I’ve been using one of those pre-workout powders that you mix with water to get energized for my strength training workouts and I question whether it is really worth it or not. These pre workout drinks typically have a number of ingredients like Vitamin B6, caffeine, Vitamin B12, Creatine, L-Arginine, and a bunch of proprietary substances. I’ve used one of them for about a year, and while they do help you get through the workouts, they have side effects. The most bothersome side effect is that if you take this in the evening like I do prior to lifting weights you have a tough time getting a good nights sleep.
Is it worth it?
Consider that recovering from a good strength training session must also include getting sufficient sleep, you have to question the value of getting all jacked up and compromising your rest. I do advocate that you take L-Arginine, L-Glutamine and Creatine after your workout to help you recover, but neither of these should greatly interfere with your sleep.
I was using N.O. XPLODE, but am rethinking my strategy, and may opt for something a bit less potent. I’m going to try one of those energy chews next time as my pre-workout supplement and see if that has a less disruptive influence on my sleep.
If you have any ideas on a pre-workout supplements or foods you would suggest I try please let me know.
Fortunately I have been able to stick with my yoga practice in the Ashtanga tradition of six days a week. I was doing this at night but during the last two weeks have switched to mornings so that I could resume my strength training in the evenings. After somewhat mastering some pretty fundamental asanas I have added the Ashtanga version of the Sun Salutation to the beginning of my practice. The Sun Salutation is done 5 times, and then I move on to standing and balancing poses, then to supine and floor poses. The whole routine/practice looks something like this:
Sun Salutation repeat 5 times
Standing Pose (Mountain pose with feet together)
Standing Pose (hands together above head)
Standing forward bend
Standing forward preparing for staff pose
Chaturanga Dandasana – Plank
Upward facing dog (cobra)
Downward facing dog
Standing forward preparing for staff pose
Standing forward bend
Standing Pose (hands together above head)
Standing Pose (Mountain pose with feet together)
Standing & Balancing Poses
Half Moon Pose
Warrior 2 Pose
Side Angle Pose
Standing Knee to Chest (or knee back)
Supine & Seated Poses
Two Legged Platform
Knee to Chest Pose
Both Knees to Chest Pose
Supine Leg Stretch (leg up with strap)
The Sunbird Cat Stretch
Hero Pose (knees bent sitting on legs)
Easy Seated Pose
Butterfly (feet together)
Head to Knee Pose (use strap, hurdlers stretch)
I like to follow up the yoga practice with 5 – 10 minutes of meditation, which helps me prepare the for the day ahead, which is one of the reasons I switched to doing yoga in the morning as yoga and meditation seem to work so well together. I’m a long ways from moving into the Primary Series asanas as I am still mastering the Sun Salutation and other fundamental poses mentioned above, but everyone needs to start somewhere. The results so far have been outstanding as I am gaining flexibility, my back is feeling better, and am starting to become a bit calmer. I would love to hear about your yoga journey and follow your blogging related to this topic.
Anyone who does strength training has heard the term “progressive resistance”, and most of the experienced weight training folks have a pretty good idea of what it means. In its simplest form it means to add resistance or intensity either to each workout or periodically. Three examples include:
Adding a repetition to your set – so this week I did 9 reps instead of 8 last week.
Maybe you added a another set – this week I did 3 sets instead of 2 last week.
Adding weight – I added 5 pounds to my curl bar, or 10 pounds to my bench press
So why do I care about progressive resistance? The answer is really pretty simple in that muscles will not grow unless they can be stimulated beyond the capacity that they are accustomed to. Adding repetitions to sets, adding sets, and increasing the weight you move all help to stimulate your muscles and they are forced to adapt.
Now as anyone knows who has been involved with weight training over a long period of time there are ceilings you hit along the way. For instance you may get to the point where a 50 pound dumbell is too much for you to curl, where you have kind of maxed out on the adding weight approach. A typical approach by most people involved with strength training is to do 2 or 3 sets with a weight that they can handle for 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Once they get to 12 repetitions they may decide to start adding weights or optionally keep the weight the same and add another set.
