Using push up variations can allow you to work the upper body from many different angles.
With gyms closed and people looking for ways to stay strong and in shape, having some solid body-weight exercise variations in your arsenal can be invaluable.
The Push Up
The push up is a staple upper body exercise.
Dating back thousands of years, it’s been used to build upper body strength and endurance for warriors and athletes.
Today, it continues to be used by the military as a measure of upper body strength and endurance (and punishment).
There are countless ways to perform the push up, and variety is a good thing. While most variations work the chest, shoulders and triceps, we can do so in ways that challenge the whole body, including the core.
Disclaimers: 1. Talk to your doctor before doing any type of exercise program. 2. This article contains affiliate links.
Ok, glad that’s out of the way… let’s move on.
Using Push ups to keep your gym gains
In the absence of a gym, you may be left with nothing but your own body weight and whatever you have in your house. Use this time as an opportunity to work on new strengths.
If you’re trying to hold onto (or build) strength and muscle, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Use explosive exercises like Depth push ups, plyometric pushups and jumping push ups. This will stimulate the fast twitch muscle fibers, which are the largest and most powerful.
Use deficit push ups to get a deep stretch of the chest and shoulders and work through a full range of motion.
The same principles would apply to lower body exercises. Use explosive movements like high jumps, bounding and box jumps.
20 Push up Variations
#1-5 Hand Placement
Simply changing your hand placement can have a dramatic effect on how the push up movement works the upper body. Here we’ll use the standard push up, close grip, wide grip, fingers out, and reverse.
Remember to try and keep your body in a straight line, from head to foot. Slouching or arching your back is a sign that there’s a break in the chain, usually indicating a weak core.
#6 Banded Push ups
Resistance Bands are cheap and extremely versatile. Get yourself a few of varying resistance and you’ll be able to do a lot more from home. Here’s a Solid Set of Bands at a pretty good price from Amazon. (updating this regularly as bands have been selling out recently because of the quarantine.)
You can vary your hand placement with bands as well. Do standard push ups, wide grip push ups and close grip. Use heavier bands for more resistance.
#7 Sphinx Push ups
Sphinx push ups force the triceps muscle to do most of the work. These can be tough if your triceps strength isn’t up to par.
One way I like to do these to challenge myself: Do sphinx push ups to failure, then remain in the plank position (you’re already there) for 30 seconds to a minute.
#8 Slide Board Push Ups
Slide board push ups are one of my favorite push up variations. They really force one arm to take on most of the pressing responsibility, while the other arm is outstretched, forcing the core to work hard to stabilize the body.
You can use a towel on any smooth surface, like the floor. In the video, I’m using Core Sliders, as the floor mats in my home gym are not smooth.
These just feel awesome to do. You have to focus on pressing back up and stabilizing your body all in one movement. It’s a challenging movement for sure.
#9 Deficit Push ups
Deficit push ups are another favorite of mine. They are a unique variation, as they allow you to go beyond the normal range of motion you’d use in a bench press or regular push up. You should feel a good, deep stretch of the chest and shoulders at the bottom portion of the movement.
#10 True Push ups
Number 10 is an extension of number 9. True push ups are the same as deficit push ups, except you also elevate your feet on a platform, usually at the same height as your hands. This will be harder, as you’ll be pushing more of your body weight back up. It’s basically a push up with a deeper range of motion.
I’m using 45lb plates in the videos, but you can use whatever you have around your home. Books, Dumbells… be creative!
#11 Depth Push ups
Depth push ups are an explosive push up variation. Starting with both hands elevated on a platform, you’ll drop down and control your descent briefly before exploding back up.
Depth push ups utilize the stretch-shortening cycle (plyometrics). The rapid generation of force stimulates the fast twitch muscle fibers, which are the largest and most capable of growth. This type of movement teaches the body to generate force quickly, increasing power.
Be careful with these. I’d recommend not trying to go to failure to avoid injury, in particular of the wrists. In general, with explosive movements, you want to do as many reps as you can feel powerful for. When you slow down, end the set.
#12 Hindu Push ups
I learned these many years ago when I was at an MMA seminar. It was led by Matt Fury (author of Combat Conditioning.) These push ups hit the shoulders really good, and the triceps as well. They also give you a good lower back and hamstring stretch (notice the yoga-like positions).
