For thirteen years I followed a bodybuilding regime. Now, for the past year, I’ve been following a new training mix of athletic training: mobility, flexibility, and functional exercise. Why the change? I found flaws in my old routine. Strict bodybuilding practices, with limited focus on flexibility, mobility, or functionality, led to muscle imbalances and tightness in my body, leaving me prone to injury. So, after a binge on athletic training books and audio seminars, I modified my exercise priorities to better help me with my goal of lifelong fitness. Below is a summary of the changes I’ve made to my training.
Mobility, Flexibility, & Functional Training
A major part of avoiding injury is incorporating mobility and flexibility movements into your routine. For example, I dropped the aesthetic-oriented movements of dumbbell bicep curls and lat pull downs, for TRX one-arm bicep curls and pull ups. I also traded smith squats for barbell squats, and leg presses for step ups and lunges. I spent more time stretching after a workout than before — when I sometimes skipped it all together. My body thanked me for this by elongating my muscles; giving me a leaner and more feminine appearance. Lastly, I incorporated massage into every workout session to workout the muscle tightness I had developed from bodybuilding.
Cardio is still not a major part of my regime, but I’m much smarter about it. As a newbie, I did the newbie thing . . . lots of cardio. But cardio does not create a lean body — building muscle does (e.g., calisthenics & resistance training). I later learned the fat-burning and muscle-activating power of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and started doing that more than steady-state cardio (a.k.a. endurance cardio). Now I only do steady-state cardio if I’m being lazy or if my legs need to recover from a previous workout.
Calisthenics has made my muscles fuller, stronger, and has granted me the ability to do tricks like handstands, pistol squats, deck squats, and muscle ups (the list is growing). All of which are a lot more fun than picking up weights repetitively, as I did with bodybuilding.
My new training mix is more sophisticated and thoughtful than my old mix. My body is now more athletic and robust than ever. When rising into the handstand position, I don’t have to worry about pulling a muscle if I stumble on my hands and have to catch myself in mid-stand. In my last couple of years of bodybuilding, I had nagging shoulder and trap tightness that almost led to injury and put me out of training several times. My legs weren’t flexible, and I couldn’t clasp my hands behind my back. I wasn’t fit. I wasn’t athletic. My new training mix is making a true all-around athlete out of me.