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ISSUE 23 ARCHIVE - HOW TO EXCEL THE PHYSICAL FITNESS TEST AT YOUR NEXT DIVING MEDICAL

Dr Michael Gonevski

The new HSE requirements for physical fitness have been around now for over a year and a half. A lot of blood, sweat and tears have been shed since then. One recurring theme though is the question of how to prepare for the physical fitness test. Obviously most trainee's favourite activity of flexing in front of the mirror or gawking at the fairer sex is not going to take you far. And as much as I would like to take full advantage of this moment and push you in the direction of my favourite kettlebells, I do understand that this type of training is not for everybody.

Putting together your own training plan is less complicated than you might think if you follow a few basic principles. There are a few questions however that you need to answer honestly before you begin.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TRAINING?

If you are a beginner, the good news is that you'll make progress fast. To get the most out of your training, concentrate on a few key compound movements and keep isolation moves to a minimum until you've built up a decent base of strength and tolerance to training volume. Remember, baby steps are the fastest. If you are more experienced in the gym, it might be time to up the ante and concentrate on imbalances or neglected areas. The bottom line is, don't train like an Olympian if it is your first day in the gym.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE?

Be honest about it from the outset and you'll save yourself time and frustration. Realistically, you can probably improve in a couple of areas at once losing weight and building muscle for instance, or building muscle and strength. Trying to do more will definitely lead to overtraining and ultimately failure. Concentrate on the target goal and tailor your training towards it. You reap what you sow. Random acts of variety will get you random results.

HOW OFTEN ARE YOU REALISTICALLY ABLE TO TRAIN?

Don't commit to a six-day-a-week workout plan if you've never set foot in the gym before. You'll fail, and feel really bad about it. It is possible to get the results you want with three sessions a week, provided your training is really hard when you are there and pay attention to nutrition and recovery when you are not. Doing 1000 squats during one session will definitely feel like you have been "working out". Feeling crashed for the rest of the week and so sore that you are unable to brush your teeth only keeps you further away from you goal. The key message here is not how much work you can do at one session but how much work you can recover from.

I'm guessing that if you have been reading this far, your goal is not only barely passing but blasting through the HSE endorsed physical test. Luckily for you, what works best for fat loss, HIIT and Circuit Training, will also help you to raise those VO2 Max numbers faster. Two birds with one stone.

The most important thing for this type of work is to pick a workout form that you like, work hard at it and be able to stick with it for the long haul.

WHAT'S BEST, WEIGHTS OR CARDIO?

Both will work. But only if you do them properly. Traditional jogging style cardio isn't ideal because it can elevate your stress hormones, so short, sharp efforts are better. Whatever tool you choose to use, the principle is still the same: keep your heart rate high and the rests short. For your recommended heart rate, you can use the following formula as a guidance: (220 Your age) x 80&percen;.

IF I DO FAT LOSS WORKOUTS CAN I EAT/ DRINK WHAT I WANT?

No.I only wish I could be even more blunt about it. Even a savage hour of beasting in the gym can be undone by half a dozen pints and a midnight curry. Stay on top of what you eat, although you shouldn't beat yourself blind over the occasional slip-up.

HOW OFTEN CAN I DO FAT LOSS WORKOUTS?

If you are doing high intensity sessions, three times a week is a sensible limit.

HOW LONG DO MY FAT LOSS WORKOUTS NEED TO BE?

These are some of the shortest you can do and still make progress. Even 15 minutes is enough. After a quick warm up you can do high intensity intervals, 30 seconds of work, 30 seconds of rest for the whole duration and you are done. It has been said that there is more than one way to skin a cat. So here are three of my favourite protocols.

Tabata.

This workout was originally developed to improve the VO2 max of Olympic speed skaters by Dr Izumi Tabata in 1996. You have Japanese ingenuity backed up by 20 years of proven success, so pay attention.

You have to pick up one full body exercise that uses as many muscle groups as possible. Rowing and cycling are good ones. Go full tilt for 20 seconds and then try to catch your breath during the 10 seconds rest that follow after that for a total of eight times.

The emphasis is on "full tilt". If you are not ready to puke at the end of it, you are not doing it hard enough. This might be the single best fat-burning protocol that I know. One other thing, Tabata teaches you the mental focus needed to push past the pain threshold of lactic acid build-up in order to change your body composition.

AMRAP.

This acronym stands for

As Many Rounds As Possible

and was made popular by CrossFiters. You have to perform as many rounds as you can of a circuit of moves in a set time. You'll always go harder with a target to beat - and you'll do more work as you get fitter.

A classic example is CrossFit WOD (Workout Of the Day) Cindy: You perform 5 pull-ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats, all done nonstop for 20 minutes.

EMOM

Every Minute On the Minute. This is by far my favourite one. It keeps you honest and also allows you to fit a high volume of work in a relatively short period of time, leading to better conditioning, while still including enough rest to allow good form.

Pick a full body exercise, like the kettlebell swing (sorry, I could not resist) and aim to complete a certain number of reps at the beginning of every minute. 10 is a good number to start. Get them done fast without sacrificing proper form and you'll have more time to rest.

I promised myself that I'll stick to principles rather than giving you a set of exercises to follow. Promises however are made to be broken. So, here is an example of a bodyweight only circuit comprising of six exercises that you can complete in less than 30 minutes.

1. Jump Squat

2. Push Up

3. Lunge

4. Mountain Climbers

5. V-Sit Ups

6. Burpee

10 repetitions of each move, rest 2 minutes between each circuit, perform five circuits. That simple.

There has been a number of HSE medical renewal candidates lately who have performed extremely well on the physical test. I'm always curious to find out what type of training they have followed in order to perform so well.

"Well, what you told me to do the last time" is the answer more often than not. I'm not mentioning this in order to impress, only driven by the desire to spread sweetness and light.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. There are those who were brave enough to take it. Are you?

Disclaimer: No little furry animals have been injured during the writing of this article. All of the above is a product of my own personal and often painful hours of research in new ways to push the human body. Like any true scientist, the tests have been conducted on me. The truth hurts.

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