I'd like to discuss a new workout trend that I've come across and how it's completely changed the way in which I train. Before this season, I had a lot of success lifting weights in the off-season and then scaling back on the gym and hitting the track more as the season neared the UPA series. I was careful to plan out a progression for my workouts that helped me peak at the right times. I separated my workouts into strength workouts, agility workouts, and track workouts (cardio and speed). Each individual workout was at least an hour long and there was little overlap between them. As I said, I had success with this training style, but there were a few things I didn't like about it. 1: The workouts were dull and repetitive. 2: They really broke down my body and it took a long time to recover. 3: Each workout required a significant investment in time (and when you commute as much as I do, have a wife, and a fixer-upper house, time is in scarce supply).
OK, so what's this trend? Well, put simply, it's the realization that strength, agility, power, and cardiovascular can all be improved at the same time, during the same workout. What's even better is that you can accomplish this with very little equipment and in a very short period of time. Since mid-January, I've been hitting the gym for 30 to 45 minutes during my lunch hour roughly three times a week and have experienced great gains in strength, power, and endurance. There is a catch. You knew there would be, right? These workouts are incredibly intense. I'm often working to total muscle failure. It's far from easy, but you can get great results.
The first change I made was the type of exercises I perform0 My focus has shifted away from single-muscle exercises (bench press, bicep curls, most Nautilus-style machines) to body weight exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups at once (burpees, kipping pull-ups, thrusters, pull-ups, dips, push-ups, step-ups, lunges). I've also begun incorporating power lifting exercises such as deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and the like. I'm not looking to put up 500lbs here. I stick to relatively low weights, but even so, these exercise are great for developing explosive power in your legs, while at the same time, strengthening your core. This translates into you being able to accelerate faster and jump higher, while, at the same time, increasing your ability to not break into little pieces after a layout (or after getting speared in the chest by that clueless menace in summer league!). I can't recommend power lifts (or Olympic lifts) enough. Learn how to do them properly, start with low weight until you get the forms down, and go from there. (Crossfit.com is great resource for exercises and demos). As for equipment, you can do wonders with your own body mass plus a little gravity. Outside of that, I use dumbbells, a barbell and weights, a pull-up bar, a bench or plyo box, and a dip bar.
The second change I've made is probably the biggest: how I put these exercises together into a workout. If you haven't heard about Dr. Tabata's intervals yet, you're in for a real treat. Basically, he did a whole bunch of scientific hocus pocus and discovered that you will get incredible gains in work capacity and cardiovascular endurance without breaking down your fast-twitch muscles if you take an exercise (the more muscle groups worked the better) and perform 8 reps of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Almost any exercise will do: push-ups, jump-rope, biking. During the 20 seconds of work, you should be going as hard and fast as you can while maintaining proper form—no pacing yourself! Be strict about the timing and this workout will exhaust you. For a wealth of info just Google "Tabata." In practice, I will select five workouts (two predominantly upper body, two lower body, one abs/back/core) and perform five Tabata cycles&upper, lower, upper, lower, core. I generally give myself one minute rest between each cycle. Try it. In 24 minutes, your whole body will be worked. As an example, I recently did this workout with following exercises: chin-ups, step-ups, push-ups, overhead squats, and Russian twists.
Another great way to mix up your training is the Circuit Workout. Pick somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 exercises, trying to choose exercises that target different muscle groups, and then plan out a circuit such that you perform 10-20 reps of each exercise one after the other resting only as needed. Plan the number of exercises and the number of reps to fit the amount of time you have available. I lack the eloquence to adequately explain the Circuit Workout properly so let me give two examples to get my point across.
5 x 20 Circuit
3 sets of:
20 x Push-ups
20/leg x Lunges (add dumbbells to increase difficulty)
20 x Burpees
20 x Kettlebell Swings
20 x Box Jumps
Total Time: ~20 minutes
Crossfit.com's Filthy 50 (This one's a bit more intense)
50 x Box Jumps with 18-inch box
50 x Jump Pull-ups
50 x Kettleball Swings with 16lb ball
50 x Lunges per leg (stationary lunges, not lunge-walk as per video)
50 x Knees-to-Elbows
50 x Push-Press with standard bar
50 x Back Extensions
50 x Wall Balls
50 x Burpees
50 x Kangaroo Jumps
Total Time: ~25-30 minutes
If you really want to get a lot of bang for your buck, throw in some heavy cardio into your circuit workouts. Here's one that Dusty Rhodes broke out a couple of weeks back:
2 sets of:
80 yard sprint
80 yard sprint
10 x Burpees
80 yard sprint
10 x Push-ups
Total Time: 5-10 minutes OF PAIN!!
Hopefully I've given you a few ideas on how to spice up your workouts and on how to get more out of your valuable time. I know it's hard to believe that you can improve your cardiovascular fitness without busting your butt at the track, but I've found that it's true. What I've described here might not work for everyone, but it definitely works for me. If you're bored with your workouts and are looking for something different, mix in a Tabata Cycle or a Circuit Workout into your normal routine and see what you think.
Almost none of the ideas expressed here were originally mine. I'm always reading new things, asking new people, borrowing, copying, and imitating (what other euphemisms are there for stealing?). If I see something that works for someone else, I wonder how I can make it work for me and if I see someone make a mistake, I do my best to avoid falling into the same trap. As my pops always said, "You can learn something from everyone you meet, even if it's what not to do." My sources come from all over, but I've definitely borrowed heavily from the following:
Jonathan Dono plays with New Jersey Pike, and is formerly of NY Ultimate, Bombsquad, and the WSL Allstars. He is an athletic defender and has been one of the toughest covers to shake in the country for many years