With so many new and innovative fitness solutions in the industry, it’s increasingly more difficult for a person to create a cohesive workout program that they both enjoy and provides results they desire.
Frequently, I have clients who come to me claiming they have been working out consistently for months or even years, but haven’t been able to achieve the strength gains or aesthetic goals that they’ve set for themselves. I usually find that these clients have been bouncing around from one program to the next, trying anything and everything to build muscle and strength. They haven’t given any one program enough time to produce results and most of the time haven’t properly progressed their workouts. Instead, they lift really heavy one day and then lighter the next because they’re too sore or worn out to do anything else. When it comes time to lift heavy again, they do the same weight or try to pile on more without much rhyme or reason to their decision.
It may be time to take a step back, refocus, and try a more long-term approach.
Does this sound like you? It may be time to take a step back, refocus, and try a more long-term approach to reaching your goals (this means sticking to one program for at least 4 to 6 weeks).
Here are 3 tips to help you:
1. Plan your workouts and ensure they are cohesive and progressive. I could write pages on this topic, but I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible. Cohesive and progressive workouts tax the muscular and cardiovascular systems in a methodical way.
“When muscles are systematically stressed in a progressive manner, they gradually increase in size and strength.” 1
Many fitness programs today aim to get the heart rate up and provide the exerciser with a full-body strength workout, but most do not take into account individual needs or take participants through a workout or program that progresses in a manner that makes them stronger. Instead, group classes or generic programs rotate through a set of 5 to 10 routines and suggest a weight that all females/males should use.
The general rule of thumb, according to the American Council on Exercise, says that your initial resistance should be “heavy enough to fatigue the target muscles within the limits of the anaerobic energy system.” I said I’d keep it simple, so you should think of being able to complete 10 repetitions of an exercise with your initial weight, but not many more. Each time you do this exercise, use this weight until you can complete 15 repetitions with it. At this point, increase the resistance (weight) by 5 percent.
No matter what type of program you’re using (traditional split, Crossfit, HIIT, etc.) you can apply this principle. Now that you know how to increase resistance effectively, stick with the same or similar set of exercises (see tip #2) for at least 6 weeks and watch in wonder as you make strides to getting bigger and stronger muscles.
2. Break the monotony. This may seem a little counter-productive to tip number 1, but hear me out. “When a training program no longer produces gains in muscular strength or size, the exercise program should be changed in some way to again elicit the desired neuromuscular adaptations.”1 That’s a fancy way of saying that if something isn’t working anymore, change what you’re doing!
There are two ways to change. First, you can do the same exercises for several weeks, but when you start to see your strength increases declining, change it up. If you’re someone who needs change more frequently to stay interested, use a slightly different approach. Change your workouts daily, but focus on the 5 primary movements that encompass all activities of daily living (think functional movement): push, pull, bend-and-lift (squat), rotational (core), and single leg (balance). Pick at least 1 exercise from each of these categories and you’re on your way to building a great daily workout. I do suggest repeating a specific workout once per week so that you effectively and easily apply the progression principle above, but the movements can always be paired with new exercises to keep things from getting too monotonous.
Focus on the 5 primary movements that encompass all activities of daily living.
3. Track your workouts including the exercises, reps, and resistance to ensure you can do both of the above effectively. I don’t know anyone who can remember every exercise they did in each workout, especially if you’re working out several times a week. A complete workout log will help ensure you’re progressing your resistance and choosing exercises in a way to get results.
Of course, a great strength training program requires a few other things than just those listed above, but if you’re finding that your current routine isn’t working, try incorporating these tips to create a more systematic approach to reaching your goals. Better yet, work with a personal trainer who can help you develop a program that’s right for your specific body and goals.
References: 1. ACE Personal Trainer Manual, chapter 10: Resistance Training: Programming and Progressions
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