volume

What Makes or Breaks an Exercise Program

No one can argue that those who see the most results from training have one thing in common. Consistency.

Being consistent isn’t easy.  Life happens; you get busy, you get bored, you get tired, and you get hurt.

You take some time off, hit the refresh button, and, because your last training plan didn’t work out, it’s on to the next program.

Working as a personal trainer, I end up meeting a lot of people when they’re somewhere in the middle of the list above.

Whether you know it or not there are many variables in your exercise programs and your lifestyle that can either set you up for long-term success or quietly de-rail you. Identifying these variables early on will allow you to better examine a training program before you begin, and put you in a position to allow yourself to be consistent and see the results you want.

  • Gradual Increase in Volume

Gradually increasing the volume of your training program over the course of weeks and months sounds simple, but it’s often missed by many gym goers. Using the minimal effective dose will keep you healthy and allow you to progress a program all the way to your end goal. Many soft-tissue injuries are the result of a drastic increase in training volume.  Perhaps this is most obvious when you look at the number of Achilles, groin, and hamstring injuries that occur at the beginning of NFL camps, or injuries to those going from the couch to Crossfit.  A program that steadily increases work capacity and tissue resiliency over time will greatly reduce your risk of injuries due to fatigue and set your body up to be able to handle workouts of greater volume and intensity later on.

Look for whether or not your exercise program has a gradual increase in volume as you progress each week and month. If you’re new to the gym this may mean you start by performing only 12 total sets in week one and 20 total sets by week four. Powerlifting programs like 5/3/1 and The Juggernaut Method also do a good job of managing volume and intensity to help you build specific work capacity in the bench, squat, and deadlift. Group training should accommodate those of different fitness levels and allow some wiggle room for some to perform more work than others in any given class.

  • Movement Quality

Appropriate volume is only part of the equation for ensuring a fitness program is going to last. The quality of your movement is what dictates whether or not you develop great hamstrings and glutes or giant calves and back erectors. This is where hiring a coach can be of great value. An educated movement-centric coach will be able to identify if you can:

  • Centrate your joints and move in and out of all three planes of motion without compensation
  • Execute proper motor patterns while keeping your joints in advantageous positions
  • Find, feel, and use the correct muscles during exercises

Keeping your joints healthy and applying stress to the correct muscles will help to improve your durability by reducing your risk of overuse,“wear and tear” injuries, and burnout.  It can be hard to objectively measure how well you move. Finding a coach or physical therapist that can assess you and create a plan that teaches you to move better is always a smart place to begin a new training program.

Consider the below situation.

Dan Shoulder Flexion
Dan Shoulder Flexion

Poor active shoulder flexion. Anterior rib flare, forward head, tight lats. Landmine variations would be a smarter exercise instead of overhead pressing.

Mike Shoulder Flexion
Mike Shoulder Flexion

Full ROM during active shoulder flexion. Overhead pressing would be more warranted for this client.

  • Variability of Movements/Implements/Load/Tempo

Variability in a fitness program will keep you healthy and prevent workouts from getting stale and boring.

Learn how to move in all three planes and master fundamental movement patterns and the list of exercises you will be able to safely perform becomes bountiful. Throughout the course of a workout, or a week of training your program, should include some form of squatting and hinging, pushing and pulling, abdominal work, and loaded carries. Do things on two legs and one leg and with two arms and one arm.

When applying external loads to movements, use different implements and choose different ways to hold them.  This will allow you to alter the movement in a manner that will help you train the correct muscles in better positions.

For example, let’s use a squat.  You could load it with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, two dumbbells, two kettlebells, a sandbag, or a medicine ball.

You could do a front squat, a back squat, a goblet squat, a zercher squat, a potato sack squat, an offset kettlebell squat, or an offset sandbag squat; the list could go on and on. Knowing where you should start on the progression-regression list will help make the movement safer and more effective and varying the implements will challenge the movement in a slightly different manner and help prevent boredom in your exercise program.

Varying the external load in a training program is also key to getting stronger and staying healthy while doing so. This is why many sub-max training programs that accumulate volume are so successful. Decreasing volume and increasing intensity during the course of several weeks and months is much more suitable for long term strength gains than trying to push to a new 1RM each week in the gym.

Another variable that can be manipulated in an exercise program is the tempo at which the movement is performed. Being specific with the tempo of a lift is often neglected even though it has a huge influence on what adaptations are had from the exercise.

