If you’re an adult, it’s time to stop exercising like your teenage, high school self. Several people have recently shared that the only exercise they know how to do is what they were taught in high school. That’s pretty sad, considering most grade schools don’t really “teach” us anything about exercise. Gym class is often taught by someone with no formal education on exercise variation, nutrition, strategic progression or wellness essentials. More often than not, they’re just passing on what THEY learned in high school! Jumping jacks, pushups, rope climbing and maybe some basic weight room exercises…sound familiar? Did you learn the difference between power production training versus force production programming? What about hypertrophic linear periodization? Metabolic conditioning? Very few people have even heard of these, much less know how to apply them to a person’s specific fitness requirements. That is precisely why adults need to accept that gym class is behind them, and it’s time to train like a grown up.
Weight Loss for Adults
By far, the thing people love to blame the most for their weight gain is their metabolism. Scientifically though, genetics, metabolism, income…these have a minimal at best impact on your bodyfat. What decreases far more after high school and college than our metabolism is our activity level. We don’t walk around campus all day anymore, we don’t play sports all season, much less practice for them, we don’t carry a backpack everywhere we go anymore, and because we can eat whatever we choose now, we tend to pick the worst foods possible for our weight and metabolism. To be fair to our metabolisms, and honest with ourselves, let’s just accept that we can only blame ourselves for the weight we have put on.
The good news is because you are the one who got yourself into this situation, there are many things you can do to get yourself out of it! The golden rule that will always work is “calories in vs. calories out”. Consume fewer calories than you burn and you will always lose weight. It’s literally that simple. The crux is, that weight does not necessarily come from body fat. Depending on your activity level, nutrition intake, hydration, sleep quality and stress levels, that weight may very well be from muscle mass and your metabolism and energy levels may take a nose-dive, making it harder and harder every week to continue losing weight.
You can read dozens of books and still not learn everything there is about weight-loss, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start losing weight right now. A sure-fire way for most people to instantly reverse their weight gain is to change the foods they eat. No matter how many meals you eat throughout the day, if all of them consisted of a low-fat meat (chicken breast, turkey, pork tenderloin, fish, flank steak, etc.), a natural starchy carbohydrate (potato, rice, oats, beans, lentils, quinoa, etc.) and a fibrous carbohydrate (broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery, spinach, berries, etc.) then you would almost certainly be eating fewer calories than the average adult’s diet of sugary this, fatty that and processed everything else. Not only that, but your metabolism would instantly increase because your body has to use more energy to digest and absorb the nutrients out of the the more dense food sources, that otherwise processed foods would make easier.
Your metabolism is dynamic, it’s not a fixed numerical value that changes linearly at a fixed rate. It’s a fluctuating, turbulent, and sometimes unpredictable force of human nature. When you’re sleeping, your metabolism is low. When you’re sprinting, your metabolism is as high as it can get. Like spinning a top, the more time you spend winding up your metabolism to higher speeds, the higher it will stay. Again, sleep, nutrition, stress, body composition and more all affect your metabolic rate, but the ultimate deciding factor of weight loss is burning more calories than you consume. This forces the body to pull from its stored energy sources (usually body fat) to make up for the calorie deficit.
There are endless ways to increase your activity level and the intensity of your exercise. You don’t have to climb a rope, jump in place or anything else your high school’s baseball coach told you to do. If you have never received professional guidance on how activity and nutrition will best complement your current fitness level and personal preferences, it can be absolutely life-changing to do so. Consult a professional in the fitness industry with formal education on exercise science and nutrition so you can learn how to take care of yourself as an adult, leaving those high school habits behind you along with those braces and awkward hairstyles.
Muscle for Adults
If you were an athlete back in grade school, remember how easy it was to just start going without warming up? Warmups were for the moaning, groaning, joint-cracking adults, and you were just able to do anything and everything without straining or struggling. It was as if the only thing holding you back was your strength, heart rate and anatomy, which made perfect sense because you had not finished growing up yet! Well gone are the days of being able to get away without proper preparation, progression, duration, frequency, and recovery. Every year that goes by that you don’t start taking your body seriously, the more you’re going to pay for it later.
