There are many reasons why people do not reach their health and fitness goals. But even among those people who make the effort to train regularly, there is one big factor that is preventing them from achieving the results that they seek: the intensity of the workout. Or, more accurately, the lack of it.
If body composition or improved athletic performance are your goals, there’s absolutely no doubt that in order to reach them, you are going to have to work hard.
But that’s only one part of the solution. You also need to work smart by using a well-designed training programme that will allow you reach those goals.
Let’s look at intensity first. The usual caution always applies: when you begin a new programme, you need to start at an intensity that you can manage and only increase the intensity as you become stronger. You may also need GP clearance if you’ve any illnesses or injuries.
Here are some simple ways to make sure you’re training hard enough:
Make sure you’re working up a sweat: It’s not a very accurate indicator of intensity because on a hot day you can sweat by just standing still. However if you’re not sweating while training, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re not working hard enough.
Use the talk test: If you can hold a full-blown conversation while training, it means that your intensity and your concentration are not where they need to be.
Don’t do the same workout twice: By all means you can do the same type of workout using the same exercises, but you should be aiming for an improvement on your previous session. If you managed to squat 3 sets of 10 at a certain weight, then you should aim for at least 1 set of 11 and 2 sets of 10 on your next visit. On the session after that you’ll do at least 2 sets of 11 etc.
Keep your workout under 60 minutes: Unless you’re training for an endurance event like a triathlon or a marathon you should be gone in 60 minutes. And if you’ve trained hard enough you won’t want to do a minute more!
The following are vital ingredients of all effective weight-training programmes and will ensure that you’re also training smarter:
Choose big compound exercises: A compound exercise uses more than 1 joint. So instead of tricep kickbacks which only work the triceps, you could use chest or shoulder presses which will work, (surprisingly), the chest and shoulders, as well as the triceps. Likewise, chin-ups are a better option than bicep curls or lat pull-downs, while barbell back squats – with full range of movement (hamstring to calf/ “ass to the grass”) – are practically a full workout on their own. Variations of squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, rows and pressing movements should form the basis of all serious weight-training programmes.
Adjust your sets and reps depending on your programme goals: When fat loss is the main goal you’ll be looking at approximately 4-8 exercises with 3-6 sets of each, and anything from 8-15 reps per set. This recommendation is highly individual and depends on training experience and work capacity.
Aim for Muscle Fatigue/Failure: Beginners can aim for fatigue, where they’re tired after doing the last rep of each set, but they could do another 2 or 3 if they had to. Advanced trainees need to be looking at muscular failure on a more regular basis: when you’re lifting 10 reps, the 11th rep is not an option.
Monitor your tempo and rest periods: In order to keep your workouts consistent, you should maintain the same speed for lifting the weights, and take the same rest between sets, on each programme. If body composition is the main goal, shorter rest periods (10-60 seconds) work best, while longer rest is used when maximal strength is the target. A good starting tempo to develop control and co-ordination would be a 3 second lowering of the weights followed by a 1 second lifting phase. This can be changed depending on programme goals.
Change your programme regularly: In order to continue making progress, it’s recommended to change your workout regularly. Some athletes need a programme change every couple of workouts, while beginners would need a change approximately every 3-6 weeks, depending on how often they train and how quickly they adapt to it.
By sticking to the tips above, you will ensure that you get more “bang for your buck” from every work-out!