The basics win fights.
How’s your training going?
Making progress, achieving your goals, enjoying yourself? Awesome.
None of the above? Then keep reading.
In this article, I will tell you three easy, inexpensive things you can do to improve your training instantly.
Curious? Let’s get into it!
#1 – Trust your program
Following an effective training program is easy to say and difficult to do.
The first week, you’re excited and pumped to start making gains. The second week, the feeling of novelty keeps you going. By the third week, your progress might start slowing down, motivation becomes a more elusive muse, and boredom steals the spotlight more and more often.
You may even run into a training plateau and question whether this is actually the right program for you. What if it’s stopped working? This is only week three out of 12. Are you wasting your time doing pointless exercises?
No one wants to work hard for nothing. It’s tempting to think that you might be a Google search away from the program. The one that will finally make a difference.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to work, either. You will jump on it because it looks new and shiny, run it for a couple of weeks, and get tired of it again.
The problem is that progress takes time and patience. Unless you’re a complete newbie, in which case you will see faster improvements, you will get slimmer and slimmer results over time compared to the effort you put in.
This may be discouraging, but which of the following option sounds worse?
Option A: You keep “program hopping” forever without any results whatsoever.
Option B: You stick to a program, see small progress week to week, and look back on week one at the end to find out you have actually added five minutes to your run time or twenty pounds to the bar.
I’d take Option B any day. Wouldn’t you?
#2 – Log your workouts
Progressive overload is a fundamental principle of exercise prescription. Without it, you won’t make progress. It’s in the name, after all.
The best way to monitor progress is to collect data.
For example, if you wanted to track your weight loss, you would write down your weekly weight and the average weight lost. Exercise is no different.
Otherwise, how are you going to remember the exact amount of weight you lifted or the exact running time of your previous session?
For resistance training, I record all the exercises I did in that session, the weight I lifted, and how many reps I lifted it for.
I would also rate how difficult each set was on a scale from 1 to 10 or how many more reps I believe I could have done before failure.
For instance, on week one bench pressing 100kg might feel as hard as a 9. On week three, you might still be pressing the same weight for the same number of reps, but your perceived level of effort is now a 5. That’s one way to gauge progress!
For aerobic training, you could log the machine you used, the type of workout (interval training; long, continuous training; etc.), and the rate of exertion from 1 to 10.
Again, even if the workout stays exactly the same, but your exertion goes from 9.5 to 7, you’ve still got fitter. But you wouldn’t know that unless you had these data.
You could use a paper notebook; a Google Sheets or Excel spreadsheet, which you could open up and fill out on your phone while still at the gym; or an app. A free app for resistance training is called FitNotes, whereas for aerobic training you could use Polar Beat: Run and Fitness.
#3 – Keep it simple
For some reason, we like complicated training programs and weird diets. The more exercises a workout has, or the more foods a diet cuts out, the more likely we are to buy into it.
The truth is, you don’t need to do 20 sets of 20 different exercises for glutes in one session to grow your glutes.
In fact, doing too much volume in the same workout could leave your muscles too fatigued to recover in time for your next workout, which would result in worse performance, less volume, and – with no recovery and reduced total volume – ultimately little or no growth.
Even if your volume is ideal, doing too many exercises in the same training block may have other disadvantages.
For one, the most effective exercises are usually big compound moves, like squats, bench presses, rows, and deadlifts. Compound exercises for the same muscles are on average fewer than isolation exercises, which don’t stimulate the muscles to the same extent. For that reason, if you were to include, for example, five different exercises per muscle every week, you might only have one or two compound moves and three or more isolation lifts.
If you aren’t doing excessive amounts of volume, this would mean doing a small number of sets per exercise in order to fit every single one into the week.
But why would you sacrifice sets of flat or incline presses just to do three different variations of a pec fly?
Moreover, considering the overall limited number of exercises for the same muscle group, if you were to do all those available in one mesocycle – or period of training – what would you do in the next one?
It won’t only be boring. When your muscles adapt to the stimulus produced by the same movements repeated over and over again, progress will slow down and stagnate. And what do you do when you plateau on all of your exercises?
When I started training, I found a couple of workouts that (I thought) looked amazing. They had so many exercises, there was no way they wouldn’twork.
And at first I believed they did. The sheer number of movements and sets would crush me every time. I would feel accomplished because I’d worked up a sweat and I could hardly breathe.
Then guess what: two weeks later, absolutely nothing had changed. Except I was so fatigued after each session that I began to dread them.
Now, I usually choose one big compound move to focus on for a certain period of training, and supplement it with one or two isolation movements, depending on the muscle group, total volume, the time I have to train, and my goals.
However, if you’re in a pinch or you are too busy to work out for too long, the basics will do just fine: one compound lift per major muscle group. The end.
Follow the program, log your data, and stick to the simple stuff.
Try these free hacks for a month and you’ll see the difference.
In Future Episodes:
Next week I’ll tackle some practical questions about If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM).
How’s your training going?
A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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