In my first two Fitness Routine Training articles, I covered 2 of the 3 components of a fitness routine - strength and flexibility. The third and final component is the endurance factor, also referred to as conditioning or cardiovascular. In the NPC, the cardiovascular component comprises 33% of the judging criteria for a fitness routine, so it is extremely important that a competitor address this issue and train properly for it.
Improving your endurance for a routine takes a good level of aerobic and anaerobic fitness. If the athlete is well-conditioned in these areas, her routine will be cleaner, sharper, effortless in appearance, and will be easier for the athlete to perform.
The Structure Of A Fitness Routine
To determine how to train for the routine, you have to look at the structure of a fitness routine. The length is usually between 90-120 seconds, depending on the organization. The routine requires the competitor to jump, dance, and tumble using short bursts of energy, then to stop and perform a strength hold, then resume the choreography, and so on, for the remainder of the routine. What makes these routines so difficult is that they require a good deal of anaerobic endurance. To improve your anaerobic endurance, you must first address your aerobic endurance.
Aerobic activity can be defined as any moderate/high intensity movement involving most of the large muscle groups of the body, performed for a long period of time. During aerobic exercise, the body consumes and utilizes large amounts of oxygen to recover the muscles.
Having a good level of cardiovascular fitness allows the body to resynthesize ATP faster, meaning you can exercise longer and harder without reaching your lactic acid threshold because your body is conditioned to recover faster. In a fitness routine, this means your muscles won't start tiring and burning as quickly, making your routine easier to perform and your movements to appear effortless.
To improve your aerobic endurance, choose a moderate/high intensity exercise to perform for 30-45 minutes at a steady, continuous pace. Good options include running, spinning/cycling, elliptical, and stairmaster.
The term "anaerobic" is more closely defined as an activity that involves performing short, repeated bursts of exercise. The most common example of anaerobic exercise is weightlifting. When you perform a set of an exercise, your muscles can only push out so many reps before they reach failure and have to rest and recover. Anaerobic exercise is fueled by metabolic processes that do not require oxygen, but instead use ATP and CP (creatine phosphate).
ATP is consumed rapidly during anaerobic work, and soon the muscles start consuming it faster than the body can reproduce it, resulting in the "burning" feeling you get during this type of exercise. So, you can see the need to have a high anaerobic threshold to perform your fitness routine at the optimal level.
There are many types of anaerobic training you can incorporate into your program to increase your endurance. Most types of cardio can be performed at an anaerobic level. To do this, all you have to do is perform interval-style cardio, taking your "work" intervals to a near-max ability level, and recovering during your "rest" intervals, then repeating for the duration of the cardio session.
A good example of this is sprinting a short distance, then jogging back to the start, and repeating for 10-12 times. Another training style would be to run a hill or bleachers, jog back down, and repeat 10-12 times. Many sports are anaerobic in nature, such as tennis, racquetball, and basketball. These will help with your conditioning, as well.
Anaerobic cardio sessions are much more difficult and raise your heart rate a lot higher than aerobic training, so the duration of these can be shorter, within the 20-30 minute range.
Other ways to increase your anaerobic endurance are through your weightlifting routine. Increase your training intensity by pushing each set to failure, minimizing your rest periods to less than 60 seconds, and incorporating supersets and drop sets into your routine. Finally, circuit training is a great way to condition your body for the demands of a fitness routine.
How To Train Your Fitness Routine
Once you've addressed the aerobic and anaerobic training issues, and restructured your fitness regimen to increase your endurance in these areas, you can work on routine-specific conditioning. The best way to improve your cardiovascular for the routine is to simply practice, practice, practice! Repeating the series of choreography and moves in the order they occur in your routine will give you the strength and energy requirements, over time, to perform a perfect and flawless routine. There are several ways to go about doing this.
The first way to practice is by dividing your routine into parts - either in thirds or in halves. When you first learn your choreographed routine, you won't be able to perform it from start to finish. You may or may not have all the components perfected individually, but in any case, they all have to be put together for the performance.
Practicing the routine in parts allows you to concentrate all your efforts into just a portion of your routine before tiring to the point that you can no longer continue. When I practice my routine, I like to divide it in half, performing the first 60 seconds several times (resting 2-3 minutes between), then performing the second half in the same manner. One trick I learned is to spend more time performing the second half of the routine in a tired state (less recovered); this is how you will feel once you put both halves together.
The other practice method is to run your entire routine in full, minus the strength moves. This will build up your conditioning for the dance and choreography segments of the routine. You can add in certain moves as your energy builds up, but don't force anything or you can risk injury.
