I have a client whose workout week is as follows: one Pilates class, one yoga class, one to two sparring sessions (four to seven rounds of three minutes of sparring with headgear) paired with some weight or ab workouts and two specific interval workouts. What can he do to maximize where he places his workouts so that he is working on the right things with good recovery times? Also, he has bulked up enough muscle-wise and now wants to focus on lengthening and strengthening muscle tissue at the same time. Is there some type of training he can implement to do this other than Pilates?
His goals are to get into the best shape of his life. He's aiming for high lean muscle mass to low fat ratio, and he wants to drop 10 more pounds. He feels he has bulked up enough, so in addition to the yoga and Pilates, he wants to create a weekly program that will create a leaner, longer physique. He is already in very good shape, and his program is a bit heavy on cardio. He is capable of elite level training and would welcome plyometrics. He loves to mix things up and is easily bored. He is also an amazing skipper, does not enjoy running, loves biking and will do short bursts of interval training or hill work. We've already done a lot of functional training and cable machine work wearing a weighted vest.
The listed training sessions are the key focus. He doesn't want to do the same stuff all the time (for all the right reasons), and he is using his yoga and Pilates as "quieter" forms of exercise (he does not see them as "active recovery").
He is very interested in Paul Chek's concept of five compound exercises back to back to 1:30 rest ratio training session. It would be helpful to have examples of the "types" of compound exercises Chek means. With my client's interest in boxing (he trains at a boxing gym), he also likes the idea of 12-18 exercises (weight lifting circuit) performed at maximum speed and effort for 30 seconds with intensities of 50 to 60 percent 1RM.
My client is off to Italy in 12 weeks, and his goal is to take his already solid fitness base and rev it into high gear so that he is the best he can be for his trip.
Firstly to quickly address some additional points you raised prior to focusing on the program:
The length/tension curve of muscle shows that there is a relationship between length and strength, thus developing length will develop strength BUT ONLY UP TO A CERTAIN POINT. At approx 110 to 120 degrees of muscle length, cross-bridge overlap becomes too strained and strength decreases rapidly. So individuality is the key with a dedicated focus as to which muscles need length and which do not. Just because a muscle is used in a session does not mean it needs to do flexibility work (static posture provides a good starting ground). From the other side, resistance training has been found to increase muscle length. Again be aware that this is not always the best option (e.g., too low on a Dumbbell Bench Press will aggravate the anterior capsule of the shoulder and may induce shoulder joint laxity).
As to increasing global strength without increasing muscle bulk, keep to the lower repetition range focusing on Neural Drive (e.g., no more than six to eight reps, the lower the better). This also means your client needs to have good technique, a spotter and at least three minutes recovery between exercises to allow optimal neurometabolic recovery before the next set. For relative strength, opt for body weight exercises (like chin ups and push ups). For strength endurance, keep the repetitions low but the volume high (e.g., four to six reps of a six to eight RM load with 10 to 15 sets) and use compound exercises like heavy lifting, tire hammering, wood chopping, rope climbing and rowing, anything that uses a large resistance, large volume of muscles and several compound movements linked together that can be repeated after a short break. You requested some examples of good circuit compound exercises. These are some of my favorites (especially the body weight and kinetic link):
Absolute Resistance Compound Exercises
- Push Press
- Leg Press
- Bench Press
Relative Resistance/Body Weight Compound Exercises
- Push Up
- Chin Ups/Assisted Chin ups
- Incline Chin Up (Lower a weight training bar on a Smith machine to hip height. Lying underneath, grip the bar in an over grasp grip, place feet on a bench. Shoulders should be in line with hips in line with heels.)
You should also move into some kinetic link exercises. Examples of kinetic link exercises (compound exercises linked together) include:
- Clean and Press
- Lunge and shoulder press (plate weight held in hands or bar in front)
- Curl and press
- Super slow Burpee (squat down, one foot back, other foot back, push up, foot forward, foot forward then stand up)
- Squat and calf raise
- One arm Lawnmower Row (cable or band)
- Cable Punch (cable or band)
- Climbing machine or rope climb
- Sit up and chest press
You mentioned that your client "loves to mix things up and is easily bored," so variety is the key. Here are a few circuit examples that can be used with the above exercises.
