Ask a Trainer (Vol. VI)

Hi everyone, and welcome to Ask a Trainer, Volume VI.

If you’ve missed some in our running series, here are the first five volumes: Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III, Vol. IV, and Vol. V

You got questions? We got answers! Send an email to chris@crossfitcatonsville.com with all your fitness, health, and wellness queries. You might even end up in the next Ask a Trainer!

Today we’re going to talk about how long you need to rest between workouts, the time it takes to see results, how to accomplish the coveted “six pack abs”, and finally the meaning of the CrossFit Catonsville logo (by request).


How long should I rest between workouts?

Rest is an important part of your exercise regimen and should not be ignored. Generally you should allow at least 48 hours between workouts for a specific primary muscle group. Essentially this means don’t do the same workout two days in a row, or you risk over-training those muscles. When you over-train you are not allowing your muscles the necessary time to repair the micro-trauma created from resistance and body weight training. In order to build muscle, your body needs to spend time shunting resources to your muscles in the form of energy and protein. This takes time. If you constantly work hard on one muscle group day to day, you keep creating more micro-trauma until the muscle no longer functions as it should.

Over-training can lead to strains, sprains, weakness, or at the extreme, rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown of muscle tissue from extreme trauma). Strains and sprains can come pretty quickly, usually within a couple days of over-training, and usually bring weakness with them. Rhabdo is much harder to get and most people aren’t actually capable of pushing themselves hard enough to develop the condition. It’s much more likely to occur from accidents or diseases that cause muscles to breakdown, but it is possible to induce site-specific rhabdo if you don’t rest enough.

When you’re planning your routine, keep in mind that you can use many exercises to hit the same muscle groups, even though the exercises may seem different on the surface. Sit-ups and Knees to Elbows are both ab exercises, even though they may feel a little different. Rowing is a similar motion to pull-ups. Push-ups and Military Presses can both be heavy chest workouts. Keep the synergistic nature of your movements in mind when planning day to day, and try to differentiate as much as possible when workouts fall on back to back days. This can mean programming squatting movements on Monday and Pushing/Pressing movements on Tuesday, or any combination that allows muscle groups to rest for 36-48 hours before being the target of your workout again.


How long does it take to see results?

This depends on many factors, and which results you’re looking for.

Generally I place fitness related results into three broad categories: Conditioning, Bodily Function, and Aesthetics.

We’re going to hit Conditioning and Bodily Functions first, because those are relatively simple. Aesthetics is the big one not only because it’s what we all really want, but also because it’s so damn hard!

Conditioning

If you are new to working out, you will see very large results in your first 6 months. Strength and Endurance will improve at an exponential rate in those months, with people new to weight lifting often able to double and triple their maximum lifts inside this period.

After 6 months or so, your gains will taper off and flatten to a more linear progression. You will be able to add 3-5% to most lifts every month, and will likely have to spend time breaking through plateaus every couple months for the first 1-2 years.

After ~2 years of dedicated lifting, you will hit plateaus more often unless you train very smart.

Eventually (5-10 years, depending on the person) you will likely reach a “natural pinnacle” at which you only make gains every few months and they are hard to maintain. Most people simply have a point where their bodies are as strong as they can get naturally. There’s nothing wrong with this, and if you get to this point (which is damned difficult) you should be proud that you are literally as awesome as you can make yourself. Good job!

Bodily Function

Breathing, heart rate, feelings of wellness, digestion, sleep quality, and blood pressure are just a few things that regular exercise can improve. The flood of beneficial chemicals released during and after a workout (endorphins, etc.) provide immediate benefits to mood and sleep quality, as they help the body relax and enter a healthy euphoric state. In a couple weeks, you will notice a lower resting heart rate, more controlled blood pressure (if you have fitness-related blood pressure issues), and easier breathing. When your body is active and you are eating well, it makes it easier to digest and use the food you take in, so it can fuel the energy you’re putting out. Most of these benefits start within the first two weeks of a new exercise routine, and they are awesome!

Aesthetics

These are the results most people are most concerned about, and can be summed up as simply as this: do you look good naked?

Six pack? Developed arms? Great butt/legs? Muscley chest? Toned calves? No flab or love handles? It all boils down to how good you look in your birthday suit. The misfortune is that even though aesthetics are a major motivator to the majority of people who exercise, they are also the slowest results to achieve.You need a combination of good diet and regular exercise to accomplish even small changes to your appearance. This means they are both the most rewarding, and the most frustrating, thing to shoot for, from an effort/reward standpoint.

The best example of this is Percent Body Fat, which is the measure of how much body fat you hold in relation to your overall weight. In addition to body fat you also hold body muscle, organ weight, bone weight, and water weight.  The following is the best pictorial I have ever seen comparing different body fat percentages for both men and women, courtesy of the nice folks at BuiltLean:

Body Fat Percentage Examples - Male and Female

According to the American Journal Clinical Nutrition, the average body fat for U.S. men is ~24-28% and the average for women is ~40-42%. Have a look at those percentages in the pictures above to get an idea what that means visually for the average U.S. adult. This may be normal, but I think we can all see it’s not the ideal. According to the American Council on Exercise, the “fitness” level of body fat for men is ~14-17% and for women it’s ~21-24%. To be considered an “athlete” you would be aiming for 6-13% (men) and 14-20% (women), respectively.

