“The only constant in life is change.”
That may be true, in general, but it is not always so when it comes to working out. Most of us stick to what we know when it comes to exercise. You know, our comfort zone, the standard 45 minutes of machine cardio, the three-day splits for weights. We like it because we know what to do, how long it will take, and we assume that the repetition will yield gains (or reductions, depending on goals).
Alas, we are wrong. Science now shows the body is much more adaptable to routines. That means that the body starts working less hard asap because it is designed to conserve energy. When that happens, it stops tearing muscle fibers and burning calories, results diminish, and we start having diminishing returns on our efforts.
But, there is good news! The way to defeat this is often not by doing more, but by doing less – in terms of duration, anyway. Turns out, when the body tries something new, the learning curve makes it fire and burn more, yielding quicker results. We also know that using whole body moves and routines, increase yield even more so. Add to that, the data suggesting that interval work (alternating spikes and rest periods during cardio or lifting) actually send the body on a fat-burning-frenzy lasting hours after the workout ends. So, you can get more out of a workout in less time, and the benefits will last much longer than your typical workout.
Sounds too good to be true. I thought so too, until I tried it out.
For Men’s Health Magazine, I started trying new routines every month or so to see if I could accelerate gains, while also cutting down in the length and frequency of workouts. And it worked! As long as you keep your body guessing (read: try new stuff every so often) you will out gain the person who is plodding through the same old cardio and weight slog.
Out of the box I tried a Thai-boxing workout, not because I wanted to get my ass beat, but because I wanted to whup my ass into shape. The mix of dynamic cardio, striking, and sparring was new and challenging and it worked. As a guy who already had a solid base of muscle and fitness, I saw my body change from the new routine. Stronger core, less fat. Here is the story.
The theory worked so well that we started shooting video of my often painful introductions to “what’s next.” The first clip was really outside the box for me. I went a benefit and there was a dance recital, and I was ready for a good nap, when these big, ripped guys, who resembled NFL defensive backs in leotards came bounding on stage. Alvin Ailey Dancers. No joke. I reached out to Glen Sims, the lead, for a look at how they get so damn big and flexible.
Upper-body power comes from traditional weight work, but those springs and abs got some extra work: the Horton Technique, their daily 45-minute “length is strength” routine that emphasizes all the assistive muscles in the legs. Think Jane Fonda’s floor moves with super intensity. The best proof: Sims has not suffered an injury in 15 years of performances. Guys out there probably wince at the idea of doing stretching as a repetitive part of a workout, but in four weeks, I had more definition in my legs, a “stronger for longer” core, more lunge power and spring on the court – not to mention I could get all my fingers on the floor when stretching hammys. At least, you will take solace in watching my struggle. Surely you can better than this.
Our last offering for now was my trip to Peak Performance in NYC. Joe Dowdell knows his fitness science, and has melded what we know about full body workouts and the benefits of disrupting the body’s expectations for exertion (muscle confusion, increased metabolic stimulation, and a bunch of other science-y stuff). But what makes Joe different and cool is that he has adapted those principles to old-school, strong-man type activities. It makes for a really different workout. Pushing a weighted sled, snapping cruise line-sized ropes, throwing a medicine ball, carrying dead weight – it all sounds old-school, and it is.
There’s a unique feeling of power when doing these ostensibly primitive movements, and yet the pace and form employed burns you in a way that is motivated by the latest in fitness expertise.
The result is that Joe, with burst-style, shorter workouts, gets you to train at “Peak Performance.” Watch me wither.
What should Chris try next? Pilates? Parkour? We are looking to make him the Mike Rowe of workouts… what’s the toughest stuff you can toss his way? Let us know what you think! Comment below this blog to give feedback.