Today’s Fitness Friday features a guest post from exercise physiologist and educator Joe Cannon, who taught the physical trainer certification class I completed in June. He provides simple tips to make workouts easier, shorter and more fun!

Training Tips from Joe:

It seems that these days, everybody is trying live a healthier lifestyle. For many, this means working out. Unfortunately, many people either have misguided ideas about how to exercise or are working out in ways that may be totally counterproductive to their goals. So, to help you better understand how your bodies respond to exercise, here are some “training tips” to help you get the most of your time in the gym.

  • Know your goals. How many reading these words have joined a gym without knowing what you wanted to accomplish? Many, I’m sure. Your body responds differently to different types of exercise so knowing what your goals are will allow you to better choose the right type of exercise for you. For example, if you plan to perform resistance training, the amount of weight lifted, the repetitions the weight is lifted, and sets performed and the rest between sets can all have a profound effect on how your body responds.  Below is a summary of how different resistances, weights and rest periods can elicit different effects.
    Goal Reps Sets Rest Between Sets
    Strength 10 3-4 30 sec -1.5 min
    Hypertrophy 8-12 3-6 30 sec – 1.5 min
    Muscle Endurance 12-15 2-3 less than 30 sec
  • Warm up before you stretch. Most people think that stretching and warming up are synonymous. Truth be told, they are not. When someone “warms up”, it means that they are doing several minutes of walking, light jogging or calisthenics to warm their muscles and prepare the body for exercise. Before warming up, your muscles are relatively inflexible and therefore, not very responsive to stretching. If you doubt this, try seeing how flexible you are after getting out of bed in the morning. As a general rule, a warm up should last anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes and consist of any light intensity aerobic activity to warm those cold muscles prior to stretching. Stretching should consist of static stretching where the stretch is taken to the point of just a mild discomfort. Bouncing during stretching is not advisable for most individuals and may result in injury. I personally suggest stretching after working out when your muscles are even more pliable. So, before your next workout, try warming up prior to stretching. Your body will thank you for it!
  • Reduce muscle soreness.   Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS, for short) is the pain felt 24-72 hours after an overly aggressive exercise routine and is one of the big reasons new exercisers drop out of a more healthy, active lifestyle. While the pain associated with DOMS is one of the big mysteries of exercise science, starting out nice and easy is the best way to minimize the pain. According to Adam Freedman, CSCS, of ASPEN Fitness Consultants of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, “start with 1 set of 12-15 repetitions.” After that, go home, eat something healthy and get a good night sleep.
  • Exercise your biggest muscles first. According to Christopher Blessing, MS, PT, CSCS, a physical therapist in Pennsylvania, “it makes good sense to work the biggest muscles first and work down to the smaller muscles because the smaller muscles are probably already involved in the big-muscle exercises.” For example, the shoulder and triceps muscles are involved in pressing movements such as the bench press and shoulder press. By fatiguing the smaller shoulder and triceps muscles first, you most likely limit how much weight you can lift with the muscles of your chest. As a rule, the chest, back and legs should be trained before biceps, triceps and other smaller muscle groups.
  • Lose the lifting belts. For those who wear weight lifting belts during resistance training, realize that improper use of these belts may weaken low back muscles over time. Essentially, your body gets used to the extra help the belt provides. If you are going to use a lifting belt, only do so when lifting very heavy amounts of weight and only when performing exercises that involve the lower back (heavy squats for example). You don’t need a lifting belt when you are doing a bench press, biceps curls or practically any machine-type exercise.
  • Don’t hold your breath. Holding your breath during resistance training is called the Valsalva maneuver, named in honor of the 18th century Italian anatomist who was the first to describe it. In a nutshell, the Valsalva maneuver states that when we hold our breath, we increase the pressure inside our chests. This pressure reduces the return of blood to the heart. When less blood gets back to the heart, it follows that less blood is pumped to the brain. This in turn reduces oxygen to the brain and in extreme instances this may result in passing out—not a good thing, if you happen to be holding a very heavy weight over your head! Holding your breath also tends to drastically raise your blood pressure which is not good either. Avoiding the Valsalva maneuver is easy—just breathe.
  • Water is still the beverage of choice. The loss of only 2 percent of your body fluid during exercise is enough to decrease exercise performance by 15 percent!  While this is true, if you are exercising for less than an hour at a time, water is still the best choice to quench your thirst.  Sports drinks may have an advantage for exercise lasting longer than one hour. One disadvantage of sports drinks is the added calories may put a dent in your waistline. Drink water before, during and after exercise.  This is especially true for those over 60 years of age because the sensation of thirst doesn’t seem to work as well in some older adults.
  • Avoid traffic. While this might always seem a wise thing to do so you don’t get run over while you work out, there is another reason: Pollution. It has been estimated that exercising near busy streets for 60 minutes exposes one to the pollution equivalent to that of smoking a half a pack of cigarettes! Better strategy: exercise during the wee morning hours or later in the evening; either way, you’ll run into less traffic—and pollution.
  • To run better, lift weights. To improve your running speed and/or running distance, do some weight training. Studies show that performing lower body resistance training actually improves aerobic exercise performance. Exercises that would help the most include squats, leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls.
  • Limit workouts to one hour or less. Studies show that for new exercisers, working out for longer than 60 minutes at a time is associated with greater dropout rates compared to those who exercise for less than 60 minutes.
  • Find a workout partner. It turns out that when we work out with a partner, we tend to exercise longer. Choose wisely when choosing workout partners so that you don’t pick someone who is in much better shape than you are. This is because studies indicate that the less-conditioned partner tends to drop out of an exercise program when the exercise partners differ greatly in how physically fit they are. Essentially the less conditioned partner might get discouraged when he/she can’t keep up with their more physically fit partner.
  • Get some rest. Contrary to popular belief, your body does not grow stronger during the time you are actually working out. Rather, your body grows stronger when you are resting. So, plan on giving your body at least 24 hours of rest between workouts and a little more than that if you are new to exercise or are elderly.
  • One set is as good as 3 sets.  For those who are new to strength training, studies consistently show that performing one set of an exercise will result in almost as much strength as performing 3 sets. According to Dianna Mills, MS, ATC, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer in Pennsylvania, “Studies show that the change in strength between performing 1 set and 3 sets is only about a 3% difference.” This is great news for people who have limited time to work out! After a few months and you have adjusted to the rigors of resistance training feel free to increase to 2 or more sets if that is your goal.
  • Do something fun. Your commitment to exercise won’t last very long if you do things that you don’t like doing. So, if you don’t like running, don’t do it! You have to find that unique mix of activities that works for you. Don’t do anything simply because your friends says it is good for you, because in reality, even if it is good for you, you won’t be doing it very long if you don’t enjoy it. So, make your workouts fun and you will do them for a lifetime. And when you come right down to it, isn’t that what working out is all about —doing it for a lifetime?


Joe Cannon, MS, CSCS is a writer, personal trainer and health and fitness educator. He’s the author of several books about exercise, personal training, sports nutrition and nutritional supplements. As a consumer advocate he informs the public about myths and misinformation in the health, nutrition and fitness industries.

He can be reached via his website