Once both halves of the routine become easier for you, put the whole routine together and start practicing it that way, as you would on the day of the show. I like to run through my routine fresh (after a 10-minute warm-up), rest about 5 minutes, and repeat for 3-6 times, depending on the amount of time I have to practice and the stage of preparation I am in.
Creating An Exciting Fitness Routine!
Designing A Fitness Routine!
NPC Fitness Rules And Moves!
Sample Routine Conditioning Training Circuit
In addition to your cardiovascular training and routine practices, I recommend the following routine conditioning training circuit, to be performed 1-2 times per week.
Warm-up: 5 minutes moderate intensity elliptical or treadmill Workout: Perform this routine circuit-style, resting no more than 15-30 seconds between sets of exercises. Rest 3-5 minutes, then repeat circuit for a total of 2-3 times. Duration of workout should be 30-60 minutes.
Squat Hops (15 reps)
Handstand Pushups (10 reps)
Straddle Hold (10 seconds)
Pike Hold (10 seconds)
Plyometric Medicine Ball Pushups (10 reps)
Straddle Jumps (10 jumps)
Hanging Straddle Hold (10 seconds) - same as Straddle Press, only done from elevated from dip bars.
Hanging Pike Hold (10 seconds) - same as Pike Hold, only done from elevated from dip bars.
Bodyweight Dips (12 reps)
Straight Leg Raise (15 reps)
Super Slow Pushups (15 reps)
5 minutes high-intensity elliptical or treadmill
Since there is so much controversy regarding particular supplements and whether they work or not, my supplement recommendations come in order of importance and in order of effectiveness based on popular research and my own experience. If there is something not on the list you wish to take and can afford to do so, then there is nothing wrong with adding it in to make your preparation and life a little easier.
- Multi-Vitamin/Mineral - First and foremost, this is a necessity. I even double the dose and take one each in the morning and evening during contest prep. While on reduced calories and strenuous exercise, you are depleting your body of its necessary vitamins and nutrients, so doubling up on this supplement is a great idea.
- Extra Vitamin C - This is also a necessity for me and all my clients in contest prep mode. The extra vitamin C is needed to help boost the immune system, which is severely weakened from all the rigors of contest prep.
Add to that the fact that most competitors diet through the winter months when colds are rampant, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. Take 500 mg in the morning and 500 mg in the evening. Even though there is C in your multi-vitamin, it's not enough.
- Extra Calcium - This is very important for female competitors and should not be ignored. Women need a minimum of 1200-1400 mg daily, and most multi-vitamins only contain 500 mg. Add 500 mg of calcium in your morning and evening doses to ensure you are meeting the minimum requirement.
- Glutamine - While there are many debates as to whether or not supplementing with glutamine is effective in what it promises, I believe in its powers and always add this in precontest. Take 5-10 g daily, split into 2 doses. Pre or post-workout is a great time to take glutamine, and also right before bed.
- Echinacea and Gingko Biloba - I am an adamant believer in the effectiveness of herbal remedies, so I've added these two herbs to my supplementation program. The Echinacea helps boost the immune system, important for reasons mentioned above, and the Gingko helps with mental clarity, alertness, and concentration, all of which are depleted on a low-calorie, lower carbohydrate contest diet.
- Glucosamine Complex - This is very important during contest prep. As you lean out, your joints, tendons, and ligaments become more susceptible to injury; there is less fat around the joint to cushion and protect it. In addition, the high volume of weight training and cardio puts a lot of stress on your joints. Adding in glucosamine helps rebuild the cartilage around your joints and prevent injuries.
- Water - Don't forget water! Get into that habit now of drinking 3-4 liters per day. It might take you a while to build up to that, but it is definitely a necessity. Water is so important for many bodily functions, and has the added bonus of keeping your skin clear and helping you feel full while dieting.
- Powerlifting is Anaerobic, by Frederick C. Hatfield, Ph.D. [Online]
- A Guide to Personal Fitness Training, AFAA [Online]
About The Author
Alissa Carpio is a 6-time champion in NPC Fitness & Figure contests. She just finished her 2005 spring season and won 1st Place at both NPC Junior USA's and the NPC Pittsburgh, and is currently preparing for NPC Nationals in November. Alissa is also helping several athletes prepare for their first competition through her unique online contest prep services. She offers Fitness & Figure Competitor Workshops to girls in the Washington, DC area. For more information, visit Alissa's site at www.alissa.net.