#13 Med Ball Push ups
Here, you’ll have one hand on a med ball (or other platform), and the other on the ground. This elevates one side of the body, forcing the core to work harder to stabilize the body.
#14 Superman Push ups
These are deceivingly challenging. Superman Push ups really force the core to work hard to stabilize your body. The position is similar to the extended position using an ab wheel, with your arms outstretched in front of you.
#15 Explosive Push ups
Also known as clapping push ups, although you really don’t need to clap. Simply push up as explosively as possible. I prefer to keep my hands ready to land vs clapping or touching my chest. This is to avoid landing wrong and injuring a wrist. When you’re fatigued, you may not come up as fast as you anticipate.
Similar to other explosive movements, these will work the fast twitch muscle fibers and are excellent at improving rate of force production (power).
#16 Jumping Push ups
These are an extension of number 15. However, now you’ll explode your entire body off of the ground on each rep. This can take a little coordination, but is a fun one once you get the hang of it.
#17 Fingertip push ups
Ok, if you’re feeling brave.. here’s a challenging one for you. Perform the standard push up on your fingers. Doing them on your fingers actually puts less stress on the wrist, as it is not in flexion. Martial artists have been using these for a long time. Be careful, you may have to build up to doing several reps of these.
#18 Prison Push ups
I spent a lot of years working in a prison, and I used to watch the inmates work out on the yard all the time. As I’m sure you know, they stay in pretty good shape. This is one variation they use a lot. After each set (4 push ups), try standing up and jogging in place for 10 seconds. Then repeat for a set period of time. (Inmates do it for hours).
#19 Shoulder Taps
Shoulder taps start with a standard push up. At the top of the movement, put one hand on the opposite shoulder for a second, then return to the push up. The brief time at the top with one arm extended forces the core to keep the body in position. This can be tougher than it looks.
#20 Chest Elevated Push ups
I saved these for last because they’re best done as a finisher (or a warm-up). They look easy, and they are… for a while. Try doing 100 reps unbroken (without pausing). It’s a good way to get some low impact volume in at the end, and to get a good upper body pump going.
If you have a barbell, put it at knee level and actively squeeze the bar inwards throughout the entire movement. It’s actually a rarely utilized but really beneficial finisher to use.
There are endless ways to make up body weight workouts at home. In general though, keep a few principles in mind:
Start with a good warm up, including some regular push ups
Use explosive exercises first. You want to have your full energy for the most demanding movements.
Don’t go to failure on explosive movements. Save that for the other exercises.
Make it interesting. Pick 4 or 5 variations and see how many you can do in 10 minutes, for example.
Incorporate push up variations with other exercises, like pull ups, squats, abs or even sprints.
BFR (blood flow restriction) bands are a well researched, inexpensive implement you can use along with body weight exercises to increase muscle. I highly recommend getting a pair to get the most out of your higher-rep training. Look them up yourself if you like. I also have a whole article on them.
German 50 Push up workout
This is just one example of many of a push up workout, but it’s one I like, and it uses some of the variations we learned about in this article. It’s 10 reps of 5 push up variations using different hand placements, and Supermans. Pretty tough to do multiple unbroken sets of this.
If you want to see all the push up variations in one video, I’ll leave that here too.
I hope this article was helpful. These are just 20 of probably hundreds of variations of the push up. If you’re stuck at home, or traveling in a hotel room.. these can be a great way to get an effective workout in.
If you don’t have access to the gym for a while, use the time as an opportunity. Work on some weaknesses, learn some new exercises.. Improve yourself. Work with what you’ve got.
As always, I hope this article helps you get a little closer to that best version of you!
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
Workout Recovery is a cutting edge niche in the world of fitness right now. Learning how to recover faster from your workouts can be a huge game-changer for your progress in the gym.
Learning how to speed up workout recovery time can mean bigger gains and increased fitness levels over time.
Here is a list of 10 ways you can boost your workout recovery abilities and take your training to the next level.
Note: This article contains affiliate links to products I believe in and use. They come at no additional cost to you.
