In the past I have talked about the need for progressive resistance so that you are overloading muscles to make them adapt to the heavier loads or more repetitions. This works for a while but unfortunately your body becomes accustomed to doing the same exercises, and of course your own capacity for effort can be limited along with your ability to recover. Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating that you opt out of the progressive resistance camp, but you might consider a couple tweaks to get your body to react by building larger muscles and gaining strength. Here are a couple of tweaks that can help put you get back on track, making those muscles adapt and avoid plateauing.
Tweak 1 – Reduce rest time between sets
During my chest and triceps routine I was resting about 2 1/2 minutes between sets and while this allowed me to do one set after another of push-ups, in some ways it made it too easy. Without even adding any reps I took the rest time down to 2 minutes between chest exercise sets and 1 1/2 minutes for triceps exercises. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it made it more difficult to do the sets with less rest. So without adding weights or repetitions the intensity was increased simply by reducing the rest time.
Tweak 2 – Alternate routines
Because your body can get accustomed to doing the same exercises, your muscles adapt but growth begins to slow down. You might consider having two different routines and either rotate them using one routine on week 1 and another routine on week 2. This causes a bit of muscle confusion and will help you avoid hitting a plateau as quickly. The changes don’t have to be huge for instance:
Week 1 – Chest/Triceps Day
4 sets push-ups
2 sets of triceps dumbbell kickbacks
1 set triceps dips
On alternate weeks perform this routine.
Week 2 – Chest/Triceps Day
3 sets of dumbbell chest presses
2 sets of dumbbell chest fly’s
2 sets of dumbbell triceps extensions
Hopefully by limiting the rest between sets and using a bit of muscle confusion by alternating routines you can spur on continued growth, making your workouts more difficult and at the same time a bit more interesting. In addition to these tweaks make sure you are using the principles of progressive resistance to add sets, repetitions, and weight. I would love to hear about any tweaks you use to increase muscle adaptation or make your workouts more fun.
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.
This is my first post on the topic of yoga, so for all of you experienced practitioners this might be a bit too elementary for you, but then again who knows. I have in one form or another been doing yoga poses (asanas) for some time now, well actually for years. I’ve often mixed in asanas with Pilates exercises, and other forms of stretching during my morning session. While this is a great way to add some stretching oriented exercises to your morning workout it does not constitute what anyone would consider practicing yoga. So over the past few weeks I have been devoting some of my morning workouts purely to the practice of yoga. Being a bit of self study kind of person, I went back to my library and pulled out a book I had purchased some time ago from Yoga Journal. This book provided detailed instructions on how to perform the asana along with pictures of each position in the correct sequence.
So the question is why would anyone want to do yoga? I mean come on you can find better and faster ways to exercise than yoga can’t you. Sure there are at least a dozen ways to torture yourself physically that are more efficient that yoga, although anyone who has ever taken a yoga class knows it is not as easy as one might think. The physical torture part is just not the point. If you are looking for something that kicks your butt stay with squats or running, but if you are looking for a form of exercise that is really more than exercise maybe yoga deserves a look.
My next post will dig into the origins of yoga and the benefits of regular practice.
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.