Are Your Workouts Productive?
In the context of weight training, the word "productive" means
getting results through improved speed, power, strength, and size
with little to no waste of time and energy. Sadly, that
isnot what happens in most gyms. There are plenty of reasons
you may not be getting the results you want. At the top of the list
is nonproductive gym time.
Think about the worst gym you've ever been in. Now remember
all those roadblocks that created an unproductive training
environment. Maybe it was the 100-pound newbies wearing extra small
T-shirts to make themselves look bigger. Or maybe you had to walk
by the swimming pool where hordes of women "with thyroid problems"
Whatever the case may be, the minute something distracts you
from your end goal of a balls-to-the-walls training session, you
need to seriously reconsider how productive you are in the gym.
Want to see real training productivity? Look at bodybuilders.
Their entire day is planned on being productive in the gym. They
ensure that they get enough sleep, their training is uninterrupted,
and the rest of their day is primed for muscle growth. I'm
pretty sure their only unproductive times are when they adjust
their fanny packs and put on the MC Hammer pants.
You can't touch this. And really, why would you want
Think about this for a second. A recent Fortune 500 survey of CEOs making $100 million a year showed that the average
productive time they get in a day is thirty minutes. Thirty
freakin' minutes a day and they're making $100 million. How
much money would they have made if they got forty productive
minutes a day?
Now think about your own physique goals. What would happen if
you were able to maximize forty-five minutes a day of training? Do
you think you'd have the body you want?
Here are nine tips to help you cut the crap and get
The 9 Keys to Productive Training
1) Realize that your time and results are related
This mindset begins from the minute you walk into the gym until
the minute you finish your post-workout drink. People are time
vampires; they're looking to suck the effort out of your session.
Even if this isn't 100% true, you should avoid everyone in the
gym like you avoid a Richard Simmons bend'-n-push aerobics
Putting a high priority on your time also prevents you from
making the mistake of "paralysis by analysis." You know, that's
where you sit there and start to question how you've been
training or wondering how the guy next to you got those arms by
doing concentration curls.
This way each set matters; each rep is the difference between a
beach body and looking like a weenie. Knowing that you have "X"
amount of minutes to get things done gives you a laser-like focus
to make the most out of the time you have.
2) Have a game plan
I bet the most time efficient training sessions you've had
were the ones where you just walked in and knew ahead of time what
you had to get done. You went right in and accomplished what you
had planned and got out, no questions asked.
This also prevents those awkward times where you're just
standing around trying to figure out if you should do another set
or if you should try that funky exercise you just saw in a
magazine. When most people are left alone in the gym, bad things
happen. How else can you explain people doing BOSU push-ups? Must
be how he got those huge arms, right?
Don't become a gym wanderer, a hopeless lost soul with no
game plan. When in doubt, following this list will put you on the
Lower Body Size
Upper Body Size
Dumbbell Flat Chest Press
Flat Barbell Chest Press
Weighted Neutral Grip Pull-ups
3) Have alternative exercises already planned out
There's nothing worse than heading to the power rack for some
serious squats and finding someone in there curling 65 pounds.
Lucky for you, this nonsense was anticipated and plan B takes
little to no thought to put into motion.
Here are a few acceptable substitutions when those unexpected
nuisances show up. If your main choice isn't doable, go to number
two on the list, then number three if you have to, etc.
First Choice: Barbell Deadlift
Option #1: Dumbbell Deadlift
Option #2: Single Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
Option #3: Single Arm Dumbbell Suitcase Deadlift
First Choice: Weighted Chin-up
Option #1: Underhand Bent Over Barbell Row
Option #2: Underhand Dumbbell Row
Option #3: T-bar row
First Choice: Barbell Back Squat
Option #1: Dumbbell Squat
Option #2: Single Leg Dumbbell Squat
Option #3: Dumbbell Step-ups
First Choice: Dumbbell Flat Bench Press
Option #1: Barbell Flat Bench Press
Option #2: Dumbbell Floor Press
Option #3: Push-ups
4) Don't overdo the warm-ups
I'm all for foam rolling and the mobility stuff, but
we've overreacted to it for a while now. Scary, but I almost
agree with the steadfast "five minute treadmill" warm-up rule since
it almost guarantees that we'll focus on what we have to do,
then get right to training.
I haven't seen it often, but when people foam roll and do
dynamic warm-ups, they almost enjoy doing it to the point that
their warm-ups last a good ten to fifteen minutes, seriously
reducing their available training time. I don't know about
you, but I for one don't enjoy being poked and stabbed with a
thick, hard object for too long.
We're not professional athletes and we don't have an
hour and fifteen minutes to train every single day, so our warm-up
has to be short and effective. Plus, it really isn't the
smartest thing to beat up tissue like that then decide to go and
Restricting your warm-up leaves time available for you to do
something that you currently can't fit in. You can have five
minutes at the end of the session to do extra direct arm or abs
work. If you're feeling particularly crazy you can do extra
static stretching or rotator cuff work.
5) Use short intra-set pauses and minimize your rest between
This is another new frontier in the strength industry that has
yet to be explored, but from a productivity standpoint it makes
perfect sense. Using short intra-set pauses of ten seconds
accomplishes many things and we'd be smart to begin to take
advantage of them.