So what about that ceiling that we all seem to hit in terms of how much weight we can safely hoist? Well you can add more reps and sets, but eventually this to can come to a halt and with this approach your workout gets longer and more exhausting. So here are a couple other ideas to keep pushing your muscles, making them work harder:
Do each repetition considerably slower – this puts extra strain on the muscles without having to add reps, sets, or weight
Spend less time resting between sets – instead of resting say 90 seconds drop it down to 60 and you will feel the burn
There are yet other ways to ramp up the intensity, but I’ll save those for a future post. Let me know what you do to increase the intensity of your strength training workouts.
Now I have always been an advocate of using split routines for strength training so that I could keep my workouts short and focus on limited muscle groups. I also kind of dreaded trying to work my whole body in a single workout, so maybe there was a bit of laziness on my part. A couple months ago I began to study yoga and started practicing 6 days a week in the evenings when I would normally do my weight training. Now I wasn’t about to give up weight (strength) training so I consolidated my routines into a single day that would accommodate my yoga practice on the other 6 days a week. I thought that I was going to lose strength and conditioning as I did need to trim some exercises and sets out of my strength training program to fit everything in to one session and not kill myself. In reality the loss of strength or conditioning has not occurred, so I am going to hypothesize that there are several reasons including:
The yoga is actually helping me retain my strength. If you have ever performed yoga poses you know that they take a great deal of strength, so not only are you taking the opportunity to stretch but you are also using your muscles to balance and hold poses.
It turns out that even though I had to cut out some sets to fit everything into a single strength training session, the fact that I was using supporting muscle groups going from chest to triceps, to biceps and shoulders, to legs and to back. When I was doing a split routine I would work a muscle group and that was it, with a full body routine that same muscle group gets utilized just minutes later to support the focus on another. For example after working out my shoulders, I would later do some back work which would again engage my shoulders in a supporting role.
It turns out that at my age I might not need to torch my muscles with weights multiple times in the same week. So my recovery period is longer and this might actually work to my advantage.
One last thing, when you know you are only going to lift weights once during the week you make sure it counts, and you are less likely to miss a workout. When I was doing a split routine I would occasionally slack off and just skip a day and my schedule would begin to slide.
I’m not advocating that you drop you split routine, and for myself I would have stayed the course if it were not for the demands of my yoga practice, but to my surprise the full body routine has its advantages. Maybe another epiphany here is that you don’t have to give up weight training because you love yoga or Pilates or running or some other form of training. You can find a way to adjust your schedule and still get the benefits that these multiple disciplines provide.
As promised I wanted to spend a little time writing about Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga most often refers to the system taught by Indian yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, and is sometimes called Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.
Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
Yama [moral codes]
Niyama [self-purification and study]
Pranayama [breath control]
Pratyahara [conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses]
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is different from many yoga classes in the west in that the order of asanas is completely predefined. A practice will comprise four main parts:
an “opening sequence” Sun salutations
one of the six main “series”
a back-bending sequence
a set of inverted asanas, referred to as the “finishing sequence”
This type of yoga is not trivial and can have 75 or more asanas taking 1 to 2 hours to complete. The main series actually has 6 different levels if you will from:
Primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa
Intermediate or second series is called Nadi Shodana
four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga
Those performing Ashtanga yoga are encouraged to practice 6 days a week, preferably in the morning, and to take rest on Saturdays as well as the days of the full and new moon (commonly referred to as moon days by ashtanga practitioners). This form of yoga is very athletic and challenging so be prepared to work hard to complete your sessions. You will not only build flexibility but also strength, which are a couple of reasons why Ashtanga yoga is so popular.
This is by no means a comprehensive explanation of Ashtanga yoga, and I would encourage you to do some additional research. What I determined is that this is not appropriate for those of you who have very limited time to devote to a yoga practice, but at the same time it can be done by a novice and is something that you can grow into because it does have different levels. Probably the best way to get started is to seek out a yoga studio that teaches Ashtanga and talk to a teacher, and you can also check out books or DVD’s at Amazon who seem to have a pretty extensive offering to choose from.
A quick update, I just purchased this book from Amazon because it addressed the Primary series and because it was rated so high.
If you want to build up those biceps and strengthen your forearms check out the new section on our Exercises page for biceps and forearms. I put three basic yet effective exercises that will help you add strength and mass to those biceps & forearms.
I just completed the Triceps section under the Exercises page of this blog. You know those muscles on the back of your arms, not the flab the muscles (see the picture below). Using the exercises I’ve outlined in the Triceps section you can create some substantial triceps and add to the overall strength and symmetry of your arms. Stay tuned for more exercises and muscle groups we haven’t covered yet.
