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You guys know about my deep and abiding affection for my craptastic gym, and I told you all about how awesome my coach Mark is — but I’ve been holding out on you a little bit. In addition to getting serious with the barbells, I’ve also been playing with some “Lift Weights Faster” workouts from Jen Sinkler. Jen and I were internet mutual admirers for a while, then we met in real life and became fast friends. In person, she’s the 3D version of her online persona: motivating, supportive, inspiring, and super fun. And her workouts are like that, too. Just so you know who I’m talking about, here she is now, doing a back squat:
This week, Jen released her new Lift Weights Faster program to the world, and I’m excited that you can try her workouts now, too. In the reader survey I conducted a few weeks ago, so many of you said that you’re interested in learning more about how to workout — but you also admitted that you’re intimidated by CrossFit and have no idea what to do with barbells. I get it! And that’s why I think Jen’s program might be awesome for you.
Lift Weights Faster is the perfect way to learn how to workout while you’re actually doing the workouts. The program provides 130 conditioning workouts with 225 different exercises. The best part is that Jen has included detailed how-to descriptions and photos, along with videos that demonstrate 14 of the more technical exercises. And if you’re curious about serious strength training, too, her husband Dave Dellanave wrote a companion book called Get Stronger Faster. It’s a 12-week strength program that also includes a how-to guide on the biofeedback approach that I’ve been using in my training. (Thanks, Movement Minneapolis!)
When Jen asked me what I thought of the workouts — in my (un)official capacity as workout tester-outer — this is what I had to say:
The Lift Weights Faster program is so much fun, throwing around heavy stuff is my favorite part of the day. I’ve been using the workouts for two months, and I feel stronger — mentally and physically. I’m not ripped (yet!), but I’m building muscle and definitely look like someone who *does stuff.* This is the first time in three years that I was able to see the results of my workout. My body is changing for the better! The workouts are the perfect combination of novelty and familiarity — challenging enough that I feel like a boss, but not so over-the-top that they’re scary. And the best part is that instead of feeling wiped out after my morning workout, I feel energized to tackle the day. I might even end each workout by looking in the mirror and saying to myself, “Beast mode. All day long.”
Jen was kind enough to take time out of her nutso launch week to answer some questions for us. I like to pretend she was responding to my questions while also doing this:
MJ: Obviously, I agree with you that people should lift weights and — dare I say it?! — lift weights faster! Can you explain what you mean by Lift Weights Faster? What’s the motivation and meaning of that super catchy tagline?
JS: Man, do I dislike traditional cardio. (Disclaimer: This is just me. If you like it, carry on — I’m not here to judge.) Part of the reason that I don’t like it is that it hurts. I have deep compartment syndrome in my calves, which means that the fascia that surrounds those muscles isn’t big enough to house them once they engorge with blood. (Basically, it’s like wearing a dress that’s too tight.) The muscles swell and the fascia locks down around them and squeezes them hard enough that they bleed inside. Super burny and painful, and it is exacerbated during activities where they don’t get intermittent breaks. In other words, while sprinting is in (because you get to stop!), jogging is a nightmare.
This means that I do my “cardio” in unconventional and confusing (to mainstream media) ways. In an interview several summers back, a reporter asked me what I do for exercise. My answer: “Lift weights.” When the follow-up came, “But what do you do for cardio?” my answer was “I lift weights faster.”
Anyone who’s ever completed a five-minute snatch test, a metabolic finisher after a strength workout, or a tough circuit workout already knows what I’m talking about — you can get completely winded without running, swimming, biking or…what do you call what you do on the elliptical? The trick is, the movements have to be dynamic. Big improvements to your VO2 max (one measure of cardiovascular fitness) will not occur with low-volume sets and lots of rest time in between.
Lifting weights faster, on the other hand, nets you many of the same upsides as the activities as traditional cardio — a faster metabolism, a happier heart, a better hormonal profile, more mitochondria and greater capillary density, to name just a few — with the added benefit of also preserving your existing muscle mass (and potentially even building new!).
Call this method of training whatever you will — cardio-strength training, metabolic resistance training, circuit training, or lifting weights faster — but this approach to total-body conditioning is thrilling for those of us who aren’t that into more traditional aerobic pursuits.
There is mounting evidence in support of this idea. Just to name one, a massive research review published in a June 2012 issue of Journal of Exercise Physiology states, “There is the very real likelihood that the distinction between [cardiovascular exercise and resistance training] is an oversimplification where such a distinct dichotomy does not, in fact, exist.”
Hence: I do no traditional cardio. I lift weights faster.
MJ: You’re such a successful athlete (hello, rugby!)… can you describe who you had in mind when you were designing your program? Is it for men and women who are already lifting, newbies, or everyone?
JS: First of all, thank you for the compliment! I was lucky enough to find a sport that required the right athletic combination for me — namely, physically aggressive and sprinty. I ain’t got an ounce of endurance, however, nor do I have the capacity to memorize long routines, so I’m no good sports that require those qualities. All of this is to say, I think that a lot of people say they aren’t athletic without considering if they’re trying to be an athlete in a sport that suits their particular strengths. For some people, that’s going to be roller derby (oh heeeey, girl!), for others, it might be curling.
