No Time to Lift? A Quick Summary & Exercise Routines

~ 1250 words, ~6 min. reading time

I ran across this recent paper by Iversen et al. Basically, they were trying to figure out how to make a time-optimized lifting routine for people who don’t have much time to get to the gym. They have pretty good summaries of their findings, so I’m going to offer a couple quick routines for people with little to no equipment.

Routine 1: “I have dumbbells in a variety of weights (or adjustable dumbbells)” 2x per week to progress, 1x per week to maintain

This is the kind of routine I would do if I was more pressed for time than I am.

Set 1: 10 dumbbell squats (Deload rule: if the weight you choose makes it so you can’t do these, decrease the weight before the next set)

Rest 2+ minutes

Set 2: dumbbell squats, as many reps as possible, up to 20. (Deload/Progression rule: <10, decrease weight 5 lb per side for next work out. 10-11, keep weight the same for next workout, 12+, increase weight 5 lb per side for next work out, 15+, make that 10lb.)

Set 3: 20 reps of dumbbell floor press using a “rest-pause” technique. Do as many reps as possible (track reps for the first set), then pause for 20 seconds. Then, do as many as possible, pause 20 seconds, and so on, until you have a total of at least 20 reps. (Deload/Progression rule: <10 reps in first set, decrease weight 2.5 lb per side for next work out. 10-11, keep weight the same for next workout, 12+, increase weight 2.5 lb per side for next work out, 15+, make that 5lb.)

Set 4: 20 reps of one-arm dumbbell rows using rest-pause, as above (do each side separately, and start and count first set with non-dominant side).

I suspect this would take about 15 minutes to complete, maybe less. And, if it’s more convenient for you, you can break this up over 3 days – so instead of working out 2 days a week, you work out 6 days a week, but the “workout” is a single exercise that can be completed in under 5 minutes.

What if you have more time? In that case, increase the number of sets of squats (2+ min rest between), always progressing/deloading based on the last set, and increase the number of reps of the other two exercises, progressing/deloading based on the first set of those.

Reasoning: evidence is that people can generally progress with as little as 4 sets per muscle group per week. Iversen et al suggest using 3 exercises: a leg exercise (like squat), a push (like floor press), and a pull (like rows). Now, technically this looks like 4 sets of legs and 2 sets of push and 2 of pull per week. HOWEVER, Iversen et al. also cite research that using rest-pause for 20 total reps is similar to doing 5 sets of 4 (and actually might be better by some measures). Also, training TO failure instead of just “close to” failure is way easier for those of us without as much bodily awareness. If you ask me “How many more reps could you do?” I literally don’t know. It’s just something I can’t feel easily. But, I *can* feel when my body just doesn’t want to do any more – like if I can get a partial rep done but no more. Why not use rest-pause for squats? Rest-pause can be pretty intense, so it is generally not advised for “big” exercises. I’m pushing it here with the floor presses because, in my opinion, dumbbell floor presses are much safer than barbell bench presses. The reason is simple: if you fail a dumbbell press, you can drop the dumbbells on the floor. But, if you fail on a barbell press, you can end up dropping the bar on your neck, causing serious problems – maybe even killing you. So, DON’T do rest-pause for barbell bench presses. Always be aware of what happens if things go wrong. In terms of rep choices – I recommend 10 because that’s enough that warm up sets are not necessary.

Routine 2: “I have me!” 2x per week to progress, 1x per week to maintain

Suppose you have no actual equipment. Perhaps you’re just starting or you’re on vacation. Now what? I highly recommend looking at Start Bodyweight. It turns out that your body doesn’t *care* where resistance comes from. Here, I’m just boiling down based on Iversen et al’s principles.

Exercise 1: 20 bodyweight squats using a rest-pause technique – do as many as you can (pick a variation where you can do 10-20 in the first set), rest 20 sec, then do as many as you can again, etc. until you get up to 20+ total.

