Your progress in the gym has crapped out. You're working hard but not getting closer to your goals. What do you do? Instead of looking for the latest trendy or complex workout plan, do the opposite. Simplify. Here are the six laws you need to follow to get back on track.
Unless you've already built up serious levels of strength or have physique specific training goals, doing tons of isolation work is a poor use of training time. Isolation work is important for muscle growth, but first make sure you can squat more than 225 before you do leg extensions to "hammer the VMO, bro!" Picking the right exercises is key to getting results. Biceps curls and hamstring curls aren't bad, but they shouldn't make up the majority of your program.
Focus instead on the 6 major movement patterns:
- Hinge: Deadlift, good morning, kettlebell swing, snatch and clean variations
- Lunge: Lunge, split squat, step-back lunge, Bulgarian split squat
- Push: Bench press, push-up, overhead press, jerk, one-arm press
- Pull: Pull-up, bent-over row, seated row, one-arm row
- Squat: Front squat, goblet squat, Zercher squat, back squat
- Carry: Farmer walk, single-arm carry, overhead carry
Analyze your program and ask yourself if these movement patterns are covered. If not, cut out the superfluous exercises and get these into your workout plan.
To maximize your gains in performance, strength, and muscle, exercise order should be based on the demands of the nervous system. That means advanced methods like sprints, plyometrics, and heavy compound lifts should be done first, and definitely not after your cardio or conditioning work.
Exercises that require explosive action and synchronization of movement like sprints and cleans are driven primarily by the nervous system and are more sensitive to technical changes. With insufficient recovery, performance decreases and injury risk increases. Thus it's important to train movements that are the most sensitive to fatigue early in the workout. To maximize performance, do complex and explosive exercises first, then work your way towards hypertrophy and conditioning work later on.
How to order exercises based on nervous system demands:
- Dynamic Movements: Jumps, throws, and sprints if training for speed
- Explosive/Power: Power clean, snatch
- Compound Strength: Squat, deadlift, press, pull
- Compound, Higher Rep, Hypertrophy: Squat, deadlift, press, pull
- Isolation Work: Curl, calf raise, leg extension
You know those dudes in the corner doing curls on that goofy half-ball thing? Yeah, don't do that. "New" doesn't necessarily mean effective. A good rule of thumb: If the training implement wasn't around thirty years ago, then it's not worth your time.
There are a few exceptions, but when it comes down to it, exercises and tools that have withstood the test of time should make up the majority of training. There's a reason barbell and dumbbell exercises have been around for 100+ years – they work. Squats, deadlifts, cleans, push-ups, and lunges, etc., should be the primary exercises used in your programs. Keep it hard and simple.
Tracking weight, setting personal records, and adding weight to the bar are essential to building strength and muscle. Still, we forget the basics, like the quality of each rep.
Your goals dictate the number of reps, the speed, and the weight on the bar, but your focus should never change. Hone in on the best technical mastery of each rep, rather than each set. Would you rather have five pounds of microwave pizza or three pounds of authentic pizza made by an Italian chef? Quality is more important than quantity, in pizza and lifting.
Try to mentally break your sets of 5 reps into 5 sets of 1 rep. It's much easier to focus on rep execution when you only need 1 rep. In other words, focus on each individual rep, independent of the set. By focusing on the rep execution you become more in-tune with technique, recruit more muscle, reduce injuries, and get more plates on the bar.
Many lifters pick workout plans that exceed their capabilities for consistent training and wind up with unbalanced programs. Choosing a five-day-per-week body-part split might be perfect, but missing a day or two every week throws the entire program out of whack. You might end up with nine or ten days between leg workouts for example. Not optimal. When this happens, we leave huge performance gaps that cause plateaus down the road, imbalances that lead to injury, and shoddy training overall.
Your workout plan must match your ability to consistently complete full training cycles. That's why total-body training splits are a good idea for many people. Even if you miss a day, you're still hitting major muscle groups and movements two or three days per week.
Focus. You can't approach the rack swiping for babes on Tinder and simultaneously be engaged with your training. Ever notice how the guys training like caged animals (even when form sucks) have good physiques and move a significant amount of weight? That's intensity and determination at work.
Close your eyes, imagine yourself crushing the weight, and then do it. Don't worry about tempo, number of sets, and what Tabata hip-thrusting routine is best for you. Just focus on each rep, each set, and each workout with intensity. Combine your knowledge and technique with intense focus and you'll maximize your training. The babes can wait an hour.