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Five Tips To Improve Your Training Efficiency!

The following suggestions enabled me to help a 37-year-old increase his lean body mass by over 20 pounds during a 15 week training cycle.

Whenever I hear people complain that they don't have enough time to train, it always amazes me, since the workouts I prescribe for clients rarely exceed a total of 3 hours a week. In fact, the following 5 suggestions enabled me to help a 37 year old elite jui jitsu competitor to increase his lean body mass by over 20 pounds during a 15 week training cycle in 1997. Personal trainers, use these methods religiously and you'll start to obtain similar results for your own clients!

Refine Your Warm-Ups

Using a hypothetical workout scenario where a trainee lifts 275 pounds for 5 sets of 8 repetitions as his work sets, the typical warm up looks something like this:

  • 135 x 12 (rest 3 minutes)
  • 185 x 10 (rest 3 minutes)
  • 225 x 8 (rest 3 minutes)
  • 255 x 8 (rest 3 minutes)

There is both a lot of waste and a lot of unnecessary fatigue in this approach. I would suggest the following alternative:

  • 45 (3x3) (rest about 30 seconds between sets)
  • 135 (3x3) (rest about 45 seconds between sets)
  • 185x5 (rest 90 seconds)
  • 225x5 (rest 75 seconds)
  • 255x2 (rest 90 seconds)

This method creates far less fatigue and also permits many more opportunities to rehearse exercise technique prior to the actual workout. The total warm-up time is also less than the "typical" method.

Use Antagonistic Pairings

Train muscle groups in antagonistic pairs, for example:

There Are Several Advantages Of This Method:

  • Sherrington's Law of Reciprocal Inhibition states that as the agonist is working, the antagonist must relax in order to permit the movement. Therefore, as you perform biceps curls for example, the triceps is forced to quiet down and relax. In other words, you are forcing a faster inter-set recovery.
  • If you perform 5 sets of biceps curls one after the other using 2 minutes of rest between each set, you obviously get 2 minutes of rest between each set. However, if you perform a set of curls, then rest 2 minutes, then perform a set of triceps extensions, rest 2 minutes, etc., then you now achieve more than 4 minutes of rest between 2 sets of the same exercise. The total workout duration remains the same, if not even less, while you have effectively doubled your rest period.
  • Training muscles in antagonistic pairs ensures equal strength development around both sides of the joint.
  • In the preceding example, as you perform your biceps curls, you are keeping the involved joint warm for your next set of triceps extensions.

Apportion Rests Intelligently

Typically, fitness trainers and strength coaches will prescribe fixed rest intervals between sets. For example, a client may be asked to complete 5 sets of 5 repetitions with 3 minute rests between each set. However, since fatigue accumulates from set to set, it is much more efficient to use shorter rests between early sets, and more rest between later sets. One way to accomplish this is to request that all sets be performed in a fixed time frame, e.g., 5 sets in 20 minutes. In this way, your client will self-regulate his or her rest intervals, taking minimal rest between early sets to get a "head start."

Increase Training Density

A great way to increase relative strength and improve body composition is to increase training density, or the work/rest workouts of your workouts. Simply perform the same exact workout 3-4 times in succession. The only difference is that you will cut 5 minutes off of each successive workout. Therefore, workout 1 may take 60 minutes to complete, then number two will take 55 minutes, three will take 50 minutes, and 4 will take 45 minutes. Then, create new training parameters for the next month and start all over.

Keep a Fire Under Yourself

All of the preceding suggestions require you to use a stopwatch or some other timing device to keep track of your time during workouts. Always make it a goal to complete the day's work as quickly as possible, without sacrificing the quality of work being done.

The Selection Of Appropriate Training Loads For Beginners

The topic of 1RM testing comes up a lot in training circles, so I thought I'd discuss it as well in this week's column.

1RM refers to "single repetition maximum," or the most weight that can be lifted for one repetition, but not two. It is reflective of one's maximum ability for one particular exercise at one particular moment in time (that's right, 1RM's are notoriously variable... even over the course of a single day).

Traditionally, strength coaches and (more recently) fitness trainers have prescribed repetition brackets (e.g., 3 sets of 10 reps) based on a particular percentage of 1RM for that exercise. It works like this: your client wants to increase lower body muscle mass and has a 1RM of 300 pounds in the squat. So you find in some book that hypertrophy is best achieved with loads that correspond to between 75 and 85 percent of 1RM. So you then choose 240 pounds (80%) and do perhaps 4 sets of perhaps 6 reps per set with that weight.

Calculate Your One-Rep Max (1RM)

Weight Lifted
Reps Done

= One-Rep Max

  95% 1 RM
  90% 1 RM
  85% 1 RM
  80% 1 RM
  75% 1 RM
  70% 1 RM
  65% 1 RM
  60% 1 RM
  55% 1 RM
  50% 1 RM


Enter the amount of weight you lifted (Lbs/Kg) and the number of reps you completed. Your One Rep Max (1 RM) will appear at the bottom left, and your various percentages of 1 RM will appear on the right side.

Although the above scenario is a bit simplistic, it does get the job done in most cases, and there is a certain satisfaction that your training parameters are systematic. However, the entire protocol is based on the acquisition of an accurate 1RM test, and not every client can perform such a test. For example, what if you have an absolute beginner, who barely knows how to perform the exercise in question?

The answer is: don't test. Don't worry about percentages OR rep brackets. Anything they do will lead to improved strength, as long as the loads they lift don't result in injury. So err on the side of caution.

TEACH your beginners how to perform the exercises properly, and how develop important safety habits. Maybe the loads they're lifting are only 35% of maximum. Good! The traditional charts which show that xyz percentage of max leads to hypertrophy and abc percentage leads to maximal strength were designed for experienced trainees. Throw out all of these rules for beginners and concentrate on fundamentals. In other words, no matter how many sets and reps a beginner does, there should be many more left in reserve as a margin of safety. Later, as the client becomes more experienced and better conditioned, you can begin to approach their maximal abilities in training. It is not so much the sets and reps that determine safety, but rather, the extent of the safety margin created by leaving a reserve.

You can perform sets of 2, 5 10, or 15 reps -- it doesn't really matter as long as you are not taxing the upper ranges of the client's abilities.

Lastly, understand that the traditional charts (where for example 90% and above develops maximal strength, 70-85% develops hypertrophy, and so on) are only a guideline. In point of fact, 90% weights can also develop hypertrophy (if you do enough sets with it), and 75% weights can develop maximal strength (if you accelerate the weights explosively). So use these charts as a guide, but don't be shackled by them.

Use common sense when appropriating training loads for your beginning clients. Watch how the body responds and constantly ask for feedback. If your client is lifting a weight that should be only 50% of maximum, but she's struggling with it, it's too heavy, no matter what the textbooks say! Don't let any book, article, organization, or person convince you that training people is as complicated as nuclear physics. Although there are certainly varying degrees of refinement that come with training and experience, even novice trainers can do quite an effective job if they apply basic intelligence and common sense.