The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Mar 2012

Plug Yourself In

You elevated your general fitness during the first three installments of the five-part Shape of Your Life program—now you're ready to tap your real athletic potential. For starters, ramp up your power by adding three Olympic-style lifts (see sidebar) to your ongoing Tuesday and Thursday strength routine. For each of the lifts, start with dumbbells equaling 10 percent of your body weight in week 13, and then increase every few weeks thereafter. After a ten-minute warm-up, do three sets of six reps as fast as you can while executing good form. In week 16, you'll link cleans and squat-presses into one exercise (the clean and jerk) by ending the clean with a catch—turn your elbows down and your palms up, dip under the weight, and "catch" the dumbbells in the start position of the squat press—and then finishing the rep with the dumbbells overhead. Also, complete each power session with the half-dozen functional-strength exercises (see sidebar exercises in "Core Values") pulled from the previous months' routines.

Functional Exercises Group One: Wide-grip chin-ups, dumbbell lunges and dumbbell pullovers.
Functional Exercises Group Two: With swiss ball: oblique crunches and one-legged push-ups.

As for endurance work, continue heart-rate zone training three days per week, with Mondays and Wednesdays slated for Zone-2 workouts (see "The Zones") and Fridays reserved for intervals. Remember, if your motivation for endurance work is starting to wane, shake things up by mixing in a new sport. If you've been, say, running exclusively, try cycling or swimming this month, etc. You'll also add a speed component to the end of each session. After warming up on Mondays and Fridays, try the plyometric workout (see "Upward Bound," previous page) before each run, swim, or cycle, to increase your quickness; on Wednesdays, incorporate the Zone-4 sprint intervals described in "Hot-Wire Your Speed" into your endurance work. And of course, after difficult endurance and plyometric routines, you'll need a proper cool-down, which is where your yoga routine from last month fits in. Starting again with Sun Salutations, end each session with the yoga routine from the third installment.

Next: Improve your balance and agility in part five of our Shape of Your Life fitness plan.

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Functional Exercises

GROUP ONE:
Wide-Grip Chin-Ups
Dumbbell Lunges
Dumbbell Pullovers

GROUP TWO:
With Swiss Ball:
Oblique Crunches
One-Legged Push-Ups


The Zone Offense
 
  Zone 1 (Z-1):
Recovery
60 percent or less of your MHR
  Zone 2 (Z-2):
Aerobic
60-75 percent of your MHR
  Zone 3 (Z-3):
Lactate Threshold
75-90 percent or less of your MHR
  Zone 4 (Z-4):
Anaerobic
90-100 percent of your MHR
 
 
MON. TUES. WED. THURS. FRI.
(13
WEEK
ENDURANCE
Plyometric series. Run/stair machine: 35 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 45 minutes in Z-2. End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Three sets of six reps: Olympic lifts. One set of 10-12 reps: GROUP ONE exercises. One set of 25 reps: GROUP TWO exercises.
ENDURANCE
Run/stair machine: 35 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 45 minutes in Z-2. (Add 30-second sprints.) End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Three sets of six reps: Olympic lifts. One set of 10-12 reps: GROUP ONE exercises. One set of 25 reps: GROUP TWO exercises.
ENDURANCE
Start with plyometric series. 35-minute run or 50-minute cycle in Z-2. After ten minutes, add three five-minute intervals in Z-3 with three minutes of recovery in Z-2 after each. Finish with yoga.
 
(14
WEEK
ENDURANCE
Plyometric series. Run/stair machine: 40 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 55 minutes in Z-2. End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Three sets of six reps: Olympic lifts. Three sets of 10-12 reps: GROUP ONE exercises. Two sets of 25 reps: GROUP TWO exercises.
ENDURANCE
Run/stair machine: 40 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 55 minutes in Z-2. (Add 30-second sprints.) End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Three sets of six reps: Olympic lifts. Three sets of 10-12 reps: GROUP ONE exercises. Two sets of 25 reps: GROUP TWO exercises.
ENDURANCE
Start with plyometric series. 35-minute run or 50-minute cycle in Z-2. After ten minutes, add three five-minute intervals in Z-3 with three minutes of recovery in Z-2 after each. Finish with yoga.
 