#1 Plan Workout Recovery Sessions into Your Weekly Split
In my article on Recovery Training, I explained how to implement this method for faster workout recovery. Check it out if you want a more detailed look.
Basically, recovery training entails utilizing low intensity cardiovascular exercise and low volume strength movements, along with foam rolling and stretching.
These sessions should take place the day after a high intensity training day. The lower intensity session pushes blood flow into damaged muscles and other tissues. As a result, the tissues recover faster.
The goal of a recovery workout is to stimulate recovery without incurring any additional stress on the body to have to recover from. Keep the lifting to a few sets of 5-8 reps at around 80% of your max.
End the session with 5 minutes of very light cardio and a good 10 minutes of relaxing stretching and foam rolling. Go home feeling good!
The High-Low Method
The High-Low Method is an excellent way to set up your training, regardless of what your goals might be. It’s pretty simple.. You do a high intensity training day at the gym and follow it up the next day with a low intensity workout. This can speed up your workout recovery and help you improve faster.
#2 Pre Workout Nutrition Can Help You Recover Faster
While most people focus on post-workout nutrition, little thought is often given to what we put into our bodies before we work out.
However, the absence of amino acids and carbohydrate in the body during intense exercise can put the body into a deeper state of stress. This will cause you to accumulate more recovery debt and will take longer to enter a parasympathetic recovery state.
According to one study, consuming protein and carbohydrate before your workout can be more effective at building muscle than eating it afterwards.
Having a high protein meal within 1-2 hours of your workout can help the body maintain muscle tissue during intense training. The amino acid levels in your blood will peak around 90 minutes after you eat, so eating 1-2 hours before you work out will leave you in a great physiological state for building muscle and speeding up recovery.
#3 Wear Compression Clothing
Studies have shown that wearing Compression clothing can enhance workout recovery to damaged muscle tissue and reduce muscle soreness after working out.
One study in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that compression garments are effective at enhancing workout recovery from muscle damage.
Compression garments promote blood flow and oxygenation of muscle tissue during and after exercise. They can also improve kinesthetic sense: basically our sense of body awareness and movement through space.
For true compression, a higher grade fabric is necessary. 2XU Compression Pants are definitely the best brand if you want real compression and are willing to pay about $100 (well worth it in my opinion). I own 3 pair and do notice a big difference in both performance and recovery.
Everyone knows massages are relaxing.. but do they really help us recover faster?
According to a 2018 study in Frontiers of Physiology, massage was found to be the most powerful method for recovering from Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and fatigue.
Massage Therapy can push us into a deep state of relaxation, inducing a parasympathetic recovery state in the body. Deep tissue massage also helps promote blood flow into deep muscle tissue, helping the body clear out metabolites left over from previous workouts. The result is faster workout recovery.
Massage can get expensive, but there are other options, like a deep tissue massage gun, that may offer the same benefit anytime you want.
#5 Cold Treatment and Cryotherapy
The ancient Egyptians used ice to treat injuries over 4,000 years ago. We still do it today, but we’ve developed some pretty interesting new methods. Enter cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy has become mainstream in recent years, with clinics popping up in every major city.
It’s well established that using cold therapy can reduce inflammation, and current research says that cryotherapy can do the same thing.. in the whole body.
It’s hard to train with a sore body, and so reducing some of that inflammation can lead to improved workout recovery and your ability to train harder. The only way to know if it works for you is to try it for yourself.
#6 Get More Sleep
We all know that sleep is important for workout recovery.. but are you aware of just how important it really is? Getting more sleep (at least 8 hours) can:
Increase Growth Hormone production
Increase Testosterone levels
Decrease injury risk
Decrease perceived exertion/fatigue during your workouts
Numerous studies show that getting better sleep can improve recovery from exercise. If you’re researching how to recover faster from your workouts, getting enough sleep should be #1 on your to-do list.
According to Sleep.org, sleep is vital for helping the body retain improvements in body movements, muscle repair and muscle growth. All of which lead to improved performance.
Tips on Getting Better Sleep
These are some things that have worked for me and I highly recommend.
Stop using your phone an hour before bedtime. Stop watching the TV. Do something else, read, listen to music or take a shower and relax.
