Avoid looking like a rookie and improve your results by following these corrective techniques.
6.) Don't Pace Yourself
Once you are warmed up and ready to perform your "working sets" treat each set like it's your last.
This is something that I need to constantly remind my clients of. Don't think about how many more sets you need to perform or how many other exercises you need to do. Pacing yourself through your workout will not produce optimal results.
Intensity is the most important factor in producing results.
Example: If a program calls for 3 sets of 8 repetitions (after one or two warm-up sets of course), individuals tend to stop themselves at 8 on the first or second set even if they can perform more than 8 because they are thinking that if they do 9 or 10 on this set they might only get 6 or 7 on the next set. Do not stop at some predetermined number.
Your first "working sets" are when you are fresh and strong and that is especially when you need to push yourself and leave it all on the line in order to lift the most weight you can and produce the greatest overload possible. As far as I'm concerned, everything after that is just icing on the cake.
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If you need to incorporate techniques such as drop sets, rest/pause or simply drop the weight on the following set(s) in order to reach your target repetition range, then so be it.
7.) Want Bigger, Stronger Muscles? - Then Let Them Grow
It's great to have goals and priorities in the gym, but being overzealous will get you no results.
Don't expect to destroy your muscles in the gym and return the next day or two and train the same muscles and be able to lift more - especially if you are a drug-free lifter or your diet and sleep patterns are not up to par.
The general point of resistance training is to cause microscopic tearing of your muscle fibers which causes your body to repair the tissue making it stronger than before so that it can handle the increased demands being placed on the muscles. But if you are not allowing sufficient rest and repair time then you are interrupting this process and will not grow or become stronger.
It is crucial to listen to your body, know how it responds to different training, and schedule your workouts accordingly in order to make continued progress on a continuous basis.
Recovery time is going to differ for everyone, but generally you should wait at least 48-72 hours before training the same muscles again - you may even need as much as a week if you are using very high volume.
The more experienced you become at weight training and the more you become aware of your body, the easier it will be to know the perfect timing to train those muscles hard again in order to achieve the best results. A general personal philosophy that I have is to avoid training any muscle or muscle group if it is still sore from a previous workout. Once in a while won't kill you though.
8.) Chest & Biceps Are Not Your Only Muscle Groups
Don't be one of those guys who stick out like a sore thumb in the gym because they follow what I like call "the classic freshman workout program" where chest and biceps are trained almost exclusively.
This workout is typically composed of benching and flys from every imaginable angle as well as a multitude of
biceps curls including
hammer curls and is usually performed everytime they come to the gym. Don't forget that the legs and back are the largest muscle groups in the body and that they need to be trained as well.
A stronger back may even help with movements like the bench press because the back muscles work as antagonists during the movement. A wide back will help give you that coveted v-taper look making your midsection appear smaller and your appearance more aesthetically pleasing.
Not only will strong legs improve your power in sports (or God forbid physical altercations) but a big, strong lower body will give you an overall strong, muscular looking physical appearance even while fully clothed.
Check out this great shot of Darrem Charles (who placed 2nd) at the 2004 NOC.
There is nothing worse than seeing someone whose biceps are bigger than their thighs or someone who can bench press more than they can squat. Incorporating days with other muscle groups into your weight training program will also serve to give you recovery time in between chest and biceps workouts.
So make sure you are spending as much, if not more effort on these neglected muscle groups especially if you've been following the freshman workout for a while. If these muscles have been neglected, chances are that you may experience an immediate increase in strength, size, and bodyweight (muscle mass weight) once you begin training them.
9.) Use A Smaller Range Of Motion For Leg Raises
If you're performing leg raises with your body in a vertical position and your intention is to concentrate on the lower portion of your abdominals, then your range of motion needs to smaller than what is typically seen in a gym.
