Saturday, May 31, 2008

Methods of Training for Improving Fitness - Part Four

High Intensity Training

During the late 1960’s, early 1970’s a gentleman by the name of Arthur Jones popularized a style of training that was a radical change from “traditional” training philosophies. Jones, who was the founder of Nautilus® exercise equipment and the Nautilus Principles (know today as High Intensity Training), observed that trainees, in particular bodybuilders; trained too frequently, used too much volume of work and lacked a level of effort to warrant increases in strength and conditioning. Jones felt that to produce the greatest physical changes an individual needed to have a high level of effort or intensity for each and every exercise. Intensity, as defined by Jones, is “one’s percentage of momentary ability.” This means an individual should perform an exercise in an “all out” effort (in good form) to gain the most benefit for the muscular and cardiorespiratory systems.

This was Jones’s viewpoint: instead of having a participant stop at a specific number of repetitions or when a certain time was achieved, he instructed each individual to continue each set until they reach “momentary muscle failure.” In using this style of training the lifter does not terminate the set because a desired number of repetitions are obtained or a certain time has been achieved. The premise behind this type of work is to stimulate the maximum number of muscle fibers within a specific muscle group. Due to the intensity of this type of workout, participants are not able to perform a great deal of exercise in any one training session. Generally, a training session would include approximately five to ten different exercises performed for one set to “failure” and involve all the major muscle groups of the hips, legs, chest, back, shoulders and arms.

Another key point with this style of training is that rest periods or recovery intervals are generally short - usually resting just long enough to move to the next exercise and adjust the resistance. As a general guideline, the most rest one should take between sets is 60-90 seconds. Of course, as your fitness level improves, strive to decrease the rest time between exercises. You could say that High Intensity Training is where the “rubber meets the road” as it is one of the most difficult forms of training and offers an extremely efficient and effective approach to developing muscular strength, hypertrophy (increased muscle mass) and cardiorespiratory fitness.

High Intensity Training is very similar to circuit training in the fact that you will perform exercises for the entire body in a single training session and move quickly through the workout - the difference being that each set is taken to momentary muscle fatigue. As a guideline, a high intensity workout can consist of as little as three sets and preferably not exceed more than fifteen total sets for one single training session. Generally, only one “all-out” set for each movement or exercise is used with limited rest periods between exercise movements.

The following workout may reflect a conventional high intensity workout using machines.

Leg Press
Leg Curl
Chest Press
Lat Pulldown
Shoulder Press
Seated Row
Calf Raise
Back Extension
Abdominal Crunch

Because Jones had created the Nautilus® machines and the Nautilus Principles (along with developing “The Nautilus Circuit”), people in the past thought that high intensity training could only be used on Nautilus equipment or other similar pieces. Obviously, that is not the case since working hard or with a high level of effort isn’t limited to specific equipment. So, if you don’t have access to machines or prefer to use the standard barbell and dumbbell; here is an example of a “free weight” based workout you can try.

Standing Overhead Press
Stiffleg Deadlift
Bicep Curl
Side Bend

When the ideas behind what constitutes a high intensity training sessions are understood - which in essence is training hard and striving for improvement on a few basic movements that encompass the entire body - the possibilities for designing a productive workout are endless. Modalities such as stones, ropes, kettlebells, sandbags, as well as body weight calisthenics can all be used to build a better body. Here is a sample workout using such “odd training” modalities.

Kettlebell Squat
Sandbag Overhead Press
Layback Row with Rope
Push Up
Stone Deadlift
Sandbag Hammer Curl
Stone Carry

Monday, May 12, 2008

Methods of Training for Improving Fitness - Part Three

Peripheral Heart Action or P.H.A.