Make sure your room is as dark as possible. Blackout shades work wonders.
Studies have shown that a temperature between 66-68 degrees are optimal for falling asleep faster and sleeping deeper.
White noise, such as from a fan, can help the brain fall into a deeper sleep, faster.
Get new pillows, or even a new bed if you don’t feel comfortable. You spend a third of your life there.. why not invest in your sleep?
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the small time intervals between heart beats, measured in milliseconds. With a simple heart rate monitor like the Polar H10, and a free app on your phone, you can take an HRV measurement when you wake up in the morning in about 3 minutes.
HRV gives you a snapshot into your body’s current state. It can tell you how you’re responding to stress, and is essentially a measure of how stressed your body is. High HRV means you are resilient, and properly recovering from stress.
With HRV, you can track how well you’re recovering from your workouts and from all the stress you encounter in your daily life. Free apps like Elite HRV will give you a “readiness score,” which can help you know if you’re recovering or not, and can help you know how hard to train and when to back off.
HRV is being used by elite athletes, and is a simple and affordable way for you to gain vast insight into your health and fitness.
#8 HIIT Can Hurt Your Workout Recovery.
HIIT, or high intensity interval training, has become one of the most popular workout methods available. The problem is that too often, we rely on higher intensity training, which can have a lot of negative consequences.
More is NOT always better.. and it’s not correct that training harder is always going to make you better…
Working out at high intensities: Max effort and any conditioning where you’re training at a heart rate of greater than 90% of your max HR, are very stressful on the body. This stress causes a flood of catabolic hormones to be released, and puts a strain on your body’s recovery ability.
Repeating these workouts frequently causes a recovery debt to accumulate. Eventually it will reach a point where something will give.
Systems like the immune system will suffer, and injury risk becomes greater. The most likely scenario is that you’ll burn yourself out and progress will go backwards.
Studies have shown that 2 days per week of high intensity training is optimal for all but the most elite athletes. Plan your training carefully and be sure to manage high intensity training with a healthy respect for it’s power.
You can only benefit from what you can recover from. Recovery = Adaptation. And adaptation is the real purpose for working out in the first place.
#9 Use Supplements That Help Your Body Recover
Using the right supplements can definitely help you recover faster from your workouts. They can help reduce soreness and allow you to train more frequently, leading to bigger gains over time.
An article by Precision Nutrition looked at 2 studies examining the effects of Vitamins C and E on workout recovery. The studies found that after three days without supplementation, free radicals had more than doubled.
Free radicals are chemicals that damage our cells and cause inflammation in the body. After 3 days of working out AND supplementing with Vitamins C and E, free radicals didn’t increase at all!
Which Supplements Help us Recover Faster?
Using the right supplements can definitely help you recover faster and be less sore from your workouts. The following list is a good place to start for supplements that actually have plenty of research showing they work:
Creatine: increase lean mass, speed up glycogen resynthesis and speed up protein synthesis. Creatine has also been shown to improve cognitive function, as it is stored both in muscle tissue and in the brain.
Tart Cherry Juice/Turmeric: Both potent antioxidants, they can reduce inflammation.. causing less soreness from training and faster recovery of muscle damaged muscle tissues. Use only after higher intensity days so you don’t hurt your body’s own natural abilities.
BCAA’s: Help your body spare muscle tissue while you work out. Can make fatigue take longer to set in, and can help the body recover faster after your workout.
Protein Supplementation: Additional protein can help keep the body in an anabolic state, repairing and building muscle throughout the day and while you sleep.
I prefer to get my supplements from Bulk Supplements. It’s cheaper, you get more, and the supplements are pure, with no added fillers or harmful chemicals.
#10 Use a Cool-Down After Every Workout to Recover Faster
Especially after higher intensity sessions, your body is ramped up and in a sympathetic, stress-driven state. While this may feel good, it is not conducive to recovery. Take a few minutes after every workout to perform a proper cool-down to help push your body into a faster recovery state.
Perform 5 minutes of low intensity cardiovascular exercise
Perform light, relaxing stretching. Use foam rolling if you have the time and the means.