If you’ve been performing goblet squats for the past few months with a 2010 tempo, they’ve become boring and easy for you. Now take the same weight and change your tempo to 3030.  Add feeling grounded through both feet, pushing your heels through the floor, and focusing on keeping constant tension on your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs I can guarantee that your easy goblet squat has become much more challenging.

Varying the tempo of lifts could result in a squat hypertrophying your slow twitch fibers or cause you to increase your rate of force production. Both are important and both are needed. Choosing the right time to apply both and using both throughout the course of a training program can make performing the same old lifts much less monotonous.

  • Adaptability/Flexibility

Things come up in life.

You have to work late.

Your kids get sick.

Traffic is worse than usual.

And now you either can’t make it to they gym or have limited time. A great fitness program is structured, but also can be flexible. On these days it is helpful to have a few workouts that are lower intensity, take less time to complete, or can be done at home.

Cardiac output and bodyweight circuits are two awesome ways to still get workouts in even when life comes up.

  • Premium Placed On Recovery

You may be able to get away with it for a short period of time, but in the end if your recovery efforts don’t meet or exceed the efforts put forth in your training you’ll likely be battling with fatigue and injury.

A good training program emphasizes the other 23 hours of your day.  Knowing what you can do to help promote your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and tissue recovery is invaluable.

Go through the checklist below and I’m sure you can do better in at least one and if not several of the categories.

  • - Sleep Quality & Quantity- Do you have a good sleeping environment? Are you getting enough hours of sleep?
  • - Nutrition- Quality & Quantity- Are you eating quality foods that promote low levels of inflammation? Are you eating enough calories to support your training?
  • - Respiration- Are you hyper-inflated? Can you fully exhale your air to help shift yourself to a more parasympathetic state?
  • - Tissue Quality- Do you get regular massages, acupuncture, or perform regular self-myofascial release?
  • - Active Recovery Sessions- Do you use active recovery sessions when you’re feeling tired or sore?
  • Mindset and Environment

You’re now making progress.

You’re moving well and gradually increasing how much you’re doing each workout.  

Your sleep is awesome, your nutrition is locked in, and you’re finally taking care of your body by prioritizing recovery.

Even with all of these important physical factors in check it can still be difficult to stick with an exercise program. If this is the case you need to reflect on your mindset and training environment.

Create short and long-term goals. Write them down somewhere next to why you’re training for these goals. A strong WHY, concrete GOALS, and internal MOTIVATION are powerful for sticking with exercise.

Your training environment also needs to be supportive of everything above. Behind the good music, sweat, and banging of weights needs to be a community of like-minded people who can push and motivate you as you work towards your goals.

Wrapping It Up

I know a lot of people who have reached their goals with different training programs. There are a lot of great programs out there that work, but not everything works forever.

I promise that if you use this article as guide you’ll become an informed and confident consumer. You’ll be able to sift through a lot of BS that is currently in the fitness industry and find a program that will set you up for consistency and success.

About the Author

mike-sirani.jpg

Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you're interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

Know-Think-Guess: The 70/20/10 Rule of Programming

Good programming is a balancing act worthy of a Game of Thrones episode: on one side sit the foundational movements–pushes, pulls, hinges, squats, and carries–while on the other sit the latest and greatest in cutting-edge research-velocity based training, blood flow restriction, PRI, post-activation potentiation and more. Stuck neatly in the middle is the modern-day coach, like Jon Snow caught between the white walkers and the mortal threats from the seven kingdoms. How much credence should be given to the up and coming methods? Is it really worth abandoning tried-and-true approaches? Today's article is an attempt to help answer that question, providing some guidance for just how to navigate the relatively narrow space between these two worlds. It's a strategy I've been able to use to help me be both innovative and effective, allowing me to use some of the more exciting things I've come across while not abandoning some of the staples of strength and conditioning. In fact, aside from the principles of specificity and periodization, this one idea has done more to inform my programming choices than anything else I've come across.

70/20/10

The idea at the heart of today's conversation is borrowed from Stuart McMillan, one of the industry's preeminent sprint and speed coaches. He mentioned something he called the 70/20/10 rule in passing, and while I can't remember anything else from that article, this one has stuck with me. Put as simply as possible, 70% of his programming is made of up things he knows, 20% is comprised of things he thinks, and the remaining 10% is left to things he guesses.

