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:
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?
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.
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.
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.