- Five to eight exercises. Pyramid down from 20 to 15 reps (first lap of all exercises = 20 reps, second lap of all exercises = 19 reps -> sixth lap of all exercises = 15 reps). He must complete the number of reps, with a recovery if needed, before moving to the next exercise. Laps or the complete session can be timed with a goal to get quicker with the same loads. Time can also be pyramided up or down (both duration and recovery).
- 100 reps (or individual targets for each exercise). He must keep working with as many rests as needed to complete the target number of reps before moving to the next exercise. Time each exercise or the complete session with a goal to get quicker with the same loads.
- Several mini-circuits of three to four exercises can be completed (e.g., three laps of exercises one to three, then start a new circuit and do three laps of exercises four to six and then again for exercises seven to nine). Finish with a single circuit of all nine exercises.
- Add a short intense aerobic burst between exercise changes (cycling if he prefers).
- Do a barbarian-styled circuit where there is no pre-meditation. Label 20 playing cards with different exercises and get him to draw one at a time and complete the nominated exercise.
You mentioned he would welcome plyometrics. While most advocates agree that at least one year of solid strength training is required before serious plyometric training, lighter forms of plyometrics with low loads and reps focusing on speed may be suitable (e.g., single leg hop in a box pattern, light and low bounds, etc) progressing as able (depending on previous training levels).
And now for the program… as can be expected, it is difficult to write a program without knowing the client and his circumstances (e.g., Does he train AM or PM? How long can he train for? What equipment is available? Does he have any injuries? Does he take any medications? What is his family history? Previous training history? What are his likes and dislikes?). However, some guidelines to help include:
- Higher priority muscle groups should be trained prior to lower priority ones.
- Power exercises should be employed before strength exercises.
- Evenly balanced prescription for muscle groups. This takes time and planning and is not as simple as an exercise for the front (Bench Press) and back (Lat Pull down). For example, both the Lats and Pecs are internal rotators, so some element of external rotation should be included to compensate. This can be a change of hand position.
- Choose exercises that are basic with natural movements.
- Choose effective exercise order. Be aware of the cumulative effect of fatigue (e.g., three or four abdominal exercises may impact on the trunk stability during push ups OR the loading of the erector spinae muscles in an unsupported bent over row will impact on deadlifts and squats).
- If training to high levels of muscle fatigue, ensure that the same muscles are not trained two days in a row.
- Ensure intensities vary between cardio based sessions (not all high intensity).
Monday - Cardio Cross Training
- Two km run as fast as possible
- Five km cycle as fast as possible
- One km row as fast as possible
- 200 steps as fast as possible
- Change over between equipment = recovery. No more than one minute, 70 to 80 percent PMHR using Karvonen formula. For more on Karvonen formula, click here.
Tuesday - Circuit Circuit
- Circuit One: Four times absolute resistance exercises, 150 rep challenge
- Circuit Two: Four times body weight exercises two times through with maximal effort
Wednesday - Pilates machine class
Thursday - One of two previous sessions (e.g., Bosu or Boxing)
Friday - Circuit (be aware of Thursday training)
- Four compound exercises
- Four kinetic link exercises with one minute fast cycle between changes
- Two minute hard hill cycle between circuit laps
- Two to four times through.
- Training Dose: 50 to 60 percent of one RM, active rest (cycle) between stations 20 to 25 reps.
- NOTE: Endurance reps here as true strength training is not really suitable. Therefore, use kinetic link exercises for some neural loading. The endurance reps will help keep the hypertrophy down.
Saturday - Rest or recreational activity
- Low load and effort (e.g., 60 minutes walking the dog or recreational cycle to a bakery for breakfast
Sunday - Yoga
Here is an example of what a week could look like. Some means of manipulating the loading are shown in the article titled Periodized Programs - Part 3. It also has a couple of theoretical examples of 12-week loading patterns in preparation for your client's trip to Italy.