Want great results from your training? Then, have great workouts!
It should go without saying that not only do you need to train, but you need to train hard if you seek real results. Like just about anything in life, you get what you put in. Most people today are just going through the motions during their workouts and then wonder why they don’t make any true gains. Granted, there are times when you need to pull back a bit, but there are also times when you need to go hard. This article is geared toward the latter.
In order to experience any form of success with weight training – whether it be to improve body composition (i.e. a decrease in body fat and an increase in lean body mass) or to increase strength, speed, power and ultimately performance – you must have effective workouts. And just like any race, the start is crucial!
Pre-exercise preparation, including the often neglected warm-up, can make or break your workout. It is the most misunderstood aspect of training. Traditional warm-ups are seriously flawed. Quite frankly, most people shoot themselves in the foot before they even begin.
I have spent years researching this subject, and in my journey, I’ve discovered some of the most effective, cutting edge techniques from many of the world’s leading experts. Ready to get the results you deserve for your hard effort in the gym? Great, then let’s begin.
Best Time To Train
In order to experience the ultimate workout, you need to schedule your training at the most appropriate time. Let’s review the evidence.
Supercharging Hormones and Lubricating Joints
Research on circadian rhythms (i.e. your body’s internal clock) indicate that the summation of several important anabolic hormones peak at 3 and 11 hours upon awakening. What does that mean in plain English? Well, according to science, if you wake up at 6:00 am, you are at your strongest at 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. And, according to Olympic strength coach, Charles Poliquin, your joints – specifically, the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints – require about 3 hours to reach an optimal level of warmth, which will help improve performance while decreasing the likelihood of injury.
Wake Up to Lose Weight
Today’s lifestyle is quite busy and hectic. Many people have a tendency to jeopardize their workouts later in the day because other priorities get in the way. For these individuals, working out first thing in the morning and getting it out of the way may be the best option. Actually, some authorities believe that training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will facilitate weight loss. Greg Landry is an exercise physiologist who highly recommends exercise in the morning for the following reasons:
- 90% of people exercise consistently in the morning
- elevates metabolism and makes you feel energized all day long
- helps to regulate appetite
- makes it easier to wake up – hormones and metabolism elevate while you sleep to prepare your body for exercise
- mental acuity is increased for 4-10 hours after exercise
Ride the Cortisol Tide
Holistic health practitioner and neuromuscular therapist, Paul Chek, believes that people should ride their natural cortisol tides and train in the morning when possible.
“My experience with training athletes, as well as with my own training, has been that people naturally train better when their cortisol levels are high. Since cortisol levels rise with the sun, reaching peak blood levels around 9-11 a.m. and then progressively set with the sun, most of you will find that you get your best performances in this timeframe.
If your schedule doesn’t permit you to train at this time, at least you can set your schedule so that your hardest workouts are on weekends or your days off from work, allowing you to train with your natural cortisol tides.
For those of you who currently wake up in the morning feeling tired – even after sleeping eight hours – training in the evening after work may well be disrupting your sleep and recovery cycles.
This is because performing any exercise that is more intense than you could perform on a full stomach triggers the release of cortisol, telling your body that it is some time between sunrise and about noon.
There’s a good reason why we’re built this way. For thousands of years, if not millions, we did our hunting and gathering from sunrise until just before noon. When you elevate your cortisol levels at night by hitting the gym after work, you literally wind yourself up! Since cortisol lasts for hours in the body before it is used up or neutralized by the liver, it will stop you from getting a deep, restorative sleep.” -Paul Chek
Morning or Night Person
According to the opinion of Dr. Ann de Wees Allen, a Board Certified Doctor of Naturopathy, the best time to train depends on whether you are a morning or night person. It’s really that simple. She believes that we respond better during certain periods of the day and those are the times that we should train. This reflects our circadian rhythm – something that we are born with and cannot change.
Subsequently, there will be times during the day that we are the strongest. This does not happen by chance. You must recognize those times and use them to your advantage – it will have a big impact on your performance. Does it mean that you can’t workout at other times? No! But, it is a good idea to train at the same time each workout if possible – your body will naturally adjust to that time and prepare itself for activity. If you are forced to change your workout time, though, to accommodate your schedule, then allow 3 weeks for your body to get used to the new time (especially if you are unaccustomed to training first thing in the morning). It usually takes about 3 weeks to form a habit.
