest aiming to train three times a week and working your whole body in these sessions. Make sure these sessions aren’t on consecutive days. Whole body sessions are ideal for burning the maximum amount of calories possible in the time that you have (which is good for fat loss) and also for strengthening your muscles. As you get more used to the gym and you wish to progress, you can then add in a forth session – this can help you to get over a plateau later on and ensure that your training still continues to challenge you.
However, if you are struggling to find the time to train, then first and foremost you need to look at how many times a week you can realistically train consistently. It’s no good deciding that you are going to train six times a week when in reality you are only going to have the time to train twice. I recommend writing down all the things that you need to do in a week and working out when you can do them all. The have a look at what time you have left for training. Can you move some things around so that you make time for training? Or cut down on your TV time? Only plan exercise session that you will realistically have time for, then make sure that you are going to make sure that your whole body is being trained at least once in those sessions. To do this, you need to decide on your training split. This is going to be dictated in part by how many times a week you are going to be training. See my blog on the different training splits to decide which would be better for you, or drop me a question here if you need help with deciding.
Ultimately, you need to train the amount of time that you can stick to. When it comes to training, what you can do consistently is what is going to make the difference as you need to be in it for the long-haul so be realistic and be disciplined.
Many people believe that they did not have a good workout unless they experience pain and soreness the day after their workout. Hashtags on instagram such as #sorenotsorry promote this new but is this actually true? Or is it another one of those instagram trends that is frankly, a load of rubbish?
The soreness that you get the day or two days after exercise is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS for short) and it is caused by microtrauma (small tears) to the muscle. It either comes on the day after your workout or the second day and it doesn’t generally last more than two to three days although if you gone all out, it could last up to a week.
You are more likely to get DOMS if you are new or returning to exercise or if you are doing something that you do not usually do. If you are experienced then you may get DOMS when you increase the intensity of your workout.
In terms of whether you have had a good workout if you do not get DOMS then the answer is yes! While being a little sore (or ‘aware’ of the muscles that you worked) is perfectly normal, you should not be so sore that you are struggling to walk down stairs or put your coat on. This is a sign that you have pushed your body too far and if you do this continually then you are likely to overtrain, get injured or give up on exercise. In my opinion, severe DOMS is actually going to sabotage your fitness goals. When you are sore are you more likely to do more activity and continue to move the following day or lie on the sofa watching Netflix and eating junk? If you are training to lose weight specifically, then the whole aim of the game is to burn more calories than you are taking in. There is only so much that you can do in a designated ‘exercise session’ so what you really need to do is to incorporate more movement into your daily life. If you make yourself sore from a your workout then you will be sedentary for 1-2 days and the amount of calories that you are expending will reduced.
What can I do to Reduce DOMS?
So this advice has come to you too late and you already have DOMS, what can you do to speed up your recovery?
Firstly try to keep moving as much as you can. This is going to increase the blood flow to the muscles affected so they get increased nutrients and this will speed up the rate of your recover.
You can also try some gentle stretching. Your muscles are going to feel really tight so take it slowly and ease into any stretches – now isn’t the time to get any flexibility personal bests.
You should also make sure that you are eating plenty of protein. Your muscles have been damaged and they need to protein to grow and repair (did you know that your muscles and vital organs are actually protein?). By ensuring an adequate intake you should suffer a little bit less.
If you can stand it, then foam rolling or a massage may help. However, I personally find these painful (especially foam rolling) on the best of days so if you do go for a massage just make them aware that you are sore and ask them to use lighter pressure.
You could also try a warm bath, try putting some Epsom salts in as these are meant to help relax the muscles due to the magnesium content. I don’t think that this method is 100% proven but some people swear by it and it is unlikely to harm.
Do you have any tips and tricks for dealing with DOMS? I’d love to know what you think.
Training splits are the way that you break up your training. There are many ways in which you can do this but there are four popular ways in which you can do it. If this all sounds alien to you then read on and see what your options are.
Whole Body Split
It seems a bit daft to call something a whole body split (as you aren’t actually splitting anything up) but we do! This is where you train your whole body in each session. This is good where you are only able to do a limited amount of training sessions (2-3 per week) and where you don’t train on consecutive days. One of the great things about this type of training is that as you are using your whole body you are likely to be burning the maximum amount of calories -so this training split is ideal if you are looking to lose weight.
Upper/Lower Body Split
In this type of split you train your upper body so arms, back, chest and shoulders in one session and then lower body so legs and glutes in the other session. This is a good training split if you do train in consecutive days as it allows you work the half of the body that you haven’t used but allow recovery on the other half of the body. You can slot a core session on the end of either your upper or lower body session depending on which you find quicker to train. This is the body split that I used as I train four times a week and this allows me to train each body part twice a week and still get adequate recovery. If I want to train a fifth session I can, I just make sure that it is more skill-based and not heavy.
