Many people spend their lives searching for the “perfect” workout, which will give them the dream body they desire. People often juggle strength, cardiovascular and flexibility training, trying to find the perfect combination of all three.
Within a lifting program itself, many fall trap to chopping and changing things too quickly. They complete two weeks of a program, and then abandon it because it’s “not working”. They constantly change up the exercises they perform, along with the number of sets and repetitions. Their bodies never have time to adapt to a program, and they therefore never see any proper progress – which may be either strength- or physique-related.
As for what program itself is best, there is no definitive answer. What I would recommend for an individual would depend on their current ability level, their goals and their interests.
That final point is something which many overlook. There is no point in forcing yourself to lift weights if you truly hate it, just as making yourself run every day will end in disaster if you spend every minute cursing life.
Whichever workout regime you choose to follow, it is important to stick with it for six to eight weeks before you can properly assess whether or not it works for you.
It should be pretty obvious from reading my blog that I am somewhat biased towards strength training. My body changed in a positive way when I first started lifting, and again when I started powerlifting/strongwoman training. However, I very rarely ask my clients to follow a powerlifting-style program, unless they specifically ask for one or they desire to compete in a strength sport. I understand that not everyone is fixated upon the goal of getting stronger to the exclusion of everything else.
That said, I do expect all of my clients to strength train. Even if someone only has the time for two sessions per week, or can only work out with hand weights at home, it is better than nothing at all. It has been proved time and time again that strength training is where its at when it comes to making long-lasting changes to your physique.
Weight lifting can help with fat loss, muscle gain and strength increases, depending on the exercises chosen and volume performed. It is completely possible to lose fat while only lifting weights, without the addition of any extra cardio. I find lifting for strength incredibly enjoyable, and many people also love the increased confidence which heavy lifting gives them.
One tool which can help in this process is plyometric training. Plyometric training has the twin benefits of building muscle while also improving cardio fitness. Rather than have my clients perform traditional cardio, I either have them do sprints or plyometric exercises such as box jumps, jump squats, medicine ball throws, or mountain climbers in addition to a well-rounded resistance training program.
The problem most people mistake when pursuing fat loss as a goal is doing hours of steady state cardio every day. Not only is it completely unnecessary, it could be causing more harm than good. Performing cardio every day will likely only cause excessive stress to your body, and make it more difficult to lose weight.
That said, low impact cardio has its place. I walk for at least an hour every day, both because it’s my main form of transport and because I enjoy being outside and exploring whatever city I happen to be in.
Yoga can even help with muscle building and fat loss, too. Granted, you will need to spend more time doing crows and headstands and less time in savasana to really call it a legitimate form of strength training. It also has incredible benefits with regards to stress relief and relaxation. Every time I have practiced yoga religiously throughout my life, I have felt infinitely better emotionally.
There is no real “wrong” way to work out, but there is a way to optimise your time. In my opinion, an ideal weekly exercise regimen would include three to four strength training workouts, one to two cardio/HIIT/plyometric sessions, and one to two days focused on flexibility training.
As I’ve recently said, I’m not the biggest fan of high-intensity, mostly-cardio based workouts such as Insanity, as they are quite stressful on your body and do not achieve much other than making you sweat as much as possible in a short time period. However, if you enjoy that feeling, then so be it!
It is crucial to remember that almost all of your physical-related changes will come down to what you put in your mouth. Unless you are eating healthy, nutritious foods the majority of the time and consuming an amount of calories which is in accordance with your goals, then it really doesn’t matter what style of workout you are doing. If you’re eating 5000 calories a day of “junk” food, then no amount of weight lifting, running or Bikram is going to give you the body you want. It’s a sad reality, but diet really is the most important factor. So, if you must, do Insanity workouts, but skip the Beachbody diet!
When one of my clients wants to change their aesthetic goals, almost all of the changes to their plan will be on the diet-side. For example, if someone has been training purely to increase their strength while eating slightly above a maintenance level of calories, and now wants to lose body fat, I will likely keep their training program very similar (it may involve the addition of one short HIIT cardio session, but that will likely happen at a later stage) and instead simply modify their nutrition plan. It is a myth that low rep training will make you bulky while high rep training will lean you out, so don’t fall for it.
Finally, remember that at the end of the day, you are in charge of your life. You must do what you enjoy the most. While I personally love the time I spend in the gym, and consider it my favourite hobby at the moment (unless drinking cocktails by the beach counts as a hobby!?), I understand that not everyone loves to exercise. In fact, a lot of people despise the very thought of exercising.
It is therefore imperative that you find a form of exercise which you can enjoy – or, if not enjoy, tolerate enough to keep getting it done. Exercise is something everyone should be doing, for a myriad of reasons. The best exercise plan for you is one which is sustainable, flexible and time-efficient.
I will not force someone to give up a cardio or yoga habit if that’s what they truly enjoy. You could never convince me to give up dancing, for example, as evidenced by the fact that I did not one but two dance classes 24-36 hours before my last strongwoman competition.
You must do what works best for you, and not concern yourself with what anyone else is doing.
What is your favourite style of workout?