I love the in-depth research articles here on T-Nation. I like to sink my teeth into esoteric areas of training, nutrition, and supplementation. Sometimes it's even good to dive into the minutia pool and do the breaststroke. After all, today's minutia often becomes tomorrow's staple. (Remember when we thought of post-workout nutrition as a "minor" detail?)
But it's also nice to read articles about practical and immediately applicable subjects. Nothing complicated and no fancy-schmancy references, just a whole bunch of useful tips, stuff to think about, and things to try out tomorrow, later today, or even right this very second.
Here are ten of those very things.
5 Things to Try in the Gym this Month
Those multi-week training programs we publish here at Testosterone Nation are great. You should do them. But sometimes you just want to try something new for one workout just to break the monotony, experiment, "shock the body," or challenge yourself. Here are five ideas for that.
And by the way, lots of European sports scientists, Russian Olympic trainers, dead American super-trainers, and Canadian speed gurus use these exact same workout ideas to produce world champions, Olympic gold medalists, MMA champs, NHL record breakers, bulletproof S.W.A.T. teams, and ultra-buff minor royalty figures. Yep, true story. Uh huh.
1 – Make Today Unilateral Day
At least one day this week, do a full-body workout using all single-limb movements (one arm, one leg, left testicle etc.) Unilateral training has tons of benefits, yet most of us don't do enough of it. On top of the usual benefits, a unilateral day is a great boredom buster, and you can do it when you're stuck in a gym with only dumbbells or light weights.
Here's a sample workout:
A. Single-leg dumbbell squat or single-leg leg press
B. Single-leg Romanian deadlift
Note: Ian King promotes a version of this exercise where both feet remain beside one another. You simply lift one foot slightly off the ground, then perform the movement. Try both variations.
C. Barbell one-arm row
D. One-arm dumbbell bench press
E. Lean-away lateral raise
F. One-arm barbell preacher curl
G. Dumbbell triceps extension
2 – Do a "Primary Lift" Workout
Want another oddball yet effective workout? Try this one below.
The idea is to focus most of the workout around one "money" exercise – a ball-busting compound movement. Do one set of the money exercise, rest, then one set of a less taxing exercise, rest, then go back to the man-maker exercise and repeat. Here's an example using the front squat:
Dumbbell Overhead Press
Triceps Rope Extensions
Ab exercise of choice
So, over the course of the workout, you'll get six sets of high-impact front squats while stimulating the rest of the major muscle groups as well. Replace front squats with deadlifts for another effective variation.
3 – Reverse Your Workout
Think about what you're going to do today in the gym, then simply reverse the order of the exercises. This is a great tool to get yourself out of a training rut.
Think about it, if you're training arms, how often do you start with the triceps instead of the biceps? If you're training full body in one session, how often do you start with abs instead of squats? If you're a body-part splitter and it's chest/back day, do you ever start with the back exercises or do you always go straight to the bench press?
If you like to start with a compound exercise and follow up with a single-joint isolation exercise, try reversing the order for a few workouts (flyes before bench press, for example). Do you always use barbells? Then switch to dumbbells, even for squats and stiff-leg deadlifts. Are you a big believer in using mostly free weight exercises? Me too, but an occasional "machine day" or "machine week" may help you break out of a training rut.
This is a good way to prevent imbalances and really mix things up in the gym. It's also a dirt simple way to change up your program without having to put much thought into it.
4 – Skip the Gym Altogether
Have a "park day" instead. Equipment needed: public park or playground.
Get out of the training funk by getting out of the gym. Call it a metabolic day, a feeder workout, an off-week conditioning day, GPP, whatever. It's invigorating, fun, and effective. Here are some ideas:
Bodyweight jump squats in sand
Push-up variations or dips on playground equipment
Pull-ups variations on monkey bars or trees
Hanging leg raises
Those five things alone will hit just about every muscle in your body. Also, there are seldom frat boys at the park screaming "It's all you!" into each other's face. Bonus.
5 – Time Your Rest Periods... For Real
Most good training programs talk about what kind of rest period to use. A shorter or longer rest period can make a huge difference in the outcome of the workout and the overall program, but do you really measure them or do you just guess the rest?
Recently I was doing a program that required one minute rest periods. I took my new Ironman watch into the gym and hit the stopwatch feature after every set. Here's the thing: I waited until I thought one minute had passed before checking the actual time.
Turns out that my instinctive one-minute rest was more like 40 seconds. Twenty seconds of extra rest between sets could really affect nervous system recovery and the ability to hit the desired reps and loads in the subsequent sets, so I was really shortchanging myself.
Maybe you're not resting enough either... or maybe you're resting too much, Mr.-Discussing-Movies-Instead-of-Lifting- While-I'm-Waiting-on-the- Goddamn-Squat-Rack. So get an Ironman and find out, will ya?