When you are younger, your muscles are supple, flooded with natural growth hormone, and ready to work at a moment’s notice. As we age, largely due to a dramatic drop in regularly activity but also from natural tempering of our soft tissues, our muscles become less cooperative without training them to perform. They need to be warmed up, stretched, and mobilized so they can work the way they were designed to. Why? Because we sit all day, do little to no manual labor, and all that laying around reduces blood flow to the tissues, freezes muscles in shortened positions, and diminishes our motor control over those muscles. All of this results in muscle atrophy, which is why every adult is recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to perform muscle-strengthening resistance training exercises at least 3 times a week.
“Okay, okay, I get it, I need to build muscle, so how do I do that?” Again, there are tons of different philosophies, styles and techniques that can all produce great results, so ultimately you need to experiment with what you will enjoy the most so it becomes an easy routine. In general though, exposing to your muscles to resistance during their natural movements that exhausts the muscles anywhere between 5 and 20 repetitions of the joint’s movement (think flexing versus extending your arm) will stimulate muscle growth. These movements may be things you learned in high school, but I guarantee you there are many more to learn and tons of variations in tempo, rest between sets, time under tension and more. Keep in mind that the body is design to perform 7 basic movements: squat, hinge (bend at waist), push, pull, loaded carry, rotation and counter-rotation. By loading all of these movements with appropriate resistance and repeating them until the muscles wear out is an easy, guaranteed way to stimulate muscle growth, so long as you do it consistently. Just like one missed workout won’t ruin your results, neither will one finished workout create any. Your body likes and adapts to consistency, so if you are going to take this seriously, make it a priority to perform resistance training regularly every single week.
Strength and Power for Adults
Strength and Power are less of a muscular size adaptation, and more of a muscular skill enhancement. Strength in the exercise science community refers to force production. This would be something similar to being able to press 300lbs over your head. Power refers to force production multiplied by acceleration, something alike throwing 300lbs up into the air overhead. Power and strength are very different, but not mutually exclusive. The more strength you have, the more power you can generate. The more power you have, the better your force production will be. Very few schools can afford a true strength and conditioning coach, so for 99 out of 100 readers of this article, this would be an entirely new training style than you’re used to.
This is probably sounding like a pattern, but there are a variety of strength and power training techniques out there, and the best way to find out what works for you is to just get started. As a fitness professional, I recommend training your aerobic and anaerobic endurance well before beginning maximal or near-maximal strength or power efforts. This will prep your joints and muscles for stronger, harder muscular contractions, reducing your risk of injury. Think of it as practicing before you compete. You shouldn’t expect to succeed if you haven’t prepared through proper practice.
Everyone can benefit from better maximal strength and higher power output, and improving each is as simple as training their mathematical components. Get stronger by moving more weight, get more powerful by accelerating more weight faster. Be warned that training for strength or power are both considered more difficult than cardio-vascular endurance or muscular hypertrophy, so it is highly advised that you seek professional guidance not just for proper program structure but correct form, anatomical stabilization and nutritional strategies to maximize results and minimize risk of injuries.
Exercise is great, and being active at all is better than not, but there is a world of opportunity in both nutrition and exercise that school systems just don’t teach. They’re too busy teaching history, English, science, how to not get pregnant before you graduate…you know, the more pertinent stuff you need to know at that age. A single glance around our social landscape should make it clear that additional education is desperately needed though. Fast (fake) food lines the aisles of our grocery stores, the sides of our streets, and the “refreshments” table at our offices and social gatherings. The waistline of the average adult (approximately 70%) clearly indicates that there is an imbalance in the amount of food we’re eating compared to the amount of activity we’re doing.
You only have one body. Invest in yourself by learning how to take care of it now, later, and ever after!