How to Workout Efficiently
I used to do a lot of LSD. No, not the drug kind, rather Long Slow Distance training as an endurance athlete (marathoner, Ironman triathlete, ocean swimmer, etc.). Not only was this incredibly time consuming, injury inducing and not conducive for muscle retention, it was often boring as hell. But even after I stopped competing in endurance events, my mindset was that I had to do long workouts in order to stay fit.
Then I discovered HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and thank goodness I did. With work, family, etc demands building, I not only didn’t have the time for multi-hour workouts, turns out I didn’t need them in order to maintain very high levels of health and fitness. A couple tweaks to the diet and ramping up the pace on weight and cardio workouts, and my body transformed to a more muscular, lean, healthy body than I ever had as a 20 or 30 something triathlete runner.
The great thing is that this approach can be applied to either cardio or weights. The cardio side is straight forward, something I have been preaching for a while now. For about half of your workouts – not all of them (doing some easy workouts is important for recovery – you need to listen to your body), pick an interval time of anywhere between 10 and 90 seconds (e.g. from a 50 yard sprint to ¼ mile hard run). Some days do short bursts, others medium intervals, some days longer. No matter the time/distance, always go all out. Warm up for 10 minutes or so (see previous blog Post: Top Tips for Injury Prevention), then do anywhere from 5 – 15 intervals depending on your fitness level and the interval distance. Walk/spin easy for about the same amount of time you do the hard interval. Then cool down/stretch. If you haven’t done hard intervals before, then start out with only a few, and go around 80% speed. Work your way up as your body adjusts. You can accomplish in 20 – 30 minutes of intervals what it could take over an hour to do through slow distance training. And studies show your metabolism is also revved up more post workout than when you do slow training. Double bonus.
Intervals can be done anywhere with just about any type of cardio: Running, biking, swimming, jumping rope, burpees, etc. You can either have a lot of structure – i.e. run for a specific amount of time, track your heart rate, etc., or do as I do which is to HIIT very intuitively. I will warm up with a mile run to the beach, then do sprints from one lifeguard tower to the next. I have no idea how far or long I’m running; all I know is that when the workout is done (and it goes by quickly in real and mental time) I feel spent – in a good way.
If you lift weights with intensity, it does not take much to tax the muscles, break them down (hypertrophy), and experience growth/strengthening/toning. By way of example, I set up a home gym a few years ago with a few basic weights. After I put my kids to bed, I’ll go to the garage and crank out a very intense workout for about 30 minutes. I’ll pick one pull exercise (eg bicep curls), one push (eg military press for shoulders) and then abs. I’ll simply rotate from one to the next without stopping, each getting a natural rest as I’m doing a different exercise/muscle. The key is, after a good warmup, to go all out every set (See video here). When I first start lifting with someone they’ll often comment that the weights I’m having them do are too light. “Trust me,” I tell them, “not for long…” After about 10 minutes they get it. This is not your dad’s workout where you do a moderate set, sit around for 5 minutes, then do another. This is HIIT.
There is certainly a place for long slow lifting. If you have the time, or more specifically if you are intentionally trying to gain lots of muscle, then slow lifting with rest in between is the way to go. However, 95% of the population over 30 simply wants to build a little muscle, stay toned, lose fat, and look good. For them, the workouts I’ve described are the most efficient and effective. The morning after my 30-minute late night garage workout, I’m super sore, which tells me I’ve had the effect on the muscles I was seeking.