All exercisers should follow the principles of training used by competitive athletes. You will gain far more health benefits from intense exercise than from more casual exercise, and you will gain more strength and muscle growth. Athletes do not do the same workouts every day. If they did, they would not gain the increased strength, speed and endurance that are necessary for competition. They take an intense workout in which they feel a deep burning in their muscles, feel sore on the next day, and take lighter workouts until the muscle soreness goes away. Then they take their next intense workout.
THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF TRAINING - BACKGROUND BEFORE PEAKING: Never try to exercise at an intense pace when you start a new program. For example, if you are starting a stationary bicycle program, ride at a very slow pace every day until your muscles start to feel sore or tight and then stop. In the first six weeks, limit your workouts to no longer than a half hour. Only after you can exercise at a casual pace for 30 minutes every day should you try to increase the intensity of your workouts. You may also want to check with your doctor before you start exercising intensely. Intense exercise can kill people who have blocked arteries leading to their hearts, and many people do not know that they have this condition until it is too late. Even regular exercisers can suffer from blocked arteries and not know it.
INTENSE WORKOUTS: Athletes divide their intense workouts into periods of *sustained effort, *short intervals, *long intervals, and *combinations of these variations. If you are not competing in athletic events, you only need to do short intervals.
SHORT INTERVALS: A short interval takes less than 30 seconds because an athlete does not accumulate significant amounts of lactic acid in less than that time. Muscle burning is caused by increased acidity in the muscle caused by lactic acid accumulation.
An athlete can do a very large number of repeat short intervals, often 100 or more in a single workout. A top runner will run a large series of short runs up to 220 yards. Cyclists often use a clock. In short intervals, athletes get out of the burn soon after they feel it.
LONG INTERVALS; Long intervals usually last two minutes or more, and build up so much lactic acid in the bloodstream that a top athlete can only do a few of them in a workout. A runner may run four to eight half-mile repeats. Cyclists may push their intervals between lamp posts or use some other measure of fixed distance of all-out riding. Long intervals are done with such intensity that the athlete is short of breath and feels intense muscle burning during each interval.
INTENSE CONTINUOUS WORKOUTS: Cyclists often use sustained workouts as the basis of their training regimens. They pick up the pace and as soon as they start to feel the burning in their muscles, they let up on the pressure, slow down, and the burning goes away. Almost immediately afterwards, they start to pick up the pace and again back off as soon as they feel the burning. Getting out of the burn as soon as it occurs allows a cyclist to take this type of intense workout for many hours.
INCREASED STRENGTH COMES FROM MUSCLE DAMAGE: The soreness that you feel usually 8 to 24 hours after an intense workout is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS is caused by muscle damage itself. Biopsies show bleeding into the muscles fibers, and disruption of the fibers and the Z- bands that hold the muscle filaments together as they slide by each other. If you don't suffer muscle damage, you do not gain significant muscle growth.
MUSCLE BURNING DURING INTENSE EXERCISE: Muscle burning during exercise means that you are applying enough force on your muscles to pull the fibers apart and damage them. However, the longer you stay in the burn, the longer it takes for the muscles to heal. Most athletes do some form of interval training that takes them out of the burn soon after their muscles start to burn.
The burning feeling in muscles that is transmitted back to your brain is actually caused by the increased acidity brought on by a buildup of lactic acid in muscles. Muscle damage is caused by the pressure on the muscles from hitting the ground with your foot during running, or pressing very hard on your pedals, and has nothing to do with excessive buildup of lactic acid. It is caused by excessive force on muscles during intense exercise. Lactic acid starts being cleared from muscles within seconds of stopping exercise. Furthermore, lactic acid is the most efficient muscle fuel, since it requires less oxygen than any other source of energy.
Athletes exercise intensely until they feel a deep burning in their muscles and then let up on the pressure. The burning usually goes away almost immediately. Then they pick up the pace to increase the pressure on their muscles to cause the burning to return. They stop the interval workout when their muscles start to stiffen and hurt.
ACTIVE RECOVERY, NOT PASSIVE: On the day after an intense workout, the athlete's muscles are supposed to feel sore. If he takes off completely, he may recover faster, but he will never reach his potential in competition. Active recovery, in which a person exercises at reduced intensity, makes the muscles more fibrous and resistant to damage during hard workouts. This allows the athlete to take more intense workouts on his hard days and makes him a better athlete. He can compete only as fast as he moves on his hard days.
A TRAINING PROGRAM FOR YOU: Set up your program so that you plan to exercise faster on three days a week, never on consecutive days. Plan to exercise at very low intensity on your four recovery days. For example Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays will be your faster days. The other four days are for recovery.
If you are a runner or cyclist, run a little faster on your hard days and much more slowly on your recovery days. If your muscles feel sore or tight on scheduled hard days, skip that hard workout and do a very easy workout or take the day off. Injuries come from taking a hard workout when your muscles are still sore or tight from a previous intense workout.
HARD DAYS: Start out very slowly and as your muscles feel more comfortable, gradually pick up the pace. When you start to feel the least burning, immediately slow down and remain in that slow pace until the burning is completely gone. Then gradually increase the intensity until you reach the burn again, and immediately slow down. Continue to alternate bursts of increased intensity with slow recoveries until your legs start to feel stiff or you stop recovering from the burn or tightness. Then quit for the day.
EASY DAYS: You are not supposed to feel discomfort or burning on recovery (easy) days. If a workout on a recovery day prevents you from taking your hard workout on the next day, you exercised too intensely or long on your recovery day. Go for as long as you feel good and quit for the day when you feel tightness or discomfort. If you feel stiff or hurt in one group of muscles on one side of your body, take the day off. Soreness in one part of your body is a sign that you are developing an injury.
PROGRAM PROGRESS: Try to increase the intensity of your hard days, and do not increase the intensity of your recovery days. If you avoid injuries, you will become stronger and healthier.
ADVANCED PROGRAMS FOR ATHLETES: Training programs should be based on two very fast interval days, one very fast, prolonged day, and four recovery days. For example, try short intervals on Tuesdays, long intervals on Thursdays and sustained hard workouts or races on Sundays. The other four days are supposed to be so easy that they do not interfere with your recoveries to limit your hard-intense days or worse, cause injuries. Remember, if you do not recover for your next intense workouts, your easy days are too long or too intense, and you should do less, more slowly on your recovery days.