My first thought was to wonder where that particular breakdown had come from. I'm the first to acknowledge when someone's smarter than me, and I'll happily be deferring to Stu for years to come, but I wanted to understand the 70/20/10 on my own terms.

70%–The Minimum Adaptable Load

Minimum Adaptable Load (a concept previously covered on this site) is the point at which the applied stimulus or stress is sufficient to cause an adaptation or change in the athlete. The stimulus applied can vary, from the weight on the bar and how many times its lifted on one end of the spectrum to sprint distances, times, and rest intervals on the other. Adaptation is simply the goal of that particular training cycle; hypertrophy, maximum power output, body composition or the like. Minimum Adaptable Load is important for one very basic reason: change doesn’t happen during the session; change happens when we recover from the session.

The exact threshold for Minimum Adaptable Load changes from athlete to athlete, and even within athletes as their training age, their nutrition, or even their lifestyle changes and it can be tough to hit a moving target. While this presents a challenge, a good coach or trainer should be able to adjust training stressors appropriately for their athletes and clients. By devoting 70% of the session’s volume to the strategies we know to be effective, we are likely to meet the threshold needed for adaptation while not exceeding it by so much that we don’t have room for additional strategies.

Consider a strength athlete; with goals of improving their ability to squat, press, pull, lift, carry, and potentially throw the greatest amount of weight possible, what would constitute their 70%? Depending on the specifics of their sport and what season they were in, my programming would likely include big, heavy compound movements loaded from 85% up to 100% of 1RM. In short, they’d spend more time squatting, carrying, pressing, pulling and lifting than they would curling, sprinting, jumping, or walking. While those movements could very well have a place in their programming, they don’t offer the greatest ROI for the athlete, and I’m reserving this 70% for my heavy artillery.

Once I’ve chosen my movements and loading schemes, it’s time to consider overall volume in the context of the larger program. Again, I’m only allowing 70% of my session for these movements, so depending on total volume, I may pull a movement out, drop a set or two, or break the workload up differently to allow me to focus on what I think is most important without overtaxing the athlete.

20%–A Good Bet

With 70% of an athlete's time and energy accounted for, it makes sense to give the bulk of the remainder to something we're confident in, but hasn't stood the test of time. Too little investment here and we're unlikely to see enough influence (or lack thereof) to inform our future programming choices, too much and there's nothing left for the real cutting-edge work.

Continuing the example of our strength athlete, plyometric work (either on its own or for potential post-activation potentiation effects) are one possible choice. Since true explosive power and speed aren't are primary goals, we don't need to devote the same number of reps or contacts we might for a pure throwing or jumping athlete, but a few sets and reps or our most transferable movement patterns make sense. In this case a squat jump (loaded or unloaded, with or without counter movement), a broad jump, and maybe a hinge or rotationally-driven throw could be helpful.

10%–Room to Play

I look at this final piece of the puzzle as playtime... a crazy idea I had, something a single study hinted at, an intuition that an athlete might benefit from something. I'm not ready to devote much of an athlete's training or recovery to something that may be half-baked at best, but as long as I'm confident I'm not doing any harm, this gives me a chance to insert an extra little "kick". It may not work, but again, as long as it's safe, we can probably consider it GPP (General Physical Preparedness) at worst, right?

Maybe strength athlete benefits from working with unstable loads, using something akin to an earthquake or bamboo bar, or possibly moving a barbell with an uneven or hanging load. The instability certainly won't hurt him in his training (provided it doesn’t detract from his primary training modalities), and has some potential carryover to his specific sport and goals, from injury prevention to improved neuromuscular communication.

Putting it to Work

A few days after first running across this concept, I sat down to rework some of my own programming. Knowing I was hoping to put a little more muscle on, and feeling a little bored at the prospect of another body-part split filled with sets of 6-12, I decided to put this idea to the test.

I began with the basics, as I knew they'd work, and wrote a workout that followed some solid principles; progressive overload, moderate weights and rest periods etc. In anticipation of adding to this foundation, I left the volume a little lower than I knew I could handle, allowing for the think and the guess. From there I chose two methods, one I'd seen solid research on, and one I just wanted to play with, and filled in the rest of the volume.

Specifically, I chose to include some traditional explosive plyometric work (as both a Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) element and to directly target fast-twitch fibers) as well as something called Velocity Based Training (VBT). I'd seen some interesting research on VBT using only 35% of 1RM for cluster sets of 5-6, and wanted to give it a go.