Peripheral Heart Action or better known as PHA is a “system” that was developed by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus and brought to the forefront of the muscle world by legendary body builder and Mr. America/Mr. Universe title holder, Bob Gajda during the 1960’s. PHA was designed as an off-shoot of circuit training, with the intent being to prevent a build up of lactic acid - which is a waste product of intense muscular work or a volume of work performed for the same muscle group or area. The thought process behind PHA is this, because there is a lactic acid build-up, there are some limitations to stimulating a particular muscle or group of muscles so PHA was designed to circumvent this build up and allow for a greater volume of work to be performed in an efficient manner. PHA was adopted by many in the bodybuilding community during the 1960’s as a method of performing cardiovascular exercise to improve their health which gave the added benefit of reducing body fat while still developing strength and increasing muscle mass. Traditional PHA circuits are usually resistance type exercises (generally 4-6) that work the entire body. The key is to perform three to five “rounds” or cycles for a specific number of repetitions. Each series of exercises is arranged in such a way as to prevent blood from pooling in one specific muscle group or body area and this is accomplished generally by alternating upper and lower body exercises. The premise is to treat each muscle as a “tiny pump” used to shift blood flow from one area of the body to another, thus improving circulation and deriving a cardiovascular benefit. Another key point with PHA is that the resistance used and repetitions performed are well within one’s ability, therefore allowing for multiple rounds of exercises to be performed without the build up of lactic acid or muscular failure to occur.

Below is an example of one type of PHA workout:

Standing Overhead Press
Standing Calf Raise

As an example, each exercise would be performed for 10-12 repetitions (more or less reps if you like) with the trainee moving swiftly from one exercise to the next – resting only long enough to get to the next movement. It is very common with PHA for the resistance to be increased for each exercise after a round is completed. No sets are taken to muscular fatigue/failure and the last cycle should be challenging. This workout should last approximately 35-45 minutes - depending on your level of fitness and proximity of the exercises being used.

Of course, PHA can be very effective and convenient for the home user or less crowded gym facilities, but can be more difficult to get through in a busy commercial environment. For those situations, an alternative can be designed by using “mini cycles.” Mini cycles can consist of three movements that are close in proximity to each other and performed for three cycles. Once completed, another mini cycle of three different movements is then performed in the same fashion. A PHA workout with two mini cycles might look like this:

Standing Overhead press
Calf raise

With the second mini cycle being:


Like any other training method, PHA does not need to be performed solely with conventional equipment. There is absolutely no need to limit your options when it comes to exercise, unless of course you are performing exercises or activities that are contraindicating to your health.

The following PHA routine is based around using a sandbag as resistance.

Standing Overhead Press
Front Squat
Bent Over Row
Romanian Deadlift
Upright Row

Here is a workout using a single kettlebell or set of kettlebells. All of these exercises offer the option of using a single kettlebell at a time or both simultaneously.

Standing Overhead Press
Bicep Curl
Side Bend

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ice vs Heat

I am often asked by my clients when to apply ice and when to apply heat to an injury. Rule of thumb is: ice is always the safer bet. Generally, ice is applied when an acute injury occurs like a pull, sprain or tear, but that is not always the case. Sometimes nagging or lingering problems will require ice first to reduce inflammation prior to needing applications of heat (usually moist heat).

Most of us have heard of the RICE method but for those of you who haven't, R.I.C.E. stands for: Rest Ice Compression and Elevation and this is what I usually recommend. Rest the injured area, apply ice to the area for 15-20 minutes, allow the area to reach "room temperature" and apply a few times during the day. Compression just means to apply a little pressure to the ice pack so it's on teh injury and elevation is, well, having the area elevated so to reduce the amount of blood pumping to it to help cut back on the inflammation while you are icing it.

I don't generally recommend any OTC NSAIDS (over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen because I don't take them myself but I don't tell people not to - I just warn them of side effects and what to look for.

Now to the hot stuff. Heat is applied when an injury is chronic. You know, that nagging stiffness you have in a muscle or joint or the "here today, gone tomorrow" type pain that we get as we age. Generally, I recommend heat in these situations to loosene the area up - but only prior to an activity, then I suggest icing post-exercise/activity to reduce any inflammation.

For further reading....

Fred Fornicola