Preparing for the Worst Part I

Don't be afraid of a little intensity in your workout

 

 
 
 

John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-B | | Thursday, November 4, 2010


In my last column, I revealed the secret to effective training–consistency and intensity. Consistency refers to the fact that, in order to achieve results, we have to train on a regular basis.

Although EMS professionals are required to respond to calls that may require intense physical effort, we usually don't get enough intense physical activity consistently throughout the work day to maintain or improve our level of fitness. Just as we call on our experience and knowledge to deal with worst case trauma scenarios, a strength and conditioning program needs to prepare us for worst case physical scenarios–the calls that will be the most physically challenging. Intensity is a vital component in preparing us for these situations.

Recently, I gave a mini strength training seminar on campus to faculty and staff. When I stated that most people simply don’t train with enough consistency and/or intensity to make significant physical fitness improvements, it was obvious to me that most of the attendees hadn't really considered this before. We had a couple of attendees demonstrate their "normal" sets, all of which required sub-maximal effort. Then we had several volunteers do an intense set to failure under supervision. Each of these volunteers admitted that they usually terminate their sets about 4-5 repetitions too early, and that they simply had never thought about working themselves that hard.

A couple of attendees were somewhat mortified at the thought of working out that intensely, and they asked a couple of good questions. Here's how it went: "John, do you suggest that we work that hard each and every time we work out?"

Me: "If you don't have any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions and you want to improve physical fitness, then yes, I do."

Attendee: "Ummm, but anything is better than nothing, right?"

Me: "Absolutely, sub-maximal exercise is still beneficial because it can help to protect against the development of hypertension, obesity, heart disease and other conditions related to sedentary living. Keep in mind, however, that if you want your physical fitness to remain the same, then keep doing what you're doing. If you want to improve your physical fitness, consider increasing your intensity."

That really made them think; I could see their mind-wheels turning. I presume they were coming to the realization that increasing intensity would require commitment to effort–and they're right. Intensity is important. However, the art of exercise prescription considers the fact that programs can be organized to be more or less intense. For those people who are ready for an intense program, I suggest designing the program with the concept of "pre-exhaustion" guiding the order of exercises. The purpose of pre-exhaustion is to isolate a larger muscle group to reduce the possibility of a smaller muscle group failing before the larger muscle group.

A classic example is performing lat pull-downs–an exercise usually used to target the upper back (latissimus dorsi). The problem is that the elbow flexors (biceps) are also involved in the movement of the exercise, and if the biceps fail before the upper back does, then the upper back isn't receiving the overload stimulus. To ensure the biceps don't fail first, we should perform a set of an exercise that isolates the upper back prior to the lat pull down–we pre-exhaust the upper back. In this way, we're intentionally grouping the exercises so that the program is more effective and intense.

Program A

• Hip Abduction    
• Hip Adduction    
• Leg Press         
• Leg Extension    
• Leg Curl            
• Lunge Walk    
• Dumbbell Lateral Raise
• Military Press     
• Dumbbell Pullover
• Lat Pull Down      
• EZ Curl               
• Dumbbell Flies    
• Chest Press
• Tricep Extension
• Abdominals and low back (core)

Program B: Lower Body

• Hammer Squat (warm-up)
• Hip Abduction
• Hip Adduction
• Hammer Squat
• Leg Extension
• Leg Curl
• Hammer Squat
• Abdominals and low back (core)

Upper Body 1

• Front Dumbbell Raise
• Cable Reverse Flies
• Shoulder Shrug
• Dumbbell Over head Press
• Machine Overhead Press
• Abdominals and low back (core)


Upper Body 2

• Dumbbell Pullover
• Pull-ups
• Lat Pull Down
• EZ Curl
• Dumbbell Flies
• Chest Press
• Push-ups
• Tricep Extension
• Abdominals and low back (core)

Program A is a full-body program, and Program B is a split-routine, but they both utilize the concept of pre-exhaustion. Both programs are as effective as the effort you put into them. To get the most out of each program, cycle through the program with less than 60 seconds of rest between sets, and take each set to volitional fatigue, meaning, to the point of exhaustion.

Because programs using pre-exhaustion are so intense, it may be beneficial to use a split-routine approach to this type of training. The lower volume split-routine will allow you to more fully concentrate your efforts on each set. If you combine strict form with intense effort into each and every set, you won't need (or want) to do another cycle. However, if you'd like, you can do up to three cycles if you feel you need to.

In my next article, we'll discuss the art of exercise prescription and preparing for the worst for your cardiovascular training program.
Despite variations of the specific strength training programs, I always recommend following the general guidelines covered in previous articles, which include warming up, using strict form and cooling down. Also, it may be worth consulting with a certified personal trainer to become familiar with these exercises.
 




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Related Topics: Health And Safety, Provider Wellness and Safety, John Amtmann

 

John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-Bis a professor of Applied Health Science at Montana Tech of the University of Montana in Butte. He’s an EMT with A-1 Ambulance in Butte, an ACSM certified preventive and rehabilitative exercise specialist and an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. Contact him at JAmtmann@mtech.edu.

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