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There are so many different ways to train your body. Resistance exercise is certainly the most popular, but you can vary
your program both anaerobically and aerobically with cross-training methods.
Everybody who has trained with weights for any period longer than a year knows that what worked on the first day doesn't always produce the same results on the 365th day. By changing your exercise routine to accommodate what your body has become accustomed to, you may easily avoid or overcome a plateau. The more experienced weight trainer must use a well-planned program to get past sticking points.
We usually think of training hard and heavy to build lean muscle mass, but many variations that are often overlooked can produce the same result. Varying the number of days per week that you work out or changing your set and rep schemes can markedly affect your muscle gain or loss. Either training heavy with low repetitions or lighter with higher repetitions can increase muscle growth.
I want to compare the benefits of various types of resistance and cross-training exercise. Many untapped sources are out there for the taking if you know where to find them and how to make them work for you - from plyometrics to circuit training, sprinting, obstacle-course work and weights.
Resistance training is probably what you are most familiar with and what you do most often. People generally think of resistance training as a strictly anaerobic activity designed to build muscle, but there are benefits to training both aerobically and anaerobically in the same session.
The theories behind resistance training in the anaerobic form have been the mainstay of bodybuilding for nearly a century. Early strongmen hoisted weight in clean-and-jerk fashion to create the Johnny Weissmuller look. Even in Arnold's day bodybuilders believed only in using heavy weights to build size and diet to create definition. Of course, heavy weight training is essential at some point in a bodybuilder's career, as is dieting.
Circuit training is a great method for building muscle as well as creating deep separation and a leaner appearance. By moving quickly from one exercise to the next, one machine to the next, or simply by taking little or no rest in a series of sets, a person can greatly affect the size, contour and definition of a particular muscle group. I don't suggest that a bodybuilder engage in this kind of training all the time. However, by doing circuit training close to a contest, or occasionally in the off-season, a body builder can cut down on the amount of preparation time necessary to get ripped. Many people think of this kind of training as super setting or giant setting - and it is in many ways - but circuit training is normally associated with the use of machines as opposed to free weights.
Circuit training can be done either by using a high rep scheme and doing fewer exercises, or by including more exercises with fewer reps per set. In either case it is a fast-paced type of training that combines anaerobic and aerobic work. Doing this kind of exercise allows a person to stimulate both red and white (fast-twitch and slow-twitch) muscle fibers. For some it eliminates the need to do a lot of cardiovascular work in a precontest phase because the aerobic activity is already present. I recommend circuit training on a regular basis to people who wish to get into good shape, but don't desire to compete in bodybuilding. I also recommend it to bodybuilders in the final phase of training for a contest.
Another way to alter your regular weight workout to incorporate both anaerobic and aerobic training is to use a method called plyometrics. This approach is primarily for the lower body - legs and glutes - though plyometrics includes exercise for the upper body as well. Plyometrics incorporates quick-burst (anaerobic) with high-rep, high-intensity (aerobic) work. I have seen tremendous growth happen for people using plyometrics, though it is a somewhat advanced method of training.
I will use the squat as an example. Because plyometrics involves quick-burst strength moves along with repetitive motion, it is ideal for precontest training. Before doing a set of squats, you coil the body low and spring-jump on and off a platform in quick movements that allow for a full range of motion. Then, without any rest, you go right to a very low-weight, high-intensity, high-repetition squat workout that also involves a complete range of motion. I suggest that when first attempting this method, you use no weight on the squat bar at all. If you think it sounds easy, I can assure you it isn't.
Amending regular weight workouts with other forms of strength-based movement seems to be the wave of the future. Lately I have seen many athletes applying their vast knowledge of training in the gym to other areas of what would be considered cross-training. For instance, one prominent fitness competitor I know has completely abandoned weight training for sprinting, distance running, gymnastics and dance. And guess what? She's as round, shapely and muscular as she was while still training with weights She has retained her muscularity, and has improved her shape by combining aerobic and anaerobic forms of training.
This woman has a good base of resistance-trained muscle built up on her body, and only seeks to maintain and improve what she has. By practicing the strength moves found in gymnastics, as well as the quick-burst power movements associated with sprinting, she has satisfied her anaerobic needs. By including dance and distance running, she is taking care of her aerobic needs. All these activities overlap, to combine aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Sprinting was almost designed for the bodybuilder because it tends to shape the body into something much better than what isolated weight training can do in individual body- part training sessions. Its primary capability is to build a tremendous amount of muscle in the lower half of the body. Utilizing dynamic, quick-burst movements, similar to what is accomplished in the squat, is another way to alter your training to promote muscle hypertrophy. I'm not suggesting that a competitive bodybuilder should sprint solely for his lower-body work, but I am suggesting that it is a good ancillary workout to the typical leg routine.
Now, don't head for the door of the gym, tear your membership card into little pieces, and start sprinting toward home. That's merely an example of how combining anaerobic and aerobic training can have the same effect and often can produce an even better result than simply training heavy. The point is, whatever helps you achieve muscle hyper trophy, while keeping your bodyfat low, has to be preferable to the old-school idea of bulking up in the off-season only to lose most of that hard-earned muscle along with the bodyfat when you train down.
Another way of combining aerobic and anaerobic work is cycling. Cycling seems to be gaining in popularity advancing from a stationary bicycle in the gym to the great outdoors. Aside from the fact that the scenery is much better on the outside, actually cycling on a piece of equipment that moves is more challenging, and allows for many more variations of intensity and possibilities for fitness than the simulated hills on a stationary bike. Cycling can he either anaerobic or aerobic, depending on distance, terrain, gearing, effort and type of equipment. It is an excellent form of cross- training to be used alongside resistance training.
Finally I want to deal with obstacle-course work. Finding an obstacle course maybe the real challenge here, but I know of a great many fitness competitors who either create their own or actively seek one out. It is perhaps the most obscure of the types of combined anaerobic and aerobic work; however, it is a great method of building strength and endurance. Whether climbing a wall, sprinting through a set of tires, running to the next station, hoisting yourself over an obstacle, climbing a rope, or suspending the body by the aims on a set of bars or rings, an obstacle course provides one of the best cross-training tools available.
Many different types of cross-training help create a harder, leaner, more conditioned appearance. Cross-training is becoming popular as a method of conditioning the body while building muscle at the same time. In my book there are two kinds of physiques - the genetically gifted and the self-made. Most of us fall into the latter category but sometimes reach greater heights than those more gifted. Let's face it. Even the genetic freak has to do some form of training to be recognized as genetically gifted in his or her sport of choice. He, too, must take his body to the next level because he is given only the precious material to work with, not the end result.
No matter what your parents gave you in the way of genes and chromosomes, you still have to do something on your end to make it all come together. Some of you require more work, and some of you require less work, but working smart is the only way to go. It isn't always easy to work smart, but you'd be expending pretty much the same amount of energy by working without thought. Cross-training is an approach that many have yet to take advantage of in their regular workouts. Try it sometime, and watch your physique go from good to great.