Superior Fitness Principles Include Cross Training Exercise

24 06 2014

CrossTrain Muscles Using a Variety of exercise

I recall cross training during the 80’s as a popular strategy used off-season in-between sports to sustain fitness levels.  Today the same cross training fitness principles are used by a new generation of athletes and activity enthusiasts to sustain superior physical condition year round.

Cross training exercise is identified and made new again by a popular brand known as “CrossFit” training.  CrossFit, Inc. is a fitness company founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000.  Its training philosophy and programs make use of a wide variety of age old sports conditioning, physical activities and exercise to sustain high fitness and performance levels.

For instance, CrossFit exercise incorporates a mix of high-intensity interval training, girevoy sport (Russia Kettle ball lifting), plyometrics (jump training), strongman, powerlifting, calisthenics, gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting and other exercise.  A mix of these exercise activities are now offered within 9,000 affiliated gyms with this particular cross train brand.

If a gym offers cross training, or CrossFit programs and services, then there will be exercise areas that offers more than free weights, stationary weight lift and aerobics equipment, swimming pool, racquet ball courts and aerobic dance classes.  For example, in/outdoor boot camps and/or specialized and singular workout areas within fitness centers may also offer obstacle exercise stations specifically designed to move the body, e.g., climb, jump, roll, leap, etc.   Parkour courses originated within the military and are still used today to condition and cross train soldiers for the rigors of war.  To relate, think of the popular game show “survivor,” which uses a variety of Parkour course-like physical challenge stations to win immunity and awards.

Cross training programs have been introduced to the “Y” and millennial generation through numerous newly minted small 24/7 secure access workout centers that may or may not be affiliated with the CrossFit brand.  As a matter of fact the cross training principled fitness philosophy may fall under many types of fitness brands offering unique variations of exercise modalities that can accommodate any customized fitness program need.

Back in the 80’s we used cross training routines to maintain superior fitness levels through exercise activities that included martial artistry, gymnastics, climbing, running, jumping and leaping station challenges.

These unique training areas were created or accessed in a back yard, field, natural wooded area or garage.  We customized our cross training areas based on exercise activity ideals found in magazines, books and imagination.  These customized training areas weren’t traditionally offered within any commercial gym, or fitness facility of the time.  For instance, you couldn’t go into any facility and find a rock climbing wall, Parkour exercise area, free weights, aerobics, gymnastics equipment, or unique combination thereof to meet all fitness programming needs.  Today you can find a plethora of cross training programs and services built into one fitness facility.

The market supply and demand model of the 80’s basically offered free weights and circuit training equipment.  Some aerobics equipment and dance classed were also offered.  You may have also had access to a swimming pool, gym and racquet courts and indoor track in large facilities at in increased membership expense.

However, if you needed specific cross training equipment in preparation for the standard sports season, you were limited to the local offerings of the time.  For example, if you played football, your cross training program off-season would revolve around jog-sprint activities performed on urban roads if you didn’t have access to a school track.  Weight lifting facilities offered free weights to exercise chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs.  To include clean and jerk, bench and dead lift strength and power exercise stations, etc.  These exercise staples are still used today to cross train and condition a football player’s fitness levels year round.

Regardless of fitness programming, resources and training practices during off-season; to get an athlete to the next fitness level requires an interim cross training resources to achieve the competitive condition.

Professional athletes must exercise and scrimmage to its sport specific activity to work muscle memory [neurological mind-body connection] as close as possible within its natural environment to be competitive.  Although cross training exercises are used to keep the brain-body system(s) firing at a good rate of return, it is not “peak or optimum relative to competitive sport play if not performed with frequency, within its natural and conditional environment.”

Now let’s focus on a competitive rock climber looking to challenge themselves by preparing a vertical rock face climb for the first time.  How should he/or she cross train in preparation for the event?  An indoor rock climbing area, yoga class and weight lifting center with endurance and resistive workout stations are all good cross training resources to precondition the necessary strength, flexibility and endurance in preparation of the actual event.  But in no way is a substitute for the real thing.

Controlled facilities cannot provide the specific environment, weather conditions and test the mind-body in the same way as natures opposing gravitational forces.   To obtain a well-conditioned and relative muscle memory performance focus for this event, environmental field training is necessary.  Like a football training camp, a relative rock climbing base camp must be part of the training program.  If you climb vertical mountains year round you’re likely in a conditioned league of your own and using your natural environment as a relative Parcour training ground.

