Here you are again, at the gym. You’ve done this a thousand times, maybe tens of thousands. And let’s be honest: It can get very repetitive after a while. Sure, you change your split from time to time, you shake up the exercises, you do your best to get fired up with motivation. But you’re only human.
What if there were an easy way to turn your workouts around, make them fun again, and, more importantly, make them productive again? Here are seven "theme workouts" that can help you do just that.
Beat the Clock
If you’re like most people, you probably take about an hour to train most body parts. If you're doing legs and back, you might go 90 minutes. Today, get rid of all the flab between sets. Instead of resting, talking, strolling around, and generally stalling, get right back to work.
If you usually take an hour to do your chest, shoulders, or arms, get it done in 30. If your legs and back take 90, do it in 60. No, you won't be able to handle your usual weights on everything. But you will get one of the best pumps ever, and burn some extra body fat in the process!
No matter what the exercise, you can set an ambitious number of reps to aim for. The challenge here is to choose a number that's outside of your comfort zone, and then take as many sets as you need to get there.
Let’s say your goal is 50 reps of chins. Your first couple of sets might be 10-12 reps. As you get tired, that may drop to 6-8 reps. By the end, it takes all your energy to grind out a bunch of 2-3-rep sets to reach 50. That's fine!
Another plan: Aim for 50 reps of the squat or bench press using 60 percent of your 1RM. Take as many sets as you need to hit your target number.
With all of these sets, stop a rep or two before failure, and feel free to use bands or assistive machines or use less weight. Limit your rest periods to one minute at the most. And just to be safe, have a bucket handy.
10 Sets of 10
In the old days, "10 sets of 10" was a staple among bodybuilders. Let's bring it back.
Choose one exercise for one body part—maybe bench press, squat, barbell row, or military press. Pick a weight that isn’t exactly challenging for 10 reps, but that isn't too light, either. Use this weight for all 10 sets.
Limit your rest periods to one minute for the first few sets. As you progress, you may need to take slightly longer rests. The cumulative effect of all these reps and sets is going to hurt, so don't plan on working that body part anymore that day.
Set an Unexpected PR
When we think about setting a new personal record, most of us immediately focus on one of the three powerlifts: the bench press, squat, or deadlift. Why limit yourself? What about going for a new PR in the barbell curl, leg curl, or even a machine like the pec deck?
No, this isn't an everyday thing, and no, it doesn't have to be a true 1RM. A solid 2-3 reps with a surprising weight is probably good enough. Make it your top priority by doing it first when you’re fresh and ready to put out some real effort. Just be sure to warm up properly, and don’t sacrifice good form just to get a new record.
Use Nothing but Barbells
Have you ever tried to organize a whole workout around one piece of equipment? It takes a bit of planning, but you can do it. And if you're used to a higher-volume approach with multiple exercises, dial back the weight and add reps aplenty.
Here are a couple suggestions for an all-barbell (no other equipment) workout, but see if you can come up with your own:
- Chest: Flat press, incline press, decline press
- Back: Barbell row, deadlift, shrug
- Shoulders: Military press, upright row
- Legs: Squats, front squats, stiff-leg deadlifts, walking lunges
- Biceps: Barbell curl, preacher curl, reverse curl
- Triceps: Lying extensions, seated extensions, close-grip bench press
Some of us prefer dumbbells because they're more versatile. You can do exercises you can't do with barbells, like lateral raises, flyes, and hammer curls. And you can work one side at a time with moves like dumbbell rows, standing single-arm presses, overhead triceps extensions, and concentration curls.
As with the barbell challenge, be creative; try out movements you've never done before, like dumbbell squats or deadlifts. As with the barbells, it's dumbbells only for the whole session.
Use Compound Sets for Everything
Under normal circumstances, you would only compound sets for a couple movements per workout, max. Unlike traditional supersets, which hit contrasting or noncompeting muscle groups, compound sets hit the same muscle groups with both movements. They push intensity through the roof. But sometimes, that's exactly what's called for.
Try these compound sets to boost your workout intensity and shock a body part, or mix and match to see what works for you.
- Bench press, push-up
- Machine fly, machine bench press
- Incline dumbbell fly, incline dumbbell press
- Incline barbell press, cable cross-over
- Leg extension, leg press
- Front squat, back squat
- Lying leg curl, stiff-leg deadlift
- Hack squat, walking lunge
- Chin-up, lat pull-down
- Barbell row, machine row
- Pull-over, seated cable row
- Lat pull-down, T-bar row
- Deadlift, machine row
There's No Excuse for a Bad Workout Today!
Make any one of these challenges a regular part of your training, or save it for a rainy day when you just can't get motivated to do your normal workout. Afterward, bask in that good soreness!