Our founder, Michael Leger, has been an athlete for several decades as a bicyclist, runner and martial artist. He has tried a wide variety of strength and distance training techniques. What follows here is a personal take based on that experience. As with all of our educational materials, please consult with your healthcare practitioner before experimenting with any descriptions here.
I'm not a big fan of going to a gym for a workout, and over the years I have developed a distaste for equipment. Simpler approaches are often better, if for no other reason than being easier to use and to actually do. I ran across a book from the Dragon Door people several years ago called 'Convict Conditioning' by Paul Wade. Yes, Paul was an actual convict and spent quite a bit of time in jail. From the quality of the book and his techniques, not to mention his strength, his time was put to good use. Paul is an advocate of body weight training - what used to be called calisthenics - and has developed a great plan to take a total novice or injured athlete from couch potato to exceptional athlete, or anywhere in between.
There are six basic movements to his plan - pushups, pullups, squats, leg raises, bridges and handstands. This list might sound intimidating to some, but his method is not. For example, his first level of pushups starts like this: Stand about a foot away from a door or wall, place your hands on the door and then do a pushup in that position. Anyone is capable of executing this pushup. Most importantly, he carefully describes the proper technique for correctly executing a pushup, from this and every other position. Paying careful attention to his descriptions, you build tendons and ligaments along with the muscle, avoiding injury and laying down a foundation for long-term health. Paul has developed a method that takes full advantage of this aspect of body weight training; by properly using the weight of your body, the tendons, ligaments and muscles involved in stabilizing your weight get exercised as fully as the main muscle groups.
This process - easy to execute method, carefully explained form, clear path to greater strength - is followed throughout the book. You can start out at zero and stop anywhere along the way that suits your strength and health goals. The only issue I have is with full squats. At this point, I do not think they are necessary. The strain they put on the knee joint, if you are not starting out with great knee structure, is not worth the potential benefit. Full squats + don't occur until mid-way through the squat exercises though, and the succeeding movements can be adapted to a half-squat format.
One of the great benefits from this method of training is that 20-30 minutes a week, maybe even less, is sufficient to build great strength. I separate upper and lower body exercises. Upper body exercises take about 10 minutes to complete. It takes me 4-5 days to recover. Ditto the lower body exercises.
Convict Conditioning can be done in the comfort of home or office. The exercises require only one piece of equipment - a chinup bar, previous knowledge is unnecessary. They work. The book and exercises get my highest recommendation.
UPDATE: There is a second volume. Though an interesting read, it is not as original nor as well-structured as the first book. If you have completed all exercises in the first book, this book will take you into stratosphere in terms of physical strength. For the rest of us mere mortals, I do not recommend it.
Interval Training - Endurance, Aerobic Training
One of the biggest issues most of us encounter is the amount of time available to do things we know we're 'supposed' to do, exercise being one of them for many of us. Finding methods that provide maximum benefit in a minimum amount of time can help solve the time problem, making it easier to get the job done. Interval training can be one of these methods. The basic idea is to get in a short warmup - 3 minutes or so - then begin the intervals. Peak 8 intervals, which were popular in the late 2010's, are 20-30 seconds of maximum effort followed by 90 seconds of recovery, performed 8 times. This is followed by a 3 minute cooldown. Total training time - 20 minutes. You can choose any type of exercise you prefer that gets you to your maximum effort zone for 20-30 seconds. Bike riding, running, swimming, cross-country skiing are some easy choices.
Some people are recommending these intervals be performed 2-3 times/week. For many people that will be excessive. The most important point here is that full recovery has to happen before the next training takes place. For some people, recovery will happen in a day or two, for others in might be four or five days and in some cases, up to one week. The most important point is to be fully recovered before your next workout.
January 2012 followup:
After following the Peak 8 style of training for 3 months, I noticed the following:
- I wasn't in significantly better shape than I was when I started
- I was very tired after doing the exercise
- I was beginning to dread doing them
- My recovery from the exercise was poor
I switched to less intervals - 6 for example - and less frequent training - down to once/week - but I did not feel significantly better after making those adjustments. The big takeaway for me is that my ability to adapt to high stress is significantly compromised. I'm guessing this is might be true for many people in western society. I do not advise this type of workout for anyone who has had a significant amount of stress in their life AND who does not have an incredible ability to quickly recover from high stress.
January 2022 update:
I have switched to informal intervals. Intervals place a major stress on our recovery abilities. Running a business, especially over a longer period of time, is a major stress. Many of you likely have your own stressful situations and will be able to relate. Regularly adding high intensity exercise on top of a stressful life is counterproductive. Fortunately or unfortunately, I live in a hilly area of the Midwest. Going out for a bike ride means intervals of hill-climbing. If the spirit moves and the body is willing, I can turn a hilly hike into intervals. See the following section on Recovery for more info.
Peak 8, HIIT, Convict Conditioning, etc, etc, etc. will not work if the proper recovery from these or any other workouts is not complete. A common notion, which is being regularly dispelled, is that we get stronger from our workouts. This is incorrect. We get stronger by recovering and adapting to the stress induced during the workout.
So, the perennial question is: How hard should I workout and how often? Let's answer the second question first. You should not have a hard workout unless you feel completely refreshed from your previous workouts, especially the last hard workout you had. If in doubt, leave it out. Period.
For some people, full recovery from a hard workout can happen in a couple of days. That means that there would be one hard day followed by two easy days. This is the maximum anyone can tolerate and is the pattern that properly trained world-class athletes follow. For most of the rest of us, more recovery/easy days are probably necessary. Remember, workouts are a stress to the body. If your life is also stressful, the workout is an additional stressor. So, if your life is stressful, or you are in recovery from a stressful lifestyle, it is likely that you will require more easy days before your next hard workout.
OK, the first question: How hard is hard enough for a hard workout? Basically, you shouldn't feel like talking. When you finish, you should feel refreshed and your heart rate should come back to normal within a few minutes. If you don't feel refreshed and your HR isn't back to normal, it was too hard. If this response to training frequently occurs, you are exercising too hard. If your heart rate is still elevated in the evening or upon retiring, you are going way too hard!
Remember, recovery is where strength is built.
Feb. 2022: I came across the following quote from an article on Mercola.com, which will be taken down soon. Dr. Mercola is discussing Dr. Frank Shallenberger's work on improving mitochondrial function. Dr. Shallenberger specifically called out strength and interval training as being beneficial.
“Resistance training is really important, especially for the over 60 crowd. For lean body mass-types of reasons, for resting metabolic reasons, it's very important. But it doesn't do what classic aerobic interval training does ...For normal people, not athletes, to maintain good mitochondrial function, what you need is two 30-second intervals [where you go all-out, max exertion], followed by about four or five minutes of rest between the two, done three times a week. That’s hardly anything ... [but] it’s every bit as good as any of the harder exercise routines.”
This is a very reasonable and approachable goal - two hard intervals, three times per week.
Remember, recovery is where strength is built.
No statement on this website has been evaluated by the FDA.
Nothing on this website is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.