Assume a relaxing pose, such as the child’s pose in Yoga
Breathe and relax. Try to force your heart rate down as low as possible
A cool down can help you get into a recovery mode faster, leading to faster recovery before your next workout. These small differences each time you work out can have big effects over time. Don’t walk out of the gym amped up. The workout is over, and now it’s time to refuel and recover.
The art of workout recovery should be important to anyone seeking to improve their physical abilities. The faster you can recover from your workouts, the sooner you can get back in the gym and actually reap the benefits of your efforts.
Implement these 10 strategies and you will have given yourself a huge boost, and will no doubt reap many benefits for a long time to come. Recover faster from your workouts and get to the next level of you!
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
Is HIIT harmful? Can it damage your health and fitness? It all depends how you use it…
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has become a popular training method for squeezing in a workout in a small amount of time.
Failure to balance high and low intensity training methods can hurt your fitness and your health. HIIT is a powerful tool to be respected.
HIIT, performed properly, can improve several markers of fitness, both aerobic and anaerobic, heart rate recovery and peak power output. (1)
High Intensity Training has infiltrated almost every corner of the fitness landscape. But is HIIT actually improving, or sabotaging your health and fitness level?
What is HIIT?
High Intensity Interval Training refers to any workout in which you are:
Working out at greater than 90% of your max heart rate
Using maximum-intensity periods of work followed by rest periods
Examples: Interval Sprints, High Intensity Circuits done for 3 minutes with a short rest period between sets.
The Allure of HIIT
HIIT is the preferred method of many with limited time to work out. The rationale is, you can squeeze a quick HIIT workout in 20 minutes and get the same benefit as an hour of a normal workout. For the majority of us with crazy busy lives, HIIT offers a convenient solution.
Many also believe that performing such high intensity training simply must be more beneficial. After all, it’s harder and requires you to really push yourself when compared to an hour of lower intensity training. It’s the widely accepted misconception that more is better.
I hate to be the one to kill a good vibe.. but I feel like it’s my duty to expose this problem so you can hopefully have a better understanding of what you’re actually doing in the gym and to your body and mind.
First off, I have to be clear that I’m not saying that HIIT training is “Bad.” There are actually plenty of studies that show some really amazing results, and I’ll cover that later. But….
To understand the problem with too much HIIT training, you have to understand a few things about your body and how it responds to stress:
Stress, from anything.. be it work stress, being stuck in traffic, relationship stress, or really intense physical demands.. is registered by the body in a similar way.
The sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is activated in response to stress, dumping stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, into the body.
Keeping your body in a state of constant, chronic stress is the opposite of promoting health and fitness. The body cannot recover, build muscle or improve any markers of fitness when it is in a chronic state of stress.
The main take-away here is that HIIT training is INTENSE… and it takes your body a lot longer than you think to actually fully recover from it. A really high intensity trainings session can take several days to recover from.
What You’re doing to Your Body
Overdosing yourself with too much high intensity training is causing you to accumulate an ever increasing recovery debt. Your body is never fully recovered, and is being forced back into a sympathetic, stress dominant state over and over. Sooner or later, something will give.
The massive amounts of energy being demanded by constant stress will be recruited from other areas.. your immune system, your cognitive function.. and a host of other functions you probably don’t want to mess with. The end result is a reduction in actual fitness and health.
New Research into HIIT and Overtraining
A new study by Les Mills Lab found that 40 minutes a week of HIIT training was optimal for most people. Beyond this amount of high intensity training, most people will not reap additional benefits and will in fact become more fatigued. Read about the study by Les Mills here.
How Much HIIT is Optimal?
The answer to this question depends on your current level of fitness and the nature of the training. Remember that HIIT refers to training at maximum intensity (at least 90% of max heart rate).
For 90% of people out there, there is absolutely no need for more than 2 true high intensity training days per week. Elite athletes rarely ever go beyond 3 days per week, and even then it is only for a short time.
So how much is optimal? Well, if you’re in pretty good shape, 2 days per week would be optimal. If you’re out of shape, 1-2 days per week is where I’d recommend starting. If you feel like you’re in great shape, you can utilize HIIT up to 3 times per week, but definitely keep an eye on your fatigue, and if you’re that serious about your fitness, you can use things like heart rate variability to check in on your body and see if it’s being overstressed.
