When people are new to exercise or returning from a long time away from the gym, there are often deficiencies in key metabolic and movement systems of the body. Initial training often has several system-limiting factors which include:
Low VO2max – which suggests that the actual capacity to burn calories via the use of oxygen is limited.
High rate pressure product (HR x SBP) – represents myocardial oxygen demand, which when elevated leads to premature fatigue due to inefficient cardiopulmonary musculature.
Lack of movement proficiency – limits the type, quantity, and quality of anaerobic work performed
Lack of musculoskeletal balance/general deconditioning – contributes to the aforementioned and reduces the total work performed.
While each of these areas requires some specific focus they can be combined to increase the rate of adaptations and goal oriented accomplishments. The use of tri- and quad- sets or circuit training can promote more adaptations than a single exercise employed with traditional rest intervals. Due to the fact that the neuromuscular system will adapt most rapidly to new stress it makes sense to take advantage of this phenomenon to optimize results. Much like a casted arm or leg, general deconditioning is associated with muscle atrophy from lack of use. Once the limb becomes uncasted and is once again used regularly, the rate of protein synthesis and subsequent hypertrophy occurs very quickly. Similarly, deconditioned individuals will experience a much more rapid adaptation rate than a trained individual when comparable intensities are employed. The body will reach its homeostatic potential from a deconditioned state much more efficiently (10-20%/week) than it will attain new levels of fitness from an already fit state (2-5%/week). Much like the immediate acclimation of riding a bike after a decade layoff, the rapid response in the nervous system the first 4-6 weeks of training represents opportunity to maximize return for effort.
This relatively quick adaptation response occurs via a complete system efficiency adjustment to meet the demands of pre-existing stress. The nervous system is the first to respond as repeated movements trigger recruitment and firing rate adjustments through motor rehearsal. Proprioceptors and mechanoreceptors function to accommodate coordination requirements while the active muscle’s fast twitch type IIX fibers shift characteristics to accommodate endurance by adjusting to fast twitch type IIA fibers. Cardiopulmonary response is a bit slower. The initial muscle gain is most dependent on the level of deconditioning. Again, much like the casted limb, if the body experienced limited tension over an extended period of time due to sedentary living conditions it dumped its protein, which will return quickly to accommodate the deficiency. Others returning to exercise may notice weight gain initially as well, as muscle glycogen stores increase, leading to more water in the muscle without the same protein adjustments. Note: This is important to point out as many exercisers are disappointed to see they actually gain weight in the first two-three weeks as their musculoskeletal system comes back on line and holds more energy (1 molecule of glucose + 3 molecules water = glycogen) in the muscle and bone density improves.
Due to the fact that the first steps back or first steps forward in exercise always begin with an acclimation period, motor patterning should be emphasized. This means repeating quality movements to improve the efficiency and endurance of the client while maximizing work. Strategies to prevent fatigue related decline include:
Examples of this concept can be seen with each of the training systems below but should only be implemented once the individual skills are appropriately mastered. Note: Do not use any loading beyond body weight until the biomechanics are correct. Premature loading always leads to sloppy movement patterns.
Depending on the goal, these exercise groupings can be used to maximize quality work and caloric expenditure. They allow for prime mover emphasis with consideration for coordinated movement and appropriate force couple interaction. The more difficult activities should regress to the least challenging in the third or fourth action of the multi-“super set”. The actual loading is the biggest determinant of the order followed by the amount of tissue under tension and movement complexity. (Three sets of ten with new exercise routines are far less effectual).
1. (Lower-Upper-Middle sequence):
2. (Lower-Pull-Push sequence):
Circuits are those groupings of exercise that generally range from 5-10 exercises but exceptions or variations exist. The general order of operations (metabolically speaking) suggests
That said, the selection of the exercises and the respective order should follow this metabolic path as well as pay attention to the basic exercise order principles mentioned above. This is relevant so that as the body fatigues the activities regress from more encompassing and difficult to progressively less demanding as acute peripheral fatigue can lead to poor technique. Circuits are also very good for correcting postural distortions and improving ROM and exercise technique as less emphasis can be placed on the load and consequently the number of reps can be elevated.
Sample Circuit for an individual with tight posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, low back) and mild upper cross (tight lats, pecs, subscapularis). Circuit objective – perform each exercise for 45 seconds using controlled form, transitional rest between exercises, stop upon volitional failure.
This is one just one example, and for some, the exercises may not be too familiar. Luckily, there are numerous combinations that can be used correctly, assuming the client is proficient in all the tasks. In some cases exercise machines may make more sense, whereas in others the only equipment available is a physioball and two dumbbells. Some clients may need a short rest between exercises, while others may need more resistance, as the activities were underestimated for work. Matching the activities to the needs analysis, the client’s fitness level and exercise tenure will all help to identify the optimal matrix for the training system.