There is a major paradox for a number of the recreational fitness enthusiasts who make up our clientele and participate in our group fitness classes: While some barely have enough motivation to get off the couch to make it to the gym, others are overly enthusiastic and rarely, if ever, miss a workout. If you’re a personal trainer, group fitness instructor or simply a die-hard gym junkie, you likely work with or know a number of people who fall into the latter category. While working out or being physically active is good for us, there is such a thing as too much exercise.
Throughout this series on the variables of exercise program design there has been one consistent theme:
Exercise is physical stress applied to the body.
All of the variables of program design—exercise selection, intensity, repetitions, tempo, sets, frequency and volume—dictate how to impose the physical demands of that stress. While proper application of all the variables is important for helping clients achieve results, the neuromuscular adaptations responsible for physiological change occur primarily after the exercise stimulus has been applied. In applying this understanding it can be argued that the final two variables of program design—rest and recovery—are the most important.
The secret of many of the top strength and performance coaches in the world isn’t the exercises used in an athlete’s workout, it’s how the overall program is structured to allow time for optimal recovery between training sessions. Even though few of us are training professional or even extremely competitive amateur athletes, we should follow the lead of the top coaches. After all, if it works for someone making seven figures throwing or kicking a ball or swinging a club or a bat, it will probably work for our clients who simply want to “tone up and lose weight.”
When designing exercise programs, there are two types of rest and recovery to consider: the short-term rest interval between sets in a workout and the long-term recovery period between separate training sessions.
Exercise is a catabolic (breaking down) process that causes both metabolic fatigue and mechanical stress. Mechanical stress refers to the damage caused to the protein structures of muscle, while metabolic fatigue refers to depleted energy stores. If the rest interval between sets is too short, a few things could happen: muscles might not have enough time to remove metabolic waste like hydrogen ions, or replenish the fuel for the next set, and the nervous system responsible for initiating muscle contractions could fatigue. Any one of these could be a potential mechanism of injury. For some clients with specific goals, training to metabolic fatigue or exercising with short rest intervals to induce an energy-depleted state may be necessary. For many clients, however,
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