Thursday, August 13, 2009

My exercise routine

Some people have asked me about my exercise routine, so I decided to post it. First, this is not a routine from a book or infomercial - I developed it myself after deciding my goals and reading up on fitness and exercise science. I'm constantly adjusting it, and still trying to figure out what works best. This probably is not for you, and besides: Don't take health advice from engineers.

Now that that's all said and done, let's start with the goals. I wanted to create an exercise program that would improve total body fitness. Specifically, I wanted to get stronger (but not focusing on hypertrophy), more powerful, and most importantly, more aerobically fit, as I felt that was my weakest point.

The problem is that strength and cardio fitness seem to be at nearly complete odds with one another. Every see how gaunt marathon runners are? Have you ever seen a bodybuilder ride the Tour de France? I noticed this quickly myself in terms of mixing workouts: if I did a hard leg strength day, then my legs hurt too much to run or bike the next day. And conversely, if I did a long cardio day, my legs felt like rubber and couldn't do strength or power the next day.

In any case, here is my current program, after 5 weeks of tweaking:
Sunday: Long, low-intensity cardio (e.g., two hour zone 2 bike ride).
Monday: Rest or yoga.
Tuesday: Strength circuits.
Wednesday: Running intervals on the treadmill.
Thursday: Low-intensity recovery cardio (e.g., one hour zone 2 bike ride)
Friday: Strength circuits.
Saturday: Rest day.

So far, this routine creates the best balance of strength and cardio training for me. Wednesday and Friday are the toughest days, mainly because running intervals are my VO2max training, in addition to following a strength day which almost always has leg exercises. And Friday is the fourth workout in a row, but I'm willing to push hard because I know Saturday is a rest day.

The two "zone 2" bike rides are my attempt to build an aerobic "base", and are probably also good for lactic acid threshold training. I usually keep my heart rate between 125 and 140 for these days. Sometimes I get bored and push hard (160-170) for 15 minutes or so.

I've chosen a circuit-based strength workout that usually consists of three different supersets (two different exercises), three sets each, resting 60 seconds between rounds. I try to focus on larger muscle groups, and since I only do strength twice a week, I try to hit all the major muscle groups each time. I do a different workout Tuesday and Friday, and try to swap in at least half new exercises every week. The circuit aspect and short rests mean that these are tough cardio workouts, too. For warmup and cooldown, I do very low-intensity cardio, usually 10 minutes each.

About half the days I use foam rollers after I finish, and I've noticed that this speeds recovery, especially for iliotibial and quad soreness.

Since beginning this program, I've noticed dramatic improvements in my aerobic capacity. This is noticeable on the intervals, which have been improving every week (I also have to work harder to get a stitch, which confirms my belief that I used to get them from overworking), as well as on the low-intensity bike rides, where I can pedal at a much higher RPM and resistance than before, while my heart rate remains in the proper zone.

I've also noticed strength improvements each week, and in general my fitness is much better and my daily energy level is much higher.

Some downsides:
- In order to really build strength, I feel like I need a third day each week. Not enough time.
- One high intensity cardio day per week also feels lacking. But there's nowhere that another one would fit, unless I pile two workouts per day.
- Long cardio day basically takes an entire afternoon, and the repetitive nature of it is conducive to injury.
- This is a pretty intense workout schedule. Definitely worried about burnout, but I'm trying to listen to my body. If I notice that I'm regressing, I'll add in more rest.

Anyway, there it is. If anyone has suggestions to improve this workout plan, please let me know!

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