by Sean Barker, CPT
1. Start your engines
As your old high school gym teacher might have led you to believe, stretching before weight training is not the best way to warm-up. Recent reports show that static stretching before exercise can reduce muscle strength. Stretching relaxes your muscles, so why would you want to relax your muscles when you need to lift explosively during weight training? The proper warm-up for weight training should involve 5-10 minutes of Dynamic mobility movements. These drills help improve active range of motion and activate the nervous system. Exercise like bodyweight squats, pushups and lunges help to fire up the nervous system, increase blood flow and fluid to the surrounding joints in preparation for intense lifting. In addition, a couple acclimation sets of the first exercise in your workout will get you prepared to train with your maximal weights.
2. Train What You Don't See
One of the most common complaints you hear from long time lifters is a chronic shoulder problem. This is mainly due to imbalances in their exercise selection where they perform more pressing exercises like bench presses than pulling exercise like bent over rows. You should be doing equal exercise volume in the horizontal push and pulls as well as the vertical push and pulls such as shoulder presses and chin-up variations. This will ensure proper balance for the muscles you don't see in your back to prevent tight upper back muscles, which contribute to most shoulder problems. Including some old school traditional pushups in place of bench presses also allow your scapula muscles in your upper back to move freely enhancing shoulder health unlike any lying bench press movements. Pushups are referred to as a "close-chain" exercise because during these movements, your hands or feet are in a constant, fixed position (usually on the ground) during the exercise.
3. The New Cardio
High intensity interval training has been proven to be nine times more effective than steady-state cardio for burning fat. You don't have to do cardio in the traditional form of what most people think. People were burning fat long before treadmills and stationary bikes with old-fashioned manual labor. You need to be doing high intensity exercise that revs up your metabolism each and every workout. You could run, sprint, swim, lift weights, do supersets with weights. Remember you don't really burn much fat when you are actually exercising, except for a small amount of fatty acids that are in your bloodstream. It's the calories your body burns during the other 23 hours of the day that count. With exercise and a clean diet you will put your body in a caloric deficit, which is still the ONLY proven way to melt off that unwanted fat.
4. Times Up
Standing around chatting about the news of the week for 5 minutes in between sets is not the most effective way to get a great workout. Keeping track and shortening your rest periods between exercises is an awesome away to burn calories and increase your conditioning. There is a BIG difference in "keeping track" of your time in your head and actually using your watch. Most people don't realize how short a 60 second rest period is once they start watching the clock. Increasing training density by shortening or eliminating some rest periods in between sets is a great way to get a lot of workout volume done in a short amount of time. Keep your headphones on to avoid unwelcome distractions and keep your eye on your watch!
5. Be Cool
You started your workout off right with a dynamic warm-up, now its time to call it a day with a proper cool down. This is when you should be doing some old school Static stretching, which basically consists of stretching a muscle as far as your flexibility will allow and then holding that position for 10-15 seconds. Static stretching is of value primarily for preventing or correcting excessive muscle tension and establishing proper muscle length at the joints, both of which will improve movement efficiency. This type of stretching is best performed post-workout or several hours after the exercise session. Always easy into a stretch while gradually increasing the range of motion as your flexibility improves.
6. Spice it Up
Most training research shows that your body begins to adapt to a training program after 6 weeks. More specifically, you adapt to the rep range before everything else. Like the saying goes, "variety is the spice of life". The same holds true for weight training. Ten reps might sound like a nice even number to aim for during each sets but that doesn't mean it's the most effective. For strength gains stick to the 1-3 rep range. For muscle growth work in the 4-6 rep range. For fat loss keep reps higher in the 10-12 rep range. Vary your workouts to prevent your body to adapting to the same training stress.
7. Failing To Plan
"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail". This rings true with a proper workout program as well. All of these workout secrets should be part of a long-term training plan. Certified personal trainers spend years learning proper methods for kinetics and exercise design. So why do everyone think they can just slap together a bunch of exercises and think it's going to get them the results they are after? Plan your workouts based on your goals. Are you looking to lose fat, build muscle or get stronger. It's better to focus on one in each training phase. The most common method most gym rats might use wither they know it or not is Linear periodization. This is when the reps are decreased and the loads are increased over a period of time.
Recent training research has shown that a method of structuring your workouts called undulating periodization - has proven to be more effective in inducing maximum muscle gains when compared to traditional linear periodization models. Rotating from heavy (4-6 reps), to medium (8-10 reps) to light (12-15 reps) all in the same week will ensure your make steady progress and prevent that dreaded training plateau.
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