Over the past several months I have been posting some training tips on Facebook. People seem to like them and I have gotten lots of requests to condense them. To that end I will put a collection of tips together for easy reference and post them as a blog post. We’ll start at the beginning (where else would you start?) and I plan on this being a continuing series.
Tim’s Training Tips #1: Rest Periods
How long you rest in between sets is a very important variable and it will vary based on your fitness goal.
If you are training for STRENGTH, you want to have full recovery between your sets. For most people this is 2-5 minutes of rest (use the lower end for smaller muscles/easier sets, the higher end for bigger muscles/harder sets). Advanced lifters on crucial sets may want to rest 5-8 minutes between sets. The basic idea here is to allow your creatine phosphate and ATP stores to near fully recharge and not to be in oxygen debt at the start of your set. A simple tip for observing complete recovery is when breathing returns to normal.
If you are training for SIZE you want near full recovery between sets, but not full recovery to force the muscle to use additional fibers. Generally start the set about 30 seconds before you feel totally recovered. For most people this is about 1-2 minutes of rest. Don’t rest so short that you can’t continue to lift pretty heavy, however.
Note: some recent research shower better gains with longer rest and I think it is very important to still allow the client to lift heavy. For beginners and early intermediates, since they are not very strong anyway, the longer recovery helps promote going heavier. But once one has more experience, keeping the rest a little shorter than desired I believe is ideal. I do believe there is something to the idea of “getting a pump” for muscle growth and the pump tends to dissapate with very long rest times.
If you are training for multiple set ENDURANCE or conditioning, you want the rest to be quite short. For most people this is one minute or less, :30 seconds works well in most scenarios. With these workouts you will really be huffing and puffing. Expect performance on each set to be well below maximal because of the very limited rest times.
Tim’s Training Tips #2: Total Exercises for Strength
If you are training for STRENGTH, generally you want to use 4-7 resistance training exercises in each workout.
If you are using more than that, it is possible you are sacrificing quality for quantity. In addition because of the needed rest times the workout will be really long and remember the added work will tax your recovery ability.
If you are using less than that, it is possible you may not have a complete program or you may not be addressing all areas of strength development. The big exception to this guideline is if you are performing multiple training sessions per day, in which case one will likely do 1-3 exercises per session.
Exercise selection is hugely important in developing strength, so pick the most important exercises for you and focus on them. For more detail about exercise selection, see my “Which exercise is best?” series which starts here with a list of the best chest exercises for size, strength, and endurance. http://allaboutpowerlifting.com/5-best-exercises-for-chest/
Tim’s Training Tips #3. Exercise Selection for Strength
If your goal is to improve maximal strength, exercise selection is very important. Remember that strength is a specific skill, it is not a general trait. In order to make sure the strength you are building in the gym is as transferable as possible, use this litmus test. Select exercises that allow you to go as heavy as possible while simultaneously requiring a high level of skill (coordination). It is important that both of these criteria be met.
For example a leg press uses a lot of weight but it doesn’t involve much skill, it likely will not build up your strength as well as a squat.
A pistol squat standing on a bosu ball requires a good amount of skill but the weight used is too light to appreciably build maximal strength, both requirements need to be satisfied.
In general this means that barbells, dumbbells, and challenging body weight exercises should form the bulk of the program for those individuals looking to build strength.
Tim’s Training Tip #4: Exercise Selection for Size
While exercise selection is not quite as important when training for size as it is when training for strength, it is still very important. I like exercises that build size to meet the following standard. Select an exercise that allows you to use a large amount of weight combined with the most isolation on the muscle.
When training for size it is important to feel the muscle working in the exercise, particularly during isolation (single joint) exercises. It is likely that getting a pump in the muscle is helpful to promote muscle growth (and if you never get a pump in the muscle then you may have poor nervous control of it).
Barbells and dumbbells are still good options when training for size, but other implements such as the smith machine, hammer strength machines, and cables become much more viable options.
For more information on how to chooses exercises, refer to these two tnation articles. The first gives guidelines on training for size and strength: https://www.t-nation.com/training/best-exercises
The second provides an extensive list of all the common exercises with the muscles working in each exercise: https://www.t-nation.com/training/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-every-exercise
Tim’s Training Tip #5: Pre-exhaustion
In the last tip I mentioned it was important to feel a muscle working if you are training for size. Sometimes individuals have a hard time feeling specific muscles working. When this is the case it might be prudent to try pre-exhaustion.
Pre-exhaustion is when you perform an isolation or very strict exercise before a compound or less strict exercise for the same muscle group.
For example if a client wanted to feel their glutes more in a squat, you can perform hip thrusts before the squat; if they wanted to feel their chest during the bench press you could do pec flys before the bench.
To perform pre-exhaustion choose 1-2 isolation exercises and do 3-10 sets on that exercise. Heavy weight is not the goal, fatiguing the muscle is, as such don’t allow for full recovery in between sets. Then move on to your main compound exercises after that, expect that the weight you are lifting on the big exercises will be noticeably lower.
Pre-exhaustion can also be used in the following situations:
· The person is lifting so much weight you don’t feel you can safely spot them
· You only have access to limited weight (for example DB’s only go up to 70 lbs or something)
· A newbie trying to learn how to contract a certain muscle
· An individual trying to get a pump in a certain muscle
· A bodybuilder trying to ensure a certain muscle receives more work or they want to bring up a weak point
Common examples of pre-exhaustion include the following:
Chest – Pec Flys, Pec Deck, or Cable Crossover – then followed by the normal pressing exercises
Back – Straight Arm Lat Pulldown or Pullover Machine – then followed by the normal pulling exercises
Delts – Lateral or Front Raises before the Overhead/Military Press
Biceps before back or very strict bicep exercises (Preacher Curl, Incline Curl, Concentration Curl) before less strict exercises (EZ Curl, Power Curl, DB Curl)
Triceps before chest or very strict tricep exercises (Tricep Pushdowns, Skull Crushers, Kickbacks) before less strict exercises (Dips, Closegrip, Pullover Skull Crushers, DB Pullover Tri Extension).
Glutes – Hip Thrusts or Bridges before Squats, Lunges, Leg Press
Quads – Leg Extension before Squats, Lunges, Leg Press
Hamstrings – Leg Curl (any variation) or GHR’s before RDL’s, Stiff DL’s, Good Mornings
Erectors – Hypers (any variation) before Deadlifts (any variation) or Good Mornings
There is often some confusion around the use of pre-exhaustion. Whatever muscle you train first (the muscle you initially – pre – exhaust) that is the muscle that works the hardest in the subsequent exercises. It is the true the synergists make attempt to take over for the weak muscle and occasionally clients will feel those muscles, but the muscle doing the most work and receiving the most stimulus is the pre-exhausted muscle.
Because of the low weight used on the compound exercise, pre-exhaustion is generally not ideal when training for strength. It is also less effective if the client is already quite weak and can’t lift much weight on the main exercises when they are fresh.
The goal of these tips is to provide you – the trainer, the serious lifter, the fitness enthusiast, with some actionable tips that are easy to incorporate into your workout and that will make a noticeable difference in your results. I hope you find something useful in them.