(15
WEEK
ENDURANCE
Plyometric series. Run/stair machine: 45 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 60 minutes in Z-2. End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Three sets of six reps: Olympic lifts. Three sets of 10-12 reps: GROUP ONE exercises. Two sets of 25 reps: GROUP TWO exercises.
ENDURANCE
Run/stair machine: 45 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 60 minutes in Z-2. (Add 30-second sprints.) End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Three sets of six reps: Olympic lifts. Three sets of 10-12 reps: GROUP ONE exercises. Two sets of 25 reps: GROUP TWO exercises.
ENDURANCE
Start with plyometric series. 35-minute run or 50-minute cycle in Z-2. After ten minutes, add three five-minute intervals in Z-3 with three minutes of recovery in Z-2 after each. Finish with yoga.
 
(16
WEEK
ENDURANCE
Plyometric series. Run/stair machine: 40 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 55 minutes in Z-2. End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Same as weeks 14 and 15, but combine clean-pulls and squat presses into one exercise—the clean and jerk.
ENDURANCE
Run/stair machine: 40 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 55 minutes in Z-2. (Add 30-second sprints.) End with yoga.
STRENGTH
Same as weeks 14 and 15, but combine clean-pulls and squat presses into one exercise—the clean and jerk.
ENDURANCE
Optional day: Perform your monthly lactate threshold test.
OR
Run/stair machine: 40 minutes in Z-2.
OR
Cycle/swim: 55 mintues in Z-2. Follow with plyometric series, and finish with yoga.



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The Shape of Your Life: Month Five

BY NOW YOU'RE PROBABLY WONDERING: Are we there yet?

We are. But the journey to total fitness consciousness never really ends—and the road to follow-through is fraught with peril. To maintain the Shape of Your Life and reach athletic nirvana, you must make stamina, flexibility, and reinvention your repeated mantras.

I know what you're thinking: The guy has lost it. Quite the contrary, and you will soon see why. To explain, permit me to briefly rehash my own fitness sob story.

It all began over a year ago, after a botched attempt to get chiseled on the cheap six weeks before surf season left me burnt out and chronically irritable. When Outside decided to mark its 25th anniversary with a fitness plan promoting the performance breakthroughs of the last two and a half decades, I jumped at the chance to learn from my own mistakes. And as I pored over the fitness flotsam of the American media landscape—glossy magazines with six-pack cover models and stale self-help books in permanent residence on the best-seller lists—it became clear that fitness had been boiled down to one uninspiring goal: looking good. Which isn't good enough. Getting fit shouldn't require choosing between advice designed to make you feel guilty or to pander to the vanity of chest waxers. So we decided to create a new kind of plan—one that promised not only to get you primed for inspiring outdoor adventure, but also to sustain you for the rest of your days.

Well, if you've been ghosting me on this odyssey, consider the first promise fulfilled. By now you've rebuilt your endurance engine through periodized heart-rate training; and by lifting weights to develop your core you've acquired strength that translates to real-world sports. You've embraced granola-free flexibility through Ashtanga yoga and, with your fitness foundation built, unlocked your speed and power with plyometrics. Now, in the final installment of the Shape of Your Life plan, we'll explore the secrets of balance and agility. And then? After 20 periodized weeks, you'll be ready for the whole point of this endeavor: to meet the challenge of that autumn triathlon, paddling trip, ten-kilometer run, five-day trek through the mountains—anything, really—in the best shape of your life.

That was the easy part. To deliver our second promise—keeping you there—this month we've done some heavy lifting of our own. On the following pages, we'll show you the only eight items you'll ever need in a home gym, share sage advice from the country's most innovative fitness advisers, and provide the essential principles you'll need to be your own personal trainer. Then we'll explain exactly how to take this five-month plan and turn it into an endlessly renewable blueprint for the Shape of Your Life. Congratulations. You've finished the journey—but the end is really just the beginning.

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Completing the Picture: Balance and Agility

EVERY MORNING AS YOU roll out of bed and stand up, a continuous neurological process works to keep you upright: Sensors and receptors in your joints and muscles send messages to your brain about where they are in space; your brain then analyzes the data and sends the appropriate response to the small stabilizer muscles that keep you vertical. This process is called balance, and to avoid disaster while spinning down a winding slice of boulder-strewn singletrack, it must be fine-tuned far beyond the ability to stay on your feet every morning.

"Improving balance," says Bernard Petiot, training director for Cirque du Soleil, arguably the most preternaturally proprioceptive group of people on the planet, "is a matter of systematic and progressive exposure to unbalanced situations." Outdoor athletes tend to do this naturally as they learn new sports. "If you look at skateboarders, climbers, and snowboarders," Petiot explains, "they will progressively increase the complexity of what they are doing." But to develop the general system as a whole, you need to put in time at the gym.

