When I moved to Texas about 3 years ago I left my squat rack in Michigan, along with a lot of my weights. I spent a lot of time doing squats with no weights except for my body weight, and while this maintained my quads, hamstrings, and glutes I was looking for ways to add resistance. I tried dumbbell squats and they are at best awkward, so I abandoned that idea. I don’t have room for another squat rack in my game room upstairs so I did a little searching and found this thing called a Hex Bar. I looked into what you could do with this bar and found that it really is good for two exercises, including a squat/dead-lift and shrugs. The two pictures below give you an idea of what the bar and the squat/dead-lift look like in action.
hex bar squat starting position
hex bar squat ending position
I found that the squatting exercise is really a combination of squatting and doing a conventional dead-lift. The bar itself weighs 50 pounds so even if you only load it up with a couple 25 pound Olympic plates you have 100 pounds of resistance to work with. One of the things I like about this type of bar is that you can put a lot of weight on it and you don’t need to lift it over your head like a conventional barbell. It is also a great space saver for those of us with limited room for equipment. Does it work? In my experience it worked my quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back to some degree. I noticed that my legs and glutes were pretty sore for a couple days following a workout with the Hex Bar, so yes it really works.
To put less strain on your lower back and more focus on your quads and hamstrings don’t go all the way to the floor on when you are coming down for the next repetition. It also does a great job if you want to do shrugs. So if you have limited space and want to give your legs and traps a great workout the Hex Bar is definitely worth looking into. You can pick one up for around $100 – $150, plus you will need some Olympic weights to load on the bar. Here is a short video to give you an idea on how to perform the squat/dead-lift correctly with the Hex Bar:
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.
Well after toying with a 3 days split, which then evolved into a 4 day split, I have come back to a familiar place the 5 day split. I’m not sure why I keep changing things around because I always gravitate back to the 5 day split. I guess the reasons for this are fairly straightforward:
- My workouts are a little shorter and less exhausting because I am focused on one or two muscle groups. This makes it all more enjoyable instead of looking at a long list of exercises and wondering when it will all be over.
- With the 3 or 4 day split I had to cut out some sets, but with the 5 day split I can keep adding reps and sets so I am able to do more work and put more stress on the muscles. A harder workout means faster gains in strength and size.
- It fits well with the work week, so every night when I get home I can look forward to a workout, keeping me focused on fitness and away from other less healthy activities such as eating or drinking.
The only negative with the 5 day split is that it consumes 5 of the 7 days in a week, and if something else comes up you can potentially miss a workout.
This is my 5 day split (high level)
- Chest & Triceps (Day 1)
- Biceps, Forearms, and Delts (Day 2)
- Legs (Day 3)
- Back (Day 4)
- Core (Day 5)
Remember you don’t need to perform the split Monday through Friday, it is more than feasible to just perform the workout starting on whatever day of the week. It is advisable to give yourself a rest day after completing the 5th day of the split routine, because even though you have divided up the muscle groups others still participate in an assisting role. I like to keep track of my workouts with a Google sheet (spreadsheet), so that I can record the date of the workout, weight, target reps, actual reps, and any notes for adding reps or sets next time. If you are currently doing total body workouts or shorter split routines, try the 5 days split and enjoy the gains you will make. Who knows you might just look forward to your workouts.
In a quest to add just a little more weight, sets, or reps to your strength training routine you find your energy is not infinite. You start out with a 3 day split and pretty soon each workout is taking 90+ minutes and your completely wiped out, and worse there is no way you could keep adding sets to this already arduous workout. So what is the answer? You can try to increase intensity, but with a 3 day split you are pushing the limits of your endurance and this is no longer a lot of fun. I ran into this myself, and then created a 4 day split but over time this also became too much and I finally landed on a 5 day split that allowed me to add lots of sets and progressively increase the weight I was lifting. I’m not advocating this is for everyone as some of you might not be able to devote this many days to strength training each week, but for those that can it allows you to expand the amount of work you are doing and still get it done in a reasonable amount of time. Here is my new 5 day split routine:
Day 1 – Chest & Triceps
Day 2 – Biceps, Forearms, and Delts
Day 3 – Legs
Day 4 – Back
Day 5 – Core
None of these workouts exceed 60 minutes and most can be done in 30 – 45 minutes. This is a big advantage of a 5 day split over lesser day routines, allowing you to focus on fewer body parts and really turn up the intensity while keeping the workouts relatively short.
