Thursday, February 28, 2008

tweaking the workout program

With the recent local explosion (and by "local" I mean "a bunch of people I know") of kettlebell, interval, cross, and circuit training, I have been asked the same questions on a regular basis: How do I get started? Inevitably the questions arise from not only those who have none to almost no active fitness regiment, but also from those actively engaged in activity. Obviously those with current physical fitness activities have an edge on transitioning into a higher intensity cross-training program.

For those newbies: Foundation. Foundation. Foundation. Below is a list of "prison workout" exercises that should be mastered before the intensity gets kicked up. You cannot expect to jump from the couch-potatoing into power cleans, plyometrics, or hand-to-hand kettlebelling.

Abdominals (situps, fitness ball crunches, leg lifts, decline situps, medicine ball drills)

Back extensions (Roman chair)

Standing overhead presses (kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell)


Pullups (with partner, assist rubber bands, or weight assist machine, if necessary)

Dips (with partner, assist rubber bands, or weight assist machine, if necessary)

Air squats (no weight)

Overhead squats (with low-weight body bar or broomstick)

Body-Ups (AKA inverted rows, AKA reverse pushups)

Running/biking or cardiovascular machines (treadmill, bike, stepper, eliptical, rower)

For those with an existing program: If you still subscribe to a schedule that calls for the dreaded "chest and back day," there is still hope for you. I wouldn't expect you to completely abandon the regiment you've grown to cherish. Start to substitute more functional, complex exercises and drills into your program. One such functionality test I use is this: If it requires me to brace my back, sit down, or use a cable....not functional. Stop all these exercises and find a suitable alternative. Also, some exercises that isolate a muscle or muscle group can be eliminated for the sake of other more complex ones. Aside from needing the exercises listed in the advice for newbies, here are some swaps:

cable tricep pushdowns = dips
military press = standing overhead presses (push press, jerk, snatch)
upright rows = hang (power) cleans
leg extensions/curls = dumbbell lunges
lat pulldowns = pullups and inverted rows (AKA body ups)
curls or any bicep exercise = can pretty much quit
bench press or flys = dips and pushups on low gymnastics rings

As far as bringing kettlebell exercises into your routine, try these for starters:
bottoms-up squats
high pulls
clean and press
figure-8 lunges
turkish getups

Also add these to your routine:
deadlifts (135lb or lighter)
front squats
Intersplice a few cardio exercises like jumping rope or running between lifting exercises

Summary: The particulars like repetition numbers and frequency are not that important within the first few weeks or months of a transition period. Just do them. If you're just getting off the couch, then take it easy. Set up stations and move quickly from one to the next. But like I said, the order or details are not all that important until you get a solid foundation. What is important is to ensure proper form to prevent injury. Injury MUST be avoided. If you need help with an exercise, do not rely solely upon YouTube or other video sites, as ANYONE with a camera can post a how-to clip. I'll be sure to hook you up with either the right video segments or an educated coach.

Congratulations on your start to a new healthy lifestyle.

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