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In 1974, Jack Elam starred in a TV show called “The Texas Wheelers” as Zack Wheeler, a shiftless father to four children of various ages. He was the only father figure they had, and it was up to him to teach them manliness. In one episode, he noticed the oldest boy, Truckie played by Gary Busey, was running himself ragged trying to take care of the other three. Zack took the boy aside and explained the art of creative laziness. He pointed out that, in the real world, the heroic, maximum effort approach didn’t always work. He invited the oldest son to sit on the porch with him and relax. Whenever, one of the children ask the oldest brother to do something, Zack would tell the kid that Truckie was helping him with a special project and that the kid would have to figure it out himself. It worked beautifully. The younger children learned to do things by themselves and Truckie got a rest.

That approach works when you want to get and stay in shape. Kick that hero to the curb. Tell self-discipline to find someone else to torture. Buy pain a ticket to Pittsburgh. It has to be that way. If training is uncomfortable most people will stop doing it after only a few months. According to figures released by the Fitness Marketing Group, only 20% to 30% of health club members last more than a year.

The best approach to cardiovascular training isn’t to use health club equipment at all. Honest. That’s it. Don’t ever step on a stair stepping machine again. No more stationary bicycles or treadmills. Do competitive games instead. Find a game you really like to play and play that game. Make sure the game has you moving around constantly. Tennis, soccer, lacrosse and volleyball work well.

All of those games are fine if you live next to a college or university and can round up ten friends on a moments notice. Fortunately, there’s another game that works even better at cardiovascular exercise, and it can be played with just one other person or sometimes alone. Racquetball is perfect for a workout. The action is almost constant because the ball can’t roll away and interrupt the game. It’s available for every level of ability because the rules can be adjusted. For example, let the ball bounce on the floor twice instead of once; or, if the two players are uneven, require one player to hit the ball close to the ceiling. Finally, some people who want to work out, don’t want to do it in public. Once the door to the racquetball court is closed, the players have privacy.

Using competitive games as cardiovascular training has a requirement. You have to stop before you’re worn out. Bring an alarm clock. Set it for 30 minutes. If you do too much too often, you’ll run into the same problem that stair-steppers do. You’ll hit a wall and call it quits. Carry a watch that beeps; something that will tell you when you’ve done more than a half an hour. When it goes off, put the basketball on the floor and leave. That’s the only self-discipline you need. Just walk away.

I noticed this effortless method of improving my endurance when I worked in a building next to a big health club. I had an hour for lunch, and I liked basketball. I started going over after lunch and became addicted. I realized I could play longer if I ate lunch on my way. That wasn’t enough. I got a few extra minutes by not showering. I started putting my pants on over my workout shorts for another minute or two. I played five times a week and loved every minute of it. Here’s the important thing. I never felt like I was working out. I was never tired or in pain, except from the occasional elbow to the nose, and I didn’t dread it. How many of us can say we have a workout program that doesn’t bring up feelings of anxiety or despair. (Oh, no. It’s Tuesday and I have to get on that damned bike again.) Racquet ball is best for most people. You don’t have the long sprints in racquetball that characterize basketball. Start by letting the ball bounce twice so you have plenty of time to get to it. Remember the alarm clock. Don’t play longer than 30 minutes.

The second approach involves a program called Super Slow weight lifting. The best part is that you only work out for 20 minutes, one day a week. Read that again. You can make significant improvements in muscle mass with just one workout a week. For only 20 minutes. I first heard about it from an Olympic competitor on a news program. During her interview, the commentator asked about her weight training. She looked uncomfortable and didn’t answer for a moment. When she did, she said she was embarrassed by the fact that all of her weight training fit into a 15 minute workout once a week.

Super Slow Weight Training, developed by the University of Florida, means what it says. The average arm curl with a dumbbell takes three seconds going up and three more going down. The faster the weight travels, the less work the muscle does. In addition, your muscle moves the weight only two thirds of the distance. It coasts the other third, depending on its momentum to complete the ride. With a Super Slow arm curl, it takes ten seconds to bring the weight up and another ten to lower it down. The weight never stops moving. As soon as the arm hits bottom, the weight reverses and comes back up. The muscle is always under tension. (You may want to begin by doing two workouts a week with lighter weights to get your body used to the process.) Super Slow doesn’t use reps or sets. You keep doing the exercise until your muscle feels fatigued. You want to push the muscle until it leaves its comfort zone. During the days when you’re not lifting, the muscle will repair itself and create more muscle fibers to make the next workout easier.

The female athlete added a controversial practice called ‘train to failure’. Not fatigue, but absolute failure. She worked with a heavy weight until she couldn’t lift it any more then switched to a lighter weight and lifted until it was impossible then a lighter weight again until she was just moving her arm or leg with no weights at all. She said she’d stand by her bed when she worked her legs because they were completely worn out by the time she finished. She couldn’t climb the stairs in her home to get to bed.

The Super Slow weight lifting has a minor drawback. It’s dreadfully tedious if you don’t have anything to distract you. Do it in front of the television. If you’re changing body parts when you feel the muscle complain (don’t ever let it cry out in agony), it won’t take the full 30 minutes, and you won’t have to work out until next week’s program.

Follow these tips and kiss pain and dread goodbye.

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