To maximize your rock climbing skillsets a preconditioning period of acclimation, strategy and exercise training at ground zero is necessary.  For instance, ground zero training areas is considered smart planning and strategy prior to negotiating a vertical climb similar to the NW face of half dome in Yosemite Park, CA.  Those that don’t program and plan accordingly are at greater risk of injury and/or death when cutting corners in this particular sport.

Regardless of physical activity or personal challenge, many athletes and adventure seekers cross train by using a mix of swimming, biking, jogging, running and resistive weight lifting exercise and other routines.

We didn’t have the variety of facilities and equipment during our generations competitive sport years.  But we all understood the benefits of cross training fitness principles.  If we needed to condition ourselves with a similar exercise we’d build it in our garage or back yard, or find an obstacle course in an outdoor rural environment.  At the time we didn’t know it, but we were the innovators and developers of modified Parkour courses and cross training within urban and rural areas.

Cross training centers may not offer a training program specific to your competitive needs.  However, if you’re serious about taking your fitness condition to the next level, you can find a skilled fitness trainer to help you customize a relative cross train program in support of your fitness goals.

For example, if your training to become the next American Ninja Warrior then your cross training program must focus on upper body and grip strength [hang time], powerful and explosive legs for jumping, vaulting, swinging and leaping; free running (high intensity run through obstacles) with the cardio muscular endurance and flexibility to endure such an event.  You must find a skilled trainer and/or facility to help customize an exercise program that includes relative quadrupedal (hand-leg) movement within a similar Parcour or similar exercise area and conditional environment.

The variations of balance, movement, hand-eye coordination, flexibility, power and cat-like reflex skillsets needed to compete in Parcour courses can be improved upon through the study of shaolin Kung-Fu philosophies rooted in the animal kingdom.  There is a lot to learn in movement and balance by watching how cats, dogs and monkeys play.  For instance, if a Ninja Parkour course requires a “cat-like” run-jump-grab-swing to reach a 10’ platform, then study a video of a cat’s movement as it jumps from ground to top of fence and then balances itself.  A Parcour training facility should include this exercise station, or assembly and training provided relative to animal movements.

I’ve watched professional sports players compete in physical challenges outside of their trained professions.  Because body types, passion, genetics and training techniques favor particular strengths, every one of us is wired to be competitive at various activities and at different levels.  The point is, if you’re looking to be physically good or competitive at something, or you simply want to stay in shape, determine your physical strengths, weaknesses and passion for a particular exercise activity.

Start out with a low-intensity cross training exercise program.  Then train to the environment 30-60 days before the actual activity or event to achieve a competitive advantage regardless of age group.  When you cross train relative to your fitness goal you activate more musculoskeletal movement and stimulate more neurological functionality of the brain and body then you would otherwise.  Thereby making you more competitive and healthy relative to your age.

Author: Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, MSC Officer, ANG Ret.2014 Copyright.  All rights reserved, MirrorAthlete Publishing @:, Sign up for your free eNewsletter.

Relative Fitness Programming Sustains Active Lifestyles

23 02 2014
Get your aerobics in over the weekend on your bikes in new and exciting places.  Exploration on foot or bike is one of our families favorite activities.

Get your aerobics in over the weekend on your bikes in new and exciting places. Exploration on foot or bike is one of our families favorite activities.

I’m often asked, what’s the best way to get in shape and lose weight?  The first thing that comes to mind, you must find an exercise activity program that’s “relative for you.”  Through client consults it is not surprising to learn if you’re not passionate about “your” exercise activity, you’ll not stick with it, thereby compromising your health and overall lifestyle. 

    Fitness levels can be increased simply by identifying a duration activity that motivates you to move your body with purpose.  Most aerobic and anaerobic exercise routines center on a 3 to 5 day program, 30-60 minutes in duration.  Typical fitness goal requests from clients look to achieve weight loss, muscular endurance, tone, increased strength and increased range of motion. 

    Anaerobic activity is defined, where strength, power and high muscular intensity effort is applied during exercise.  Whereas aerobic activity is exercise of low-medium and high cardio intensities that rarely exceed 85% of our max heart rate for a majority of us.  Target Heart Rate (THR) is often used to monitor heart beat rate at the carotid (neck) or radial (wrist) artery.  Heart rate tells us when to increase or decrease exercise intensity to stay within the fat burning zone to achieve the best results. 

    Science shows us that aerobic exercise intensity at ~60-70% THR zone is the fat burning “sweet spot range” to burn fat and reduce body weight.  Look up “THR zone” within any search engine to calculate your THR relative to age and current fitness levels to burn more body fat. 