Exercise 2: 20 pushups using a rest-pause technique – do as many as you can (pick a variation where you can do 10-20 in the first set), rest 20 sec, then do as many as you can again, etc. until you get up to 20+ total.

Exercise 3: 20 horizontal pulls using a rest-pause technique – do as many as you can (pick a variation where you can do 10-20 in the first set), rest 20 sec, then do as many as you can again, etc. until you get up to 20+ total.

Progression: try to add a rep to the 1st set each workout. Once you get up to 20 in a single set, move up to the next variation

What if you have more time? Increase the the number of reps, or add additional exercises from Start Bodyweight.

Routine 3: “I have bands!” 2 x per week to make progress, 1 x per week for maintenance.

One of the first pieces of equipment I bought was resistance bands. They’re super cheap – you can usually get a set for $20-$30. I bought them because I wasn’t sure that I was actually going to stick with it enough to make it worthwhile to buy weights, which tend to be much pricier. (Note: I don’t have a *lot* of weights, and what I have are the least expensive I could find, but I’ve still spent about $200-$250 on them over time.) So, they’re a good first step while you’re trying to build momentum. They’re also very portable, so good for traveling.

Routine is simple: follow routine 2’s structure, doing resistance band squats, chest presses, and rows, progress using the same rules as in Routine #2.

Various Notes

(1) These routines are designed to provide SOME results with a minimal time commitment. They are NOT optimized for results.

(2) For better results: (A) add in two more types of exercises – a vertical pull (pull up for example) and a vertical push (like a shoulder press), (B) increase the number of sets. There seems to be some evidence that 4-6 sets per muscle group per workout is good, with the goal of getting 10+ sets per week. While there is some debate about this, there is some evidence that “overtraining”, at least in terms of number of sets per week, is not a real thing, as improving results have been documented all the way up to 45 sets of an exercise each week. There are, however, diminishing returns for most exercises it seems. So, while 10 sets is better than 9, the benefit of bumping from 4 to 5 is greater than bumping from 9 to 10. There is also *some* evidence that there may even be negative returns in sets per WORKOUT past a certain point. But, that’s unclear. In brief: it seems fairly clear that the best way to add sets is to spread them out over time in any case.

(3) I know there were a couple comments related to this paper that the paper published. Unfortunately, it’s the weekend and I don’t have access to the journal from home, and those comments are locked. I’ll want to check those at some point.

Another Workout Update

~ 750 words, ~4 min reading time

Some experiments just don’t work, even if they seem to make sense at the time. That was the case for my last workout update.

Turns out there were two fatal flaws in this routine:

(1) The circuit routine made me run out of breath – not like I was gasping, but breathing was placing limits on performance that were totally unrelated to strength limits.

(2) Progression was basically impossible. By grouping exercises, it meant that I could only progress on, for example, floor presses – if I ALSO progressed on rows. Of course, these two are pretty unrelated. There’s no reason for the two to progress at the same rate. Also, there was a regression bias built in – if I failed, I decreased weight. But, this applied to ALL of the exercises with the same weight.

These two ended up slaughtering my motivation, so, even though the routine was quite short, I didn’t do it consistently, and was looking for excuses not to do it.

Some current thinking:

(1) Full Body Routine is out. Doing them the way I had for quite a while takes too long. Doing it the circuit way was also not workable. Consistency was dead for both.

(2) I like the idea of a 2 day split. I hate the idea of an Upper/Lower split for a simple reason. I hate legs. I know they’re important, so I’ll include them. But, *only* legs for a day is just a way to guarantee I stop. So, “Push”-“Pull” as the basic breakdown. Each composed of 3 main exercises. Push: dumbbell squat (legs), floor press (horizontal push), overhead shoulder press (vertical push). Pull: pull ups (vertical pull), dumbbell deadlift (legs), rows (horizontal pull).