I thought the plyometric work would help, and so gave it a good focus, particularly on lower body days, emphasizing either vertical (quad-dominant) or horizontal (glute and hamstring focus) patterns depending on the days movement patterns. This made up the 20%.

I hoped the VBT protocols would work, but wasn't ready to let it overrun my program. I added a set or two at the beginning of days that didn't include plyometric training. If I was pressing, I'd follow VBT protocols with a machine-based press in the hope that I'd target fast-twitch fibers, spark some hypertrophy, and perhaps even see a carryover through the rest of the workout.

Determining Volume

At this point at least a few of you have your hands up, waiting impatiently for the teacher to call on you. Let's get to you guys now:

"How do you determine volume? Is it sets and reps, time, or what?”

"Yes."

In short, use your best judgement in choosing a method to measure volume and determine your 70/20/10 workload. For a Hypertrophy cycle (typically a volume-driven cycle) I might use sets and reps. For a power/speed athlete I might use time or RPE. Ultimately volume will likely play a role, but there's room to interpret "workload" here in a way that matches the stresses of the training cycle.

Evaluation

If we’re going to introduce new methods into our programming, then ultimately we’d like some sense of their effectiveness; at some point in the misty past most of what we take for granted as known was merely thought or guessed. It’s tricky to separate one aspect of a program from another, and if we were to follow stricter scientific methodology, we’d likely only introduce one variable at a time for testing. Still, there are a few benchmarks I’ve looked for in deciding whether an idea had merit or not.

  1. 1)    The athlete or client progressed within the specific mode being employed. If we add plyometric work to improve max strength, did the athlete jump higher or farther?
  2. 2)    Assuming you have some sort of expectation for the athlete’s progress (i.e. last off-season they gained 5 pounds of lean mass in 20 weeks), did this program exceed those expectations?
  3. 3)    Did the athlete and I look forward to this section of their programming? It’s a little subjective, but on some level I think we have a sense of what’s paying dividends, and in the absence of other evidence, it’s at least worth recognizing.
  4. 4)    Were there any other unexpected benefits observed during the training block? Case-in-point, while I was experimenting with VBT protocols for some of my upper body pushing movements, I found that my bench press felt a little more explosive through the sticking point. I hadn’t done anything else to directly target that adaptation, and so it’s conceivable that there was some impact from the explosive, lighter weight work I was doing at the time.

The Hidden Benefit

As clients and athletes finished their own cycles, I started applying the lens of 70/20/10 to the work they were being given. I love some of the work coming out of the PRI world, but I'm not ready to abandon the foundation of a program in favor of these drills. Adding one or two movements a week? That felt about right, and forced me to choose the best drill for the athlete. Similarly, PAP has some good research behind it, and I have some athletes with goals that I think can be helped by its inclusion, but I'm not ready to pull too much volume away from their main lifts. Could I give 20% of a session over to it? Absolutely, and again, I'm forced to prioritize the application of a technique.

Limiting yourself to the 70/20/10 framework offers a self-editing process of sorts, forcing the coach to whittle away at their programming until it's lean and mean. Instead of including five or six lower body patterns in a given workout, maybe I'm limited to four. Inherently I'll choose the four that are most effective. The basics will likely become even more basic as you search out the movements that give you and your athletes the biggest payout.

What Now?

For those of you who enjoy your highlighters, you'll love this part: grab a program you've written  (hard-copy) and mark that sucker up. Highlight your basics, the 70% built around things you know will drive the right adaptation. Find your next tier of movements, the ones you think help the athlete, and highlight those as well. Finally, highlight the movements you've included based on some good solid guesswork as to how they may help.

Step back and look at what you've got. How much time is being devoted to each avenue of attack? How many sets and reps, how much mental energy? If something seems out of line, tweak it a bit, and as you continue to move forward, take some notes and keep track of what you find. After all, there's no substitute for lessons learned through experience.

about the author

Jesse McMeekin has been toiling away in a weight room for more than 20 years. A former competitive lacrosse and football player, as well as drug-free bodybuilder, Jesse currently works with world-class athletes, paramilitary members, weekend warriors, desk-bound CEOs, and a variety of other clientele and athletes. Jesse holds multiple certifications including the CSCS, USAW L1 SPC, Pn1, and FMSC. Wearing a number of hats, Jesse runs his own website (www.revolutionstrengthcoach.com), trains clients privately and through Equinox, and is an Equinox EFTI Master Instructor. He currently lives in Westchester County with his beautiful wife and their dog.

