Monday, 3 November 2014

Make your workout more efficient

Is your workout efficient?  Is the time you're spending in the gym getting you the best bang for your buck?  As a personal trainer, many people come to me after they've been working out on their own for years without any professional advice (which, of course, will still lead to positive results, any exercise will!), but their personal programs are imbalanced, inefficient or redundant.  Here are some mistakes you might be making in the gym and how to fix them.

Common mistake:  Working each muscle group once per week (ie. "Chest day")
How to fix it:  Every muscle group should be worked twice per week.
Work to rest ratios in your workouts are very important.  A muscle group takes 48 hours to fully repair after weight training.  To maximize your work to rest ratio, it is best to work the muscle as frequently as possible (every 48 to 72 hours).  If you work a muscle group twice per week, the work:rest is 1:3, whereas if you work a muscle only once per week, the work:rest is 1:6, which is far more rest than any muscle group needs.  To manage this, you need to work more muscle groups in each workout than just one.
If you're guilty of doing 4 different chest exercises every Monday, and wondering how you will ever fit in your 4 chest exercises when you also have to fit a few other muscle groups, don't worry, I have the answer!  Divide up your workouts into less exercises per muscle group on EACH workout, but do them more often (it will be the same number of chest exercises per week, I promise).  Let's look at an example 4 Day Workout.  In this case, the muscle group is indicated, as well as a number to differentiate the exercise (meaning chest exercise 1 can be bench press, while chest exercise 2 can be cable pec flyes, exercise 3, dumbbell press, and 4, push ups).

Day 1--Half body 1A
Chest exercise 1
Shoulder exercise 1
Abs/obliques exercise 1
Chest exercise 2
Shoulder exercise 2
Tricep exercise 1

Day 2--Half body 2A
Leg exercise 1
Back exercise 1
Leg exercise 2
Back exercise 2
Lower back exercise 1
Bicep exercise 1

Day 3--Half body 1B
Chest exercise 3
Shoulder exercise 3
Abs/obliques exercise 2
Chest exercise 4
Tricep exercise 2
Abs/obliques exercise 3

Day 4--Half body 2B
Back exercise 3
Leg exercise 3
Back exercise 4
Leg exercise 4
Bicep exercise 2
Lower back exercise 2

Common mistake:  Performing exercises that do not work with and against gravity.
How to fix it:  Exercises should have a controlled concentric/eccentric phase.
There are two types of exercises that are performed in a standard weight room workout, they are isometric and isotonic.  Isometric contractions refer to those in which the muscle is contracted, but no movement takes place (ie. a plank).  Isotonic contractions are those in which there are distinct lifting and lowering phases.  The lifting phase, in which the weight or body moves against gravity is called the concentric phase.  The lowering phase, in which the weight or body moves in a controlled manner with gravity is called the eccentric phase.  Research shows that the tiny muscle fibre tears that contribute to muscle building activity occur during the eccentric phase (controlled lowering).  Two mistakes are often made in the gym that prevent a proper eccentric phase:
1.  Improper set up of exercise.
2.  Improper technique during exercise.

So let's break those two mistakes down further:
1.  Improper set up of exercise.  When you are setting up to perform an exercise, take gravity into account.  Dumbbells and barbells should not move laterally, they should only move up and down.  When a lateral movement is necessary, a cable or tube must be used instead (because the weight stack of the cable will move with and against gravity in that case).  For example, when you want to perform a row exercise, there are several options--use a dumbbell and kneel on a bench or fold forward from the hips (maintaining a flat back) to hold the upper body parallel to the floor to work with and against gravity.  If you prefer to remain upright (seated or standing), you must perform a cable row.

This might seem pretty obvious with row exercises, but there might not some quite as obvious ones, because you've probably seen a lot of people do them, such as Arnold presses.  Arnold presses consist of a lateral movement of dumbbells in front of the chest first, then palms turned out and up into a shoulder press.  The lateral movement portion of this is not effective!  If anything, you're just risking injury by performing additional movements with heavy weights.  Only perform movements with dumbbells that have clear concentric and eccentric phases.

2.  Improper technique during exercise.  When performing an exercise, the standard concentric phase should consist of 1 second to lift up, and eccentric, 2 seconds to lower the weight down.  The importance of the controlled lowering phase cannot be understated.  If you lift the weight up and then simply allow your arms to flop back down to your sides in your bicep curls, you're not lifting effectively.  This can also be seen in exercises such as lat pulldown (pulling down, then just allowing the cable to forcefully pull your arms back up), tricep cable pressdowns, leg press, etc.  Maintain a steady eccentric phase to maximize each rep.

Common mistake: Too much rest time between sets.
How to fix it:  Know how your rest times affect your fitness goals.
Rest between sets can greatly affect the results you get from your workouts.  Understanding rest times can help you to determine how long you should be resting.
Why rest between sets?  When a set is performed to exhaustion, the body's natural creatine levels are depleted.  On the first set of an exercise, creatine levels start at 100%, deplete and slowly return to full capacity.  This process takes 2 minutes.  If a second or third set is performed when there is a creatine deficit (anywhere from 30s to 90s of rest), the body will recognize this deficit and produce additional creatine, which aids in muscle growth (hypertrophy).  If, however, your goal is maximal strength on every set, you must rest 2-3 minutes to work at full strength.
To match your fitness goals, rep range and rest times, the recommendations are as follows:

Strength--4 to 6RM--2 to 3 minutes rest
Hypertrophy--6 to 12RM--30 to 90s rest
Endurance--15 to 30RM--<30s rest

I hope these suggestions help you on your quest to getting jacked!  If you have questions, comments or other fitness topics you'd like covered, please drop me a line in the comment section!

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