Never First Hour
Dr. Stuart McGill, a spinal biomechanist and professor at the University of Waterloo, warns people not to perform demanding exercises first thing in the morning. Since discs are hydrophilic, they tend to soak up water and swell overnight, and it’s much easier to herniate a swollen, water-filled spine! Therefore, McGill recommends to wait at least one hour after awakening to exercise. That is the critical period since your tissue is superhydrated at that point resulting in an 18% loss of strength in the spine and risk of injury is heightened!
Not After Sex
Here is something you may not want to hear. I’ll let the following abstract break the news. You ready? Sit tight; this may be painful.
Alterations in grip strength during male sexual arousal.
Jiao C, Turman B, Weerakoon P, Knight P.
Int J Impot Res. 2005 Oct 27
School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Although it is known that alterations in grip strength occur under a number of conditions, little is known about relationships between grip strength and sexual arousal. This relationship was investigated in 30 healthy heterosexual males, who viewed both erotic and nonerotic videos. A questionnaire was used to assess the extent of sexual arousal. The grip strengths of both hands were measured with a five-position (P1-P5) dynamometer, before and after watching the videos. After watching the erotic video, there was a statistically significant reduction in grip strength for the P2 position, with nonsignificant overall reductions in grip strength for all other positions tested. No such effect was observed in control tests. The results indicate that during sexual arousal, the neural system is likely to reduce the output to muscles not directly related to sexual function, presumably to enhance the physiological responses of sexual arousal.
Take-Home Message: Sexual arousal is great anytime of the day EXCEPT right before training!
Ultimate Workout Tip #1
Most of the evidence seems to point toward training in the morning ideally three hours after awakening. This will allow you to consume a meal to help “break” the catabolic “fast” and provide energy. Three hours should be plenty of time to digest your meal and lubricate the joints while saving your spine from potential injury.
High Protein and Fat Breakfast
I’m about to hit you with a bold statement: carbohydrates induce sleep … and what do most people start their day with? You guessed it, a high carb breakfast (and diet for that matter!) If you want to crash mid-morning – or half way through your workout – then go ahead and consume the typical North American breakfast. If, on the other hand, you plan to experience the ultimate workout, then do the exact opposite!
A high protein and fat meal will help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you awake, alert and coherent throughout the morning. The best way to accomplish this according to Poliquin is to follow a meat and nuts breakfast.
“When people ask me for the best single dietary tip for optimal leanness, energy and sustained mental focus, I invariably tell them to try the rotating meat and nuts breakfast. Clients ranging from NHL and NFL stars to corporate executives, rave about the increased mental acuity and focused energy they derive from this food combination. The meat allows for a slow and steady rise in blood sugar. The nuts provide a great source of healthy smart fats that allow the blood sugar to remain stable for an extended period of time. ((Multiple studies on employee productivity or on children’s attention patterns have demonstrated that a high protein breakfast does not only impact energy and productivity levels of morning till noon, but extends into the late afternoon.” -Charles Poliquin
Ultimate Workout Tip #2
Start the day with a meat and nuts breakfast and avoid all those high-glycemic, processed, refined, and packaged foods that will cause your energy levels to crash during your workout.
Want a great workout? Consider some assistance. Here are my top ten pre-workout supplement recommendations. They are in no particular order.
- Ephedrine (20 mgs) + Caffeine (200 mgs)
- Biotest Power Drive (1.25 scoops)
- MD+ Resolve (2-4 tabs)
- Designs For Health Brain Vitale (1 tsp)
- Garden of Life Clear Energy (3 tabs)
- Wellwisdom GlutImmune (20 g)
- MRM BCAA+G (5+ g)
- MD+ Amino or Beverly Mass (10 tabs)
- M2C Advanced Cell Therapy (1 pouch)
- Herbal Powers Enerdisia (4 tsp)
Many of these supplements may be combined for a potent ergogenic effect; for instance, you can mix GlutImmune with Advanced Cell Therapy, or take ephedrine and caffeine with Power Drive, etc. However, I recommend that you rotate the above products regularly, and most important, only use a pre-workout supplement when you need to. If energy is low one day and/or you are in a high-intensity phase and require some assistance then by all means, but do not get into the habit of relying on these before each and every workout. That would be a big mistake and will lead to dependence and addiction. This will eventually wreak havoc on your adrenals and cause hormonal disruption, and worse, you will tend to associate a good workout with supplements. Without the supplements, you are useless! I’ve seen this happen and it can take awhile to rehabilitate so use them wisely. A good warm-up will do wonders to wake you up when you’re feeling tired; even a teaspoon of Celtic Sea Salt in water can help perk you up
The last two products are quite interesting.
