I get asked this a lot and figured I’d take a stab at answering this common question for you all out there who maybe reading this and curious of the same thing.
Usually this question is followed up with, "I was thinking I would just do some cardio for the first few weeks, and maybe some crunches, and a nautilus machine or two. Ya know, just till I get my lungs back." Sound familiar?
My answer to this question is almost never, "Yeah, you should just do cardio/abs/machines."
We’ve all seen people on the same pieces of cardio equipment at our gyms, reading a book, watching TV, and just generally "zoning out". While it's awesome that they are in here doing something and working up a little sweat, I’d wager a guess that when they joined the gym, their goal was not to "just do something" or "zone out".
They probably had bigger aspirations, but nobody ever really helped them come up with a plan, so they chose something located right as you walk onto the fitness floor of the gym that was easy to use, and never left.
I think most of us tend to follow the path of least resistance, and exercise is no different. Cardio equipment and nautilus machines fit right into that equation. It’s not that this stuff doesn’t belong in a workout program, I just haven’t been solidly convinced that they belong in every beginners routine.
Instead, lets start by really building a solid fitness foundation. One built on quality movement patterns not machine tracked movements, and one focused on getting you stronger.
Now, if you still really want to work on your conditioning, you can add in a little cardio at the end, or play with shortening your rest time in between sets.
Note: even when adjusting your rest intervals, it is important that you leave yourself enough time to recover so that the quality of your movement is not impaired as a result of this shortened rest period. A little burning in the lungs = ok, a lack of ability to perform the exercises rep after rep exactly the same = recipe for disaster.
When I work with someone either just getting back into the gym, or someone who is brand new to working out, I generally like to set up their program for the first few weeks with the same/very similar movements each and every workout, and I take a pretty minimalistic approach to it as well.
These movement patterns are:
My reasoning behind this program set-up is that most of us need repetition upon repetition to get to the point where these movements become natural to us again.
At first this might seem like a pretty basic list of movements, but you’d be amazed at how often people butcher almost all of these.
A big part of the reasoning we are so god awful at these has to do with what our daily routines look like. Ask yourself, "How often am I sitting in a chair slouched over my desk staring at my computer screen?" Chances are, you probably look like that right now as you read this, haha. The point is, that this stagnation seriously impairs our ability to move through these movement patterns, and if you add different planes of movement to the equation, it really gets tricky.
Knowing this, we need as much exposure to the movements listed above as possible so we can become decent at them again, and begin to create a strong foundation which we can then build upon later down the road.
Here is an example of what one of the workouts in a clients beginning program might look like:
1.) Goblet Squat - 4 x 8
2.) Standing Cable Row - 4 x 6-8
3.) Hip Thrusts - 3 x 12 (once the movement looks good, we begin to load it, but never before that.)
4.) Push-Ups - 3 x 80% of max reps (I like to make sure my client has one or two more in the tank, so that proper form can still be maintained.)
5.) Farmer’s Walk - 3 x 30 yds
(Note: if you are unfamiliar any of these exercises but want to work them into your program, please check out my resources page as there are multiple links to sites which will give explanation of the exercises and even video.)
It’s not flashy or anything like that, but it sure is effective as long as the quality of each movement is optimal.
Once this foundation has been built for you, a few things are probably going to happen: you will start to feel/look way better, you will become stronger, and your overall athletic ability will improve (not that you are trying to become some high caliber athlete necessarily).
From there it becomes much easier to progress your workout program and cater it to some specific goals you may have, but not before.
Follow this basic idea if you’re starting back up and trying to just improve your general fitness level, and I promise you that you’ll be on track to success.