By Michael Krueger
Occasionally, I find that I simply want to make a change in my training. Sometimes the changes are really little things like adding an assistance exercise just for the heck of it, while others are tougher like improving my diet or setting an audacious goal of some kind.
I started my current eight-week training experiment after returning from a week-long vacation. I don’t train on vacation since I don’t have my rower and for strength training I need a rack and a lot of free weights and hotel gyms don’t have these things. Besides, it’s a good way for me to schedule needed breaks.
I knew I wanted some changes for my mental health as well as physically. This idea had been running in the background since my birthday back in September. I started planning out my new program on the flight home and by the time we landed I had it done …
…it’s a gamble, but it will be interesting.
As of this writing, I’m six weeks into that eight-week experiment. For the first time ever, I’m combining aerobics and weight training into one same-day workout. The training regimen is tough, and getting used to cutting back from five days per week to only two has been a bigger mental challenge than I had anticipated. Thus far, the results seem to be encouraging. Incorporating more rest days and upping the intensity of the two workouts seem to be eliciting a positive training response.
To get both perspective and hard data, I reviewed the past year’s worth of training. I know, I do this a lot, but it’s the only way to know what’s really going on to make informed decisions. In the review, I was focusing primarily on three time frames. The first was on where I was at this time last year, the second was on what was going on in the weeks leading up to my decision to make changes. and lastly the past six weeks.
What I was looking for was the smoking gun indicating improvement or regression. I didn’t really expect to find it yet, since I’m not done with the eight weeks, but I was hoping to get some good, albeit incomplete, data to indicate that I am on the right track.
What I found is that I’ve had some quantifiable progression in my strength training. I’ve improved on a couple of lifts and haven’t noted any downside thus far. My lifting routine hasn’t changed other than adding the rowing intervals about one-third of the way through. The intervals added about 15 minutes total time to my workout. I was surprised that it was that much time since it doesn’t seem like it when I’m doing it. The actual active work time during that 15 minutes is only six minutes, so the addition of 15 minutes seemed excessive, but there it is.
The one thing I noticed my mentioning in my log during the first and second weeks was that I was much more tired (exhausted and “toast” were the words I used) than I previously was at the end of the workout. This wasn’t surprising, considering the addition of the intervals, but I was somewhat surprised by the level of the increase and how long the effect lasted. One day, I had a session scheduled about 90 minutes after my workout, and I recall actually sitting down at the start and resting my head against the rack while talking with my client … that’s never happened before. The extreme fatigue moderated rather quickly even as the volume and intensity of the training increased, Odds are though that as I adapt I’ll work harder and the extreme fatigue will once again be the result, followed by more adaption (I hope).
During week four, I began doing the same volume of intervals in the two per week combined workouts as I had been doing in the three standalone interval sessions. Aerobic progression measured by heart-rate recovery has been very good thus far. I will get a more definitive measurement regarding performance after the eighth week when I do time trails of one minute and 100 and 500 meters. I need to resist testing those before the end of the eight weeks; that’s tough for me … I’m impatient.
Why Eight Weeks?
There is no magic to an eight-week cycle. You can do whatever length you like when judging the effectiveness of program changes. I settled on eight weeks a long time ago; I probably read it somewhere and just stuck with it.
To be honest, I guess I do longer and shorter cycles too. If I take the long view, I’ve been running an experiment since I first got serious about my fitness back in the early 1980s. Ever since then, I have compared and contrasted the various modalities of training, always looking for my perfect workout.
I’ve found that perfect workout too … many times in fact. Depending on my life situation and my goals, many different programs have been the “perfect” one. Some have been aerobic focused, strength focused, bodybuilding focused, or even unfocused. There were times when my life was so full and complicated that just holding it all together and getting in a workout of whatever type I could passed as training, and that in turn was perfect.
I have always been a very disciplined and consistent exerciser. I’ve had numerous streaks of more than two years where I didn’t miss a scheduled workout and didn’t schedule a break either. I’m not claiming this as any sort of moral high ground; in fact, my obsessions probably added to my general wear and tear and in the long run had a somewhat negative effect. I’m just very compulsive about some things, and training is one of them.
So, my adopting this eight-week experiment thing was in part a way of forcing myself to break my routine of regular and unwavering training and test performance over a specific time frame. My plan is that after the eight weeks, I will take a break to evaluate the results. After the break, depending on what I find, I will start again either from the same spot with the same routine or make small or even significant modifications. Oddly enough, if I find myself to be very successful at the end of the cycle, I’m less likely to take a break and just jump in with renewed intensity. This is then followed by a spectacular burnout … not the best way to train, but it’s my way unfortunately.
Where from Here?
As of today, I’ve got two weeks to go. I’m working very hard, keeping good records and trying desperately not to do anything stupid. Soon I will find out how this radical (for me) but relatively short experiment has turned out.
Whatever the results are, I’m glad I did it. It reinvigorated my training and got me more focused. I’ve been training for such a long time that I sometimes forget how much I really do enjoy it. Seeing that even now, after all these years, I can still facilitate changes in my performance by analyzing and modifying my training is very cool.
So, soon it will be testing day, and no matter what happens …
…it’s going to be exciting.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.