It’s Monday, so it must be chest day…5 sets of bench press, 3 sets of dumbbell flies, 2 sets of dips and a couple of sets of press ups to finish the workout – same workout as last week, and the week before, using the same weights you always use and the same rep scheme. Or is it cardio day? Run 3 miles in 30 minutes, just like last week and the week before. Or is it Body Pump class today? Same work out as always, same weights, same exercises, same duration? Maybe you don’t even know what you did in last week’s workouts? Do you go to the gym and do whatever your training partner suggests or just do what you feel like doing?
If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you you’re not alone. Look around the majority of gyms and health clubs and you’ll see vast numbers of people doing the same training, week in and week out. When they look in the mirror they see the same old reflexion staring right back them…their physiques or figures haven’t changed in ages, their fitness improvements have stalled and they have the same strength today as they did this time last year.
There is an old saying in exercise – “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”.
When they started their current workout routine what they were doing will have worked. It provided overload and sufficient training stimulus to force their bodies to adapt, to change, to improve. The thing is the human body is lazy! Once it can comfortably perform the activities it is being asked to do, it ceases making adaptations and we stop getting the benefits we seek from exercise. If we don’t try to progress our workouts, the very most we can expect is to maintain our current physical condition and the worse case scenario is that we actually lose fitness as our body becomes ultra-efficient at the exercises we perform which in turn lowers the training effect of our training sessions. It takes the body 3-6 weeks to adapt to a stressor like exercise. After that, it takes a new stressor to keep the body adapting and improving.
People stay with the same exercise regime for a number of reasons – partly physical and partly psychological. Examine this list and see if any of the points relate to you and your current workout situation:-
- You’re good at all the exercises and don’t want to be seen doing things you aren’t good at
- The programme you are on was written by an expert so it must work.
- Your current programme worked initially so it will work again if you stick with it long enough
- You only know a handful of exercises and have limited knowledge of programme design
- You are comfortable with your routine and are reluctant to change it
Whatever your reason for not changing your routine I can’t stress enough that unless you do something different from time to time you are doomed to little or no progress!!! You are literally wasting your time in the gym! So if you want to get fitter, faster, stronger or leaner we have to force our bodies to adapt and improve – and that means we have to shake up our workouts on a regular basis.
I’m often asked “does it (exercise) ever get any easier?” The answer is a resounding “NO!” To see progress in our fitness levels, there needs to be a consistent trend of increased workload/work rate. Exercise isn’t easier the fitter we get – we just develop a greater work capacity.
In the rest of this article, I want to tell you about the “training variables” you can use to keep your workouts fresh, interesting and above all productive and discuss the importance of record keeping to keep us on the road to improved performance and appearance. So, grab your shovel because we have a rut to dig our selves out of!
Progression – the key to long term progress.
Making progress in our workouts requires the manipulation of the “training variables” – the characteristics of our workouts. By making changes to one or more of the training variables on a regular basis we can keep making steady progress towards our genetic potential for physical fitness. Let’s look at each of the training variables in turn:-
Resistance Training Variables – things we can change about the way we train with weights.
- Number of exercises per muscle group – can be increased or decreased
- Number of sets per exercise and per workout – can be increased or decreased
- Target repetition range – higher reps/low weight = more muscular endurance specific, lower reps/greater weight = more strength specific
- Loading – increasing the weight used for each exercise to develop greater strength
- Recovery period between sets – can be lowered to increase workout density (more sets possible per workout) or to challenge recovery ability
- Workout frequency – train more often
- Workout duration – train for longer
- Movement speed – can be increased to promote power development or decreased to extend the duration of a given exercise (referred to as Time Under Tension or TUT)
- Different exercises – e.g. trading barbell bench press with dumbbell bench press
- Stable based exercises to unstable – e.g. from machine based exercises to free weight exercises to challenge co-ordination and balance
- Simple exercises to more complex ones – e.g. from single joint exercises to multi joint exercises
- Exercise order – change the order of exercises performed in the session and training week
- Training systems – employ drop sets, super sets, forced reps, pre/post exhaust etc
- Split routines – split body parts up differently on a regular basis e.g. legs on Monday and not chest!
Changing any one of the above variables will result in a new stimulus which our bodies will have to adapt to resulting in improvements in fitness. With so many variables to choose from some restraint needs to be exercised so as not to change too much at the same time. Rather than randomly shake our workouts up, we want to employ a couple of the exercise variables for a period of 3-6 weeks and then, once we have adapted to the new stresses of our modified work out, make use of a couple more of the variables thereafter. For example, for 3 weeks focus on increasing the amount of weight used in each exercise, then for a further 3 weeks try to perform more reps with the weight constant, and then reduce the rest intervals gradually over the next 3 weeks and so on. By making small but significant changes on a regular basis we guarantee continued improvements in our fitness levels – up to our genetic potential.
In part 2 of this series, we’ll examine the training variables we can apply to cardiovascular exercise…