The Only Four Exercise Protocols You Need For Longevity
Defining fitness outcomes through exercise adaptations and engineering variables to create a well-rounded weekly exercise routine.
Why Are You Training?
In the past, I've been guilty of mindlessly hitting the gym without questioning if my actions were aligned with my fitness goals.
Learning how our bodies adapt to the stressors of exercise, and how we can modify exercise to drive certain outcomes changed how I think about fitness and structure my workouts.
Deciding what aspect of my fitness I want to improve and then mindfully composing a routine targeted at those adaptations makes my training more intentional and engaging and helps me achieve my fitness goals faster.
This article outlines the nine adaptations from exercise, which can help you better define your fitness goals, and explains the variables that can be modified to achieve better results faster and make your training more engaging.
Exercise Adaptations: Define Your Fitness Outcome
There are nine ways our bodies can adapt to exercise:
Strength: Capacity to move weight (external weight and your own bodyweight).
Speed: How fast you can move.
Power: A function of strength multiplied by speed.
Hypertrophy: Growth of muscle size.
Skill: Ability to move mechanically how you want your body to move (i.e., golf swing, squat technique).
Muscular Endurance: Ability of a muscle to perform repetitions for an extended period of time (i.e., how many push-ups you can perform in 60 seconds).
Anaerobic Power: Ability to produce work over 30-60 seconds (i.e., Sprints, burpees for 60 seconds).
Maximum Heart Rate: Ability to produce work over 3-12 minutes (i.e., 800m run, 1-mile run).
Long Duration Endurance: Ability to sustain work for 30+ minutes without stopping (aerobic conditioning).
The Modifiable Variables: Approach Determines Outcome
Based on your fitness goals, there are six variables you can modify to most effectively achieve those outcomes.
They’re called the modifiable variables:
Choice: The exercise you select.
Intensity: % of one repetition maximum (1RM) OR % of max heart rate (HR).
Rest Intervals: Break time between sets.
Volume: Sets multiplied by reps.
Frequency: How many times you engage in an exercise per week.
Progression: For example, moving from a machine leg press to a squat.
How you design each of these variables will determine your results.
For example, performing 4 sets of 10 reps on bench press with 65% of your one rep max (hypertrophy) will achieve different results than performing 10 sets of 3 with 90% of your max (strength).
Since there are nine ways we can adapt from exercise and six modifiable variables, there are an infinite number of possible training programs depending on your goals and personal preferences.
The next section outlines four weekly training protocols geared toward maximizing longevity and achieving a well-rounded healthy body.
Note: Before trying to optimize your routine by playing with these variables, it’s extremely important to take as much time as you need to learn the movement pattern of each exercise. Preventing injury should be the first priority in any exercise program.
Weekly Exercise Routine For Well-Rounded Health
Creating a weekly exercise routine centered around the four types of training below will drive the best results if your goal is overall health and longevity.
Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)
To provide the best results on your time, training for hypertrophy will drive the most muscular adaptations.
Training for strength, power, or muscular endurance directly will drive the best results for those specific adaptations.
However, unless you’re an athlete or have hours of dedicated time each day to train for each of those adaptations, simply training for hypertrophy will build muscle size in addition to naturally improving your strength, power, and muscular endurance.
Hypertrophy training allows you to optimize results by progressing on four adaptations (muscle growth, strength, power, and muscular endurance) while minimizing the training time required.
Golden Rule: 10 to 25 sets per muscle group per week
This is critical knowledge.
Depending on your training status, which sits on the spectrum of new to exercise to seasoned vet, you’ll need somewhere between 10 to 25 sets per muscle group per week to progress.
The longer you’ve been training, and presumably the more fit you are, the more sets per week you’ll need to continue growing.
Selecting Exercises and Structuring a Routine
There are four general movement patterns: Push, Pull, Hip Hinge, and Squat.
An exercise routine should cover each movement pattern throughout the week. How you split it up is your choice.
Recently I’ve been doing three to four total-body sessions per week. Each session usually has one exercise per movement pattern.
This is an example of a session I perform a few times per week:
Kettlebell Swing (hip hinge)
Push-up variation (push)
Pistol squat (squat)
Pull-up variation (pull)
For pushing and pulling movements, it’s important to train both the vertical and horizontal planes.
You can cover the horizontal push with a push-up or bench press and the vertical push with an overhead press or handstand push-up. Any variation of a row will cover the horizontal pull and pull-ups and lat pull-downs cover the vertical pull.
Am I working hard enough?
Ask yourself three questions to determine if you’re working hard enough while hypertrophy training:
Am I feeling the muscle contract?
Did I feel a big pump afterward?
Did I feel a little bit of soreness the day after?
Not all three need to be present, but if they’re all missing your muscles are likely not going to grow. However, this doesn’t mean you need to feel like you’re dying during and after each session.
As long as you’re training to muscular failure and perceived exertion is at least 3 to 5 out of 10, you’re working hard enough to see results. Going too hard, training to extreme failure where someone is lifting the bar off of your chest, for example, can damage your progress.
If you’re so sore after a workout that you need to miss the next session or take it easy, your total volume for the week will be lower, limiting your potential progress.
Anaerobic Power and Maximum Heart Rate
How do I calculate Max HR or gauge intensity?
Use this calculation to estimate your maximum heart rate (HR):
Max HR = 220 – your age
If you wear a watch that monitors HR, this number will give you a starting place for facilitating both training types. However, if you can’t use heart rate then you can use rating of perceived exertion.
For both training types, you should be exerting the maximal output you can sustain for the total duration. In anaerobic power training, this means going all out for 30-90 seconds whereas for max heart rate training this means going as hard as possible for 2-4 minutes at a time.
You should feel like you’re working hard and really sucking air during these sessions. They’re difficult in the moment but don’t last long and give you a great sense of satisfaction and bodily high when you're done.
Post completion, take a few minutes to breathe with slow exhales to aid in recovery.
Since these sessions are so tiring, they can be mentally daunting.
If you don’t have the energy to do each of these once per week, start by doing one of them each week and alternating. Week one can be anaerobic power, week two max heart rate, back to anaerobic power on week three, and so on.
Long Duration Endurance
This type of endurance training is often referred to as zone two exercise. While training, focus on purely nasal breathing with your mouth closed – this should be slightly uncomfortable.
If exercise intensity was to increase, you should need to open your mouth to breathe. But if you can have a full-blown conversation then you’re not exercising hard enough. Walk this tightrope of intensity until you find your sweet spot for these sessions.
In addition to long duration endurance training, try to add more movement into your day. This can be as simple as taking your phone calls while walking.
Personally, I use a standing desk for 90% of my day and take a walk at lunch. Although none of this counts as endurance training, most of us need to move more than we do. Myself included.
And, as always, please give me feedback. What did you like or dislike? What do you want more or less of? Other suggestions? Please let me know. Just respond to this email, leave a comment, or Tweet me @jackrossdixon.
Have a wonderful tail end to your week.