    How does one determine and build a relative fitness program?  Many individuals have learned through time to build a program that works for them.  However, many others need the services of a professional fitness trainer.

    What do I consider a professional fitness trainer?  An undergraduate [physical and health sciences] that is certified, experienced in fitness profiling and obtaining client profile data points including fitness assessments meeting specific protocol criteria and standards.  Then analyzing the data to build a customized fitness program relative to the client’s fitness and health needs. 

    The data points necessary to build a relative fitness program may include the following: medical history analysis, fitness objectives and activities goals analysis, nutritional analysis and fitness level assessments [strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, cardio endurance, postural analysis and body fat%], etc.  A customized fitness program designed around fitness objectives with subjective client criteria in mind has the best chance of optimizing fitness results.  And for many American’s the number one fitness goal is weight loss. 

    All too often relative fitness programming is disregarded where some jump on others band wagons in hopes of receiving the same results.  It is often thought if one follows another’s exercise routine, they’ll receive the same fitness benefits.  Sometimes this strategy works, but all too often it fails because it’s relative to another’s unique mind, body and spirit and environment(s) in which they live.   

    Whatever it is others are doing won’t necessarily work for you in the same way.  Why?  Maybe it’s not relative to your current state of mind or health, or conducive to the environments in which you live, work and play.  Also, what is your body type and state of health?  For example, what exercise activities would best optimize your current physical abilities relative to your current body shape, health and fitness levels? 

    I’ve seen people buy a year’s gym membership, purchase home equipment, work out with a buddy that pushes too hard, or buy non-certified professional 1:1 trainer serves, etc., then get too sore or hurt themselves.  Since this is a bad experience they drop out of the program because they weren’t profiled and programmed relative to their lifestyle, fitness and health needs. 

    Exercise intensity is important for increased fitness levels and performance.  But one must be eased into intensities if absent from exercise beyond a typical walk pace or daily routine for some time.  Once you become conditioned to increase movement and exercise activity daily there is an effort of intensity “sweet spot” relative to your fitness goals.  This effort of intensity is not too low and not too high, somewhere in the middle and just right for a majority of us to achieve our fitness goals. 

    Those involved in intermural or professional sports activities who condition themselves at higher intensity levels must be programmed at higher levels of exercise intensity to keep a competitive advantage.  If you are not trained or conditioned to exercise yourself above 70-85% THR, you’ll likely have a bad physical experience and you’re New Year’s resolution will go right out the window.  Professional athletes often train above 85% THR intensities conditioning themselves for a muscular endurance and/or strength event. 

    For the novice, it is recommended a 1:1 session and orientation to exercise programming.  I highly recommend purchasing professional and certified fitness trainer services that includes fitness profiling and assessments to develop a customized fitness program that’s relative for you.  Especially if you’ve failed previously in the gym environment, or have been out of the exercise circuit for a long period of time, or have not been able to stick with any other form of exercise no matter how hard you try.  The cost of these professional services is usually reasonable for the time spent in consultation, fitness programming and 1:1 exercise training. 

    A good trainer will balance a variety of aerobic and anaerobic exercise activities inside/outside of the gym environment to keep boredom at bay with environmental lifestyle in mind.   For example two or three days a week your focus could be strength training exercises and/or Circuit weight training where you use 8-12 stationary pieces of equipment providing aerobic and anaerobic benefits completed within 20-30minutes. 

     On the same days or alternate days you may also make a commitment to participate in a low-to-high impact aerobics activity dependent on activity interests.  Such as, instructor lead classes, or home exercises:  Spinning (stationary bike), Zumba [dance moves of salsa, reggaeton, mambo, flamenco, rumba and hip-hop], or boot camp exercise classes. 

    Or instead of organized fitness instruction classes, you may be more comfortable, or practical dependent on activity goals analysis to engage in self-pace exercise activity in the home or outdoor walking, jogging, biking, rowing, swimming, ballroom dance, or competitive intermural sports (indoor racquetball, basketball, squash, etc.).  

    There is also stationary aerobic exercise equipment that is found in most gyms, or can be purchased for home use:  stair-stepping, treadmill, or recombinant bike-steppers, cross trainer elliptical, Nortrac Ellipticals. 

    What is elliptical?  These are aerobic stationary exercise machines that simulate stair climbing, rowing, walking and running that also increase range of motion without causing extreme stress on weight bearing joints. Thereby reducing the likelihood of injuries and optimizing the fat burning benefits while toning core muscle groups. 