(3) After some reading, it seems that 6-8 sets per workout for a muscle group is good for most exercises. This required adding some additional isolation exercises. (Though I didn’t do this for legs for purposes of motivation.) So, I do 5-6 exercises in each routine. (Generally, “more is more” is true, but there seems to be diminishing returns that set in pretty quickly, with the potential for negative returns.)

(4) There’s some evidence that going very high volume may help if you have a muscle group that is behind. At the moment, that’s my upper arms (also forearms, but I’m focusing on upper arms first). So, I’m planning to workout both biceps and triceps every day, either as part of compound movements or isolation, for a total of up to 30-40 sets a week. So, on those areas that need particular work, use “more is more” to your advantage.

(5) Long rest times (2 min) are beneficial. So, I’m implementing those for the core compound exercises.

(6) However, there’s good evidence that drop sets (without rest!) are nearly as good as regular sets. So, I’m using drop sets for isolation work to help save on time. Basically, a drop set is one where you drop 20% of the weight and immediately do another set as much as you can. Then, drop another 20% and do it again.

(7) Each exercise will progress individually and based on performance.

(8) There’s pretty good evidence that the number of reps don’t matter that much. So, I’m going with a fairly high number of reps (10-12) so that I can skip warmups, saving time.

Details:

Push: Squats 3×10, Floor Press 4×10, Overhead Press 4×10, Flyes 4×12 (3 drops), Curls 4×12 (3 drops), Lateral Raises 4×12 (3 drops) Muscle group breakdown: upper legs – 3 sets, chest – 8 sets, shoulders – 8 sets, triceps – 8 sets, biceps – 4 sets

Pull: Pullups 5 sets – varied reps (I have a pull up program I’m following), Romanian Deadlift 3×10, Rows 3×10, Calf Raises 6×12 (5 drops), Tricep Extensions 4×12 (3 drops) Muscle group breakdown: upper legs – 3 sets, calves – 6 sets, back – 8 sets, biceps – 8 sets, triceps – 4 sets

Progression Rules:
For core exercises, do as many reps as possible on the final set, maxing at 20. For drop set exercises, AMRAP the first set. If I beat the prescribed reps by 2, increase weight 1 step (step depends on exercise). If I beat it by 5, increase weight by 2 steps.

Deload rules:
For core: if I fail on set 1 or 2, drop weight 2 steps. If I fail on set 3+, drop weight 1 step. For isolation: if I fail on set 1, drop weight 1 step.

I tried both of these routines over the past couple of days. They each take about 45 minutes. Not too terrible. Here’s hoping that I manage to adhere, and see actual progress!

Workout Update

~350 words, ~2 min reading time

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. Anyway, I just recently made a change to my workout.

Previously, I had settled – at least in principle – on a full body routine derived from lvysaur’s 4-4-8 (Google is your friend), with some extra accessories thrown in. Basically, it was 7 exercises with 5 working sets of each. The goal was to do this routine about 3 times a week.

The problem: it took 1 1/2 hours or so to complete. Since I really can’t start it until the kids are all in bed, that meant I was often starting my workout around 9 or 10pm. This made it VERY easy, especially on the evenings where I have an evening class, to just not do it. As a result, I often had weeks where I didn’t work out at all – and other weeks where it was 1 or 2 times. Way less than I had hoped.

So, I started looking around for a solution and stumbled on this: a circuit-based workout. I modified what I was doing to this (dumbbell versions of all of these):

“Heavy” exercises: floor press, squats, one-arm rows

“Light” exercises: shoulder press, tricep extensions, bicep curls

To speed things up, I do 10-15 reps of each exercise – so warming up isn’t particularly necessary. The “Heavy” exercises all use the same weight on the dumbbell, and the “Light” also all use the same weight on the dumbbell – so no need to adjust between exercises. I only rest (for 2 min) at the end of a circuit. I can do 3 circuits in under 30 minutes.

