Are you stuck going nowhere?
Have you made previous attempts to lose weight, tone up and build muscle but lost motivation along the way when nothing seemed to change?
Do you wonder how you're dragging yourself through mind numbing cardio sessions or sticking to your workout week after week without the slightest sign of a toned waist or chiseled 6 - pack?
Maybe you feel like you're really noticing bigger arms during your gym session, but by the next morning they've shrunk back to "twig state".
Basically, if your workouts are getting you nowhere, then we're here to help!
When putting together a thorough training programme that will get you the best possible results, there are a number of basic rules you should focus on.
Progression - Increase the challenge
If you keep doing exactly the same workout over and over, your body will soon get used to it, so ensure that you constantly try to increase the difficulty of the routine or the amount you can do.
Options include using heavier weights, adding extra sets, pushing for additional reps or using harder progressions. If you’re consistently able to hit your maximum number of repetitions every set then you should aim to increase the challenge. Muscle develops when we push ourselves within a range that we struggle to complete. This is known as reaching Failure. In other words, don't stop at a number, stop at your ability!
If you're looking to lose weight through cardio, then the same rules apply.
Don't make the mistake of sticking in the low intensity "fat burning zone" as you won't burn nearly as many calories overall, your body will once again adapt to the level (to decreasing benefit) and you won't be getting the valuable health and fitness benefits. So add short harder intervals, change up your equipment and set increasing challenges. This will shock your body into more fat loss, improve you're overall fitness and recovery time (improving your ability to train harder) and keep burning calories even after you stop!
It’s a good idea to record your workouts in a fitness app or workout diary to keep track of your progress and be aware of your next target!
Different Rep ranges have different benefits. Working within a lower range (1-4) with 2 - 4 minutes recovery results in strength improvements while a higher range (12 – 20 +) helps muscular endurance.The optimum range for lean muscle growth (Hypertrophy) is between 6 – 12 repetitions per set, with 60 - 90 seconds rest.
Other ranges can be used to benefit your main goal. For example, if you’re struggling to improve your squat, work to build a base of strength with lower reps, or train fast explosive movement with higher numbers and lighter weight.
Train with free weights
Fixed resistance machines are a great introduction to weight training by getting you used to exerting the effort required while ensuring safe form. They are also excellent at targeting and isolating specific muscles, so are of real benefit to anyone looking to specifically focus on certain areas of the body.
Ideally though, you should also be working with free weights such as Barbells, Dumbbells and Kettlebells. Without the supporting fixed machinery, your body will have to engage additional (Fixator) muscles for assistance and stability. Free weight moves, particularly those standing, will require greater engagement from additional areas like the core to help maintain form, tension, stability and control. This creates extra challenge but has greater functional benefit while incorporating far more of the body in each movement!
Always ensure you ask a trainer for help when starting a new free weight exercise (or one you’re not sure is working). Correct technique will limit the risk of injury while maximizing the benefit you get out of the movement.
Choose compound exercises
When you’re working out you really want to make the most of your time. It’s therefore important when weight training to prioritize large, compound exercises that utilise numerous muscles in the same movement, ahead of Isolation moves such as Bicep curls and Tricep push downs.
The following are some of the best moves to focus your training around:
- Deadlift Hamstrings, Quads, Glutes, Core, Lats, Traps, Erector Spinae
- Squat Glutes, Quads, Calves, Core, Hamstrings
- Bench Press Pectorals, Front Deltoids, Triceps
- Push up Pectorals, Front Deltoids, Triceps, Core
- Bent over Row Lats, Traps, Rhomboids, Rotator Cuff
- Shoulder press Front, mid and rear Deltoids
- Pull ups Lats, Rhomboids, Biceps, Deltoids, Core
- Lat Pull down Lats, Rhomboids, Biceps, Deltoids,
Focus on the movements that require the most energy first. For example, Squats and Deadlifts before smaller moves like leg curls, or Bench Press before Shoulder press and Lateral Raise.
How much, how often and how long
The best weight training programmes should be structured to ideally work each body part twice a week to build muscle. This can be broken down in many different ways depending on your goals and available time:
- Push / Pull / Legs
- Upper body / Lower body
- Full Body
- Chest, Triceps / Back, Biceps / Legs,core / Shoulders
- 5 Day Split (Back, Chest, Legs, Shoulders, Arms)
Within each session you should be aiming at completing around 9 to 12 sets for each area. So, for instance you may choose to do 6 sets of squats and 6 sets of deadlifts on a leg day, or pick 3 - 4 different exercises at 3 sets each.
To get the most effort (and therefore benefit) out of each set, keep your workouts short, intense and explosive by aiming for no more than 1 hour to 90 minutes.
Consider your lifestyle as well as your goals when deciding which type of workout program fits in best with your routine. It should be something convenient that you’re realistically able to stick to in the long term
Tempo, control and range of movement
Although you should be looking to increase the challenge over time to progress your development, building lean, toned muscle isn't about how much you can physically lift or move, but how much you can control with correct form and technique.
You may have seen guys throwing half their bodyweight into a bicep curl as they swing around dumbbells with the use of every other muscle besides the ones in their arm! Obviously this has pretty limited benefit though, so it's important to only lift what you can manage with the target muscles, focussing on contraction, a slow pace with time under tension, and using the full range of movement required from the move.
This principal applies with your cardio exercise too. Learn good rowing or running technique for improved performance and prevention of injury. Likewise incorporate full range of movement for moves such as burpees, mountain climbers and squat jumps. You'll get greater benefit, and improved athletic ability, from slowing down and doing them properly, rather than taking shortcuts.
Consistently following a challenging, progressive strength training program or fat burning cardio routine will undoubtedly have great benefit. However, those benefits will obviously be less significant if you choose to recover over a large pizza and regular trips to the biscuit tin.
Next time we'll be looking at how to get the most benefit from your workouts outside of the Gym!