The Exercise Traffic Light System

The Exercise Traffic Light System October 24, 2019Leave a comment

Unless you’ve been living under a Paleolithic rock your whole life, you’ve probably heard a lively bout of exercise can be quite good for you.

The only problem is, we tend to view exercise as a gruelling pursuit that must fuel blood, sweat, and tears from 1000 ass-to-grass squats for it to count.

With the recent explosion of Instagram posts and #workhardtrainhard hashtags, exercise is now viewed as a balls-to-the-wall endeavour that is only reserved for the hardcore among us.

The reality is, that’s BS.

Exercise doesn’t have to leave you in a reservoir of sweat, struggling to lift your arms above your waist and groaning as you get up and down off the toilet after each session.

Exercise is about getting it done.

As we – should – know, nutrition will drive the majority of your fat loss efforts and exercise should support it.

Switching off Netflix and shifting some form of weight in the gym shouldn’t be viewed as a challenging and painstaking inconvenience, therefore.

Which is why I want to introduce you to The Exercise Traffic Light System.

How It Works

As a hard and fast rule, 99% of the population should aim to train, on average, a minimum of three times a week.

This, however, can be a daunting prospect when we believe we’re expected to metaphorically kill ourselves each time we head to the gym and feel the pain for days afterwards.

By splitting up those three sessions into what we like to call ‘simple, balanced, and tough’ sessions, we’re able to ensure we get them done, without fretting over whether we’re able to reach the lofty heights of those intimidating feelings.

We’re able to cover all bases and, most importantly, should we have to miss a session, it won’t be the end of the world.

We can’t be expected to feel motivated, nor ‘up for’ the gym every day. By utilising the rotating system of ‘simple, balanced, and tough’ sessions we can make sure we’re able to cover all bases of enthusiasm while ensuring we still train to get closer to our goals.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what order we get these sessions in, when we get them in, or how we get them in; the trick is to make sure they’re in.

Something is always better than nothing.

It’s been found on numerous occasions [1] [2] that choosing your training on a day-to-day basis on how you feel will lead to improved results.

Adopting a flexible – or more formally known as Nonlinear Periodisation – approach to your programme will help shift your mindset to look at the bigger picture and not just the sets and reps provided to you on any given day.

It will also increase your likelihood of sticking to whatever plan you’re following, and not the customary two weeks you’ve grown accustomed to before failing to hit the gym for another few months.

It is important to note that all these sessions should still always aim to be following the premise of progressive overload – the concept of simply ‘doing more over time’. For maximum results, you should be ‘training’ and not just ‘working out’.

What Are ‘Simple, Balanced, And Tough’ Sessions?

Simple Sessions

Simple – but not necessarily ‘easy’ – sessions are reserved for those instances when you’re short on time, motivation and energy is somewhat lacking, and you need a quick blast to ensure you get something done.

These could include any of the following:

  • Mobility or Movement Circuits
  • Short Bodyweight Circuits
  • Quick Rounds Of Metabolic Conditioning
  • Some Form Of Cardio
  • 3-4 Simple Compound Movements

These simple sessions are, of course, there for you to work hard and adhere to the principle of progressive overload, but ultimately enable you to ‘enjoy the ride’.

These are primarily about getting them done, and not stressing over whether you’re working to your full capacity.

They don’t have to be long sessions, nor do you have to leave hobbling out of the gym; they’re here to make sure you simply get some exercise in for the week.

Target RPE: 3-6

Balanced Sessions

Balanced sessions up the ante slightly. They’re a combination of your simple and tough sessions.

These are retained for times when you’re feeling slightly more motivated, have a bit more time on your hands, and want to feel as if you’ve done something at the gym.

These could include any of the following:

  • 8-10 Resistance Based Exercises
  • Some Form Of Higher Intensity Cardio
  • High-Intensity Rounds of Metabolic Conditioning

– Compound Movements + Isolation Movements

You should aim to centre your week around these balanced sessions. If you want to see real results, following a progressive-based, and well-thought-out, training programme should complement your nutrition efforts.

These workouts are still focused and productive – you should still be following a training programme – however, you can relax a bit if things don’t quite go according to plan.

Target RPE: 6-8

Tough Sessions

Tough sessions are saved for those moments when you’re feeling strong, pumped for the gym, and ready to #crushit.

Those times when you’re feeling fresh, energetic, and actually want to go to the gym should be utilised and used to hit it hard.

These could include any of the following:

  • 8-10 Resistance Based Exercises
  • Personal Bests On Certain Exercises
  • Compound Movements + Isolation Movements
  • Strength + Conditioning Work In The Same Session

These sessions are used when you can afford a lot of energy trying to dial in perfection and hit the ground running. Save these days for your hardest training sessions.

Target RPE: 8-10

How To Rotate These Sessions Throughout Your Week

You’re never going to be pumped for every session every day. The only problem is, when people feel tired or require a self-injected hit of motivation, they tend to sack off the gym and find something else to do. This helps nobody.

The Exercise Traffic Light System allows you to be flexible with your sessions. If you wake up one day feeling like you’d rather smash your head against a barbell instead of exercising, you may decide to switch out a ‘balanced’ session for a ‘simple’ session.

Similarly, you might finish work and be ready to grind out a few personal bests by imagining your boss is on the receiving end of a few heavy deadlifts; you’d maybe want to hit up a ‘tough’ session that evening instead of a planned ‘balanced’ session.

This flexibility allows you to decide in the moment how you’re feeling.

Not, realising you’ve got to grind out another gruelling session at the gym and deciding you’d rather sit at home and down a family-sized bag on Minstrels.

It is important to note, however, if you do decide to switch out a ‘tough’ or ‘balanced’ session for something easier, you should aim to make it up later on in the week. Not wait another three weeks before you attempt a ‘tough’ session.

You could aim to hit one of each session each week:

But on Wednesday decide you’re feeling strong, ready to hit a deadlift PR and switch out your current balanced session for a tough session. This will then allow you a balanced session on Saturday:

There’s no rule that states you can’t have two or three ‘tough’ sessions in a week:

There is a rule stated in Paragraph 2, 2.1, a), (i) of the Exercise Traffic Light System, however, that states you can’t have any more than two easy sessions in a week. You must always have at least one balanced or tough session:

You might occasionally feel on top of the world and decide you want to add in an extra session to your week. Great. The Exercise Traffic Light System allows you to add in whichever session you like in this case. You’ve hit all three of your required sessions and have the flexibility of deciding which type of workout you’d like to add in as a fourth for the week:

And finally, here’s an example of what three different full-body exercise sessions may look like, week to week:

It’s important to note that the weights indicated in these examples aren’t necessarily important, more so the RPE which indicates how hard you should be working. Whichever training split you undertaking can also be utilised, whether that’s upper/lower, push/pull/legs etc.

Notice how the concept of progressive overload is still embraced week to week and each varies in their difficulty.

Be Flexible

It’s no secret that we never always feel motivated to train. Unless we’re dosed up to our eyeballs on pre-workout, a few shots of espresso, and raging from a blazing row with your partner, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Utilising the Exercise Traffic Light System,however, will enable you to consistently get three – or whatever number you desire – sessions in, almost regardless of how you feel.

Adapting your training plan to your mood, energy levels, and motivation will not only be beneficial for your overall progress but allow you to adhere to your plan for a prolonged period of time.

This model of training will let you effectively manipulate your training to accommodate how you feel on any given day.

Try it.

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