    People recovering from injury often rehabilitate themselves at a low intensity pace on these types of machines.  But don’t underestimate their usefulness.  Resistance can be set to provide an intense workout to lose more body fat while toning muscles and optimizing cardiovascular and muscular endurance performance. 

    For intermediate and advanced exercise enthusiasts if you’ve been working out for years and feel like you’re physical performance, or competitive advantage is stagnant you may need the services of a fitness trainer that specializes in competitive task specific/sports activity profiling.  A professional sports trainer can help design and develop a program that’s relative to achieving the desired competitive advantage and overall fitness sports goal.  These sports trainer specialists can design a relative task specific sports program to get you to the next competitive level. 

    Regardless of experience, fitness level or goals, once you become exercise and activities conditioned, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.  Do increase intensities, duration and frequency of activities to modify your fitness program (mix it up) once your conditioned to do so.   

    Continuous improvement through variety using a relative plan that’s right for you is a sure fire method to ensure you achieve and sustain your fitness goal(s).  This will ensure your fitness results and performance don’t plateau and you stay excited about the next day’s work out.  If you want to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle for the long haul, professional fitness programming provides a relative road map to get you there and keep you on target.

Also Read, How to Exercise Safely and Increase Fitness Levels

Author: Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, USA Medical Services Officer, CPT, RET. 2014 Copyright.  All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Publishing @:, Sign up for your free eNewsletter.






























What Training Methods Will Grow Muscle and Burn More Fat?

21 10 2013
How to burn more fat and grow muscle

How to burn more fat and grow muscle

First of all one must realize after reading the article title “what training methods will grow muscle and burn more fat,” there is a lot of moving parts in answering this question.  I can break these moving parts down enough and provide a solution on how you can train and achieve both fitness goals.  Although diet and health are very important variables to consider in achieving these fitness goals… I will primarily focus on muscle fiber types, intensity of effort and body fuels needed to achieve the desired result.

Research shows us, muscle is stimulated to grow when the fast twitch muscle fibers within our chest, back, arms, legs, etc., are contracting at a fast rate during anaerobic exercise activities.  To grow muscle optimally, also requires there is enough glucose and stored muscle glycogen fuel available to the working muscles during a physical event.

In contrast to burning body fat, activation of the slow twitch muscle fibers requires less effort for longer periods during aerobic exercise activities.  To burn fat optimally, slow twitch muscle fibers require a glucose and fat fuel source to endure those exercise activities.

It is important to know muscle groupings have three muscle fiber types that move the body at a slow, intermediate or fast pace per slow twitch, intermediate and fast twitch fibers contracting at varying rates of intensity as exercise increases and decreases.

Let’s briefly examine the characteristics of the muscle fiber to better understand their food fuel preference and varying rates of contraction as exercise intensities change.

Fast twitch muscle fibers are less vascular than slow and intermediate fiber types and appear white in color and are highly stimulated during anaerobic (speed, power and strength) training.  These muscle fibers primarily fuel their quick contractions using carbohydrates to produce the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) energy at 2 times the contraction rate of “the red and vascular (oxygenated)” slow twitch “endurance muscle fibers.”  Slow twitch muscle fibers contract at lower intensities and prefer fat fuel to produce the required ATP energy for long endurance activities.  And the 3rd muscle type “intermediate” makes use of both metabolic worlds to support the ramping up and down of exercise intensity and rate of physical movement (Katch and McArdle 1993).

It is important to understand, any type of exercise will burn food fuel calories.  But it is your muscle fibers fuel preference that changes as intensity of exercise decreases or increases. “If intensity continues to rise, slow-twitch fibers are unable to continue working and fast-twitch fibers will take over (Loya 2013).”

“Human muscles contain a genetically determined mixture of both slow and fast fiber types. On average, we have about 50 percent slow twitch and 50 percent fast twitch fibers in most of the muscles used for movement.”  However, “Olympic sprinters have been shown to possess about 80 percent fast twitch fibers, while those who excel in marathons tend to have 80 percent slow twitch fibers.  These well-conditioned slow and fast twitch muscle fibers may be genetically provided within naturally lean-muscular body types (Quinn 2013).”

From a genetic perspective this is likely the reason most of us will never be Olympic contenders no matter how hard we train.  One thing appears certain, if the average human muscle is comprised of 50% slow twitch muscle fiber; it stands to reason, the majority of us have a genetic and competitive advantage to burn body fat when participating in low intensity exercise.

