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Outdoor activities are a great way to keep fit and learn about yourself. Your home and the surrounding area are filled with a variety of recreational opportunities waiting to be explored. The reason
I mention this fact is that I'm reminded of a story involving a trainee.
She came in on a Monday and told me she had been kayaking all weekend. She had never been before, and I assumed, since she had been out in the channel for the entire day, her up- per body might be sore from all the paddling. I figured I should take it easy on her because her shoulders were not accustomed to being used in this manner. I was surprised when she said, "No, Charles, I'm not sore one bit!"
Like all my clients who take their workouts seriously, she'd made serious improvements in the gym, but she still didn't have great endurance or anything that resembled perfect muscle conditioning. I said to her, "Oh, well, if you're not sore today, you sure will be by tomorrow." Two days later she appeared for her next workout, and I asked how her shoulders and back were feeling.
"Just fine. Not sore at all. Believe me, I expected to be sore too, but I'm not. In fact, when I was paddling and rowing and straining, I thought my shoulders were going to fall off. Then I hit this place where I felt as though I could keep going forever! I just never thought my upper body was that strong or capable before."
I began thinking, 'How could this woman who was in moderate shape, but not anywhere near the muscular condition of a bodybuilder or fitness athlete, paddle for hours and not be sore afterward?' The answer eventually came to me. While this isn't a new concept, it's an idea many trainers and athletes overlook when training with weights or playing sports. In endurance and in speed or power events, each muscle group is different from the next in the way it responds, grows and changes. Training our bodies as though each part responds the same is just plain stupid.
People talk about routines that are power based and categorically require high or low reps, or employ heavy or light weights for several reasons: 1) Uniformity is the easiest way to keep track of progression and your stage of development. 2) Simplicity is a virtue in training and elsewhere. 3) No one ever takes the time to talk about the vast differences between bodyparts, how they respond and what stimulus or method is best. In reality some bodyparts can withstand incredible workloads (long in duration and pace), while other adjacent bodyparts may not be able to endure the same intensity for more than a few seconds.
The problem many of us face is, we never find what's right for each individual body-part because we're too busy listening to the current bodybuilding dogma and all the recycled, regurgitated crap that continues to circulate with each passing year. Don't get me wrong. When something works it merits mentioning. Some published material is valuable, no matter how many times it's restated. Remember, though, not all the information out there will pertain to your individual needs. For newcomers many bodybuilding approaches work, but for the more sophisticated trainer - the person who has higher aspirations and has long since surpassed the potential contained in popular training articles - more depth is crucial.
Okay, you probably do have one bodypart that responds to nearly anything. But then you have the rest of your body. How do you find what works for each of those groups? Some appear to be occasional responders and some may seem like total nonresponders. Is this really the case? Maybe not.
For instance, my client never knew she had the ability to row for hours on end over the course of a whole day. She never imagined that was possible because neither of us ever placed her in that sort of situation. She had always been rather timid about the intensity portion of any upper-body workout, and probably always believed she couldn't hack anything past the initial burn. I believe this mindset is related to our conditioning in the gym. We have become so psychologically accustomed to breaking our routines up into sets and reps that we won't go beyond what we've been told is adequate or too much.
In the case of my client paddling provides some resistance, but it is different from moving 25 pounds with each arm on each stroke. While this may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, it gives you an idea of how impressive her endurance is. Any resistance employed over the course of several hours can be impossible for some people. For her it wasn't, and I'm glad she found out. She might never have discovered her new limits had she never ventured outside the gym. This newfound knowledge also gave us a good indication of how to proceed with her workouts.
My point is this: Just because general workout guidelines make a recommendation (e.g., squats 4 sets, 8 to 10 repetitions, 3 minutes' rest time between sets, twice weekly), this doesn't mean it's the right routine for you. Unless you're experienced, it's difficult to know what to do. The best anyone can do is find out her individual bodypart capacity. That means putting each bodypart through rigors in the gym and through the paces of other sports. Find activities that make you weak in the knees, and others that make you feel like Tarzan beating his chest. This way you can determine what's best for your body. After all, stopping at a total of 10 to 12 sets of 8 reps in a shoulder workout - when your shoulders can and will take much more punishment - is selling both you and your body-building or strength-building short, particularly if you aspire to compete.
When I was competing, I discovered my upper body could take enormous amounts of abuse in the gym. If I didn't train hard in conjunction with a sound diet, I just wouldn't get the definition I needed or keep any size. On the other hand, when I used supersets, trisets and giant sets, along with moderate to heavy weight, I found all these problems naturally worked themselves out.
Now let's consider actual problem areas and not just failing to reach your potential in one bodypart. Problem areas may still be problem areas even when you discover what works. Much of that has to do with the gamble that is genetics, the gamble that is. While you may never iron out every problem, take a look at what you're doing and try something different. Chances are, you'll discover your current routine isn't going to ever produce the results you want. Thinking differently or trying a new approach will cause you to choose options you thought were previously forbidden for that bodypart.
For example, many people say the number of sets and intensity level you use is largely determined by the overall size of the muscle group you're training. In reality, everyone's body responds differently to the stresses of a given workout. While the standard plan of 20 sets total, five exercises, 8 reps, three minutes' rest between sets, and training twice a week may work well for one person, it is miserable for another. Keep in mind that a single muscle group contained on the same person may respond differently according to changing body chemistry, conditioning, sleep and food.
Some people subscribe to the theory, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" and they are basically correct. However, tweaking and manipulating exercises is absolutely necessary as your body grows and changes. What once worked for you in a biceps routine may not work for you now simply because both your body's mechanics and shape have changed as you've grown and developed. Structure may remain constant, but development is constantly changing. Those changes sometimes alter the rules of how to work out.
You can determine what's best for each bodypart by going through a period of testing. Do this as part of your regular workout schedule, or take some time out to really mull it over. I recommend a twofold approach.