We're Having a Holiday Giveaway!

Here at Rebel Performance we tend to be rather obsessed with human performance (and superheroes).

While we don't expect you to be as obsessive about this stuff as we are, we know you care because you're here right now--reading this in the hopes of finding actionable information you can use to get better.

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Which is one of the best parts about what we do:  we get to help people on a daily basis find answers to questions that help them live their dream life.  Those questions often include things like:

How do I get bigger?

How do I get stronger?

How do I look like a superhero?

How do I build a conditioning base specific to the needs and demands of                      ?

How much volume do I need to get                        adaptation?

What about Intensity?  How do I balance that with the demands of volume?

How does adaptation happen?

What about behavior change?  How do I change my behavior, or the behavior of those around me, to live better lives?

What are the effects of stress on the entire system?  What does a stress response look like?  Will stress outside of training impact the adaptation reserves someone has to work with?

While these represent an incredibly small fraction of questions we encounter on a daily basis, we want to give you answers to all of them.

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Hunt Out Progress: A Simple Way To PR Every Day

If you are a guy (sorry girls, but this is for guys only), and you are ready to take your training and lifestyle to the next level, then you need to check this out.  The TeamLift is our pride and joy service, and we want you to be a part of it.  There's honestly nothing else like it on the internet, and I just wanted to make sure you knew it existed.  Click below to check it out:

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Adaptation and Varying Your Training for Success

Photo Credit:  Rogue Fitness

Are you a creature of habit?

I know I am.

I like routines and tend to stick to them.  It helps me stay productive and keeps me on track.

Occasionally I’ll mix it up, but most of my days look pretty similar.

I’m willing to bet you’re in the same boat.

You probably get up around the same time, eat similar things, and go through a daily schedule that varies by fractions instead of wholes.

As nice as routines are for day to day living, they can be disastrous for your training.

I’m not talking about warming up and all that jazz.  I’m talking about the lift itself.

If you show up to the gym and do the same lift over and over and over again you will not make progress over the long haul.  Sure…in those first couple of weeks you might see some gains, but that’ll eventually come to a screeching halt as you hit the dreaded wall of no progress.

Similar to the Dikimbe Mutombo commercial, but instead of rejecting rolled up paper he’s rejecting your desire to (fill in goal of choice).

This is usually when I hear from people–when progress stops being had.  It just so happens the quantity of the “help I’m stuck” emails has been rather high recently, and in looking over all of their “routines” one thing stands out immediately:  the lack of variety.

Adaptation

Adaptation rules all.

But seriously…it does.

It dictates who you are now and who you will become in the future.  The nice part is you can control for adaptation if you understand it.

Thus, adaptation can be defined as the adjustment of an organism to its environment.  The environment provides the stimulus and then our bodies will adapt.

Training is no different.  We provide a stimulus, whether it be running, squatting, or doing push ups, and then our bodies adapt.

Not all stimuli, however, are created equal.  Some will produce a positive adaptation, some will produce no adaption, and some will produce a negative adaptation (for our purposes negative adaptation simply means decrease in performance).

The three types of adaptation can be classified as follows:

Stimulating- magnitude of the training load exceeds the previous level causing a positive adaptation.

Retaining- magnitude of the training load equals the previous level causing no adaptation

Detraining- magnitude of the training load falls below previous levels causing a decrease in performance.

You can picture a graph with physical fitness on the y axis and training load on the x axis.  The stimulating load will arch up, the retaining load will stay flat, and the detraining load will arch down.

IMG_0438
IMG_0438

Law of Accommodation and Law of Diminishing Returns

Two other important concepts to understand are the law of accommodation and the law of diminishing returns.

In a nutshell, the law of accommodation states that the response of a biological object (human in our case) to a constant stimulus diminishes over time.  This makes logical sense.  As your body sees the same stimulus over and over again it will eventually adapt and the stimulus no longer has an effect.

We can use music as an example.  The first time you hear a new song it may be awesome.  Play it on repeat for a few days and you eventually will no longer like the song.

The law of diminishing returns gets after the same idea:  over time the magnitude of adaptation that occurs from a given stimulus diminishes.  For example, a beginner lifter can see gains from simply squatting the bar because he or she has never performed the movement, while an elite powerlifter can lift a near maximal load and see hardly any adaptation because of the increased exposure to the stimulus.

These two ideas may seem simple, but they’re powerful.  You always have to keep them in mind and respect they are there.

