By Michael Krueger

When you begin a new exercise program you are obviously in it for some positive results. You may want to lose weight, build muscle, get stronger or improve your cardiovascular fitness. Eventually you have to determine whether or not you are getting the results you think you are training for. Making this determination isn’t always as straight forward as you might think.

One Goal/One Process

When you begin a new exercise program you have goals in mind as well as a process for achieving them. Either may be very specific or a little fuzzy. More often than not the goal is clear but the process is not. Sometimes we think our process matches our goal, but on closer examination this isn’t the case. 

Often weight loss is mixed in with strength and endurance goals. This can be problematic since the path to each one is different. Addressing them separately makes the most sense but to many people this seems to be a needless complication. They think that by doing cardio they will burn calories as well as improve their heart/lung efficiency and by lifting weights they will burn calories in addition to getting strong, so it’s a win/win. Then by dieting they will be consuming fewer calories and they will lose even more weight. By combining all three activities into one big multi-tasking adventure they figure they will be killing numerous birds with just a couple stones; most of the time it doesn’t work that way.


Food is fuel as well as building material. It provides essential amino acids along with vitamins and minerals our bodies cannot manufacture on their own. The amount of food eaten determines how big you will be. To some extent the type of food you consume determines how much fat you will store as well. The quality of the food you eat determines how well your body will operate. Food is measured in kilocalories expressing the amount of energy it contains. It is best to take in an amount of food equal to the amount of nutrition/energy you need, in other words a balanced diet. The idea of “burning” calories through exercise because you are eating an excessive amount doesn’t make sense. You don’t put fuel in your car then drive aimlessly for miles in an effort to burn it up so you car weighs less, thereby creating toxic waste products and unnecessary wear and tear on all your vehicle parts. In the same way it makes more sense not to eat excessive calories to begin with rather than eating them and then doing excessive exercise in an effort to burn them up. All that extra exercise does is put additional wear on your joints and waste a lot of time.

Consuming slightly less total calories than your energy needs indicate, with a focus on nutrition, is by far the best way to reduce body fat in a safe and sustainable manner. In fact I would go so far as to say that it is the only way to accomplish lasting weight loss.


Cardiovascular fitness is by far the most difficult thing other than nutrition to get most people to take seriously. There are a few who wholeheartedly embrace it to the exclusion of weight training, but it is much more likely to be the other way around. I have trained numerous clients who will start off a workout session very strong only to fade in the final third due to a lack of cardiovascular fitness. As a trainer I will say that there are few things duller than to watch someone run on a treadmill or plod away on an elliptical, but it is sometimes the only way to ensure that a trainee is doing it.

Unfortunately many of the people who do cardio are doing it not so much to improve their heart and lungs but to burn calories in an attempt to lose or maintain weight. Once again, this is a misuse of cardio training. Long slow cardio will use calories but it is a terribly inefficient way to lose weight when compared to controlling your diet.

Interval training is a time efficient way to train your cardiovascular system. I have talked about this before, and since that time more research has continued to confirm that this is the way to train your heart and lungs for the quickest results as well as the least wear and tear on your body.

Of course if you want to be a distance runner or any other type of endurance athlete you would need to add in additional training in your specialty, but that is a different issue from pure cardiovascular training.


Being a firefighter requires a certain level of strength. Not only one rep type brute strength but muscular endurance as well. The training for these two types of strength is somewhat different but easily addressed in the context of a well designed program.

Muscular strength as opposed to muscular endurance is trained for using lower rep ranges (typically 1-5) while muscular endurance uses higher reps (typically 10-15). The exercises are basically the same; they include the big multi-joint movements rather than the smaller single-joint assistance exercises.

Muscular strength training generally uses longer rest periods between sets and exercises than muscular endurance. Muscular endurance is frequently addressed by the use of circuit training, but there is more than one protocol to perform either type of training.

Some men want to be “big and strong” and believe that lifting big will get them there; it doesn’t really work that way. “Big” is a function of diet not strength. You can be very strong and not be very big. In fact often times, very big and very strong men are also very big fat men as well. Eighteen inch biceps are not particularly impressive when bookending man boobs and a 44 inch waist.

But that takes us to another type of training.

Body Building

I’m not talking about getting up on stage in a little Speedo all oiled up and flexing away. I’m talking about lifting weights in order to achieve a particular look. It may be the “male model” appearance or just a lean muscularity that exudes health and fitness. Many people don’t like to admit that this is an important factor in their training, but honestly, how many people would train if it didn’t at least to some degree improve their appearance.

The path to body building is paved with attention to diet, reasonable cardio and solid consistent weight training, so basically a balanced healthful lifestyle. The diet and cardio I have already addressed so what does it take in the lifting arena.

Generally it begins with the same big multi-joint movements of the pure strength and muscular endurance trainers. The rep ranges are moderately high (typically 8-12) and the sets are anything from 2 or 3 to more than 10. There is a lot of disagreement on reps and sets, but for most of us normal trainees it doesn’t matter all that much.

After the multi-joint movements, body builders then add in assistance lifts to address any real or perceive weakness that they may have. Body builders usually spend more time in the gym than strength athletes, doing more exercises and more cardio.

Body building has gotten a bad name over the years and in many cases justifiably so. On the other hand it is in fact what most people do when they train. Most trainees want to look good, feel good and have functional muscles that compliment their lifestyle.

A compact, lean muscular body, a well proportioned body, is the most efficient form for a human being. Metabolically this type of body functions well. Its joints are stable and aren’t prone to undue wear by carrying excessive weight (either muscle or fat), and any unnecessary load on the cardiovascular system is minimized.

Finally, Results

By reviewing your current or past exercise programs, you may find out why you aren’t, or haven’t, been getting the results you had hoped for. It may be that you just weren’t focused in the right direction, or perhaps in too many directions, at once.

By knowing what you are trying to accomplish, understanding the relationship between diet, strength and endurance and giving each one the attention it is due, you will over time achieve your true ultimate goal; a healthy, well functioning, strong and attractive body.

If you keep a log of what you are doing it is quite simple to review it on a regular basis and determine from the data whether or not the program is taking you in the direction you want to go. Regularly going back and analyzing the data will give you insight into your consistency and the progressive nature of your program. Then armed with this information you may tweak it to make it more responsive to your needs.

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