A Fine Balance

Do you train or jog or do whatever it is that you choose to do for a fitness activity, for a specific duration of time? Do you always go to the gym at the same time and leave at the same time? Your body has no idea how to tell time relative to the activity you’re engaging in, so how do you know that one hour for example is enough? Or possibly too much? How much is enough?

There was a time not too long ago that I determined that 90 minutes of steady state cardio, seven times per week, plus five separate 90 minute weight lifting sessions with the emphasis on circuits, was the mathematical equation for my physical success. It looked so good on paper, and all those numbers worked so well within a seven-day week that I thought it really must be perfect. If staying very lean while eating six to seven thousand calories a day sounds good to you, then by all means give this a try.

There were aspects of this symmetrically and aesthetically pleasing formula that I didn’t like though. The first was that I got weaker as opposed to stronger. This was in part due to the overly dominant cardiovascular element. It was the first thing I did every day for almost two years. Yes my heart and lungs were at an unbelievably high level of conditioning, and I could eat literally as much as I wanted, but after I dropped my son off at the gym daycare for my second visit of the day for my weights session, I had already had a pretty busy day. Naturally my lifting suffered and to compound this, the nature of my training wasn’t helping the situation either.

My theory at the time was that the more I did at the gym when I was there, and the more often I went, the more progress I would make. I was in constant motion for 18 hours a week spread over 12 separate visits. Of course I was in amazing shape so where’s the problem? Well as I stated I got weaker. That wasn’t part of the plan, but a side effect I tolerated and decided I could live with to be in such awesome condition.

One side effect I didn’t like was the fact I was spending 18 hours per week, every week, in the gym. Let’s say even with two weeks off, which would have been the most I took off over the course of the year, that’s still 900 hours per year I was training in the gym. Not a ridiculous amount of time for someone who’s training to compete in some type of highly competitive event, but I wasn’t. I was just stuck in neutral with this more is better theory, and liked how all the numbers looked on paper. This is all coming from a guy who is always preaching to have a plan. Well, I had one. It just wasn’t very well thought out.

This longer than necessary example was to show how much was too much. 18 hours a week is way more time than I require to meet my goals of improving my strength, endurance and health. I needed to learn the hard way though, because it still took a while longer before I would figure out the right balance and best methods to achieve what I now accomplish in roughly half the time.

So getting back to the question, how much is enough? Once again we need to nail down firmly what is we want to accomplish. What I was trying to accomplish in my misguided way was to have a strong, athletic body with tremendous endurance. I already discussed my strength dropped due to the nature of my training so I didn’t accomplish the goal of improved strength. Also due the repetitive nature of the cardio I was doing at such a high volume, my mobility suffered as well and therefore my athleticism. The only one of the three goals I did succeed with was that my endurance was very good.

I’m going to add a fourth goal and that is quality of life. Being healthy is all about increasing your enjoyment of life. To be honest, I’d much rather be with my family than on a treadmill, so all that cardio didn’t achieve quite what I thought it would. So after two years of this figurative treading of water, or literal running on a treadmill, I did a complete 180, and stopped doing cardio altogether.

It was pretty amazing for a while. I had so much more available nutrients with which I could recuperate, and I had a greater focus and more energy to put into my lifting now. So much so that I got bigger and stronger quite quickly. After a few months I began noticing some things I didn’t like though. I had never noticed in the past that I was running out of breath during weight lifting. That’s because I had been doing so much cardio, but now I wasn’t. I was so enamored with my new focus on weights and the total lack of having to do cardio that I just ignored the fact I was sucking air after most sets. This began to really bother me.

One day I had enough. I wanted that all around great level of conditioning. I had the great endurance when I was doing massive amounts of cardio, but not the strength. Now I had the muscle, but no endurance. The answer was to meet in the middle on a few things. I started to add circuits in but still kept some heavy sets so I could only focus on the one movement for maximum results relative to strength. I also began completing my training sessions with sprints. That’s when my views on cardio changed forever.

Sprints can be completed in a reasonably short period of time, but still have all of the endurance benefits that lots of steady state cardio does. Continuing to do the heavier compound lifts as well as the Olympic lifts, I am able to build size and strength as well as explosiveness. In addition I added in a few circuits to develop muscular endurance as well as muscular definition and density. This I found to be the right combination, and I didn’t have to spend forever at the gym to accomplish it all.

With a good balance of circuits and heavy compound lifts, all finished off with some high intensity sprints, I found I really could have it all. I can get bigger and stronger at the same time as improving my endurance and cardiovascular health. All the while keeping my gym time to a much more reasonable duration, allowing me to enjoy my good health and positive outlook with those that matter the most to me. My goal of remaining vigorous and vital for my boys as they progress through their childhood is my main focus with my training. Finding a balance is what has allowed me to better enjoy the present with them while working toward the future. Until next time,

Happy Lifting!

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