Also, these two laws bring to light the importance or need to continually challenge the system–a concept known as progressive overload.  As the system adapts you have to continually provide it with a greater stimulus, or else you’ll flatline and eventually die off.

Another way to get after progressive overload is via variance–finding ways to change your routine to continuously generate a stimulus greater than what your body is used to.

How To Vary

When it comes to varying your routine you really have two options:

Change the load

Changing the load comes down to manipulating volume and  intensity.

For sake of this conversation, volume will be the total number of lifts performed.  Here’s an example:

You do 5 sets of 4 reps in the bench press.  Your volume that day is:

5 x 4 = 20 reps 

Intensity, on the other hand, deals with the average weight of the barbell, and can be calculated by dividing the total weight lifted by the number reps.  The greater the weight the greater the intensity.  Here’s an example:

Say you do 4 sets of squats for 5 reps a set, with each set looking like this:

Set 1:  100 lbs

Set 2:  100 lbs

Set 3:  120 lbs

Set 4:  120 lbs

To calculate total weight lifted you’ll do the following:

(100 x 5) + (100 x 5) + (120 x 5) + (120 x 5) = 2200 lbs

To find intensity you’ll divide 2200 by the total number of lifts:

2200/20 = 110

There you go.  The average weight lifted that training session was 110 lbs.

With that in mind, I want you to think about how you can vary a training session.

Go ahead and take a minute and write something down.

Alright, good.

So to vary a training session you’d have to either increase sets, increase reps or increase the load (general rule of thumb is to decrease volume as intensity goes up.  just so you don’t make that mistake).  Let’s see what that looks like the next time you squat:

You come back in to squat and decide you’re going to do 4 sets of 2 reps.  Your sets look like this:

1.  150

2.  160

3.  175

4.  175

Now let’s find intensity:

(150 x 2) + (160 x 2) + (175 x 2) + (175 x 2) = 1314

1314/8 = 164

Notice what happened.

Your volume decreased from 20 reps to 8 reps, but your intensity increased from 110 to 164.

Now I wish we could go into more depth on this front, but there’s just not enough time to do so because what we’re beginning to tread on is periodization–the art of planning training to control for volume and intensity in the most effective manner.

That convo will have to wait for another day, so just remember to change up volume or intensity and you should be good for now.

Change the movement

Another way to mix things up is to change the movement.  The opportunities here are limitless, so don’t be afraid to get creative.

Here are a few examples:

Change the movement completely

This is as simple as it sounds.  Pick an entirely new movement.  You’ve been doing squats…try deadlifts.  You’ve been running…try pulling a sled.  The list can go on and on.

Add chains or bands

Putting chains or bands on the bar can completely change the movement by way of accommodating resistance.  Although it may not seem much different to you, I can promise you’re body and central nervous system think it’s different.

Change your stance

Another easy way to mix things up.  Instead of doing something standing up drop into a half kneeling or tall kneeling stance.  Try squatting with a wide stance.  Try squatting with a narrower stance.  Try deadlifting while standing on a small platform to increase the range of motion.  Just use your imagination and have some fun with it.

Vary the tempo

A lifts tempo is often overlooked.  You can change how long the eccentric, concentric and sticking point of the lift lasts.  For example, while doing a single arm dumbbell row take 1 second on the concentric portion, 1 second on the sticking point and 3 seconds on the eccentric portion.  I think you’ll enjoy the different stimulus.

Change the type of bar you use

Unfortunately, a lot people do not have access to a wide variety of bars.  I’d be willing to go even further and say most people don’t know different bar types exist.  Either way, they can be an extremely powerful tool in your toolbox.  Here are a few to get you started: trap bar, swiss bar, cambered bar, and safety squat bar.

(If you’re in the market for bars I’d recommend checking out Rogue’s selection.  They have some of the best stuff around.  Just click this link and it’ll take you straight to the page:  Rogue Weightlifting Bars)

Closing Thoughts

This has been a very brief overview of how to vary up your routine, but I hope you’ve gotten something out of it.

Adding variety to your training routine should be fun.  Get creative, experiment, and see what works best for you.

As I mentioned earlier, variety will depend on your training experience.

If you’re a beginner, you won’t need to vary your routine as much as an experienced lifter because you haven’t spent much time around the stimulus.  And please god take advantage of that.  Don’t get all trigger happy and start changing things up every two weeks.  Ride out the good wave while you can.  Continue performing a lift as long as you’re seeing progress.  Once progress drops off then change things up.

