By Christopher Pregony, BS, CSCS
Do you want to be strong? Lean? Have bulging muscles? Or maybe your goal is to achieve all three! Ever since exercise has made its way to the laboratory, researchers have been dissecting these questions to make our lives easier. We now know what movements to do, how long to do them, how long to rest and even how hard to work to achieve our different fitness goals, all thanks to exercise science. The American Heart Association recommends 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise three to four times a week, but this is just a baseline for general health. To get the body that most of us want takes more effort!
Hypertrophy is a fancy word for muscle growth. It involves increasing the size of the muscle cell. To achieve this requires exhaustion of the muscle. One of my favorite programs is called German Volume Training (GVT). GVT has been around since the ’70s, but has gained popularity in recent years. It involves training large muscle groups such as legs, core, chest and back. It is important to know your one-rep max, or 1RM for short. This is the most weight you can handle for one repetition. You should never calculate this alone. You do not just want to estimate what you think it may be and work off of that number.
The set and rep schemes typically call for 10 sets of 10 reps followed by 60–90 seconds of rest, operating at around 60–70 percent of your one-rep max. A recent study showed that you could even get results with just five sets of 10 reps! The approach is to alternate muscle groups one right after the other, then rest after you have done a round of both. After you have completed your five sets of each, you move on to accessory exercises. These accessory exercises work the same muscle groups, but you only do three sets of 10 reps and have longer rest period. This program should last four to six weeks, increasing the percentage of 1RM as you get stronger. You would only do this routine two times a week. I like to combine this with a cardio plan to help lean out while I build muscle. Each workout typically takes about an hour to complete.
Lean and mean
For those of us who are short on time but want big results, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the way to go. These workouts usually take about 30 minutes and combine weights with cardio to help burn fat and tone up at the same time. Although these workouts take half the time as GVT, they are more difficult to do. There is very little rest time, and most of that time is spent trying to catch your breath. Bringing your heart rate up very high then letting it come down right before bringing it back up again forces your body into excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC). Studies show that this causes your body to burn calories long after you have finished your workout. I would recommend three days a week of HIIT for those trying to get lean.
Strong as an ox
While hypertrophy exercises increase the size of the muscle, strength exercises focus on how much weight someone can move. This is why someone can have big muscles and not necessarily be strong and vice versa. To me, strength is the easiest of the four types of workouts discussed. It involves short bouts of effort followed by long periods of rest. The reps are usually in the three to five rep range and the sets can vary from two to six. Some programs will have you rest up to 5 minutes in between sets for maximum recovery. You should operate at at least 85 percent of your 1RM. The heavier loads force your body to adapt and get stronger. Typically you only train one muscle group a day. This means you can do a different group about five days out of the week.
Aerobic exercise involves working the cardiovascular system. Running, swimming and biking all fall into this category. Your body can usually deal with the demands of cardio on a more consistent basis as long as you alternate the forms of cardio you do. For example, if you were to run long distances every day of the week, it would only be a matter of time before you sustained an overuse injury. However, if you can alternate between multiple forms of cardio, your body should be able to hold up just fine. Most people like to start with running since it does not involve any equipment and is intuitive. It is always best to walk before you run, so to speak. Start slow by running for short periods of time followed by walking.
Cardiovascular exercise is a great way to stay in shape. It will not build muscle, but it will create a caloric deficit allowing you to lose weight.
I like to cycle my workout plans every six weeks. That means I do hypertrophy, strength, HIIT and then cardio. Then I cycle all over again. This keeps my susceptibility to injury lower and keeps my mind and motivation fresh.
Sample Week: GVT
Legs and Core
Squats – Five sets of 10 reps at 60 percent 1RM
Hanging leg raises – Five sets of 10 reps
60–90 seconds of rest
Lunges – Three sets of 10 reps per leg
Russian twists – Three sets of 10 reps per side
Chest and Back
Bench press – Five sets of 10 reps at 60 percent 1RM
Lateral pull down – Five sets of 10 reps at 60 percent 1RM
Incline bench press – Three sets of 10 reps at 70 percent 1RM
Dumbbell row: Three sets of 10 reps per side at 70 percent 1RM