When I first started going to the gym, I wasn’t following any particular exercise program. I was, like many others, lost in the sea of gym equipments without a specific plan as to which machine to go on first and which exercises I wanted to do. All I knew was I needed to work the parts of my body where I wanted to see more muscle or lose fat (at least, that’s what I thought I was doing). Looking back now and having an understanding of some basic strength training principles, I realized that I was wasting precious hours at the gym in exchange for minimal improvements to my body and my health.
What I’m about to tell you have saved me a lot of time and has brought me tremendous results. I can almost kick myself for not knowing these principles soon enough.
The first thing to consider when you want to get the most of your workouts is consistency. Consistency refers to time and number of times you go to the gym and which exercises you perform during those days. For example, I go to the gym three times a week at the same time of each day. In my case, this would be Sunday mornings and; Tuesday and Thursday afternoons after work. But, I also have to do the same exercises consistently for a certain amount of time (more on this under variety). In short, you have to make it a part of your routine just like going to work, sleeping, and eating are automatic for you. The more consistently you go to the gym the better results you will get.
To find out if you’re going to the gym consistently, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I going to the gym 3 days a week (or how ever many times you want/need to go. But, 3 days is a pretty good number to start with), every week?
- Am I doing the same exercises each day on the same days?
- Am I going to the gym on the same time of each day? (This may not be as important as the first two questions but pick times that you can actually commit to)
Did you ever wonder why you don’t get sore anymore after a workout? Maybe, you’re also wondering why, after doing an exercises such as squats for the first time, you are so sore that you can’t even walk?
The second key concept that I apply to get the most out of my gym workouts is variety. Variety, in this sense, refers to how often you change your workouts. For instance, I pick a Turbulence Training workout for four weeks and then switch to another one. Following this particular program for a month gives me the chance to give my muscles enough stimulation to grow and develop strength without giving it the chance to adapt to the changes that I am performing. After 4 weeks of doing the same exercises repeatedly, my muscles will get used to these exercises to the point that it will not get stronger anymore unless I change my exercise routine in some way such as increase the number of repetitions,increase the amount of weight I’m lifting, etc.
To better understand this concept, think about drinking alcohol. When I started to drink alcoholic beverages for the first time, I remember feeling tipsy after the first drink. But, if I was to drink a lot of alcohol every weekend on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (which, by the way, I don’t advice you to do), I would have to increase my alcohol intake each time that I drink in order to achieve the same effects as one drink would have. In other words, my system gets used to the alcohol that it gets more efficient at getting rid of it. The same thing happens to muscle, if you used a 5-pound dumbbell for your bicep curls week after week, you biceps get used to that weight to the point that it would not get bigger or stronger. This happens because it doesn’t need the extra energy that a bigger muscle can produce.
During a four-week exercise or workout program, I also try to increase the weights that I lift in some exercises. For example, if I usually lift 20 lb. dumbbells for my bench presses, I will increase this by 5 lbs. to lift 25 lb dumbbells in each hand. But, I also leave the weight in all my other exercises the same. In other words, I am trying to lift heavier weights for one or two exercises compared to the previous week without going overboard. This goes without saying that, you should listen to your body during each workout session. If you can lift something while making sure that you have proper form and still exerting a good amount of effort, you are on the right track.
Consistency and variety are very important features of any workout program. Applying these two concepts will not only get you to your goals faster, it will also give you better results. As for me, I don’t design my workout programs because it’s just too complicated for me. I now rely on Craig Ballantyne’s (CB) Turbulence Training workouts. This takes all the guesswork out of the picking the right program for me. All I do is determine if I want to lose fat or build muscle. I pick one workout program out of CB’s many pre-designed workouts and I stick with it for four weeks. This process has worked for me for four months and I am in the best shape of my life. It’s like having a personal trainer without having to pay the expensive fees of having one!