No training programme should ever be the same. To make progress you can’t just do the same thing over and over again. It doesn’t matter what regime or type of exercise you’re doing, if you’re trying to improve or see change, you need to mix up your training programme over time.
If you were to train for a 10k run and just did the same run at the same speed until the race, would you actually end up fitter, stronger or with more endurance? Yes, you may feel more able to do the run at the end of the race, compared to the beginning of your training. However, this doesn’t mean you have truly challenged yourself and used your time efficiently.
My recommendations for training for a 10k training would incorporate different types of runs, at different speed and distances. This will challenge your body and make you a much more rounded runner. A good, varied regime for a distance run should incorporate hill sprints, interval running, short, fast runs, long runs, running technique sessions and resistance training in the gym.
This same applies to weight/resistance training in the gym. Let’s say you have a typical three-day programme, training three times per week with the following split:
Day 1: Legs
Day 2: Chest and arms
Day 3: Back and shoulders
Firstly, I’d always recommend writing down your programme so you know what to do and, when coming back to the programme, what you’ve already accomplished. This will help you track your progress, which is essential. A good rule of thumb is to do the same programme three to six times before changing it. If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend doing the programme for longer, perhaps five to six times, as this will give you time to nail the exercises. The more advanced and experienced you are with resistance training the more regularly you can mix it up.
You must give yourself time to master and learn the exercises correctly. If you are changing your programme too frequently or don’t have a plan at all, you will be limiting your potential progress. Consistency and discipline is key to hitting your goals. You need progressive overload – gradual increases in volume, intensity, frequency or time – in order to achieve your target.
Now, when it comes to changing your programme, there are many ways this can be achieved without changing the exercises or even the order in which you do them. You can simply mark the difference in other ways, for example, through changing the amount of reps and sets you are doing.
Let’s say you’ve been on a hypertrophy (muscle growth) programme: 6-12 reps of a moderate weight for few weeks. Regarding squats, for example, you may be doing four sets of 10 reps with 90 seconds rest. If your goal is to increase muscle mass and strength, to change this up, you could make it more of a strength programme by increasing the sets and time of rest but reducing the reps, e.g. making it five sets of five reps with three minutes rest. This format will allow you to lift heavier by having more time to recover and decreasing your reps; which is a perfect way to get stronger. Adapting your programme to focus on strength will challenge your muscles in a different way and create new muscle adaptations.
Another way of changing this exercise set but remaining within the hypertrophy rep range would be to change the tempo of the squats. Slowing down on the eccentric movement by going lower on your squat, or even adding a pause at the bottom of the squat, will entirely change the stress of the exercise without changing the reps, sets, rest or weight of your programme.
If you’re looking to change your programme, here are a few key options to consider:
- Rep range: 1-5 for strength, 6-12 for hypertrophy, 12+ for endurance
- Amounts of sets: adding more sets of certain exercise will allow you to really focus on a few exercises in each workout. You can then become a master at the movement and really perfect your technique.
- Increased rest period: this will allow your muscles to recover more fully and you will then be able to lift heavier. However, do not rest for any longer than 4-5 minutes as your muscle may get cold, which increases risk of injury.
- Decreased rest period: this is a great way to improve your lactic acid tolerance and may increase hormone growth. Having less rest time means your body has to improve how it deals with accumulating lactic acid. Research has demonstrated that having shorter rest periods may also increase human growth hormone levels, in turn, helping improve muscle mass.
- Tempo: the speed you do each rep, for example, 3110 is 3 seconds eccentric, 1 sec pause, 1 sec concentric and 0 secs at start point. 2011 is 2 seconds eccentric, 0 sec pause, 1 sec concentric and 1 secs at start point. Mixing up the tempo of an exercise will challenge your muscles in different ways. More precisely, you are changing how you use your time under tension (how long a muscle is under strain during a set). The longer your muscles are under strain, the higher the chance of muscle breakdown, which, in turn, causes your body to repair muscles and make them bigger and stronger.
- Pause sets: another way of changing your time under tension. The longer you hold an exercise in the position where muscles are contracted, the more it adds strain to the muscles, leading to muscle growth.
- 1 & 1/4 reps: add time to an exercise by adding a 1/4 rep when your muscles are under most tension. For example, the bottom of a squat or top of a pull up.
- Supersets: this is when you do two exercises in a row with minimal rest (max 30. seconds) then take a longer rest at the end of both exercises. The biggest advantage of pairing exercises is to save time and gain efficiency in your workout. They allow you to complete the same amount of exercises in a shorter period of time. Another benefit is that it increases the intensity of stress and fatigue on the muscles, which creates muscle growth and in turn increases muscle mass.
- Tri sets: completing three different exercises one after the other in a single set.
- Giant sets: completing four or more exercises after the other in a single set.
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