Expand Your Limits by Trying New Activities - Fitness Made Fun

Fitness Activities

Open your horizons for the wealth of fitness

fitFLEX Articles - Learn, Share and Discover

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.


Determining your capacity and limitations with each bodypart doesn't require you to be an expert in either one to make this work for you, so don't worry about securing an authority on the subject. This approach requires consistency and diligence in deter-mining five key points while you're engaged in the activity:

» your level of endurance

» your level of strength

» your overall level of fatigue

» your physical ability to function under stress

» your mental/psychological ability to function under stress

Gym Workouts

Try a variety of different workouts for each bodypart. Since consistency is the key to understanding and solving anything, you're to engage in this method for a much longer period of time to determine what will work best for you.

Here are some guidelines: Sets and Reps: Over a two- to three-week period play around with set and rep schemes and try doing everything from low reps and sets, to trisets, stripsets, giant sets and forced reps with a partner. Really push yourself to determine where each bodypart wants to go in terms of method.

Weight Used: Try different weights, from using absolutely no resistance during some of your workouts, to doing a set of, say, 75 to 100 squats with only your bodyweight and holding onto the squat cage.

Alternative Training Methods: Once you've done a set of 75 squats, or however many you can do, try immediately using plyometric-oriented exercises such as squat-ting down and jumping upward in quick-burst motion. This is a good way to determine whether you can withstand intensity from endurance - based work during a period of fatigue. If you are able to do this, your overall capacity for that muscle group is telling you to do exercises such as supersets or trisets, nonstop, using moderate to heavy weight.

Rest Periods: Try working out with little or no rest - both within the same muscle group and alternating between similar muscle groups. This approach will help you determine your mental toughness and your general psychological state during a high-stress workout.

These are a few gym guidelines to help you discover what each bodypart responds to, and what it needs to grow or change more effectively and rapidly. Do yourself one favor though: Keep a log of all your discoveries, from the actual workout and exactly what you did that day, to how you felt and the changes you observed along the way and over time. This record will make designing your right routine much easier.

Sport-Specific Training

This is where recreational activities take up the time you'd normally spend in the gym. If nothing else, it will provide a much-needed mental break from your everyday gym routine and can psychologically rejuvenate you.

Many people I know play some type of sport - usually for fun - well into adulthood. It may be basketball, tennis, swimming, cycling or kayaking. Next time a friend calls you and says, "Let's go kayaking" or whatever, you should say "yes." You're going to learn an awful lot about yourself (whether you want to or not).

Here are some activities that may help you better understand how each muscle group responds to stimulus in a different way than you ever imagined:

Kayaking / Rowing: Determines how your shoulders and back respond to high repetitions, high intensity and little or no rest. Swimming: Gives you a good idea of how much endurance those upper-body muscles have at their disposal at one time. Swimming uses back, chest, shoulders, arms and legs. Hint: Check out which are your strongest strokes and break them down to see what muscle groups they utilize.

Cycling: I like to tell people to try cycling with both a mountain bike and a road-type bike because each is different. Both test your quads, hamstrings and calves, but road bikes also stress the low back, give you an indication of your fitness level in that area, and tell you whether you have the low back for them. Mountain bikes have much stiffer frames and are designed for less speed and more hard knocks. They aren't designed for distance, but try taking one for a 10-mile ride on trails and hills and see how well your body holds up. Check out how your quads and hamstrings feel at the end.

Not everyone is sufficiently fit to tackle these activities and do them well enough to make some of these determinations. However, if you're working out regularly, and doing even a little cardio, you can still see how repetitive motion affects your muscles. Try serving a bucket of tennis balls, hitting some golf balls at the driving range, or shooting basketballs all afternoon. If you can withstand these activities, you may be able to bump up the overall intensity of your workout for the bodyparts represented in the sporting activities you choose. That, coupled with a thorough gym assessment can be a great meter for future workouts.

Bottom line: To get results, modify your workouts to fit your individual bodypart requirements. You are not built the same as other people, so don't expect to use the exact same workout. Yet, to really unearth what works and what doesn't, you must push yourself past your present capacity. Limitations happen in the mind first, and then translate to body restriction or freedom. It's your choice. If you're really trying to discover new methods for training each individual muscle group, you must take yourself beyond what you've been doing.

Related Articles