One of the things I learned from P90X and chatting with Tony Horton is to get results, to get lasting weight loss, obvious body changes, fat loss and muscle development, you need need need to workout every day.
Or at least if not every day, 6 days a week. Not 3, not 4. He mentions it all the time. He has a saying "working out 3 or 4 days a week is like throwing yourself down the stairs - you get sore and that's about it!".
Some of the principles you need to be aware of is recovery, variation and periodization. It can be complicated because there are a lot of aspects to being fit and you can't work the same way each day.
One basic tenet is that to burn enough calories to get body changes, you'll need to incorporate resistance training into your schedule. I mean weights, bands or something to push back or pull you down, add to gravity whatever you want to do to make something take most or all of your effort for a handful of number of repetitions.
There are two basic moves to go along with two basic muscle movements - flexing and extending. These are opposing muscle groups - bicep and tricep, quad and hamstring, ab and lumbar, they are all over the body. You can train these separately, or in an intelligent way together in supersets. Or you can hammer them together and vary opposing muscle groups by alternating days.
A good rule of thumb for reps seems to be 8-10 for more bulk, 12-15 for leaner muscle mass. I think, without doing the physiological proof, this hits the majority of folks. You can do more and gain huge size (and probably get injured) or do less and build stamina, which leads me to my next aspect.
Another aspect is cardiovascular absolute capacity and related but not the same, stamina or endurance.
You build stamina with lower intensity longer duration activity. I did it when I trained for the marathon. Paul Galloway, who wrote the highly popular How to Run a Marathon talks about the base level aerobic training, 75% of your work for training for a marathon, which is low level mid distance runs. LSD - long slow distance. Related, are long runs, which you increase very gradually over time to great distances. We all have a "wall" of lactic acid threshold, where your body just can't run anymore because you kind of cramp up and can hardly move. It used to be thought this was at around 20 miles for everyone, but as Galloway points out, your own wall is equal to your longest run (usually within some number of weeks time period).
But my point is, you can build this up with lesser activity.
You build cardio capacity in several ways, but mostly by taxing yourself via weights and circuit training or by doing some activity like running or kickboxing near your anabolic threshold. This means very vigorous exercise. When I refer to cardio capacity I am mainly referring to your heart and lungs and circulatory system. Don't forget your circulation - it's been shown that blood vessels are actually grown when you increase your cardiovascular capacity with vigorous exercise. Once you create them you have that for the rest of your life.
So another aspect and one that most programs gloss over - flexibility. Yoga, stretching when warm and proper form and range of motion while exercising build this up. This is an area of greater need as we age and is related to freedom of movement and balance also. And of course AVOIDING that bane of the athlete's existence, INJURY!
More subtle but very important is explosive vs endurance muscular strength. Jumping is different from slow jogging or walking. All of us have different mixes of these muscle fibers - fast and slow - but we can train them all and need to particularly for sports. Ironically, resistance training doesn't always equate to explosive strength. There is something also called "static" strength which happens when you build lean muscle tissue. You also have to hit the muscles with quick movement or you won't necessarily get that kind of capability. One interesting aspect - intervals or quick bursts of very high activity (interspersed with periods of rest) not only helps with explosive muscle capability it also taxes and thus helps develop absolute cardio capacity. You will get stronger and have a better cardio "motor" by doing interval type training.
Another principle that's vital for results is overload. You need to constantly challenge your central nervous system to adapt to ever changing and increasing loads or plateaus occur. Steve Edwards of Beachbody writes a lot about periodization, or the concept of different periods of time of emphasis for a particular fitness building activity.
Finally, you need to rest. Every now and then and at the end of a particular phase or period, a recovery period is essential or you will burn out. That is, if you are bringing appropriate intensity in the other times. I'll blog about that issue some time - most folks just aren't bringing it enough!
So how do you put this all together? In my opinion the BEST program I've found is P90x. It addresses all of these aspects, and the periods of training involved over 3 months, a good length of time to judge its effectiveness. Thousands have seen results with it. It's flexible, there's a LOT of thought that went into designing it and adapting it for various levels and a superb motivator and trainer Tony Horton, who constantly addresses form, motivation and intensity needed to maximize your results.
Once you've transformed yourself using it there are many options available for customizing your own programs but I always come back to some mix of Tony's programs. I'm sold and I think if you try them you will be too - they are the best on the market out there and you can do them without getting in your car and going anywhere (personally I commute enough every day!).
The basic truth though is, no matter what you do enjoy it enough to do it 6 days a week, intense resistance days for total body muscle groups, cardio, flexibility, muscle group periodization of course paired with good nutrition and you'll be well on your way to a healthier fitter lifestyle!
In a later column I'll post up my skiing workout, which I'm planning to get ready for ski season. It'll be 6 days a week and contain resistance, cardio, flexibility and stamina aspects. I'll be doing this once I complete my round of P90X in early December.
If you have any questions about any of this (I just scratched the surface) or want to learn more visit my web page at beachbody here....