Now that I’ve sufficiently killed the HIIT vibe, let me backpedal a bit.. To be clear, HIIT is not a bad thing. It is actually a well researched, highly productive form of training.. Studies have shown that you can improve aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, get leaner and stronger utilizing high intensity interval training.
A 2017 study by Frontiers in Physiology found that high intensity interval training was superior to lower intensity training, showing improved:
Heart rate recovery
Neuromuscular status (peak power)
So what are we to make of all this? HIIT can cause big improvements in fitness, but can also damage fitness.. what do we do?
Knowledge really is power. HIIT is a powerful tool in your arsenal, with the capacity to dramatically improve your conditioning and fitness. But it is to be respected…
Your training week should include a lower intensity training day for each high intensity day. This way you can reap the benefits of both types of training, without putting your body in a constant state of stress. Lower intensity training promotes recovery and parasympathetic function.
Recovery Training should be performed the day after a high intensity session. Learning How to recover faster can be a game changer.
Prioritizing recovery will speed up your gains and reduce injuries.
Purposefully using recovery training can improve your strength, endurance and resilience to stress.
“No Pain, No gain…”
“The harder you train, the more you gain…”
This is the common logic used by most of us who are passionate about our training. But the logic is wrong, and it’s costing you. Best case it will simply cost you progress in your training. Worst case, it’ll take an injury or two, or three, to make you realize the importance of properly programming recovery into your training.
I used the train-all-out-every-day method for a long time. I was stuck in a cycle of driving myself into the ground. I always wondered why I wasn’t much better with all the effort I put in. Recovery was the missing link.
What is Recovery Training?
Recovery Training is a specific type of training you can implement to speed up recovery from more intense sessions. Recovery training will allow your body to adapt to training faster, i.e., you can get bigger, stronger, better.. in less time, with less risk for injury.
Why You Need It
Training with high intensity more than once or twice a week should be reserved for elite level athletes. Even they keep it to no more than 3 high intensity sessions per week. This is because the body simply cannot recover from (and adapt to) that much intensity. Training too hard, too often will lead to negative results 100% of the time. Get it out of your head that progress = max effort every time you train. Research clearly tells us that this is false. Check out my article on the dangers of too much High Intensity Training Here: Is HIIT sabotaging your fitness?
How to Implement Recovery Training to Recover Faster
A Recovery Session can be broken down into 5 parts. The total length of the session shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes or so.
Assume a quadruped position (on all fours) on the floor, or just lay flat on your back. Take in 5 deep breaths through the nose, and out through the mouth. This isn’t meditation. You’re simply preparing the mind and body for the upcoming session. Take note of any soreness or fatigue you feel in the body.
2. Foam Rolling and Light Stretching
Perform about 5 minutes of light, dynamic stretching and foam rolling. This isn’t the time to do static stretching (holding for prolonged periods). Check out the video below by TrainHeroic (an amazing app if you’re looking for training programs and great coaches). The “Agile 8” is a great warmup.
Video by TrainHeroic. Check their App out for awesome programming
3. 30 Minutes of Light Cardiovascular Training
This is best accomplished with a heart rate monitor. You should aim to keep the heart rate between 120-135 beats per minute. You can use any method you want… treadmill, elliptical, swimming, light shadow boxing or drills, or a mixture of implements. I like to spend 10 minutes on 3 different activities.
4. 1-2 Strength Movements
Perform 1-2 strength movements, preferably full body compound movements like the Deadlift or Olympic lifts. Perform 3 sets of 3-5 reps at no more than 85-90% of your max. Aim a little low if you’re in doubt. We want to stimulate recovery in the body and nervous system, not incur more stress to recover from.
5. Cool Down, Stretching, Breathing
Spend the last 10 minutes or so with a cool down. Perform 5 minutes of very light cardio, and really try to drive the heart rate as low as possible. Spend another 5 minutes or so doing some longer, static stretching. Continue to focus on being relaxed. End the session the same way you started. Take some deep, relaxing breaths. Drive the heart rate as low as you can. You should walk out of the gym feeling good.