I alternate this circuit workout with a pull-up routine that takes 10-15 minutes.

This all made things much more doable. Before this change, when it was a workout night, I had to convince myself to spend an hour and a half exercising. I often failed to do that. Now, I exercise nearly every day (making it the “default”), and it’s a lot easier to talk myself into it – after all, we’re talking about a 15-30 minute commitment.

Ideal? Probably not. However, a good plan that you do follow is better than a perfect plan that you don’t.

Fitness Friday – My Current Workout and Why

~700 words, ~4 min reading time

So, it’s been a little while since I described my workout routine, and I’ve made some changes to it. So, let’s get into it.

Trait #1: Full Body Split

So, there are a number of ways to do splits – though the science seems to have come around to 2-3x a week per muscle group being the most effective. So, that basically means you want to do full body 2-3 days a week, upper-lower 4-6 days a week, or push-pull-legs 6 days a week.

I have other things to do, so that means full body 2-3 days a week.

Though the reason I switched back to this from other routines was simple: I can’t guarantee getting time to workout 4+ days a week, so if I miss a day, that pushes things way off schedule if I’m in a U/L or PPL routine. However, with a full-body routine, it can just mean that I take an extra rest day. I likely won’t end up accidentally having 5 days between training a particular body part.

Trait #2: 6 x 12 as my target set/rep scheme

The science seems to suggest that you get maximum hypertrophy (that is, muscle growth) from doing 40-70 reps over 6-10 sets in a workout for a specific body part. You can do this using one or two exercises. To minimize rest time, six sets makes sense. So, that means we should do 7-12 reps in a set. So, I target 12, and if I fall short odds are good that I’ll still get at least 7.

I also use this 40-70 rep scheme to add sets (up to a max of 10) if I do fall short. Basically, if I’m failing to hit my 12 reps per set, I continue doing sets until either I hit 40 reps total OR 10 sets total.

However, the last set is special. More on that further down

EXCEPTION: I do 3×12 as my target for squats and deadlifts. Because I hate them, and find doing more to be excessively fatiguing and terribly demotivating.

Trait #3: A/B workouts

This is the most recent change. For a while, I was just doing the same full body routine 3 days a week (ideally). But, I realized that I kind of wanted to do both rows AND pullups – both back exercises. But, I didn’t really want to do more than 6 exercises in a single workout. So, I alternate between these now:

Workout A: Dumbbell Floor Presses, Dumbbell Squats, Lateral Raises, One-Arm Dumbbell Rows, Standing Tricep Extensions (though I do a dumbbell in each hand to force the two arms to work independently), Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Workout B: Dumbbell Flyes, Stiff-Legged Dumbbell Deadlifts, Dumbbell Shoulder Presses , Pull-ups, Lying Tricep Extensions, Hammer Curl

Trait #4: Autoregulatory Progression

Progression is a key element of an effective routine. I’m of the opinion that a reasonable progression scheme can cover up a number of other errors – in particular about “how much to lift” when you start out. There are lots of ways to do this, but I finally came across something I like: Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance.

I mentioned above that I target 6 x 12. Now, often, I will fall short of this. That’s fine. But, on the weeks that I manage to get 12 reps in each of the first 5 sets, I do as many reps as I can in the 6th set. This determines if I progress the weight. If I get 13 or fewer in that set, I keep the weight the same. If I get 14-17, I increase weight by ~5%, if possible (for curls, for example, I’m lifting so little that I can’t really increase by less than 10%). If I get 18 or more, I increase weight by ~10%.

In the event that I don’t hit 12 reps per set, then I just try to do better the next time, with no strict progression scheme except that I want to improve the first set that fell short of 12 reps by at least one rep next time around.

“The Science”

Based on this article which summarizes research from others, cited there.


Fitness Friday – Trying The 5/2 Diet

~700 words, ~3 min reading time

So, I’m in the midst of a “cut”, and I’m trying a new technique: the 5/2 diet. Let me compare it with what I’ve done in the past.