When I was designing Lift Weights Faster, I thought a lot about the type of training I did when I was playing some of my best rugby. Here’s the thing: I wasn’t doing rugby-specific training at the time — I was doing full-body strengthening, ballistic-movement lifting as part of group training class at a kettlebell gym called Urban Athlete (UA) in Philadelphia, to be exact. That is, I was lifting weights faster. I was doing that, and I was sprinting a couple times a week.
And, I got stronger and faster than I’d ever been to that point in my life.
Not many of UA’s members were athletes, yet they were getting the results they wanted, too: They were losing fat, getting stronger, feeling better in their bodies and about their bodies. So was I — and I realized that this type of training meets nearly everyone’s goals. And so, I include circuit training with my clients — we do short, intense finishers at the end of most strength sessions.
I made sure the workouts in Lift Weights Faster were scalable, so that they would benefit anyone who wanted to pick up a copy. Of the 130 workouts I included, many are doable by anyone, but some do include more high-skill movements, and for those, I recommend getting coaching. I’d like people to be proficient all movements, and to possibly get in-person coaching from someone, before they attempt to include them in any sort of conditioning circuit (this goes double, triple for the Olympic lifts). I did film 14 how-to videos covering the more technical or unusual lifts, such as the barbell clean, barbell snatch and Jefferson deadlift, to help get people up to speed or provide a refresher.
MJ: How would you characterize the results people can expect: strength, fat loss, both?
JS: Women and men can both expect fat loss, of course — that’s the nature of the beast that is circuit training. What I like about it is that as opposed to traditional cardio, you also spare your muscle tissue. That is, you can lose fat doing traditional cardio, yes, but you also tend to lose muscle that way. With circuit training, you get to burn primarily body fat.
Now, when it comes to strength, this is somewhat dependent on your training age (simply put, how long you’ve been training) and how heavy you go on the circuits.
Traditional wisdom is that if your training age is six months or less, chances are you’re going to build strength and muscle mass lifting any appreciable amount of weight. If your training age is older than six months, on the other hand, you need to be sure you’re loading your circuits up to keep making progress. That said, you can maintain current strength levels pretty easily — research shows that women, especially, can maintain with a heavy lift once about every 10 days!
And, anecdotally, many of my peers in the fitness industry — myself included — are still able to gain strength and build muscle even during stretches where they’re sticking mostly to circuit training. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that we tend to do heavy complexes and combos, though — the light stuff isn’t going to lead to big strength gains.
Luckily, there are plenty of hot-n-heavy — and brief — options in Lift Weights Faster. Those are my faves.
MJ: The Lift Weights Faster website is going to have a Leaderboard. What does a sense of community and friendly competition bring to the experience for participants?
Man, I love a little healthy competition, don’t you? I installed the Lift Weights Faster Leaderboard on the site so that people could see how their results stack up against others who have completed any of the five Challenge Workouts: Quad City, Stomp the Yard, Chain Reaction, The Captain, or Bear Monster.
Really, though, in my book, competition is just code for community and community is everything. Having a place to rendezvous and a way of connecting with others who are sharing similar experiences (I won’t say that misery loves company, because I think these workouts are pretty fun, but you miiiigght have a moment of hardship or two during them). I want this to be an interactive program, not one you download and then are left to your own devices. Sharing is part of the fun, so even if you’re just checking out the numbers, it still adds an element of fun.
Or course, not everyone likes competition, so I’ve made the site so you can plug in your numbers and compare them to your own previous numbers for that same workout. In other words, even if you don’t care what other people’s scores are, you can compete with yourself.
MJ: OK, switching gears. You can work out out with anyone — living, dead, or fictional — and YOU get to pick the workout, the location, the music. Describe your perfect fantasy workout for us.
JS: Unless we’re playing “F***, Marry, Kill,” I always pick Winston Churchill for any hypothetical “who would you” questions, so I guess I’m putting him through a circuit! Although he was said to be quite the polo player, I’m guessing he didn’t even lift, so I would teach him to swing a kettlebell, squat and deadlift, and he would entertain me with stories of his life. He would probably make a few jokes about snatching and jerking, and I’d have to explain to him that the glee of those words will wear off once he’s been lifting for a while. We would listen to Heart Radio on Pandora.
MJ: Anything else you want people to know about you or the program?
JS: The way a lot of my clients have been wielding the Lift Weights Faster workouts is in addition to a more traditional strength program, supplementing with these conditioning finishers. With this in mind, my husband, deadlifting aficionado David Dellanave, wrote a companion 12-week strength program to my conditioning library called Get Stronger Faster. The increases in strength we saw with our beta testers of the program were pretty phenomenal.
The point is, you can use Lift Weights Faster as a grab-and-go resource for conditioning finishers, or you can use them as stand-alone workouts. The whole manual is organized by both time you have available (10, 20, or 30 minutes) and what equipment you have on hand (from bodyweight only to a full gym selection).
Jen Sinkler, RKC, PCC, PM, USAW, is a longtime fitness journalist who writes for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis.
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