Moving your thighs from a vertical position to a horizontal one (90 degrees to your body) mainly solicits your hip flexors (iliopsoas, rectus femoris, tensor fascia lata). It is not until your thighs are at least horizontal that your rectus abdominis becomes intensely solicited and the primary mover.
So in order to concentrate on your rectus abdominis (mainly the portion below the navel) you should start the movement with your thighs horizontal and perform small oscillations with your legs, keeping a rounded back and never lowering the knees below horizontal. The movement can be made even more difficult and effective through an isometric contraction (contraction with no movement) by keeping the knees tucked toward the chest for a moment or two.
This movement can be performed with the legs extended rather than with the knees bent in order to increase the resistance and its difficulty.
You can further increase the resistance by adding ankle weights or by having someone resist against your thighs on the concentric contraction (the way up).
Performing this movement with the legs extended requires good hamstrings flexibility so you may need to stretch your hamstrings first.
The movement can be made even more difficult and effective through an isometric contraction (contraction with no movement) by keeping the knees tucked toward the chest for a moment or two. Beginners, heavy individuals, or those that are not feeling the lower part of the abdominals working during this movement may want to try this exercise on an incline sit-up board or even a flat bench.
This will lessen the resistance of your bodyweight lifted, thereby making it easier. The lower the incline is set to, the easier it will be to perform. Make sure you are rounding your lower back in order to achieve the spinal flexion needed to target the lower abdominals.
10.) Mix It Up For Continued Progress
Sticking with the same exercises in the same order with the same sets and repetitions on the same days is a surefire way to achieve no results.
By the time you start to feel that your program is stale, chances are it's been stale for longer than you think. There are many different methods for keeping your workouts fresh that involve such things as changing repetition ranges, exercise order, exercises, frequency, the pairing of various muscle groups, etc.
What I like to do sometimes when beginning with a new client who has been doing the same type of program for a while, is ask him or her what they are presently doing or what they have done recently. And then I'll design a program that is the exact opposite, which completely shocks the body and spurs rapid results.
Complete overhaul of your exercise program sometimes means getting out of your comfort zone, but the results are worth it and you can always go back to your old routine at some point. And who knows, maybe you'll find new exercises that you enjoy even more than the old ones.
Personally, I find that changing the pairing of muscle groups for a given exercise session, changing from barbells to dumbbells and vice versa, as well as changing the repetition ranges used can have a large impact on avoiding or jumping over plateaus.
Everyone is different as far as how long it takes to hit a wall.
Generally you'll want to change your program maybe every 4 weeks or so. But I always tell people if you are still genuinely moving up in repetitions and/or resistance for every exercise at every exercise session, don't change a darn thing! If it's not broke, don't fix it.
Continue until you are unable to increase the resistance or repetitions for two consecutive exercise sessions. Just make sure you are not pacing yourself which will be a false indicator of if you are truly able to move up in weight or not.
There is also the school of thought that trains like myself by training instinctively instead of sticking with a set-in-stone program for a certain period of time. Instinctive weight lifters listen to their body and their intuition and may not even know what exercises or in what order they are going to do them in until they walk in the gym. They will have a general guideline in their head though.
If their body's telling them it's not ready to train that muscle again, they may take an extra day off, or if they feel extra good they may move their session up a day. If I don't feel the muscles working the way I want them to on the first couple of reps, I'll stop immediately or finish the set and then move on to something else.
If my energy happens to be low on a particular day, I'll use a higher rep range and really concentrate on slow and controlled form and feeling the muscle under continuous tension instead of using real heavy weight.
Spontaneity, keeping your body guessing, and going with what feels right in the moment is the name of the game. Weight training in my opinion shouldn't make you feel like an accountant crunching numbers in between sets. Above all else you should enjoy what you are doing which will keep you interested and motivated and moving towards progress.
As always, you need to decide what works best for you - scheduled set-in-stone workouts, instinctive training or a little of both. No one method is necessarily better than the other is. The key is to keep the intensity high and keep plugging away.