For intermediate and more advanced lifters, a generalized rule of thumb is to change things up every 3 to 4 weeks.  Start there and see how things go.  As you lift you’ll get a better feel for how your body adapts and how long you can spend on any one thing.

Three Ways to Set A PR Everyday

Sometimes people make the mistake of believing all they have to do is follow the set and rep scheme on a program, and they’ll instantly get better. Granted, this carries some weight, but if you know how to methodically work your way through a program, you can make more progress and set a pr (personal record) everyday.

This is obviously important for many reasons, but for me, it’s always helpful to see progress.  When you know you’re improving, it’s easy to stay motivated and get excited about training.  There are many ways to get after this, but let’s focus on three big ticket items that are relatively easy to manipulate:  volume, intensity and density.

Volume:  the total amount of weight lifted over the course of a workout (sets x reps x weight).

Intensity:  relates to how “heavy” a weight is.  For example, lifting a load that’s at 90% of your 1 rep max is more intense than lifting a load that’s 60% of your 1 rep max.

Density:  how long it takes you to complete an exercise, or how many reps/how much weight you lifted in a set amount of time.  For example:  performing 3 sets of 10 reps of push ups in 6 minutes is more dense than performing 3 sets of 10 reps in 7 minutes.  You did more work in less time.

Generally speaking, you should go into each training session asking how you can I improve one of these qualities everyday.  That way, you are always hitting a personal best, and continually see improvement.

Here are  two ways you can apply these ideas to your programs:

Simple Volume Wave

Let’s say you want to build your way back to deadlifting.  Generally speaking, we want to hit volume before intensity, so your rep and set scheme for a 4 week cycle may look something like the following:

Week 1:  6×3

Week 2: 8×3

Week 3: 10×3

Week 4: 12×3

Notice how I built in a volume wave to ensure continual progress.

If you do 6 sets of 3 at 315lbs week 1, your volume comes out to 5670lbs.

In week 2, if you decide to not increase weight you’ll still be hitting a personal best because your total volume lifted is now 7560lbs.  Thus, you improved.

Don’t always relate improvement to intensity.  By increasing your volume from week to week you are improving!  Granted, that’s not to say you can’t increase weight from week to week, but be smart in the way you do so.  You already know you’re going to be lifting nearly 2000lbs more than the previous week, so maybe stay at 315 for the first 5 sets, and then put on 5 lbs for 2 sets, and then throw on another 5 lbs for your last set.  Now you’ve increased volume and intensity!

A big mistake I see people make is coming out of the gates too fast.  They try and blow week 1 out of the water from an intensity standpoint, and fail to set themselves up well for week 2.  Use a weight that’s challenging, but nothing that’ll crush you.  This way you can progress from week to week.

I promise this will bring better long term results.

Decrease Reps, Boost Weight (Intensity)

Here’s another super easy way for you to get better every week and every workout.  Start off with higher reps and then drop reps from week to week so you can increase the weight.  Here’s an example of a rep scheme you may use for an accessory exercise for a 4 week cycle:

Week 1:  3×10

Week 2:  3×8

Week 3: 3×8

Week 4: 3×6

Notice the reps drop from week to week--this is a built in mechanism for you to increase weight (intensity).

Say you do single arm dumbbell rows at 65 lbs week 1.  Week 2 you should be adding weight since the reps drop, therefore boosting intensity and allowing you to make progress.  Again, set yourself up for success the following week by not crushing yourself.  Challenge yourself, but don’t feel like your trying to hit an 8 rep max.

In week 3, the reps stay the same, and you can attack this in one of two ways.  Either increase the weight (you don’t have to increase for all the sets, just increasing 5 lbs in the last set is a pr compared to the previous week) or do the same weight in less time (increase density).  This way, you’ve made progress in one of the major categories and once again hit a personal record.

Since you’ve been smart about adding intensity and/or density from week 2 to week 3, when week 4 comes rolling around you should be prime to jump weight once again and boost intensity.

Closing Thoughts

Neither of these concepts are revolutionary.  They’ve been around forever, and it’s something all successful coaches and athletes do.  The big take away from this should be your thought process.  Constantly be thinking and analyzing how you can get better at one of the big 3 categories in your next workout.  Don’t accept mediocrity.  If you plan appropriately, you should be able to pr almost everyday.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty awesome to me.

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