Friday 6 July 2012

What Training Should Really Feel Like

Today almost everyone evaluates the effectiveness of their training by how they felt during their workout experience. "Wow, I'm spent - what a workout!", "My abs are on fire - what a workout", "I just about puked - what an almost perfect workout!", "I'm sweating like crazy, that was intense - what a workout!" Generally, I'm not a fan of this. I think training should be evaluated on the tangible results it produces, not the feeling. However, feeling can be used in addition to measurable results - IF you know what proper training should feel like for specific goals.

Here is a list of popular athletic and fitness goals, how progress should be measured and what proper training for the particular goal should feel like if you actually want to achieve that goal.

Fat loss training
Measurement: girth measurements, body composition (i.e. body fat percentage), body weight (only in conjunction with the other measurements)
Proper feeling: exercise that produces lactic acid can increase growth hormone production and aid in fat loss. Therefore, you will often "feel the burn" when doing fat loss programs. Because creating EPOC can be helpful for fat loss, being out of breath ca often also be a part of fat loss training.

Hypertrophy training
Measurement: girth measurements, body composition (i.e. body fat percentage), body weight (only in conjunction with the other measurements)
Proper feeling: hypertrophy training requires heavy weight (though usually not quite as heavy as pure strength gains) with sufficient volume (adding more reps, sets and/or exercises than strength training). As a result, hypertrophy training will leave you tired. Also, if you are doing higher rep sets, you may feel the burning results of lactic acid. Hypertrophy training will also often leave you with a pump. However, the pump does not guarantee actual muscle hypertrophy.

Endurance training & conditioning
Measurement: performance in relevant physical tests (e.g. # of push-ups/chin-ups, run times, etc)
Proper feeling: endurance training is about teaching your body to keep going and push past its current capacity. Therefore, it will be hard and exhausting. You will feel a burn, will likely be out of breath and you will be tired when you are done.

Speed & power training
Measurement: sprint times, jumping height/distance, throwing distance
Proper feeling: training for speed and power should be hard but not exhaustive. Sets should not last long enough to be in the energy system (glycolosis) that produces a burning feeling. This type of training is not about isolating a particular muscle, but teaming up a group of muscles so you will rarely "feel it" in one particular spot. You should not be exhausted but actually feel fairly fresh when you are done.

Strength training
Measurement: amount of weight you can lift with proper form on big lifts (e.g. squats, deadlifts, presses)
Proper feeling: strength trainig should feel hard. Once you have proper form nailed down, if you find it easy, you are not lifting enough weight (add more weight not more reps or exercises to make it appropriately harder). The goal is not to try to target a particular muscle, but to team up as many muscles as possible to do a movement. The goal is to teach your body how to harness and express its strength in a short bout - not to drag out activity. However, with proper strength training, the reps and volume are low enough that you should not be wasted when you are done. This is especially true for athletes (and especially those who are in-season) as creating too much exhaustion can take away from their sport performance. Do not worry if the workouts feel less tiring than other goals (that can actually be good for strength training). Besides not getting injured, the only thing that really matters is progressively adding weight to the bar while maintaining proper form.
Measurment: winning, personal records, etc
Proper feeling: competition is where you put it all on the line, give it all you've got and finish feeling spent without being stupid and unnecessarly risking injury. Note: the level you push yourself should be related to the seriousness of the competition (e.g. NFL Superbowl vs. backyard flag football). For the non-athlete, it can sometimes be fun to (without being stupid) test yourself every once in a while to see where you are at.

Health & well-being
Measurement: many things can be used here such as: blood profile, blood pressure, resting heart rate, joint discomfort, lack of aches and pains, injury stats, results from Dr's physical, energy level (give it a rating on a 1-10 scale - should be at least an 8+ consistently), emotional health (again it is subjective, but you can use a scale of 1-10), etc...
Proper feeling: training for pure health should feel a lot easier on the body and far more gentle than performance based training. It should feel good during and afterward. 

Final Thoughts
Over or under-complicating training are both problematic. It is important to follow a good program and to train hard. Many people fail to make good results because they will not push themselves hard enough. However, do not just assume that because you got smoked  you had a productive training session. Anything  can make someone tired. However, don't just train to get tired - train to get better!

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