Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Complete Progamming for Health & Wellness

This post is going to be more general health related than HEMA specific. That being said, it will describe general health objectives with the assumption that you want HEMA to be how you get there.

(I've been asked before to do a better job of explaining how various elements of the blog are HEMA specific, rather than just a lifting blog. Sometimes I remember that while I'm writing, and sometimes I don't. The problem, for me, is that in my mind it's obvious. But I need to make sure I explain that better. This post will be clear in it's link to HEMA, and it helps to illustrate why I keep assuming that lifting (and cardio) are part of HEMA.)

Complete Physical Activity for Health

The American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand on Exercise for general health outlines the four components of a comprehensive approach to physical activity. The ACSM is one of the most respected organizations in the world in the field of movement science and it's effect on health. The large body of science reviewed for the position stand shows the benefits to these four distinct categories of exercise. Each type benefits a person in a different way, which is why a complete approach includes all four. 

This may sound like it's too much stuff to fit in your schedule, but keep reading, I'm going to break it down to make it achievable.

Categories of Exercise
Cardiovascular -  These are simple, repetitive activities that can be performed for at least several minutes continuously (2+ minutes). Higher intensity versions that are done for shorter periods, as part of an interval training routine, can also be used. Examples include:
  • running (jogging, all the way up to sprinting)
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • (almost all) kettlebell routines
  • circuit resistance programs like P90X and Insanity DVDs and Crossfit Metcon workouts
  • sleds, battle ropes and many others

Resistance/Strength Training - Differentiated from cardiovascular primarily by intensity. Exercise intensity must be sufficient to limit repetitions to 8-12 before failure from fatigue. Additionally, these exercises normally emphasize full range of motion, unlike common cardio activities such as running. Also there is a need for a full-body program, while this is not necessary for a cardio program.

Flexibility - Activities to enhance range of motion and/or extensibility (stretchiness) of connective tissues. It is important to note that increased flexibility does not show any connection to reduction of musculotendinous injury, low back pain or DOMS (delayed onset muscular soreness).

Neuromotor - the most heavily studied is Tai Chi but similar benefits should derive from other kinds of martial arts training e.g. HEMA. These exercises should improve balance and agility.

How Much

Cardiovascular - The recommendation I'm making is for vigorous cardio training. Basic health and wellness benefits can be accrued from moderate intensity exercise, but this is not specific to HEMA, so I'm not covering it here.
  • At least 10 minutes at a time, which doesn't count warm-up and cool down
  • 60 minutes total per week
  • 3+ times per week
  • no more than 20-30 minutes at a time, for optimal specificity to HEMA
 It only takes three 20 minute sessions per week. That's it. Given the cardio components of strength training and typical HEMA training this is sufficient

I suggest a day of high intensity intervals with long recovery periods for metabolic power, and a day of moderate intensity with short recovery periods to improve recovery. One day per week of steady state training for an 'aerobic base' is also needed (it was even part of the Tabata protocol). More detail and some discussion here

Strength Training - I'll be honest, this part requires a larger investment in time. But results require effort. And this stuff will benefit you for your entire life.
  • 8-12 exercises of 2-3 sets each
  • 2-3 times per week
8 exercises times 2 sets each is 16 sets minimum. Rest periods and moving around the gym, plus set-up of exercises means that each set takes about 2 minutes or more. So, we are looking at a minimum of 32 minutes plus some warm-up and cool-down. Add in getting changed and it's about 1 hour.

I will always advise people to plan for 3 times per week, so that if they miss a session they still get 2 sessions that week. A week with only 1 strength day is just sitting in a holding pattern, not making any progress (at best).

Flexibility - This part is easier to program because of how it is useful and effective to build it into the warm-up and cool-down parts of other workouts. As such, with a complete program no additional time is needed dedicated to flexibility.
  • 2-3 times per week
  • 10 minutes for a complete session
This is the minimum, but more is not necessarily better. Spending 20 minutes straight stretching probably isn't helping anything. 5-10 minutes before and after each workout is entirely sufficient.

Neuromotor - This is the fun part: HEMA! But this is where the least amount of research exists. It seems likely that 2-3 times per week is needed for health, but you probably want to do that much anyways for training purposes.

Putting It All Together

Let's break this down to no more than an hour a day. Here's an example:

Monday - HEMA class (neuromotor) + 10 minutes cardio
Tuesday - Lift (strength) + flexibility before and after
Wednesday - HEMA class (neuromotor) + 10 minutes cardio
Thursday - Lift (strength) + flexibility before and after
Friday - 'Long' cardio day (30 minutes) + solo practice (neuromotor)
Saturday - Lift (strength) + 10 minutes cardio
Sunday - rest

Each place that I put "+10 minutes cardio" can be part of the main activity for the day or some other time of the day. If you miss a day it's not a disaster, because the basic plan has some redundancy in it. 

If you are already doing much more of one particular category, such as cardio (let's face it, this probably means running), then I encourage you to make your program more diverse. A more diverse program will provide more long-term health benefits than over-specialization.

I feel like an hour a day is a perfectly reasonable objective for most people. That being said a part of this is definitely about priorities. You have to pick sometimes - during the semester I don't play computer games. I'd have to skip training to find the time.


  1. How about jump-rope for cardio? Winter's here, and I imagine the chance to stay out of the cold while exercising would be a boon.

  2. There's more than one way to skin a cat, so sure, if that's what you prefer than go for it.

    Do you have ways of adjusting the intensity to do the jump rope equivalent of sprints?