Basically, we train with a heavier weight than normal, but every
one to three reps we pause for 10 seconds then begin again. For
example, person A and person B both bench press 300 pounds for
their 1RM. Person A loads the bar up with 70% since that will allow
him to successfully hit his 10RM for 3 sets. Person B loads the bar
with 80% with a 3-5 RM weight for 2 sets of 10. Person A hits all
ten reps while person B hits 3-5 reps, pauses for 10 seconds, then
continues until he hits 10 reps.
|Total: 810 pounds
Big difference, right? When using these mini-rests, we can train
with an overall heavier load. The ten-second pause allows us to
refill our creatine stores and increase fast twitch muscle fiber
recruitment. It also decreases our need for prolonged post-set
rest. Overall result? A more productive workout.
6) Do "rehab stuff" during rest periods toward the end of the
We've already established that you need to have a high
value on your time spent training, so we need to use every resource
possible. I'm all for respecting the rest intervals, but
toward the end of the session, after you're fatigued, you
should strongly consider adding in the rehab work you so
People tell me they don't do rehab or stretching work
because they either don't have time or are in a rush to leave
the gym and get home. Okay, I'll bite, but you're screwed
with this next thought. It makes no sense to sit on your arse and
do nothing at the end of your session when the majority of your
work is done.
Time is better spent at the end focusing on specific areas that
need it, like ankle mobility, glute bridging, glute clams, low back
stability, and scapular stabilization. It's not going to
fatigue you and it'll make you healthier in the long run. Doing it
at this time also saves you from having to do it at home when
you'd rather be sleeping.
Plan your activation work accordingly so that it improves your
performance instead of hindering it. This is an example of how to
properly plan a lower body day using active rest
Glute Bridging, 2 x 12
Toy Soldiers, 2 x 12
Pullbacks, 2 x 12
Adductor Foam Rolling
TFL Foam Rolling
A1) Barbell Front Squats, 5 x 3-5 reps
Rest: 1 minute
B1) Rack Pulls, 3 x 6-8 reps
B2) Dumbbell Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats, 3 x
Active Rest: Clams, 12 reps each side
C1) Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls, 3 x 8
C2) Reverse Crunches, 3 x 8
Active Rest: Ankle Self-Mobilization, 12 reps each
7) Supplement smarter during training
It's amazing how much intra-workout supplementation is
ignored by most people whose homes look like the local supplement
shop. If you're not using during-workout supplementation then
you're severely hampering your physique dreams. Sipping on a
cocktail between sets has numerous benefits:
Increased fat burning
Decreased muscle breakdown
The drink I typically recommend to my clients is a simple mix of
Biotest's German creatine, and BCAAs.
If you haven't been living under a rock, then you know the
numerous benefits of creatine, such as increased muscle size and
strength. If you look deeper into the research, you'll see
that it has some great intra-workout advantages as well.
Creatine recycles ATP (our force producing energy) to allow us
to sustain high intensity contractions. Secondly, it reduces lactic
acid's negative effects on muscular contraction. Lastly,
creatine will increase inter-cellular hydration, which is important
because increased cell water "turns on" our anabolic signals.
Beta-alanine may quite possibly be the biggest supplement to hit
the market since creatine. If we're to grow we have to continually
train our fast-twitch muscle fibers. Beta-alanine is primarily
found in fast-twitch muscle fibers and has been shown in research
studies to significantly delay fatigue. Check out the T-Nation
interview with Dr. Jeff Stout for more info.
The last during-workout supplement I use is BCAA tablets. The advantage
of using BCAA tablets over a powder is that the pills force you to
continually ingest them as you train, rather than trying to finish
them all at the end.
I recommend 1.5 grams of BCAA per 25 pounds of lean body mass.
That means I have my typical clients take eight Biotest BCAA tabs
during the course of their workouts.
8) Limit access to you
Our time is limited, and if we don't use it right
we'll be puny forever. People will interrupt us every second
of the day to complain about something or to say, "Yo dude, my pecs
are swollen. I did 225, like, eight times." It's a pain in the
ass and you shouldn't have to hear it.
You almost have to be ruthless with your personality. Put the
i-Pod on, skip the Donny Osmond, and listen to break-stuff music
while focusing on training. Put up the figurative "Beware Of Dog"
sign. Others will notice it and stay far, far away.
9) When in doubt, do less
When is a workout productive? When you get a certain number of
sets in or when you've accomplished a predetermined goal? I lean
more toward the second option, but for a great majority of people,
the line is blurred.
Most trainers have a hard time differentiating between actually
doing enough and feeling like they've done the right amount of
work. This is the meaning of the term "cybernetic programming" –
instinctive training that's programmed into a long-term plan. More
or less, trust your instincts. If you feel like you've done
all you should do, then get out.
It's also the difference between recovery and overtraining
– the right amount of strain and too much stress. Basically,
it's the reason why "finisher" movements like the pec deck
even exist. There's an inherent need to do more to "feel" like
you've done enough.
Yeah, like doing a few more sets will give you anything that the
first few didn't. It's a crap idea and will just further
fatigue you to the point of incomplete recovery. If you really have
to question if another set will help, then chances are it
Put these nine keys to work and ramp up your gym productivity!