Specifically, Petiot prescribes taking many of the strength-training lifts you've already learned in the SYL program—flies, squats, lunges, etc.—and further destabilizing them on a wobble board, a platform designed to make you feel like you're standing on a ship while performing each exercise (see "The Body Shop"). Starting in week 17, you'll add balance lifts to your Tuesday/Thursday strength sessions (see "Balance Exercises").

But balance is only half of the final equation. To round out your fitness arsenal, you need agility, which from an athletic standpoint is your ability to remain graceful on the fly while making quick stops and starts. "For outdoor sports," says Peter Twist, a conditioning coach to NHL and NBA athletes, "a lot of your training is very linear—cycling or running in a straight line. But most of the situations for which you need agility are multidirectional, with a lot of sudden changes in direction."

To get you off the straight and narrow, you'll add three agility drills to your Monday and Friday plyometric sessions (see "Agility Exercises,"). In addition to traditional shuffle-step drills, this means playing catch with an exasperating toy called a reaction ball, which bounces in unexpected directions. By the end of the month, you'll be quicker, better grounded, and less likely to take a humility walk through your drugstore's elastic-bandage aisle.

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Permanent Fitness

IN MONTH ONE, we told you that the Shape of Your Life program would be driven by periodization: the idea that athletic improvement can be sustainable and efficient only if you strike a balance between stress and recovery in every phase of your training cycle. So each time we pushed you toward your max (think Zone 3 interval workouts), we gave you rest and recovery to let your muscles grow and adapt (i.e. those weekends after Friday interval sessions). The stress hormones released by intense training encouraged muscle and cardiovascular growth; the recovery period allowed them the rest necessary to do so. With this same philosophy in mind, month five will be your hardest yet; you'll max out in week three, slow things down in week four, and then peak for your fitness goal in October.

So what happens after that? Good news: You can back off again—this time for an entire month. But before you drop a grand on a Sony Dream System to satisfy your pent-up couch-potato fantasies, let us qualify. By "back off" we mean active rest. If you've been running throughout the program, give the knees a break and get into the pool for a month of easy swims two or three times a week. Or if your sport is cycling, try trail running, only decrease the intensity (forget intervals) and number of workouts per week. As for the weight room, just one visit a week will do. Perform one set of reps of five to eight exercises that work your major muscle groups. The whole idea is maintenance and fun—leave the heart-rate monitors, stopwatches, and workout calendars in your locker.

There's logic to this brief vacation. Fact is, you can progressively increase your training load only for a limited time before it becomes a physical and mental burden. In small amounts, stress hormones help you move faster and rebuild quicker. But when they begin to accumulate over long periods of intense exercise, they can degrade your immune response and cause the logy, depressionlike symptoms of overtraining. Even elite athletes take time off at some point. Lance Armstrong, for example, doesn't mount his bike for two weeks after the end of the season. He knows he needs a break, and so do you.

Next step: Develop a new goal. Just as you did last April or May, conjure up a grand adventure. Want to run your first marathon this spring? Always dreamed of a trekking trip in the Himalayas? You get the idea—a motivational carrot to prod you out of the house during your next push for the peak. And to stay on the safe side, make more than a mental commitment. "Registering and paying for an event that's on your calendar is a good external motivator," says Eric Harr, author of The Portable Personal Trainer. "You're less likely to stray from the program if you know you're going to pay for it on that 14,000-foot peak in three months." It's also a good idea to try a new sport this go-round. "For me it becomes a challenge to do the same stuff over and over," says surf legend and SYL adviser Laird Hamilton. "It's better to find new things that inspire you. Do them for a while, reach a personal goal, and move on to something else."

With a month of active rest under your belt, and a new goal, you can restart the program. However, just as your muscles need to adapt, so should this plan. Stick to the basic periodization guidelines and schedule, but adjust the training to fit your specific needs (see "Be Your Own Boss"). If you're planning a marathon, try increasing the mileage every week of your Monday Zone 2 run based on the marathon mileage charts offered in most running magazines and Web sites. If you're training for an adventure race, try mixing up your events Monday through Friday. The point is to read up on some sport specifics and make the plan work for your individual goal.

And there you have it—five months on, a grand adventure, a month off to keep you fresh, and a new beginning every six months or so. It's a sustainable blueprint designed to let you knock off a life-list adventure at least twice a year. But the ball is in your court now. It's your life; what shape are you going to make it?

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