Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Exercise Program is Growing Up...

By: Andrew Jagim

For those of you who know me, by now I'm sure you've realized I'm a bit of a fitness nut as exercise has always been a major part of my life.  However, now as I enter my 30's and begin to have kids I've noticed my exercise program is growing up just as fast as my kids are. Let me start from the beginning:

My exercise and training regimen started back in my awkward middle school / high school years when I was first introduced to the weight room. It was after a 7th grade football practice and coach informed us that we would be lifting weights that day after practice.  I didn't really know what that meant so I just kind of followed the rest of the team into the weight room.  Now, I went to a small middle school and high school so everyone was forced to share all of the facilities, including the weight room.  Needless to say, this was a little intimidating.  Here I am one day bragging to my friends that I now put on deodorant and learned how to shave and the next day I get tossed into a loud, smelly weight room full of testosterone infused highscoolers that looked liked they could've doubled as professional wrestlers (well at the time at least). 

As a newbie, I got sucked into the most common mistake of trying to keep up with the biggest guy in the weight room.  It made sense at the: time "That guy looks huge so I'll just do what he does..." BIG MISTAKE. When following this approach most of the time you'll either end up hurting yourself or being so sore that you may fear the weight room forever.  Regardless, this is how it all began.  Fortunately, the more I learned the more I improved and started training with a purpose. I slowly figured out my weaknesses and areas that needed improvement and began focusing on them.  From that point on I was hooked. Depending on what sport season I was in or preparing for, I would adjust my workout accordingly.  And thus my number one priority in the weight room was training for sports.

But then I graduated and I was no longer participating in sanctioned athletics. Don't get me wrong I still played sports and loved intramural ultimate frisbee as much as the next person but I'm not sure there was a need for a specific strength training program to improve performance. During this time my training goals shifted a bit and I began exercising for the same reason every other person in college did, I wanted to look better in a swimsuit (or winter clothes since I did my undergraduate work in North Dakota) and to try and "burn off" the previous nights' alcohol-related calorie influx. As you can imagine this exercise routine was the typical "Bro-split" type of program which included lots of abdominal and arm exercises with some elliptical rides thrown into the mix trying to hit a calorie expenditure goal of 5-6 beers' worth (based on the little calorie counter on the dashboard) each ride.  Thankfully this was also the time I began learning more about exercise science & nutrition through my degree program.  This newfound understanding of proper program design resulted in immediate changes into the type of exercises I did, the frequency of training and how I pieced everything together.

From there my training goals began to focus more on strength training, particularly recreational bodybuilding as I always flirted with the idea of competing but never actually pulled the trigger. (Mostly because I liked pizza too much).  This style of training also helped me "look the part," to some extent, within the field of exercise science.  Through my positions of an exercise science faculty member, personal trainer and sports nutritionist there has been a constant pressure to visually look like I know what I'm talking about and more or less "practice what I preach. " For the most part I considered this a good thing as it continually motivated me to stay active with my training and eating plan; however over time this has also taken its toll. As I get older I find it harder and harder to recover and maintain the type of training that has always been a staple in my exercise regimen and one that I could go all-out, year round with out any issues.  Weightlifting for strictly increasing muscle mass is not always the best for functional improvements in performance or movement ability.  Over time I have developed nagging injuries, reductions in range of motion and sub-par strength development as a result.  Some of this stems from the type of training I was doing and some from a lack of proper program design, focusing on the wrong kind of goals and a lack of long-term development.  Not to mention, as I started having kids and be active with them it wasn't very conducive to my lifestyle as training 5-7 days a week while constantly be in a state of soreness was no picnic.

The idea of telling my daughter, "sorry, I can't play today hunny; daddy trained legs yesterday and now I can't move or pick you up off the floor..." just didn't seem appropriate.  So now, just as my personal and professional life has matured, so has my exercise regimen.  My training goals have now shifted to focus more on functional movement, reducing the risk of injury and improving overall quality of life. I still try to maintain a healthy body composition just not one that yields 5% body fat.  Could I probably get back down to 5% body fat? Yes. Do I want to? No. I am perfectly comfortable walking around at 13-16% body fat which is where I naturally seem to stay because it fits better with my lifestyle. It allows me to eat with my family, go out with friends occasionally and not obsess about constantly staying lean.

Is this journey I've taken the right one? Hell no.  In my defense, I'm sure it's a progression that a lot of others have followed. Maybe not the specific types of exercises & program I used but the idea of transitioning from sport-specific training to exercising just to looking visually appealing to exercising just so you can improve your quality of life is probably a fairly common one.  Would I do things differently if I could go back and do it all over again? Absolutely! Learn from my mistakes:  Once I transitioned out of sport-specific training my training goals always revolved around how I looked rather than how I felt or how I could move/perform (which can be defined in a variety of ways). Don't be afraid to ignore the scale or what your body composition is at and instead focus more so on how you can improve performance, or how strong you are getting or whether or not your pain is going away. A lot of time, when you exercise in such a way that addresses a lot of the issues I just mentioned, the body comp stuff will take care of itself (if nutrition is held in check of course).

So what does this type of exercise program look like??? A mixed bag of strength training (with a focus on functional movement AND strength-based goals), aerobic training (focusing more on higher intensity interval training), active recovery strategies (foam rolling, yoga, dynamic warmups and cool downs) and just being more active in general.  A lot of these things you can do with your family or kids and incorporate everyone into your exercise plan instead of locking yourself in a dungeon-like weight room or spending endless hours on an elliptical each week. So there you have, my personal story of how my exercise program has evolved and hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. I'm sure in 30 years I will have another update to this post, just hopefully one with less mistakes.

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