3 Things to Try in the Kitchen Today
1 – Bodybuilder Bon Bons
I learned this from fitness trainer Sandy Joyce. Take a whole jar of all-natural peanut butter and hand mix it with eight tablespoons of flax meal and three scoops chocolate Metabolic Drive®.
The easiest way to do it is to just dump all the ingredients into a big bowl and mash 'em together with your grubby paws. Roll the "dough" into balls, wrap in Saran Wrap or foil, and freeze. Makes around 37 balls.
These suckers are portable, healthy, easy to prepare, and make a damn good football game snack. My eight-year old daughter loves to make 'em and eat 'em too. Beats candy bars!
2 – High-Protein Pancakes
As a former fat boy, I thought I'd never be able to eat pancakes again. I was wrong. Here's a healthy way to make them.
- Bisquick Heart Smart baking mix or Aunt Jemima whole wheat pancake mix
- Fat-free Calorie Countdown milk or skim milk
- 1 omega-3 enriched egg or 1 serving of Egg Beaters
- Low-Carb Metabolic Drive®
- Pam cooking spray
- Milled Flax seeds (optional)
Follow directions on the baking mix box, but skip the recommended oil and toss in some milled flax instead, plus a scoop or two of Metabolic Drive®. I usually use the strawberry flavor then add some frozen mixed berries to the batter as it cooks.
Note: I don't use syrup. They do make lower-calorie half-sugar and sugar-free syrups, but these tend to be so full of sugar alcohols that you'll fart-melt the fake leather off the seat of your Hyundai if you use too much. I'd skip it.
3 – Hot Chocolate for Athletes
As I write this, it's about 18 degrees outside, which doesn't exactly make me want to have an icy cold protein shake. So instead I'm having hot chocolate... healthy, protein-rich hot chocolate.
Simply mix a scoop or two of Metabolic Drive® into a cup of hot water. Add a touch of skim milk or Calorie Countdown milk, a dash of sugar-free coffee syrup, and you're ready to go.
Want extra calories for that mass phase and a super-rich flavor? Skip the water and use milk. Want to feel all cool and smug? Serve in a venti Starbucks cup and pretend you paid seven bucks for it.
2 Things to Think About
1 – What's your ideal training environment?
Some people excel when they dump the gym membership, invest in some equipment, and start training at home. Others can handle that for a week or two, then their new squat rack becomes a $1200 coat rack. Which one are you?
I've recently discovered that while I like training at home, I do better at the gym. For example, I realized that I'd been really neglecting my foam roller work for self-myofacial release. I took my old roller out of the closet and sat it right beside my desk so I'd be sure to use it... and it sat there for another week. Finally, I took it to the gym with me and got in a great therapy session.
See, I needed to be "forced" to use it. And taking it into the gym's aerobic room – away from the phone and the computer and mobs of groupies (ahem) – did the job. Now I know why some people drive to the gym and run on a treadmill instead of running around their neighborhood – they need this "forcing."
Sometimes, when things are most convenient to us (like having a bench press in the garage or a treadmill in the spare bedroom), we use it the least. But for others, this is the ideal situation. Figure out if you're a garage gym junkie or if you get better and more consistent workouts by driving to a gym. Know which environment is best for you and do most of your training there.
2 – Why do you choose certain exercises?
My gym has two calf machines, one plate-loaded seated machine and one selectorized standing machine.
Guess which one is always being used and which one is gathering dust? Yep, the seated machine is neglected like a broke guy at Scores while a line forms behind the standing machine. Why?
Two reasons. First, the seated machine is plate loaded, and most men need at least four or five 45-pounders. Sad fact is, most people are too lazy to load it up, especially when a selectorized machine is sitting next to it.
Second, not only is the seated machine plate loaded, it's twenty feet away from the weight tree. You not only have to load it yourself, you have to walk a long way carrying plates to do it.
So, exercise selection for calves, for many people, has nothing to do with soleus vs. gastrocnemius development; it has to do with one machine being easier and more convenient to use.
Sadly, a lot of folks choose their exercises based on factors like this rather than basing their movement choices on what's best for their goals. Even experienced lifters can fall into this trap. For example, the snatch grip deadlift from a box is probably the best compound movement in existence, and it's a favorite of guys like Charles Poliquin when it comes to adding unadulterated mass.
So why don't more people use it? Because it requires more set-up time than most other lifts, even the standard deadlift. I contend that the number one reason people don't deadlift is that they're wussies. Number two is lack of knowledge. But number three? They simply don't want to mess with setting up the bar! Shame, shame.
In that same vein, sitting down in the selectorized pulldown machine is easier than strapping on extra weight using a belt and grabbing the pull-up bar.
So, think about why you choose certain exercises. Are you using the rope pressdown because it's the best triceps exercise for your needs? Or are you using it because it's easier to set up than the decline skull crusher? Think about it.
Ten things for you try in the gym, prepare in the kitchen, or just ponder on your commute. Try out a few this week!