PUMPING IRONY: A Welcome Epiphany

Loyal readers of these pages (yes, you two know who you are) know me to be a bit random in my workout approach.

I do my cardio. I do my lifting. I ignore my stretching. My assumption all along has been that as long as I stay active, it shouldn’t really matter what I’m doing or when I’m doing it.

Well, I was wrong.

Or at least that’s what noted fitness guru John Berardi is saying in this piece on muscle recovery. According to Berardi, I shouldn’t be subjecting specific muscles to intense weightlifting sessions more frequently than once every seven days. That’s because each session damages the muscle and depletes the calcium balance and protein content. And if you don’t give the body enough time to refuel the muscle, you’re going to see diminished results. Or, as he puts it:

“Without adequate recovery of calcium balance, muscle energy, and muscle protein content, your muscle force will be lower with each subsequent workout, thereby reducing the quality of the workout in terms of the weight lifted. This is certainly not the way to get stronger. In addition, unless you wait until full structural recovery occurs, you will simply be destroying the new muscle tissue being formed to replace the damaged tissue.”

In other words, if I go to the gym every other day and work my way through the same lifting routine, I’m actually damaging those muscles. Thus, the need to have a plan that works different muscle groups in some sort of rotation. I’m guessing that by “intense” lifting, Berardi is referring to those workouts in which you tax your muscles to their maximum capabilities — the old “lift to failure” routine — an approach I practice fairly regularly. I’m going to assume, then, that my normal morning bodyweight (pushups and planks) and kettlebell routine would not qualify, since it’s meant primarily to get my heart beating and my blood circulating.

I’m also going to assume that my weekly basketball and tennis workouts (a great 7-5 4-6 match last night with my tennis buddy, M.E., by the way) are not doing more damage, given that they are designed to work whole groups of muscles — and function more as flexibility exercises than as strength training.

If I’m interpreting all this properly, then, I simply need to develop a strength-training plan that guides me through a weekly routine working specific muscle groups — say a core workout followed by an upper body routine the next time at the gym, and a lower body workout the next. Mix that up with my regular cardio, plus basketball and tennis, and I’d say that would do the trick.

I know, I know . . . This is such a “DUH!” moment for most folks. Of course, you have to vary your routine, work different parts of your body, etc…. But I’ve never seen it explained in the way Berardi expains it. So, I’m going to treat this as an epiphany. Plus, I happen to like epiphanies.

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