I just completed the Chest section under the Exercises page of this blog. If you are looking for some ways to build your chest muscles, these 3 exercises will do the trick. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman these fundamental exercises work all areas of your chest and will make you bigger and stronger. All the exercises I write about are described in a summary form, provide step by step instructions, and provide graphic that helps you visualize how to do the exercise. So what are you waiting for check out the Chest section. In the coming weeks I will elaborate on my favorite strength training exercises for triceps, biceps, shoulders, back, legs, and abdominal’s.
So how many days a week should you do strength training? I think to answer this question you need to consider what type of strength training you are doing and several other factors. I’m defining strength training as resistance training, like lifting weights or some other form of resistance that stresses a muscle or muscle group with some number of repetitions. A typical set could have anywhere from 4 to 30 repetitions. There are different types of strength training routines and depending on the one you are using it will have impact how many days a week you should workout.
Types of strength training programs
Whole Body Routine: if you are using a whole body or total body routine you are attempting to work all the muscle groups of your body in one workout. These routines typically take much longer to execute because you are doing many different exercises to work all the muscle groups.
Split Routine: a split routine is where you divide the muscle groups (body) focusing on a specific group of muscles on any one day. One of the characteristics of a split routine is that they are typically much shorter in duration taking sometimes just 20 minutes compared to a whole body routine that make take an hour or more. An example of this might be a 4 day split like the one I do:
Day 1 – Chest & Triceps
Day 2 – Biceps, Forearms, and Shoulders
Day 3 – Legs
Day 4 – Back
Another factor to consider is what type of training are you doing. You may be too young to remember this but Mike Mentzer (picture above) who was a professional bodybuilder back in the 70’s. He came up with the philosophy of High Intensity Training or Heavy Duty which advocated training a muscle to failure with very heavy weights and lower repetitions. This form of training exacts a huge toll on your muscles and ability to recover between training sessions, so much that Mr. Mentzer advocated training a muscle group just once a week. That’s fine, but what about the majority of us who don’t lift extremely heavy weights and do sets to failure? Well our intensity would be lower and we would be putting less stress on our bodies. So one can assume that intensity and amount of resistance will affect our ability to recover.
Aside from the type of routine used and the intensity/load factor it is fair to assume that your ability to recover plays a role in how many training days you should engage in each week. Age can be a factor in your ability to recover, when you are younger you will probably recover quicker than as you age, simply due to higher levels of hormones coursing through your body. Another factor may be the supplements you are taking or not taking can have a big effect on recovery ability.
There is certainly a lot of variability in determining the optimal number of days a week to perform strength training, but with that said I think there are some reasonable guidelines that should be taken into consideration.
Your ability to recover is a big factor. You should give yourself at least a couple of days rest after working a muscle group. If you continue to put a muscle group under stress without allowing time for it to repair you are in effect wasting your time.
Choose supplements like Glutamine, Branched Chained Amino Acids (BCAA), Whey Protein, and Creatine to help your body recover by consuming them right after working out.
If you are performing very high intensity workouts as mentioned above then give yourself additional time to recover, conversely if you are doing lower intensity workouts you may not need as much time before your next workout.
If you are performing Whole Body strength training workouts maybe once or twice a week is all you need. In fact you might just want to look at it as performing a Whole Body workout once every 5 to 7 days, instead of how many times per week.
Make sure even if you are doing a 4 or 5 day split that you build in a rest day upon completion of the final day in the split training program. Remember even in a split routine you will work muscles that have already been worked for instance if you work your back you might also be working your triceps and shoulders.
If you are still sore even after taking a rest day, consider taking another day to allow your muscles to completely heal and rebuild themselves before putting them under stress again.
As already mentioned I do a 4 day split strength training routine, and with a fairly normal life I find I end up getting all the workouts completed in about a week. I typically take a rest day after “Day 4 – Back” because it stresses my triceps and shoulders, which again get worked on “Day 1 – Chest & Triceps”. My recommendation is you must find the happy medium between working out too frequently and not enough. Your body needs time to rest, but too much time between workouts and you can lose strength. So give yourself enough time for the muscles to recover and grow, but not so much time that you aren’t moving forward and gaining strength.
I would love to hear your comments and your approach to strength training.