The Benefits of The Recovery Session
This light training will allow your body to remove waste products built up from previous, higher intensity workouts. It will push blood flow into the joints, ligaments and tendons, which can be slower to recover. Blood flow will also be pushed into damaged muscle tissue, speeding up recovery.
Most importantly, the low intensity cardiovascular work trains the heart to pump more blood per beat (cardiac output). The low intensity work is essential for a strong foundation of aerobic fitness. A strong aerobic base allows the body to recover faster… You see where this is going?
By prioritizing recovery, your high intensity sessions, once or twice a week, can become even more intense and productive, and your progress will certainly become more rapid. You’ll be less likely to get injured, more resilient, and healthier overall. Learning how to recover faster has dramatically improved my overall fitness and conditioning, and I know it will do the same for you. Let me know what you think!
The desire to push the body to new levels of strength and fitness is something I understand very well. I’ve been training in one form or another for most of my life, and my life has in fact usually revolved around my training schedule. If I knew years ago what I know now, I no doubt could have reached much higher levels of physical conditioning, and in turn, performance. The secret to being that beast you visualize in your head (but havn’t quite achieved, despite punishing your body relentlessly) is not a magic training program, nor is it a supplement or hack. I’m not trying to sell you anything either… I have acquired the knowledge both through my own experiences and through the help of some great coaches, books and articles that I’ve learned from and tested out on myself. I have been my own guinea pig over the years. I’m no guru, but I do believe I’ve got it right.
To spare you from having to read too much, I’m going to keep it as simple as possible. What’s holding most people back from harnessing the full power of their body’s potential is the over-reliance on High Intensity Training (think HIIT, circuit training, etc..). We skip straight into high intensity training, without realizing that we have neglected the foundation of fitness and of high level physical conditioning.. the aerobic energy system.
A Quick Explanation of Energy Systems
The Aerobic energy system uses oxygen along with fats and carbohydrates to create energy for us to continue moving. It is efficient and long lasting, but slow. As exercise intensity increases, the aerobic system will try to keep up, until it no longer can produce the energy being demanded by whatever we’re doing.
At this point, the anaerobic energy system will begin to increasingly become utilized to continue producing energy. The anaerobic energy system does not utilize oxygen, and instead uses substrates already present in the blood and muscle tissue to create energy. This provides a fast, powerful source of energy (think sprinting or any explosive movement lasting less than 30 seconds). The downside is that the anaerobic energy system cannot produce energy for very long. If you sprint at maximum speed, you cannot maintain that speed for longer than about 10-15 seconds.. It is simply not how our bodies are designed.
Thank of the fighter who completely gasses out in the middle of a round. Why, after so much training and sparring and high intensity conditioning would that happen? Most likely, it happens because that athlete has not built up his aerobic engine, the foundation of conditioning.
It can be very counter-intuitive. fighting is a sport where you have to be explosive, so why would you need to build up your aerobic system with lower intensity training? The answer to this question is the secret to achieving a higher level of fitness and conditioning.
The Aerobic System resupplies energy (recovery) between explosive bouts
Building up the aerobic energy system will allow you to recover faster between explosive bouts. The aerobic system clears out the byproducts created during high intensity exercise, and also replenishes energy so you can continue moving at that high intensity. If your body is unable to keep up with the intensity you’re trying to train or compete at, you will “hit the wall.”
So, how can you harness and build the power of the aerobic energy system?
Take a step back and dedicate 12 weeks or so to building your foundation. If you need help, check out how I programmed this for myself here. You shouldn’t completely cut out high intensity training, but keep it to 1-2 days/week. On those days, push yourself as hard as you need to. Devote 3-5 days per week, depending on your current fitness level, to low to moderate training lasting 30-60 minutes in duration. You can use treadmills, running, or any other activity, and should mix it up frequently. These sessions should have your heart rate between 130-150 for the duration of the session. gradually increase the length of the session over the course of several weeks.
Over time, you will be gaining invaluable adaptations in the body. The heart will adapt by pumping more blood per beat, and thus you should see your resting heart rate move lower, which is one of the surest signs of improved aerobic fitness. You will improve your body’s ability to clear out the byproducts of intense exercise and thus will be able to go harder, for longer. To see some advanced ways to plan your programming, check out my article on how to program your training for optimal results.