So how does this all work out on a timeline of seeing results?

It’s healthy to lose up to 2 lbs per week at the high end, which equates to a 7,000 calorie deficit from diet and exercise. This is not an easy task, but it is still inside the healthy range if you do it correctly. Let’s go through an example of how this could work out.

  • Subject: Bob – Male – 200 lbs at 30% body fat & 20% body muscle (60 lbs fat, 40 lbs muscle, 100 lbs other)
  • Target: 15% body fat, 30% body muscle
  • Program:
    • Weight training Mon/Wed/Fri
    • Cardio only Tues/Thu
    • [500 calorie deficit from diet] + [500 calorie deficit from exercise] per day

We’re going to assume that Bob follows his diet and exercise regimen perfectly, and meets his 7000 calorie deficit every week. Since Bob is trying to cut his body fat in half, we know that he needs to lose 30 lbs. At 2 lbs per week, that is 15 weeks of work in ideal conditions. Lets also assume that Bob isn’t 100% perfect and needs to adjust a little, rounding that timeline to 16 weeks, or 4 months. This is not impossible and I’ve seen some pretty awesome transformations just like this. BUT it’s a lot of time and a lot of work.

Now, during his cut Bob wasn’t building much muscle, because he didn’t have the excess calories to do so. He maintained his 25% body muscle for those 16 weeks while he lost the fat. He now weighs in at a svelte 170 lbs. He probably looks like a very skinny version of the 15% picture above. Now Bob needs to spend time building that muscle he wants. Back to work!

It takes about 3,000 extra calories to build a pound of muscle, but Bob doesn’t want to regain the fat he lost. He increases his caloric intake to cover his daily needs (about body weight x 11, so 1,870 cal per day) plus an extra 300/day to start building muscle. At this rate he can build about 2.5 lbs of muscle per month, and trying to add 5% muscle mass would put his goal weight at 204 lbs total. He needs to add 34 lbs of muscle to his frame, and at the average of 2.5 lbs per month, it will take him about a year to accomplish.

Now look back at the timeline: 4 months of cutting to drop 15% body fat plus 1 year of mild bulk to add 34 lbs of muscle. In about a year a half, Bob will have transformed himself from the [Male 30% Body Fat] example to the [Male 15% Body Fat] example.

This is why aesthetics takes the longest to achieve.


How do I get a six pack/flat stomach?

Did you read that section on getting results above? The Aesthetics portion tells you exactly what you need to know!

The key to a getting visible abs is 80% diet and 20% exercise. You need to lose the body fat covering the abdominal wall, and make sure you’ve taken the time to build the muscles so they “pop”. For men, a six pack is generally visible after achieving ~15% body fat, and for women they show up around ~19% body fat.

Since the average person comes in at ~24-28% body fat (men) and ~40-42% body fat (women), the majority of people need to reduce their body fat by 10-20% before they will see those Glorious Golden Ripples of Spartan Awesomeness. This is best achieved with a controlled diet and regular strength training. You can reasonably lose 1.5-2 lbs per week on the high end by cutting 750-1000 calories per day via diet and exercise. For example, a 175 lbs woman who is 40% body fat, they would need to lose about 35 lbs of fat, which equates to about 18 weeks of work.

But honestly, if you are someone who has never seen your abs before, is 4.5 months really all that long to go from overweight to six pack?

Yeah. I didn’t think so!


Meta Question: What does the CrossFit Catonsville logo mean?

This is a question we received from our own Eric C.. Here’s the answer:

Before we contracted the actual design of the logo we weren’t sure where to start, so I started drawing out stuff on pieces of paper (poorly; I am not a good artist). I kept coming back to the image of the Vitruvian Man: the idea that the human body has “Golden Ratios” that exist between different parts and that all design is based on those ratios. Other CrossFit gyms have used this image, and I wanted to diverge from that to create our own symbol.

The central portion is essentially the human figure, but instead of being in perfect proportion it is in chaotic proportion. No part is identical to the other, though all parts are similar. In reality, the human body isn’t an ideal, and what we seek to do is gain strength by understanding and overcoming those limitations we find in ourselves.

The three orbiting comets, always moving clockwise and being of identical size and tail length, represent the passage of time as well as the three elements which make up every person: Body, Mind, & Spirit. There are many, many examples of “3” being used as a sacred number in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Norse religion, Wicca, Taoism, and many others.

The last part, the arcs which overlap creating a circle with small gaps, represent both “the box” that life exists in as well as the narrow, often unseen paths that lead us outside “the box”. Essentially these are the things which constrain us, but also offer us a path into greatness. What we do at CFC is nothing less than attempting to make ourselves as strong and healthy as we can, not just in body but in mind as well. It takes a great deal of physical and emotional strength to make it through a challenging workout, and we’re nothing if not challenging!

Taken as a whole, the symbol is one which means working within the human condition – Mind, Body and Soul – to overcome the limitations of life and our bodies, striving towards greatness.


And that’s it! Join us next time for more fitness and health goodness!