Previously, I followed the Kinobody cutting diet. So, five days per week, I’d eat in a calorie deficit, and two days per week, I’d eat at a slight surplus. After some experimenting, I’ve found that 1600 calories on my low-calorie days and 2500 on my high-calorie days was about right to hit my weight loss goals. This approach basically has “diet breaks” built in on those two high-calorie days per week, and diet breaks have been shown to have positive effects on things like maintaining lean body mass and metabolism. Greg O’Gallagher at Kinobody also suggests taking explicit diet breaks whenever weight-loss stalls.

The 5/2 diet, though, reverses things. Rather than five days of deficit and two days of surplus, you eat five days at maintenance and two days at a very sharp deficit. After doing the calculations, that means I’m eating 2300 calories per day five days per week, and 800 calories per day two days per week. Yes, 800 calories is VERY little – but it is fairly easy to hit simply by fasting for most of the day, and just eating a reasonable dinner. (Note: the original Fast Diet – which the 5/2 diet comes from – says to eat “normally” – that is, don’t bother tracking – for 5 days, and to eat 500-600 calories for two days of the week. I’m following the modified version that I linked above.)

In terms of weekly calorie intake, the two diets are very similar. 1600×5 + 2500×2 = 13,000 calories per week. 2300×5 + 800×2 = 13,100.

The big difference is in the eating pattern. For me, the 5/2 diet has been significantly easier, because I don’t feel like I have to track quite as closely. On maintenance days, I keep track of what I eat, try not to go overboard, and then make sure I hit fairly close to my calories by adjusting my evening snacks after the kids are in bed. In contrast, during my 5 low-calorie days per week under my previous diet scheme, I had to pay a lot more attention to what I was eating each meal to make sure that I was (1) not using up too many of my calories, but also (2) hitting protein goals along the way. That was a lot of attention having to be paid to what I was eating. The 5/2 diet reduces that significantly.

Another big benefit that I’ve found for the 5/2 diet is that I can keep doing it – or something close to it – even when I’m traveling. On my previous diet, I would simply abandon the diet if I went on a trip, simply because it’s too hard to control food intake. I figured 7 days wouldn’t do any permanent damage – and this is correct, as far as that goes. But, it does set you back a bit. But, I’m out of town this week for a seminar – and I’m mostly sticking to the 5/2 diet despite that, even though I’m not tracking calories exactly. 5 days, I’m eating “normally” more or less (so, probably near, but slightly above maintenance, I would guess), and two days, I’m just eating dinner and maybe a smaller snack. In any case, not eating until dinner time basically ensures that I won’t be eating maintenance-level calories those days. So, while I may lose some ground from not tracking calories precisely, I don’t expect I’ll lose much ground – and that’s something.

One downside, though: I am definitely hungry on my 800 calories days – where I hadn’t really experienced that as much on the 1600/2500 split. But, it’s not that big a deal. Drinking lots of water helps, and you do get used to it on some level. Plus, it’s just one day – then I know I get a couple days eating normally.

Naturally, there are some people who absolutely should not do this – it’s particularly dangerous for diabetics. Children and pregnant or nursing mothers should also do something else, most likely. But, it seems to be going okay for me so far – sadly, it’s too early to report results.

Results Update 2018

~1200 words, ~6 min reading time

Introduction

So, I’ve tracked biometric data for a while, and have started tracking strength about a year ago. So, I decided it would be good to do some yearly testing – and, though it feels weird to report this, I figured I would for those that want to know.

Because I’m an American, everything is in pounds and inches.