So next time you consider adding just a little more to your routine, think about a 5 day split. For ways to increase the intensity of your workouts refer to one of my earlier posts Just What is Progressive Resistance?
When I refer to workout in the title of this post, I am specifically focused on strength training. There are many supplements you can take after a strength training workout, but I am going to focus on 5 that can help boost your recovery and increase testosterone levels. After working out your muscles are needing some carbohydrates and amino acids to start the muscle building recovery process.
Update to my original post: There is some evidence to suggest that you might want to wait 60 – 90 minutes after a workout before consuming post workout supplements. It appears that if you worked out in a fasted state that after your workout your body will actually increase the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone as long as you don’t consume anything other than water right after your workout. So my updated advice is to wait about an hour after your workout before taking the supplements mentioned below. This will give you the opportunity to take advantage of spiking HGH and testosterone levels, thus maximizing your gains.
These are the 5 supplements I take after a workout:
- Branch Chained Amino Acids (BCCA) – There are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The BCAAs are among the nine essential amino acids for humans, accounting for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40% of the preformed amino acids required by mammals. BCAAs not only increase the rate of protein synthesis, but they also increase the cell’s capacity for protein synthesis. BCAAs also work in your favor by reducing the rate of protein breakdown. They might also help improve workout intensity, that is why BCCA’s can be used as a pre workout and post workout supplement.
- Creatine Monohydrate – is a natural substance that turns into creatine phosphate in the body. Creatine phosphate helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions. Creatine will pull water into the muscle cells, and effects the ability for your body to use fast twitch muscles. Note: your body can only store so much ATP so taking more creatine than advised will not be effective. The ideal dose is around 5 grams (1 heaping teaspoon). Creatine can be used as a pre-workout and/or post-workout supplement.
- L-Arginine – is a naturally occurring amino acid that may help to increase blood flow (in some populations) and anabolic growth-hormone secretion. This helps increase lean muscle mass/strength/power, promotes faster recovery from exercise, and improves the work capacity of active muscles. L-arginine also improves the process of clearing waste products from your muscles. This may result in a reduced sense of fatigue. I like to use about 2.5 to 3 grams after a workout.
- L-Glutamine – is the most abundant inessential amino acid in the human body and makes up the majority of the amino acids in skeletal muscle. Despite being involved in many crucial roles in our daily health and function, it’s considered “inessential” because the body is capable of producing it on its own. L-Glutamine plays a big role in supporting workout and muscle recovery, enhances immune function, and improves intestinal health. For me it seems to assist in helping my muscles recover and I have less next day soreness. I would use about 5 grams after a workout.
- Tribulus terrestris – is a flowering plant that grows in temperate and tropical areas. The compound is rich in saponins, the active ingredient claimed to increase the body’s natural testosterone levels and helps to build muscle. The primary point of the tribulus terrestris extract is that it will increase testosterone levels. It does this in a very secure method – by no means exceeding the physique`s natural upper limits. I have read that it is best to take on an empty stomach after your workout. I usually take about 1 to 1.5 grams after a workout.
My method for post workout supplementation is as follows:
Either use a fruit drink or some powdered post workout drink (even Gatorade would do) to mix with the powdered BCCA’s, Creatine Monohydrate and powered L-Glutamine. Once mixed, drink and swallow your Tribulus Terrestris and L-Arginine capsules. Wait 20 to 30 minutes before eating. This gives the post workout supplements some time to digest and get into your blood stream before you consume anything else. The reason I advocate that you use a fruit drink or something like Gatorade is that following a workout is the best time to consume sugar. When you train, your body burns glycogen, or sugar. Both blood sugar and muscle glycogen are consumed during a workout, and to recover, as well as progress, you need to restore depleted glycogen levels as quickly as possible. My next step is to follow the post supplementation with a meal that contains a decent amount of protein and some complex carbohydrates.
The only warning might apply to women taking Tribulus terrestris. I would do some additional research on the effects it may have on women before adding it to your post workout supplements.
I would love to hear what kind of post workout supplements you advocate taking.
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
This is not me
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.