Determine Your Goals
This seems so obvious yet many fail to perform this aspect of training. Most will say that their goals are to lose weight, "tone up", get stronger, "get in better shape", and many other clichés. The problem with is that this type of generality does not provide much information on whether or not the goal is reasonable, or gives meaning to the program. For example, someone states they want to become stronger. Stronger? Stronger in what? Does that person want to become stronger in a particular lift, do they want to be able to play with their kids without getting tired, or maybe they have certain demands at their work that they want to perform more efficiently. Hopefully it is becoming evident that goal setting is very important. Remember to follow the basic rules of goal setting.
- Has an Optimal Level of Difficulty
- Fits into Personal Value System
- Have a Completion Date
- Outline Sacrifices that will have to be Made
Develop a Plan
Far too many people worry about the "perfect" workout. Let me help those people by telling everyone there is no such thing. Every workout has pros and cons; the idea is that your current workout plan has more benefits than costs. The first key is to develop a plan that you know you can consistently follow. Sometimes people have great programs written out, but they are not reasonable to their lifestyle, abilities, or even goals! Once this is done, then you can concentrate on implementing exercises, sets, reps, etc. This is where hiring a qualified instructor can be very useful. The reason I recommend hiring a coach at least one time is that you can gain valuable ideas on program design and learn new exercises. Since I am very cynical on the actual number of "good" coaches let me provide some criteria in finding a qualified instructor.
- Ask to see current credentials
- Ask when was the last continuing education seminar they attended (this will show their commitment to keeping up to date in the field)
- Ask to speak with current clients about what they got out of the training
- See if they perform a physical assessment on your abilities and take time to outline your goals specifically
- See if the workout is hand written or printed out in an organized profile (this can demonstrate the level of professionalism of the individual. A great professional will want to their information to look as good as possible.)
- Make sure you and the trainer set a completion date to measure the success of the program.
Periodize the Programs
Now, I am not going to ask most people to put in the time or assume everyone has the proper understanding of this very complex subject. There are some very easy things to do though to utilize Periodization, which is basically having a logical progression in one's training.
- Don't use the same program for more than four weeks.
- In the fourth week cut down the amount of work to half. If you typically are doing 24 total sets in a workout, cut it down to 12. This is known as de-loading which is necessary to stimulate new increases. The body cannot constantly make increases without a break.
- In each micro-cycle (which would be approximately the duration of the month) try to increase the load of the core lift by 5% each week.
- Don't train to failure for the majority of your training. This will inhibit your ability to recover and make progress in the following routine. There is no research that training to failure is any more effective in stimulating gains in body composition.
Some people get in a rut of performing the same workouts because they do not know the variety that exists. It is often easy to take any exercise and develop many more movements. I will show you a way to take one exercise and change it a million ways so that you can stick with some core lifts and just change the way they are performed.
One of my favorites is the Deadlift. It is a terrific exercise for stimulating so many different muscles and applicable to many different goals.
- Sumo (wider stance)
- Clean Grip (hands just outside thighs)
- Snatch Grip (hands much wider)
- Off Pins (this will place more work on the lower back)
- Off Elevated Platform (standing on an increase height will put more work in the glutes and hamstrings)
- Romanian (common known as stiff-legged, but actually performed with slight bend in knees)
- Dumbbell (this usually requires more work in the legs because the increased depth)
- One Legged with Dumbbells or Kettlebells
- One-arm (more work for the grip and abdominals)
- Barbell Hack Squat-Hip Dom. (the bar is behind the body)
- Deadlift plus explosive shrug (great for trap development and preparatory work for Olympic lifts)
Perform More Work in Less Time
This is a terrific method that I originally learned from Strength Coach, Charles Staley. Below I have outlined the basic premise to a program.
- Decide what muscle groups you want to perform (for the sake of this example we will use a chest and back routine)
- Pair up the two muscle groups for 2-3 supersets (i.e. bench and pull-ups, dips and rows, flyes and rear delt flyes)
- Determine a set number of repetitions for each exercise
- Set a specific time to perform the first two movements (15 minutes is usually a good start)
- Set your watch and begin. You will alternate between the two exercises resting only as long as you deem necessary to perform the other exercise. It will be natural to take less rest early and more as the sets progress
- Record the number of sets and reps you performed in that time frame. For the next workout see if you can perform more sets or reps in the same amount of time.
Incorporate New Methods of Training
The most unfortunate trend that I see in most gyms is that people never venture out into other forms of physical conditioning. There are so many fantastic ways to improve fitness that could easily avoid boredom and injuries, but we often forget about these techniques and instead become slaves to isolation exercises, redundant aerobic classes, and mindless treadmill walking. Here are some ways to incorporate techniques from the world of martial arts, gymnastics, and classic strongman training.
- Wall Walking: Find a very stable wall that no one will mind you placing your feet upon. Assume a push-up position, but with your feet supported at the bottom of the wall. Slowly begin to walk your hands back towards the wall and your feet walk up the wall. This will place you eventually in a handstand position. Once you reach this point you may either use an isometric hold for time, or perform a designated number of handstand push-ups. Remember not to let your shoulder shrug and keep your shoulders down and retracted to utilize the upper back musculature.
- Resisted Arm Swings: This usually requires a partner, but is extremely easy to implement. The partner performing the exercise will assume an athletic position (knees slightly bent, chest tall, and butt back) with the arms straight out in front with the hands grasping each other. The trainers' partner will place their hands on over the top of the grasping fists. When ready, the assisting partner will try to move the arms in any direction, the key is for the trainer to try to resist by tightening up their trunk and shoulder girdle. Because the movement direction is unpredictable this is very challenging trunk training.
- In classic strongman training you can use a variety of implements. Anything from stones, logs, sandbags, wheelbarrow, sleds, and kegs.
Use Recovery Methods
It is hopefully common sense that a person that wants to achieve anything from their training needs to make sure they are receiving enough sleep and implementing a proper nutrition program. I am still amazed how many emails I receive from readers that are confused why they are not making progress in their training even when they admit they do not eat well. Hmmm…this is easy, clean up the diet!! You cannot expect to make progress on fast food and sugars. There is a classic saying, "Doing what you know is different than knowing what to do."
Besides the obvious of the above, I highly suggest than everyone tries to incorporate at least one of the methods that I have outlined in my article "After The Workout". Many injuries can be avoided and many aches and pains cleared up if people were to take their post-workout recovery seriously. It could be as simple as icing the trained muscles, or using contrast showers. I constantly hear about the amazing methods that Eastern European countries use and here in the West many try to copy these training protocols. What these coaches and trainers forget is that these methods were used in CONJUNCTION with complex recovery techniques. You can't train like an elite individual if you are not willing to complete all the work that such training involves.
In the End
Success is really dependent upon the individual. You can simply be one of the many people that "workout" and complains about their lack of results, or be one of the few and take action by implementing some of the above ideas into your current routines. If you do take the time you will be amazed by the rewards such work will bring.