Strength Results:

Dumbbell squat (combined, estimated 1RM): 149lb -> 180lb (+31lb)

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts (combined, est 1RM): 144lb -> 173 lb (+29 lb)

Dumbbell Floor Press (combined, est 1RM): 116.1lb -> 140 lb (+23.9 lb)

Combined: 409.1 -> 493 (+83.9 lb)

Bodyweight Dips: 10 -> 6

Bodyweight Pullups: 6 -> 8

Bodyweight Pushups: 17 -> 21

So, lifts all went up decently – not “wow” levels, and I’m still not “strong” by any reasonable measure – but stronger than before. Dips dropping wasn’t a big shock – last year, my routine included dips, what I’ve been doing this year really doesn’t.

These also probably understate my true maxes – I didn’t really warm up, and just lifted 90% of last year’s estimated 1RM. To be more accurate, I should get an estimate, and test at 90% of that estimate to double-check. But, I don’t care that much.

Biometrics Results:

Overall:

Weight: 166.6 lb => 162.2 lb (still in goal range)
BF%: 15.3% => 16.3% by the Navy method, 14.5 => 14.6 by bf% scale (a bit on the high side of my goal 10-15% range)
Lean weight: 141.1 lb => 135.7 lb (using Navy method estimation) (surprised it fell, given other measurements)

By body part:

Maintained in Goal Range:

Neck: 16 -> 16
Hips: 36.75 -> 37
Calves: 14.75 -> 15.5

All of these were in my goal range in 2017, and stayed there in 2018 – though hips and calves showed some growth in that range.

Moved up into Goal Range:

Chest: 39.5 -> 41

My chest just hit my goal range.

Still Below Goal Range:

Biceps: 13.5 -> 14
Forearms: 11.25 -> 11.25
Thigh: 20.75 -> 21.5
Shoulders: 46.75 -> 47.5

While none of these are in my goal range yet, they’re moving the right direction. Biceps, Forearms, and Thighs are all about 1 inch from the goal range (though, honestly, I don’t care much about my legs…) – I feel like this is going to be excruciatingly slow going. Shoulders are within spitting distance, and moving there pretty quick.

Still Above Goal Range:

Waist: 33.5 -> 34

Also, moving the wrong direction. Ideally, we’d be looking at something closer to 31. But, this is very affected by diet. It’s winter, so it’s a reasonable time to focus on gaining rather than losing weight, and for being in that phase 34 isn’t worrisome, especially since I measured at the end of the day after a big day of eating.

What I did this Year

This year, I went through a few distinct phases – combinations of various routines and diets. Diets were generally fairly simple bulking or cutting diets, depending on my bodyfat %. Not very interesting.

Workouts, though – I tried 4 fairly distinct workout routines this year. First, I finished using HST (Hypertrophy-Specific Training). It’s not a bad program, but I had gotten to where some of the exercises were getting cumbersome (especially leg exercises).

Second, I moved into a self-designed full-body program using some linear progression principles I picked up from Stronger by Science. Basically, you do 3×8, progressing linearly. Once you fail to make a step, you switch to 5×5 and proceed from there. Once you fail again, you switch to 5×3 and keep going. Once you fail again, you go through the same cycle, but with one more set – so 4×8, 6×5, and 6×3. Then, add another set if you cycle through again. The problem: the workouts pretty quickly got much too long. Why? Because I do arm exercises, not just big compound lifts. That means that the “steps” in linear progression are actually very big. While I actually made some good progress under this routine, it just got terrible to keep up with.

So, I switched to RippedBody.com’s Intermediate Bodybuilding Routine. This wasn’t too bad, except that I found that I just hated leg days. A lot of this is because a lot of leg exercises require machines to do comfortably. Yes, I can lay on the floor, stick a dumbbell between my feet, and do leg curls. But it’s awful. Same with leg extensions. Since I don’t have a machine, and they would be kind of stupid for me to buy right now, these were awkward and I hated them.