I must say, I am quite impressed with the effects from Advanced Cell Therapy (A.C.T.). I received samples of A.C.T. in the fall of 2005. Naturally, I tried it on myself first as I do with any novel product, whether it’s a supplement, fitness equipment, or program for that matter. You know what? It worked! Then, I tried it on some of my athletes and guess what? It worked with them too! And if it works for these guys, believe me, IT WORKS! So, then everyone else got to try, and to date, all of them have given it a thumbs up.
I receive nothing but positive feedback for this stuff. Many people claim that they have loads of energy for at least a couple of hours. The reason why the energy from A.C.T. is sustained and lasts a long time is because they add fiber to the formula to prolong the effect. Use one A.C.T. packet with an additional 20 grams of glutamine peptides (Wellwisdom GlutImmune is an excellent brand) right before your workout for maximum effect.
Enerdisia is an herbal coffee that follows a very simple mathematical equation: Energy + Aphrodisiac = Enerdisia. It is purported to “naturally revitalize energy levels while improving the hormonal balance and sexual wellness.” The retailer, Herbal Powers, is also the premier raw ingredient supplier of Tongkat Ali (aka Longjack), an herb that will jack up your testosterone levels. Enerdisia contains a number of herbs including Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma Longifolia), American Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba, Maca, Avena Sativa, Nettle Root, and Seabuckthorn. Granted, you’ll notice a bunch of processed crap in the ingredient list; however, unlike most energy beverages, Enerdisia actually has less caffeine than decaf yet this stuff will give you a jolt like you won’t believe similar to an ephedrine-caffeine stack. It tastes pretty good, too! Try it.
Ultimate Workout Tip #3
Pre-workout supplements such as the popular ephedrine and caffeine stack can have a potent ergogenic (i.e. work-enhancing) effect, but make sure to rotate these products regularly, and only use a pre-workout supplement when necessary to avoid dependence and addiction.
Soft Tissue Work
Muscle density can be a limiting factor in both the flexibility and strength of a muscle. A buildup of scar tissue and adhesions can reduce the range of motion of a joint and cause rigid muscles. Many strength coaches today recognize the need for soft tissue work pre-exercise to improve performance. You don’t need a licensed practitioner to perform such work – rolling on a ball, wheel, or foam roller will do the trick.
Foam roll for 5 minutes to decrease the density of the muscle. Muscles respond to injury and overuse by increasing in density. This increased density is often referred to as a knot or a trigger point. The techniques used to relieve knots are referred by many names. Massage, Active Release Technique (ART), Muscle Activation Technique (MAT), or soft tissue mobilization are all terms used to apply to techniques used to change the density of a muscle. The foam roll is “the poor man’s massage.” Foam rolling is a great way to get changes in the density of the muscle prior to stretching. I like to think of foam rolling as ironing for the muscles, a necessary precursor to stretching. – Mike Boyle
A foam roller can help to improve soft tissue quality, range of motion and overall performance. It’s an inexpensive and convenient method to break down knots, adhesions, and scar tissue that accumulate over time. Does it hurt? Yes, it does, at least initially, but over time the pain tends to subside and that’s an indication that you made some progress with the tissue. At that point less rolling is needed – only when necessary.
When using a foam roller, always stay on the muscle tissue and do not roll on tendons, joints, bony structures, or over areas that are too painful and don’t roll smoothly. Start by placing the roller on a sensitive or knotted spot and gradually increase the amount of pressure until the muscle finally releases. This process should not take longer than a minute, and always roll before stretching. Adjust the tone of the muscle first with the roller, and then work on length with stretching.
These techniques are actually very simple to learn. Basically, you just use your body weight to sandwich the roller between the soft tissue to be released and the floor. Roll at a slow pace and actually stop and bear down on the most tender spots (“hot spots”). Once the pain in these spots diminishes, roll the other areas.
In order to increase the pressure on the soft tissue, simply apply more of your body weight to the roller. The simplest way to do this is by either moving from working both legs at once to one leg, or by “stacking” one of your legs on top of the other to increase the tension.
As you get more comfortable with self-myofascial release, you’ll really want to be bearing down on the roller with most (if not all) of your body weight. As with almost anything in the training world, there’s considerable room for experimentation, so you’ll definitely want to play around with the roller to see what works best for you. Be careful to avoid bony prominences, though…
Note: Those with circulatory problems and chronic pain diseases (e.g. fibromyalgia) should NOT use foam rollers. – Robertson and Cressey
Foam rollers are available in a number of densities from relatively soft foam, slightly harder than a pool noodle, to newer high-density rollers with a much more solid feel. They are 6 inches in diameter and either 1 foot or 3 feet long.
