If you're like me in any way, you probably have about ten too many things going on in your life. Sometimes your workout gets buried in the depths of your "to do" list. Therefore, when you get to the sweaty haven of iron apparatuses, you must be efficient with your precious workout time.
I've compiled a list of five different aspects I feel are imperative for getting the most "bang for your buck" in your personal Mecca of weight training. If you incorporate these steps, you'll knock off appreciable time within your workouts while maximizing the training effect. Shorter workouts, bigger muscles: It doesn't get much better than that!
1. Perform Total Body Workouts
It's been over a year since I've performed anything less than a total body workout in the gym. If you've taken the time to suit up for the task and dragged your ass into the gym, you might as well make the most of it. Regardless of the length of time since your previous workout, you can almost always hit the same muscle group again. This is an outstanding way to increase your work capacity and training efficiency.
For example, let's say you performed a leg/ab/calf workout on Monday. It's Tuesday and you're back in the gym for your chest/back routine. After you finish your prescribed chest/back workout, add in some leg/ab/calf work with parameters that are substantially different from Monday's workout.
As a rule of thumb, if it's been less than 48 hours, you'd do well to perform high-repetition, light-load training for legs/ab/calves. This will activate different motor units that are less fatigued, and it'll act as an active recovery session that increases endurance strength. Here's an example to clarify my recommendation in order to get you started with total body training:
Load: 10RM (reps max)
Rest: 90 seconds between sets
Rest: 90 seconds between sets
Rest: 90 seconds between sets
What if it's been longer than 48 hours since your last workout? Simple, the options are endless, but the parameters must be different from the previous session. One option is to simply flip the sets and reps (e.g., 4 x 8 becomes 8 x 4 for the next workout). Another option is to cut the reps in half and double the sets. Don't be fooled by those who try to convince you that an entire session must consist of the same parameters – it ain't true!
The bottom line is that you should perform some type of training for all major muscle groups with each trip to the gym. You'll increase your work capacity and recovery, and you'll achieve quicker strength and size gains!
2. Perform Compound Exercises
Within the circles I travel, there really is no debate whether compound exercises are more efficient for strength and size increases compared to single-joint isolation exercises. Virtually every lifter who has an IQ greater than an amoeba is privy to the fact that compound exercises recruit the most muscle groups for any given body part.
If you seek strength and hypertrophy, you must choose exercises that allow for the greatest load. One of the main reasons why squats are superior to leg extensions for quadriceps development relates to the fact that the load you can expose the quadriceps to is much greater with squats. That's why close-grip bench presses (shown below) and dips will give you massive horseshoes, while triceps kickbacks will force you to wear ballet shoes.
3. Keep Your Rest Periods Short
Hopefully, the success of my programs at T-Nation has convinced trainees that the antiquated five-minute rest periods aren't necessary for strength and hypertrophy development. When you keep the rest periods under two minutes, it's easier to stay focused on the task at hand. In addition, it forces your muscles to recover more quickly between sets, along with keeping your nervous system revved up.
But the most obvious benefit of short rest periods for those who are pressed for time is, well, time! Trainees who perform most of my workouts are usually surprised by how quickly they get in and out of the gym. With shorter workouts you'll keep your natural androgen levels up while minimizing fatigue and boredom. Save your latest pick-up line for after the workout!
4. Perform Antagonist Training
Antagonist training is executed by alternating exercises that target opposing muscle groups (e.g. chest and back). If there was stock available in this type of training, I'd buy all of it. The list of benefits includes: quicker recovery, greater strength levels and shorter workout times.
Antagonist training allows you to recover more quickly between sets due to the arrangement of the nervous system. When you maximally activate a muscle group, the nervous system inhibits the opposing muscle group for greater movement efficiency. This phenomenon decreases the time necessary for recovery and it helps restore strength.
For example, when you perform a set of biceps curls, the triceps are forced to relax so they don't oppose the elbow flexing action of the biceps. This is accomplished by a "loop" within the nervous system structure (i.e. when certain motor units are activated, others are inhibited). If this action didn't occur, you wouldn't be able to move at your joints because each set of opposing muscles would be attempting to contract against each other.
This design can be used to your advantage. If you alternate exercises for opposing muscle groups, the nervous system will inhibit the muscles that aren't being worked and you'll recover your strength more quickly.
Think of antagonist training as a mini yoga session for the opposing muscle group. You'll be able to perform your chest/back cycle in less time than if you performed each body part separately. Pretty cool, huh?
5. Don't Train to Failure
Failure training (appropriately named) mandates extended rest periods. One of the most evident downfalls of training to failure is the amount of fatigue it induces. The cardiovascular demand, excessive lactic acid build-up, and nervous system fatigue caused by a single set of squats or deadlifts to failure is enough to have you hurling and trembling like Linda Blair. When you're pushing the clock, there's no time to sit around and wait for your muscles to pull themselves out of the hole you've dug for them.
In addition to longer rest periods that must be incorporated within the workout, failure training also extends your recovery time between workouts. My empirical evidence has shown this increase in recovery time to be upwards of an additional 48 hours! This is bad news for those who are interested in multiple total-body sessions throughout the week. Therefore, you shouldn't approach failure until the last rep of the last set of each exercise, if at all.
Efficiency = Productivity!
Now, take what you've learned from this article and apply it to your own program. The days of two-hour weight training sessions are soon to become extinct. Don't be afraid to get creative with these guidelines and post a reply to this article if you need my help. Efficiency leads to productivity!