Maximising training sessions isn’t only about what happens inside the gym!
Let’s start with this question…
When is the best time to train?
I’ve been asked this question countless times over the years and the answer remains the same – ‘when the body is at its optimal state under the circumstances’.
The ‘circumstances’ I am referring to are regular people like you and I – not full time professional athletes, who have the luxury of a lifestyle that mostly revolves around the goal of peaking at the right moments for training/game days. The rest of us have very real and very busy lives outside of our fitness regime, so this is an article about managing that side of our lives, better, in order to maximise our training sessions.
Think of this as a management tool for understanding when to produce your best training sessions or likewise to know when to scale it back…equally important!
Firstly allow me to summarise my ‘fitness coin analogy’ to highlight the difference between ‘energy output’ and ‘controlled environment’ exercise.
It is useful to think of your training as taking up two sides of the same [fitness] coin:
On one side is your ‘energy output’ which can be seen as activities as broad in range as running for the bus, to playing football, to walking up the stairs at work. These are activities in which your body is producing energy but in a random manner that is unstructured and hard to quantify (until recent years with the arrival of Fitbit).
On the other side of the coin is your ‘controlled environment’ training. This is orientated around specific movements for a specific outcome and is often attributed to gym workouts for example.
Our controlled environment training often revolves around structure that extends beyond the individual session itself in the form of a longer term training plan full of periodical micro and mesocycles to help us navigate what we should or shouldn’t be training on any given day/week. This is periodisation in its essence and what brings structure to most training programmes.
Having all data to hand takes away the guess work and helps to avoid inaccurate emotional decision making!
Training programmes are massively helpful but not ‘always’ essential – you can also go through periods of ‘intuitive training’ in which you combine your knowledge with listening to your body for cues on how and what to train. The message of this article is maximising your controlled environment training sessions, by better understanding your energy output is applicable to both programming and intuitive methods.
Ok, so here we go…
We’ve all been there – dragged our heels to the gym, feeling low on energy, but put ourselves through the strength or hypertrophy session anyway. Sometimes we surprise ourselves with how much energy and how successful the session was whilst other times we crash and burn and finish the session early feeling utterly dejected muttering to ourselves how much our fitness/strength has dropped to an all-time low as we sheepishly shuffle home from the gym.
Why does this happen?
Simply put, sometimes we arrive at the gym feeling artificially fatigued after a long day in the office and the low energy feeling is simply a state of mind…it’s all in our head and the body is more than capable of producing a strong workout (in fact it would be the best thing for us!).
Other times we arrive at the gym feeling knackered because the body really is, well…knackered! Perhaps the accumulative buildup of the last 48 hours on your feet has taken its toll and the body now needs to rest…a moderate to high intensity session simply isn’t going to happen with any quality at all.
It is an important skill to be able to decipher between the two sets of circumstances.
But how do we tell the difference between the two states of being?
Simply put in one word….DATA!
We need the facts in order to make the right decision – do you still go for the strength session the programme is asking of you, or do you save it for another day when you’re on better form? Let’s just take the guess work away from this and look at how much energy your body has actually been producing, during its ‘energy output’ phases of the last few days.
This is where my Fitbit Blaze plays a massive role!
To me activity trackers are not just about helping people to move more, but are also a fantastic tool for helping highly active people to understand where their body is at, in relation to their overall training patterns. Let’s use myself as an example….
As a busy Personal Trainer I am constantly moving around London coaching my clients. I am on my feet all day travelling between gyms and when I’m in the gym, I am moving with my clients. This in itself can become an energy sapping experience day after day, and certainly contrasts greatly to the commonplace, sedentary office way of working. I have moments, as mentioned previously, where I start one of my own training sessions, feeling tired but soon light up and feel a thousand times better for it…but I also have times where I am better served saving it for the next day after a good night’s sleep. In my opinion, training should be all about quality and not dragging out mediocre sessions, therefore picking and choosing my moments is important to me.
One look at my Fitbit Blaze and I understand my recent energy output levels immediately. I can then also assess this against the quality of sleep I have been getting as another measurable from my tracker. Alongside this I am constantly reminded of my resting heart rate which allows me to assess if I am potentially run down or on fine form and able to smash another effective training session.
Understanding and managing heartrate is an essential tool for improving training performance
All this data means I can understand my body better when approaching training sessions or conversely, choosing when to leave training sessions alone.
There is another benefit to tracking my day to day energy output too.
Understanding my various heart rate zones enables me to ‘rest better’ and ‘train better’ with heightened fluidity…after all how can performance exist if recovery is not also adhered to both within training sessions and outside of them.
Within training sessions it is essential to increase my heart rate to exist in the ‘peak zone’ for set periods if I want to get fitter and likewise to allow it to drop back into my cardio or fat burning (active recovery) zones if I want to be able to continually perform at my peak during that particular session. Having this information on my wrist allows me to make the correct decisions on when to work for intensity and when to contrast this with lower intensity cardio or recovery. The time it takes for my heart rate to recovery will quicken the fitter I get and so it doesn’t make sense to only rely on time as a means for measuring recovery – listening to my body by observing my heart rate zone instead means a more focussed and accurate training session.
Also, and this is quite important…training in your peak heart rate zone is difficult…I mean really quite hard! It is sometimes all too easy to cut short our top end interval training phases if the mind is not feeling as resilient as usual – looking at the data (peak heart rate) allows us to stick to the plan and put the required work in that the training shift requires. No cut corners just more progressive training!
Using my Fitbit to measure my rest inside sessions is essential but using it as a guide to assess rest and recovery outside of training sessions is also incredibly important. Monitoring sleep quality, daily step counts and even breathing quality is all part of building performance…now that we can measure the quality of these areas of our lives we should be able to perform better in training and within our chosen sports.
It is only in relatively recent times that we (regular folk) have been able to use such measurables – when Fitbit arrived it changed the way most people viewed and understood their energy output. It is now being used to help us to move more and also to regulate our overall energy output levels, in order to maintain ongoing performance with our training. Before Fitbit most of this was either guesswork or the reserve of the professional athlete.
Quick-fire tips to achieve top drawer training sessions:
1: Keep your step count to below 8,000 on the day before your event/session.
2: Ensure full hydration in the 48 hours leading up to the event/session. 2-3 litres daily depending upon physical requirements.
3: Ensure 7-8 hours of undisturbed sleep per night with the best ratios of light to deep sleep and REM achieved with minimal awake time. *All data provided on my Fitbit Blaze.
4: A light 30minute mobility session on the day before the event/session will encourage heightened performance levels alongside the allocated rest.
Now go smash it!!!!