How To Get Fitter
Nothing beats the feeling of a healthy and influential body, with every muscle working in perfect sync as you find your 10K race pace or shoulder press that 25kg barbell.
So what’s the best method to go about improving your fitness? Should you be pushing yourself hard every session, or is it slow and steady the way to go?
Do sports watches and heart rate monitors make a difference, or can you rely on how breathless you feel during a session?
When it comes to gaining physical strength and boosting your overall fitness, it’s all too easy to reach a plateau, as many of you may have discovered.
We asked some of the top UK trainers what you need to be doing to get the results you’re looking for.
Can fitness gadgets such as a sports watch or heart rate monitor genuinely help you get fitter, or can you get good results just by “training to feel”?’
‘Fitness gadgets can be a fantastic tool to enhance your training experience and output; however, it very much depends on your goal, fitness level, and motivation.
In particular, heart rate zone training is instrumental in helping you “squeeze the pips” out of your workout.
Ensuring you stay compliant to heart rate zones allows you to align your effort levels to the prescribed workout structure,
often meaning you’re targeting the correct energy system [aerobic or anaerobic] during any interval or exercise included.
It is therefore crucial that you choose both a useful device and training program to follow.
Other fitness gadgets such as step counters or bike power meters can also be useful tools. But ask yourself why you’re using them.
Is it for a specific goal or to validate your effort? All too often, the reason is the latter, meaning users aren’t using the hardware for its real benefits and reaping the rewards.
Again, finding a progressive training program suited to your level and goal can easily see you turning your gadget into a valuable tool.
‘Understanding when to leverage the power of technology is an important balance to strike.
Not all workouts need to be tracked or followed. Sometimes, using feeling as your guide can be more beneficial.
If you’ve had a stressful day, your device won’t be taking this into account, and you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
On days like that, I like to ditch the watch, go with the flow and enjoy the post-workout high!’
‘For anyone who lifts weights and wants to get stronger, what’s the best way to do this and How To Get Fitter
Is it always about lifting more weight, or are there other things you can do to improve?’
The most effective way to achieve through strategic, progressive overload.
This is a strength training method that calls for gradual increases of stress on the musculoskeletal and nervous system.
It’s not always about lifting heavier; in addition to increasing resistance, there are several ways to impose stress on the muscles to help gain strength.
Some of the most efficient ways an athlete can achieve progressive overload include increasing sets and reps, increasing time under tension,
decreasing rest times between sets, increasing range of motion during the lift, lifting with better form and more control, and increasing training frequency.
‘For safety reasons, progressive overload should never be prioritized over proper form, and improvements in form, control, and range of motion should always come before increases
in reps, sets, or load.
Progressive overload is a great way to help you get stronger and avoid the dreaded fitness
plateau, however, the key is knowing when to increase the stress.
‘Generally, an athlete should feel empowered to increase the amount of resistance when they can comfortably complete the prescribed number of reps and sets of a certain lift with
perfect technical form, and still feel they could complete a few extra reps.
If you reach that point in your training program, congratulations, you’re officially getting stronger, and it’s time to progress.’
‘Whatever your chosen form of exercise, how often do you need to do it every week to make improvements?
‘Everyone is different, so it’s important to first look at what you are doing right now.
Your body is good at adapting, so you need to challenge it to avoid plateauing and see physiological improvements constantly.
‘When programming for my clients, I focus on time, intensity, and variety. If you’re currently training three times per week, add another one to two sessions to your schedule.
If you’re training five-to-seven times per week and still aren’t seeing any differences, you could be overtraining.
Add in a recovery day or two so you can really push to the max when you are training, instead of only giving 80 percent.
‘To increase the intensity of your sessions, gradually start to reduce your rest time and/or increase your work time.
For example, use weights that cause your muscles to fatigue just before the end of the set.
If you can easily get to the end of a set, your body has adapted, and you will not see improvements by using weights that do not challenge you.
‘Variety is also key. Mixing 30-minute HIIT sessions with 60-minute endurance sessions
means you are training both your aerobic and anaerobic systems.
Incorporate exercises that work with all the muscle groups in your body and change the type of workout you do to ensure your body has the opportunity to work through a range of different movement patterns.
If in doubt, ask yourself during and at the end of a workout, “Do I feel challenged?”. If the answer is “no,” it’s time to switch things up.
And when things do start to feel tough, hold on for a few more seconds because
that’s where the change happens!’
‘For someone who wants to train in a certain heart rate zone, should they always wear a fitness watch or heart rate monitor, or can they just rely on the rate of perceived exertion (RPE)?’
‘Relying solely on just one source of data is never a wise decision, especially when there are so many varying factors.
Heart rate monitors and fitness watches can malfunction, whereas the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale can be extremely vague due to human bias.
Consider this, if you’ve never pushed yourself to the point of a 10/10 RPE and monitored it,
how do you know what your 6/10 is? ‘
My advice would be to start off trialing a couple of these methods simultaneously.
Use the HR monitor, usually in the form of a belt around your chest, to be accurate with your HR training zone and then see if that aligns with the data on your fitness watch.
During the session, also check in with yourself, noting the intensity you feel you’re working
at within the RPE scale.
‘The more data you collect from various sources, the more you will learn about your own training HR zones and your true RPE scale,
thus giving you more freedom and flexibility to use what method is readily available to you.’
‘For a person who has been exercising for some time, what’s the best way to get fitter in terms of cardiovascular training?’
‘To get fitter, you need to find that sweet spot between an adequate training load to improve fitness whilst getting enough rest to recover and allow for training adaptations to occur.
‘A good way to introduce this balance is by periodizing training through the year. Periodization breaks your program into smaller periods, leading towards a specific goal or race at the end.
Each lasting four to eight weeks will have a specific purpose and include a base, preparation, and peak phase.
It ends with a recovery week followed by changes to training intensity and volume.
‘Combining different types of workouts within each phase will help improve fitness.
For example, if your aim is a half marathon, you may start by increasing the distance of your long, slow run in the prep phase.
In the build phase, you may start adding some tempo or speed work to get your body
used to race pace, while the peak phase is when you focus on sport-specific fitness, simulating race conditions.
‘Recovery between sessions is imperative. Ensure you refuel with adequate carbohydrates and help rebuild muscle with protein post-exercise.
Even caffeinated energy drinks can play a role.
One study showed caffeine and carbohydrate consumed after exercise resulted in 66 percent more glycogen in athletes’ muscles than those who took carbohydrate alone.’