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Effective Training Lessons

Iíve used the experience of doing the Graded Exercise Protocol (GXP) as a spring board to discuss how using a standard protocol and carefully monitoring your responses to it are keys to effective training. But suppose youíre not doing the GXP or a similar protocol correctly? Then youíll be learning the wrong lessons.

Hereís an example. At first it will seem simplistic. It isnít. The point of this example is at the core of effective cardiovascular and resistance training.

Recall that in the GXP you do a standard graded warm-up, a standard several to five-minute work-part at a designated workload and level of intensity, and then a graded cooldown. Thatís simple enough.

I believe thereís data to support the following point. An ideal level of intensity for the work-part of the GXP is a level just below your anaerobic threshold. Itís a challenging level with important characteristics. Using your heart rate monitor as a guide, you should be able to stay very close to your designated heart rate range for the full three to five minutes. You should be as close to a steady state as possible. If you have this down right, you donít need extensive exercise testing to figure this out. Going just slightly over your designated workload should result in a noticeably increased heart rate three to five minutes into the work part of the GXP. Therefore, you need to stay just below that level.

Here are specific points about effective training.

Letís say your predicted target heart rate is 145-150 beats/minute. At the end of several minutes, you get to 150 or possibly 148 or 152. Given day-to-day variation, thatís as close as you can get.

Now suppose toward the last minute or two of the work-part of the GXP, your heart rate is 154-158.

This means you did not perform the GXP correctly. The workload was too great for you. Youíre likely primarily in the anaerobic area of training. For many of us, training in that area does not match our goals. It also can be counterproductive because of increased stress making recovery more difficult and because there can be increased risk at higher training intensities.

The bottom-line is to perform the GXP correctly.

Now letís take this same point into resistance training. You are using 150 lbs on a machine chest press and your goal is to perform five repetitions at a 4 seconds positive and 4 seconds negative duration.

Accurate self-monitoring is harder for resistance training. You may believe thatís not the case. It seems the ultimate indicator of effort is training to failure by doing the last possible repetition for each set. But, itís really not the case. Thatís because few of us train with absolutely impeccable form that as much as possible recruits targeted muscle groups with little or no assistance from other muscle groups and momentum. We also need to do the same form for each repetition of an exercise and for each successive workout. Thatís difficult. So, with variation and less than perfect form, getting accurate feedback can be difficult.

Because of these limitations, letís assume you have a training partner closely watch how you perform your set of chest presses.

Your partner notices the following. The first two repetitions are perfect. In the third repetition, you move too quickly from the negative part of the second repetition to the start of the positive part of the third repetition. This cheating makes the repetition easier by using a little momentum. The third repetition is passable, but just barely. For the fourth repetition, you move even more quickly than before from the negative part of the third repetition to the positive part of the fourth repetition. You canít quite get to the fully contracted position. For the fifth repetition, the same faults are noticeable and now you supply a little Ďbody Englishí to complete the repetition.

Accurate monitoring and feedback tells you that you can really only correctly 3 reps with 150 lbs. If your goal is to do five perfect repetitions, perhaps you should be using 140 or maybe 135.

Performing less than perfect repetitions means other muscle groups and forces are brought into play to complete the repetitions. It likely is that the force involved can be too great for your musculoskeletal system and you will get hurt. It is similar to seeing your heart rate go considerably over your target range in the GXP. Youíre not doing the protocol correctly. Your high heart rate signals danger. In the same way, careful monitoring and feedback tells you to adjust your performance and the weight you are using in resistance training.

Very close monitoring of performance, and doing it all correctly, doesnít sound very Ďheroicí. The heroic images we have are ones of people going to exhaustion in their cardiovascular training and doing whatever it takes, in whatever form, to do the last couple of repetitions in resistance training. Keep in mind that some of the images you have are demonstrations of the limits of performance and are not images of safe productive training. The images you want to keep in mind feature perfectly done repetitions to improve strength and body composition.