Body Part Split
This type of training split is popular with body builders and guys in general. I personally think that a lot of men would actually benefit from an upper/lower body split, or even a full body split.
This training system is where you split up your training into the different body parts. The most common split is probably chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulder and finally, legs. This method requires training four times a week and if you miss a session then you have potentially missed your opportunity to train that body part that week. I’m not a fan of this training method for that reason, I also think that it is an inefficient use of gym time if your goal is fat loss.
This is a more advance type of training split if you don’t have a personal trainer as you have to understand a bit more about movement patterns to be able to work out which category the movement falls into. In this training split you would train all of your push movements (e.g. chest press, shoulder press) in one session, your pull movements in another session (e.g. pull up, lateral pull down) in another session and then legs in your other session.
So I’ve had a few questions recently about warming up, whether it’s necessary and how to structure a warm up. In this blog I’m going to look at what a warm up is, whether you need one and how to structure one.
The purpose of a warm up is to prepare your body for the exercise session. Rather than jumping in at full intensity, you are easing your body and mind into the session and getting yourself ready for what is to come. As such, the focus of your warm up will depend on what the content of your main session is going to be.
A good warm up helps to prevent injury by loosening up the joints that you are going to use, raising your pulse and body temperature, and getting more blood to the muscles. I always think that a good warm up helps you to mentally prepare for the main session as it can be overwhelming skip straight to the main session.
So Who needs to Warm Up?
The short answer to this is everybody. Everybody needs to do some form of warm up although the type and duration of the warm up is going to vary from person to person.
One of the factors that will affect your warm up is your fitness level. The fitter you are, the quicker you can probably warm up and the reverse is true, so if you are unfit or new to exercise, then you should spend longer preparing your body for the session ahead.
Unfortunately, age is also a factor that affects the length of your warm up. Generally, the older you are, the longer that you should spend on your warm up. Older adults could take up to 20 minutes to warm up. Personally, I have noticed that now that I am in my mid 30’s a 1 minute warm up just isn’t going to cut it. In my teens I often used to get away with this (I used to take ages to get dressed so I always missed the warm up for hockey), but now I would suffer for it.
Other factors to consider are the temperature, if it is colder then it will take longer to warm up than if it is warmer, the intensity of the main session so the higher the intensity the longer the warm up needs to be (so minute HIIT sessions require a long warm up) and the content of your main session. If you are planning a leg day, then you should concentrate on warming up your lower body and it always takes me longer to warm up my lower body.
Despite what you may be thinking, you shouldn’t just launch straight into stretching. First of all, you should do some mobility work and any spinal mobility work should be performed first. Personally, I start any warm up with head rotations and then the pilates roll down. Other mobility exercises such as arm rotations maybe carried out while you are on the second part of the warm up: the pulse raiser.
The CV machines in the gym are ideal for the pulse raiser although you don’t have to use them. You should do some form of cardiovascular exercise that uses big muscle groups but that doesn’t need too much from you in terms of range of movement (i.e. you aren’t having to go into deep knee bends). You should start off slowly and then build up so that out of a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being you are a hot sweaty mess to can’t to anymore and 1 being that you are practically asleep, you are a 3-4. This section is going to take between 5-10 minutes depending on the factors above. Personally, I like to go on the cross-trainer for about 7 minutes as it uses your whole body and I increase the resistance every two minutes.
Only after you have raised your pulse should you stretch. Now there are different types of stretching but if you are reading this then I’m going to assume that you are not a high-level athlete where your ability to perform to your maximum in the training session is important. As such, you don’t have to worry about whether you should do dynamic stretches or static stretches (I might write a post on this another day), just stretch and hold those stretches for between 6-10 seconds. Bear in mind what you are going to be working that day, if you are doing a lower body session then concentrate on the lower body, if you are doing an upper body session then obviously concentrate on upper body.
Finally, and this is something that I did not realise until I did my gym instructor qualification, is that after your stretching you should get back on the CV equipment and raise your pulse again. Again, you should be gradually increasing your pulse again to get it back up to where it was at the end of your pulse raiser (this should only take between 3-5 minutes).
So there it is! At this point you will be ready to hit your session hard! I know that this seems like a lot and initially you would think that it would take you a lot of time but some of the steps can be combined, i.e. you could do the mobility work on the treadmill or bike, you could also do some of the stretches on there. As you get used to this it will get quicker and it is a component of your fitness regime that does require a bit of time.
How do you like to warm up? Do you find that this has changed over time?