Getting Back into Activity
Are you rested yet? Have you finished your list on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, and Hulu? That new Michael Jordan docuseries is only 2 hours of your week and we’ve only got 4 episodes to go. Once you finish all that and are ready to start moving again, where do you start? Go for a walk, a run, lift some weights? Sign up for that online yoga or mobility class you’ve been eyeing? Hopefully, you haven’t gone full couch potato this entire time, but even if you have or if you are starting something new here are some guidelines to help get you started or restarted. Wait, did you watch Tiger King yet?
Components of a healthy life include:
Each one of these compliments the others. US Activity Guidelines layout the following criteria for weekly activity parameters for adults (source):
Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.
For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
So, now that we know where our goals are, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to get there for each of the health components.
So, if you don’t have weights available, bodyweight exercises are a great place to start. While we can easily add more volume by doing more sets and reps, the other ways to further progress these include decreasing rest between sets, making the movement for dynamic (like a clapping pushup or jumping squat), or making the movement single-limb (one-arm pushup or one-leg squats) to increase the intensity. Beyond that, it’s time to add some weight. When using weights, it’s best to have a spotter to help or a set of spotter arms on the rack you’re using.
Two ways to measure strength are volume (number of reps) and intensity (amount of weight). Testing these two will allow you to pick a starting point and build from there. For example, once you find the most weight you can lift for 8 reps (let’s say 100lbs) lower the weight approximately 20% (so 80lbs in this case) and begin your program there. Each time you revisit the lift, add 2.5-5lbs to the bar and you should find that for some time you should be able to add weight. This would look like this:
Lift 1 Day 1 - 80lbs - 3 sets of 8 reps
Lift 1 Day 2 - 85lbs - 3 sets of 8 reps
Lift 1 Day 3 - 90lbs - 3 sets of 8 reps
It would continue until you fail twice in a row and then you would simply reset again and drop another 20%, which is hopefully more than it was last time.
The other way to progress weight lifting would be to add volume to the same weight. This would look like this:
Lift 1 Day 1 - 80lbs - 3 sets of 8 reps
Lift 1 Day 2 - 80lbs - 3 sets of 9 reps
Lift 1 Day 3 - 80lbs - 3 sets of 10 reps
Either of these examples of linear progression will work great in getting back into lifting. According to the guidelines above, a MINIMUM of 2 days per week should involve resistance training, so keep that in mind if your focus is more conditioning-based.
Running, cycling, rowing, Hight Intensity Interval Training, CrossFit Metcons (DWODs), etc, are all examples of conditioning, which could also be called cardiovascular or aerobic training. Ways to measure conditioning can include time, distance, heart rate, or energy output (Watts or METs). Progressing these is easiest with time and distance. A general recommendation for running is to increase your total weekly distance by no more than 10% PER WEEK. For example:
Week 1 Mileage: 10 miles; +10% = 1mi
Week 2 Mileage: 11 miles
Week 1 Mileage: 30 miles; +10% = 3mi
Week 2 Mileage: 33 miles
Another way to progress conditioning would be to do the same work in a shorter amount of time.
Week 1: Run at 8:00 mi/min pace for 3 miles
Week 2: Run at 7:50 mi/min pace for 3 miles
Week 1: Perform Metcon in 8:00 minutes
Week 2: Perform Metcon in 7:50 minutes
Heart Rate is a good measure of your relative intensity of work but requires some tracking on your part to find your normal resting heart rate, some calculation to find your max heart rate (220bpm minus your age), and then finding your target heart rate for intensity.
Under 60% of Calculated Heart Rate Max: recovery and warm, very light activity
60-80% of Calculated Heart Rate Max: most conditioning exercise takes place here. Longer distance runs, cycling, etc.
Over 80% of Calculated Heart Rate Max: more beneficial for shorter bouts of exercise such as HIIT and shorter Metcons, interval sprints, and for developing top speed and performance.
And finally, if we’re using work output, then we simply need a way to measure work and increase the work done week to week or decrease the time the same work was done from week to week. The work would be calculated using METs, Watts, or Calories and you could do this on most exercise equipment such as a rower, bike, or treadmill. Fitness trackers are another way to track work, just make sure your particular brand has that capability.
If we go back to the initial guidelines, the first one says “Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none.” Ok, so we know we’re a bit sedentary. Say you “train” 60-90 minutes per day 5 days per week to meet the activity guidelines and sleep on average 8 hours per night. So, we have 112 usable hours per week and your activity here is accounting for 4-7% of your total “usable time” per week. What else can you do? Move! Some suggestions that I’ve seen are below:
Switch to a sit-stand desk and change positions more frequently when working
Take a 10-minute walk after every meal
Perform a different yoga, Pilates, or mobility movement during commercial breaks when watching TV
Go for a walk while you have your morning coffee
Park further away at stores
Wash your vehicle yourself
Do an online yoga session or visit your local yoga studio for a class.
