How to choose a fitness programme
Strength and conditioning coach Roland Jungwirth has been in the industry long enough to be able to spot a good programme from a bad one. For the rest of us, however, it’s not so simple.
“Exercise programming is more than just exercise selection; it needs to take your lifestyle into consideration and should be adapted accordingly. Although we can group most fitness goals into clear categories, the effectiveness of a plan to reach these goals depends on the person's current and previous lifestyle choices, and their adherence to the plan,” he says.
Here are some basic tips on how to make sure your programme isn’t only moving you in the right direction, but that it’s also safe, relevant to your goals and sustainable.
The good, the bad and the totally unnecessary
Roland says that the base of any good programme has to be a goal and, as a trainee, it’s important to define your own. Whether your goal is to lose weight, get stronger or to train for a specific event, the primary aim of your programme is that it’s designed specifically for you and your goals.
According to Roland, the basic concepts that a good programme should involve are the following:
Function over form:
Although we all want to look fantastic, in order to lead a healthy life, we need to be able to function properly. This should be your primary aim.
Make sure your programme doesn’t have a negative impact on your health. After all, reaching your goal today and then falling apart tomorrow won’t get you anywhere in the long run.
As with any endeavour, you need to give yourself a rest every now and then. A good programme is one that “periodises” the training volume in the context of your goal.
Don’t fall for a programme that requires you to push hard all the time. This is counterproductive and will come at a cost. The price will be injury, adrenal fatigue and/or health problems later in life.
Also remember that you’re in this for the long haul. Taking a week off every six to eight weeks doesn’t impede your progress; in fact, it’s necessary. As with everything in life, there’s a time to push your work output and there’s a time to rest. This also gives you the opportunity to assess your progress and reset your mind.
For the fitness enthusiast, this can be hard to understand, as many think they need their “daily fix”. We often have this mindset as we’re constantly told that any training is better than none. Depending on the context, this can be incorrect.
Improving bad joint positioning:
Approximately 90% of people sit most of the day. This may lead to bad posture, incorrect spinal alignment, tight hips and rounded shoulders. A good fitness programme will address these common bad habits through specific mobility and stability exercises.
Most of us need to work on our strength. Not only does this make us more functional with regards to daily activities, it also increases our bone density and anabolic hormone release (which keeps us younger), and brings with it a great sense of achievement.
A good programme will incorporate strength training. For example, you need to be able to lift more weight off the floor after four weeks on a programme than when you started.
Simple exercises done at relatively high intensity:
With the advent of “advanced” strength and conditioning programmes, beginners often end up doing technically advanced movements at high intensity.
Take note: If you can’t do an exercise perfectly for at least five repetitions, you won't be doing it better when you increase the speed or weight. Rather opt for simpler exercises to start off with.
Every programme needs to accommodate for unforeseen circumstances. Remember that most of us aren’t paid athletes. Your training programme needs to allow for those days when you didn’t sleep enough or when other stressors make training senseless.
How to spot a bad programme
If you’re already following a programme but you’re either not seeing results, or you’re not seeing the results you wanted to see, it might be time to take stock.
Roland outlines some tips to spot a “bad” programme:
- Any programme that leaves you constantly injured. If you’re not a professional athlete, you shouldn’t be getting regular injuries.
- A complex programme. Anyone can throw together a number of exercises and repetitions. Yes, this will get you sweaty and tired, but even this isn’t a good marker for a good programme. Go for the simple programme that helps you achieve your goals.
- Any programme that doesn’t result in measurable improvement. If you’re not getting stronger or faster, it’s time to rethink your programme.
“We’re all looking for the magic pill that will make us healthy, happy and look good naked,” Roland says. “But short-cuts can come at a cost. You need to manage the risks and assess whether the reward is worth it. Take a good look at what you’re doing and whether this has brought you any closer to your goal. If not, it’s time to change your plan of action.”
The first thing to do is to define your goal. Next, you need to find a qualified trainer to design a programme suited to your needs – one that will help you reach your goal in a safe and structured way, and within a set time frame.
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