I know there are several coaches who recommend rolling the entire body prior to a workout. That is unnecessary. Remember, you just want to adjust the tone accordingly – find the tight tissue and release it. Generally, rolling two areas for most people will suffice – the upper back and the outer (i.e. lateral) leg.
For the upper back, first roll the tissue then perform thoracic extensions over the roller. This simple method will help to normalize an excessive kyphotic curve (i.e. help to reverse that hunchback syndrome) and improve mobility. Trust me, your shoulder joints will appreciate this over time – improving your posture will improve mechanics and thus decrease unnecessary wear-and-tear on the joints.
To start, lie supine with the roller positioned in the middle of your back and roll upward, reversing direction when you reach armpit level. To improve the effectiveness of rolling the thoracic spine, you want to get the scapula out of the way by hugging yourself. After about 10 passes or so, return to the initial position and drop your butt to the ground. This time, interlock your fingers behind your head and pull the elbows together. Now perform thoracic extensions by pushing your head back toward the floor and sticking your chest out in the process. Pause at the bottom. Do 2 or 3 repetitions then slide the roller up one vertebrae and repeat.
The roller is also an effective way to loosen up tissue on the outside of the leg, such as the Iliotibial Band (IT Band) and the peroneals, that may be difficult to access with conventional stretches, as well as focusing on tight knots or bands within a muscle.
Rolling the IT Band will be quite painful initially, but as I mentioned earlier, the pain should subside over time if you are diligent with this technique. Start by lying on your side with the roller positioned just below your pelvis. Roll down the lateral aspect of your thigh until you reach the knee and then reverse. If you come across a tender spot or knot, concentrate on that area until it releases and then continue with longer strokes. Remember, you can stack the opposite leg on top to increase loading, and by altering your body position, you can address different tissue. For instance, by leaning back slightly you hit the outer hamstring (i.e. biceps femoris), and by leaning forward you target the outer quadriceps (known as the vastus lateralis).
Repeat this process for the peroneals by rolling along the outer part of the lower leg from the knee to the ankle.
Believe it or not, the plantar fascia located at the bottom of the foot can impede flexibility throughout the entire body. Limitations in this area can cause restrictions in the hamstrings, low back and neck. A simple test I discovered from the book Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers led to a warm-up technique I use often prior to training legs.
For a sometimes dramatic and easily administered test of the entire superficial back line, have your client do a forward bend (as if to touch the toes with the knees straight.) Note the bilateral contour of the back and the resting position of the hands. Draw your client’s attention to how it feels along the back of the body on each side.
Have your client roll a golf ball or tennis ball deeply into the plantar fascia on one foot only, being slow and thorough rather than fast and vigorous. Keep it up for at least a couple of minutes, making sure the whole territory is covered from the ball of all five toes back to the front edge of the heel.
Now have the client do the forward bend again and note the bilateral differences in back contour and hand position (and draw the client’s attention to the difference in feeling). In most people this will produce a dramatic demonstration of how working in one small part can affect the functioning of the whole. This will work for many people, but not all: for the most easily assessable results, avoid starting on someone with a strong scoliosis or other bilateral asymmetries.
Since this also functions as a treatment, do not forget to carry out the same procedure on the other side after you assess the difference. (Myers, 2002, pg. 65)
You can use a golf ball or tennis ball as Myers suggested, or a neat little instrument known as the FootWheel to stretch and relax the plantar fascia and extinguish myofascial trigger points. Basically, it was designed to make your feet happy as many report that the FootWheel will soothe tired, achy feet in mere seconds!
While standing, place the wheel on the ground with your weight on the opposite foot. Then roll on the wheel (you determine the amount of pressure) to search and find these myofascial trigger points (i.e. areas that are tight, knotty, ropy or tender.) Make sure to move slow and gentle with specific strokes for about 30 seconds. The goal is healthy muscle free of pain, tightness or tenderness.
Ultimate Workout Tip #4
Soft tissue work before exercise can improve performance. Prior to lower body training, roll the bottom of the foot with a tennis ball or a FootWheel and the outside part of the leg with a foam roller. Before upper body training, roll the upper back and perform thoracic extensions using a foam roller.