January 29 , 2011
If I were to ask you to give an example of a person whose physique you would like to have, what would your answer be? Some answers that I’ve received include basketball player Lebron James, sprinter Donovan Bailey, UFC fighter George St. Pierre, and football player Terrel Owens. Now, think what common characteristic these individuals share?
They’re all athletes.
It may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but the majority of professional athletes have amazingly sculpted physiques: strong chests and backs, broad shoulders, well toned arms, chiseled abs, and most importantly, the low body fat percentages required to show it all off. This correlation between being an athlete and having a beach-ready physique leads me to reveal my personal philosophy regarding training and exercise; “If you train like an athlete, you will look like an athlete”.
For several years, I have had the privilege of working out at a gym that happens to train several professional hockey players in the NHL including Brendan Morrison, Kyle Turris, Darcy Hordichuk, and Kenndal McArdle, as well as several major and world junior hockey players hoping to make it to the pros. Watching them train day after day, and seeing they’re impressive in person led me to believe that they were onto something regarding their training modalities. More specifically, I took notice of how these high-level athletes shared common characteristics in their training. They all trained with functionality and with intensity!
Athletes train for sport specificity and functionality. This means that the exercises the athletes perform mimic the movements that occur in the sport that they play. Typically, such exercises involve full body movements that involve multiple joints. This therefore challenges several muscles at once thereby building more muscle mass, all the while burning more calories as well. How many sports can you think of involve isolated movements such as bicep curls, lateral raises, or seated leg extensions? Similarly, how many sports involve being supine on your back crunching away with your abs? Zero. Alternatively, how may sports involve a movement that resembles a squat, or require you to lift your arms over your head as in a shoulder press, or push yourself up off of the ground after getting knocked down as in a pushup, or use your core to twist and control your body while standing? Several!
When athletes train, they are intense! This means no sitting on the bike reading a book, walking/jogging on the treadmill while talking on the phone, or sitting and chatting with a friend idly between sets. If you’re guilty of these common gym behaviors, you’re taking the unnecessarily long route to your fitness goals. In contrast, a hockey player may train with maximum intensity for 30 – 45 seconds, then take a short rest before repeating the all-out effort multiple times in an attempt to mimic the short, intense shifts that occur in hockey. Similarly, a football player may goall out pushing a weighted sled for a mere five seconds, because this is the length of an average football play. Or, a basketball player may do explosive jumps to help improve their jump shooting, rebounding, or dunking.
Anaerobic Exercise and Oxygen Debt
This ties in with another thing that these aforementioned sports have in common; they’re all anaerobic sports, meaning they all involve short intense bursts of activity, followed by short periods of rest. This is opposed to aerobic endurance sports that require the athletes sustain a low to moderate intensity level for an hour or more. Put your hand up if you would like to have the body of an Olympic marathon runner. Anybody? I didn’t think so.
As we touched upon in previous blogs, anaerobic exercise is the best way to “burn fat” (it actually uses carbohydrates for fuel, but that’s another story), and it is the best way to get the body you want. The term “anaerobic”, means “without oxygen”. That is, your body’s demand for oxygen to fuel the exercise is greater than it’s ability to provide the oxygen. As a result, your body goes into what is called “oxygen debt”. Ever notice how after a hard sprint your heart is beating extremely hard, and your lungs are gasping for air? This is your body trying to increase the oxygen intake in order to restore the oxygen debt. Oxygen is also required to remove the lactic acid build up that only occurs with intense exercise, and your body is trying to increase the O2 in order clear the acid out. This increased heart rate and respiration takes energy (i.e. calories). As a result, this is why we say your metabolism is increased long after bouts of intense anaerobic exercise and you will burn more calories in the long run if you train this way.
So, what do we take away from all this? I’m not suggesting that you have to copy the MMA workouts you see on TV, or drink raw eggs and climb stadium stairs like Rocky, but what I do advise is that you implement the two principles of functionality and intensity, thereby training anaerobically as well. It will not only lead you towards the athletic looking beach body that you want, it will help you get there in a more timely manner than if you were to do isolation exercises and steady, slow cardio on the treadmill. Train like an athlete, look like an athlete!