So, I switched to Lvysaur’s Intermediate Aesthetic routine – it avoids the more awkward leg exercises, and doesn’t have a leg day at all. Instead, deadlifts, squats, and calf raises are integrated in with other days. The results on Lvysaur have been weird, if I’m going to be honest. I switched to it during a bulking phase. But I gained basically no weight at all in the first 7 weeks (though this may have just been a failed VERY lean buld). Then, I switched to cutting for about 6 weeks – lost 4 lb of fat, but also 3 lb of lean. Not a great ratio, but okay. Since then, I’ve been doing a very slow transition back to a bulk – which means I’ve still been losing weight – about 0.5 lb of lean, but no fat. Not great there, either.

Focusing just on the “good” bulking phases, I gained more lean mass each week under Lvysaur’s first bulk (the one that wasn’t a transition period) than I did under either of the others.

So, I think I’m going to stick with Lvysaur for now. The most important thing is finding a routine that you can stick to. For me, that means figuring out what to do when I miss days, since working out is A priority – not my #1 priority. (Done!) There should also be a reasonable plan for failure (Lvysaur is very good with that) and progression (also pretty good), and the routines shouldn’t be outrageously long (yep).

I’ve also been experimenting more this year with putting my own twists on routines. For example – even though Lvysaur’s leg stuff isn’t as bad as some others’ I found myself hating it again. So, I switched up those particular exercises to something reminiscent of 5/3/1, which isn’t as awful. I also added in more arm work, since I know that’s a lagging body part for me. Also, I hate doing “as many reps as possible” sets – and am awful at feeling out what weight will hit a certain target on any particular day, so I changed how Lvysaur’s accessories work.  Might be a good idea to add some wrist curls as well – so I might modify that, next time around.

My plan for next year:

Diet- I just switched to a higher calorie bulk – I figure I can always scale back, if needed. But, I’ve been wasting time on too much transitioning. Anyway, I’m going to continue doing this until late April. Then, I’ll switch to cut – and I’ll maintain the cut until after our beach trips OR until I get down to 10% bodyfat, according to my body fat scale (I’m predicting the beach trips will come first…). Though I have debated whether I should just devote an entire year to bulking at some point….

Routine – I’m a bit unpredictable on this. I tend to do things until I hate them, and then switch to something else. So, I’m still thinking about that. Right now, I don’t have a good reason to ditch Lvysaur, as it seems to be doing alright. I’ll probably just make some more tweaks (adding wrist curls, maybe) and proceed.

Fitness Friday – New Routine (Again…)

~300 words, ~2 min read time

It wasn’t that long ago that I mentioned switching to a new routine. This led to lunges killing me.

Well, I’ve been away from home for the past couple weeks, and took a break from my routine for that time. So, the past 3 days have been… a challenge, I’ll say. And it made me realize something.

I hate leg day.

So, today (I’m writing this on Wednesday – which is Leg Day #2 of the week under the routine I’ve been using), I made a decision. I’m not doing it. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do any more leg exercises – that would be a bit unbalanced. Rather, it means that I’m not doing leg day.

See, I found this routine. It is slanted toward upper-body exercises – which I prefer anyway. Its goal is more aesthetic – which I prefer, too. The split is a bit strange, and it brings back some exercises I’ve not done in basically FOREVER (Rear delt flyes? Been almost a year since I’ve done one of those, I think.).

An important lesson here – which is a continuing theme for me in many ways – if you hate a program, there’s nothing making you do it. You can always choose to do something else.

As I get older (and busier…)- and feel more pressed for time – the more I find myself willing to just stop doing things that I don’t like. In short – I have no moral obligation to have a “leg day”. It doesn’t serve any particular purpose in allowing me to reach my goals. It’s not something that the world needs from me. So, I may as well stop.

Fitness Friday – Get Paid to Exercise!

~300 words, ~2 min read time

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fitness Friday – honestly, I’ve not had much to say about it, so I decided not to.