You are now aware there is an order of muscular contraction where slow twitch fibers yield to fast twitch muscle fiber as physical effort increases.  Also a muscle fiber fuel preference is required to produce the energy and muscle contraction rate necessary to achieve the physical speed, power, strength and fat burning goal.

For example, when you walk you’re mostly stimulating the leg muscles slow and intermediate twitch muscle fibers to perform that specific task.  But when you sprint or squeeze out those last reps on a heavy bench press station, the slow and intermediate twitch muscle fibers yield to the faster twitch muscle fibers needed to contract a higher rate of intensity to achieve the optimum muscle building result.

Sprinting with all-out effort is similar to squeezing out that last rep on the bench press.  The fast twitch muscle fibers fire (contract) at a high rate of intensity and energy exchange, while the slow fibers stand-by until the high intensity effort is complete.

We all know a high level of muscular intensity and physical effort has limitations.  That is fFast twitch fibers utilize their preferred fuel source glucose first which lasts for only seconds. Glucose fuel allows intense contractions for up to a maximum period of 10 seconds. After this time and up to a period of 3 minutes, the fuel source switches to glycogen.  In contrast, slow twitch fibers use a combination of glucose and fats for their energy supply. This is a much slower process and can be maintained with constant intensity for a continued time period (Fitnessbeans 2012).”

Now that we’ve reviewed some basics of muscle fiber characteristics and fuel preferences during specific types of exercise activity, let’s answer the question, “what training methods will grow muscle and burn more fat?”

The answer is fairly straight forward, train “task specific.”  If you want more bulk, strength and power lift heavier weights at increasing intensities.  If you want more speed and endurance, train to achieve that condition and performance, e.g., sprinting, wrestling, karate, boxing, basketball, football, etc.  If you want to burn more body fat train aerobically by performing low intensity exercise activity, e.g., walking, jogging, biking, dance, etc.

And if you want the best of both worlds, you must cross-train.  For example, take your exercise time and split into two training session (train aerobically and anaerobically) within a specific period of time.  For instance, if you only have one hour to exercise, spend 5 minutes stretching, and then 25 minutes on an aerobic exercise activity like low-intensity walking, stationary bike, jogging, tread mill equipment, etc.

During the last 25 minutes use increasing resistive weight on free weights or stationary equipment and/or circuit weight training equipment.  On alternating days if another fitness goal is to participate in a competitive sports activity, spend a full exercise day “session” participating in that activity:  e.g., racquetball, basketball, baseball, soccer, dance, running, power lifting, boxing, karate, etc.

Somewhere mid-week be sure to take a day or two off to rest muscles so they can repair.  This is especially important if you’re training at a high rate of intensity daily.  If you over train your muscles, they will be in a state of breakdown and repair more so than growing.  With low intensity exercises, rest is not so much of an issue.  The more time you put into a walking activity for example, the more body fat you’ll burn and tone the body.

If you can’t participate in your favorite intramural-team sport, or train in a gym for whatever reason, train the next best way.  Head to the nearest sports field and perform repetitive quick sprints, use walk-jog-run and/or circuit training exercises (pushups, bleacher step exercises, sit ups, pushups etc.).  Or participate in home exercise using a repetitive speed bag, jump rope, aerobics video dance, or shadow kick and punch exercises, etc.

I’ve given you a whole lot of information to mull over.  And there are many training techniques one could choose to perform anaerobic and/or aerobic training to achieve a chosen fitness goal(s).

If your goal is to lose weight, chose activities that require long-endurance and low-intensity physical effort.  If you want more muscle bulk, strength and speed, choose short-endurance, and high intensity “specific” exercise training exercises.  If you want the best of both worlds: bulk muscle and lose body fat, equally split your training time (cross-train) and use task specific exercise to trigger the muscle fibers necessary to energize those activities and achieve those fitness results.

Citations and References

Fitnessbeans. “Muscle Fibers: Fast Twitch Versus Slow Twitch.”  FitnessBeans. BeansPublishing, 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.

Katch, Frank I., William D. McArdle, and Frank I. Katch. “Chapter 11/Energy for Exercise.” Introduction to Nutrition, Exercise, and Health. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1993. 169-90. Print.

Loya, Dennis M. “Training Fast and Slow Twitch Muscles.”, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.

Quinn, Elizabeth. “Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers.” Sports             Medicine., 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.

Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, CPT, MSC ARNG Retired.  2013 Copyright, All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Publishing:  Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.