A general observation I’ve made over the past few years - we don’t like to do the stuff we don’t like to do. Profound, I know. Here’s the simple thing, though. Most strength athletes would benefit from some yoga, Pilates, or general mobility work 1-2 times per week. On the flip side, most yoga or Pilates practitioners would benefit from general strength training as well! Try to start with 30 minutes twice per week and strive to hold that additional activity for the next 4 weeks and see how you feel.
Now I won’t go into specific diets here and get too into the weeds on macronutrients, micronutrients, energy expenditure, etc (I like to leave that to our expert friends, the Registered Dieticians), but we can follow some general guidelines.
Lean Protein options are great, start there, but don’t fear the occasional fattier piece of meat. You should probably eat more fish too. Personally, I schedule for twice per week on seafood.
Vegetables, more of them. And not just the same 3 you always eat. And corn isn’t a vegetable. I thought I ate a lot of vegetables until I measured. I was WAY OFF. But good news, it isn’t hard to increase these. Through some spinach in your morning eggs. Grab a few handfuls of mixed greens or some cruciferous vegetables to take to go for lunch. Sear some in a pan at dinner. The good thing about vegetables is that they’re quick to cook, usually, and a lot can be eaten raw. I lump roots and tubers in here too. Potatoes, carrots, yams, and all are great to add some density to a lighter meal and can be endlessly altered for different flavors.
Fruits are nature’s gift to a sweet tooth. There has been some debate on eating too much fruit and sugar consumption but in general, this isn’t what most people should be worrying about. Fruits are great for a quick snack or addition before some exercise. I like the tartness of blueberries or grapefruit with coffee in the morning.
Whole grains choose these for a less processed way to get some carbs into your diet. Usually, bread is an accessory or side but try baking some of your own to really find what you like.
Avoid processed foods and sugars
Water is an easier calculation. Take your bodyweight and divide it by 2. That’s how many ounces per day your goal should be. If you find yourself peeing every half-hour, through a pinch of sea salt or lemon in to help. We also get water from fruits and vegetables so you may be able to get by with less than your goal ounces.
As far as calculating calories and macronutrients, here is the formula I have saved from Barbell Medicine as a starting point:
Calories Protein Carbs Fat
(kCal/LB) (G/LB) (G/LB) (G/LB)
Gain 16.9 1.1 2 0.5
Recomp 12.75 1.15 1.25 0.35
Lose 11.43 1.25 1 0.27
Female Gain 14.9 1 1.6 0.5
Recomp 12.62 1.1 1.2 0.38
Lose 11.35 1.15 0.9 0.35
When someone asks me how they can get more out of their training or recovery, or what supplements I recommend, I always try to ask them about their sleep (and nutrition). If you’re not sleeping enough or well enough, it doesn’t matter what trick you try or supplement you take, you’re missing out on the biggest recovery tool there is. Here are some points to help you sleep better:
Find a cold enough temperature to sleep deep. Fighting over the temp with your other half? Just use the sheet if it’s too hot or use an extra blanket if it’s too cold. But comfort is key here.
Schedule, schedule, schedule. Try to have consistent times to go to sleep and wake up every day. This will get your body on a clock and create some normalcy and avoid the snooze button. Fun fact, in college I put my alarm on the opposite side of my room so I would have to get up to turn it off. Now, it’s just a habit.
Sleep amount will vary but the average is 7-9 hours. Find what works best for you and get that amount.
Keep your room as dark as possible with blackout curtains, and block light from electrical appliances such as clocks and phones.
Minimize screen time 30 minutes before bed. Blue filters are suggested in the last 60-90 minutes of being awake.
Limit late consumption of caffeine. If you drink coffee, coke, or tea throughout the day and have trouble sleeping, try switching to water after lunch and see if that helps. If so, do some experimentation and see what time you need to stop and be able to sleep normally.
Decrease nightly alcohol consumption. It may help wind you down but it also doesn’t bode well for your deep sleep that night and hampers your recovery.
Wrapping it Up
So as we’re hopefully headed to a time where we can eventually get back into some normalcy in life post coronavirus, take a look above and start creating your plan and making the changes you need to succeed. Talk to your coach, instructor, programmer, or ask me and we can help get you moving again.
In closing, realize that change won’t happen overnight and remain steady. One of my favorite quotes is from John Welbourn of Power Athlete when he says: “Move the dirt, some days you get a shovel, some days you get a spoon.” It’s about consistency over time.
Thanks for reading,