Anyway, this week, I’ve had the pleasure at being at Mises University. This is always a fantastic time to connect with other Austrian economists and students of Austrian economics. I was chatting with another of the faculty members, and he was asking if I knew some of the other Austrian or Austrian-influenced economists that graduated from Ohio State. There’s one that works about an hour from me, it turns out, who I had met once before, about 7 or 8 years ago. Anyway, I decided to look him up to see what his current research is. Most of it is empirical stuff (probably why I haven’t seen him in Austrian circles) now, and this paper jumped out at me.

The Effect of Exercise on Earnings (abstract)

It turns out that exercise does pay. In fact, regular exercise provides something like a 6-10% boost in your wage. Now, we might be tempted to try to explain this away as a result of effects on things like obesity. We know that obesity has negative effects on earnings. So, maybe exercise pays off because people that exercise are somewhat less likely to be obese.

Turns out that’s not the explanation. The study controlled for the effects of body composition.

In other words, regular exercise itself – even if you don’t see “results” in terms of weight,  body composition, etc. – seems to have a significant impact on your wages.

Put another way: exercise pays.

Fitness Friday – Lunges are Slaughtering Me

~200 words, ~1 min reading time

So, I started a new routine about 3 weeks ago. I think it’s going pretty well. . 5 days per week, usually 20-45 min per day. Very workable. But, the new routine is putting more emphasis on legs than my previous did, and it’s introduced an exercise that I’ve not really done before: lunges.

To work myself into it, I started with very light dumbbells (5lb a side). Weirdly, the lunges are far more exhausting than exercises where I am lifting FAR heavier weight.

It turns out a lot of what it comes down to is what you’re used to. Lunges use a different set of stabilizing muscles than the other exercises I do. So, it’s the stabilizing muscles that make the exercise feel so demanding.

This routine also brings back a few exercises that I had set aside for a couple months. What I found: I have regressed significantly. I mean, I’m not back to where I started – but I’m also nowhere close to where I left off.

This is an amazing thing about humans. We are amazingly adaptable. But, to adapt, we have to be put into circumstances that require it.

Fitness Friday – New Program!

~450 words, approx. 2 min read time

Last week over on Facebook I discussed dealing with failing (to hit my reps, that is). One thing that I’m doing now – switching up programs!

Personally, I try to train in 8 week blocks. This keeps me from program hopping too badly, while at the same time giving me the opportunity to make significant course corrections when needed. I think it’s a nice balance.

So, for the past 8 weeks, I’ve been trying to do a novice-type of progression, but with changing things as I described in the previous posts – failure led to a change in the number of sets and reps. The specific rules created a really bad outcome in terms of how long it took to complete a workout, so to limit the time I’m spending on this, I’m switching things up.

I found this program which has some nice features. 5 workouts per week – better than the 6 I had resorted to. A reasonable number of sets so I can complete every day within about 45 minutes. And a good mix of exercises. I confess: I still like the idea of full body workouts 3 times per week, but I had effectively given that up anyway. I’m still hitting each muscle group 2 times per week, so I’m okay.

One of the new ideas that is being implemented here – though I saw something like it when I did HST – is using an “intermediate” wave progression for some exercises. The idea is pretty simple: as the weight goes up, the reps go down, and occasionally you intentionally lift relatively light for low reps and sets (a “deload”). To some degree the “higher weight, lower reps” is just unavoidable when you get to a certain point. So, the intermediate progression plans for it.

As I reflect on this, I realize there is a larger life lesson just from considering novice v intermediate progressions.

As a novice, the key is to keep moving forward. Always try to do better than you did before. When you fail try again. If you fail again, step back (deload!), make sure you actually have mastered the previous step, and then try again.

Eventually, though, you find yourself having to revisit what you did before again and again and again. That is: we hit a plateau. Plateaus require that we make more subtle adjustments (the equivalent of increasing weight but decreasing reps) – a little more here, a little less there. We also need to take breaks to recharge – and that happens more regularly at this level.

Now I wonder what would happen if I applied this to things like playing Civilization…