We are always looking for tips, tricks, and ideas to give us an edge and also improve our training in the gym. For this article we are going to cover three points that can help change your workouts but also improve the effectiveness of your time spent in the gym. The three areas we will address today deal with periodization regarding your reps, workouts, and programming. These three factors are keys to success. We all cannot grow in the same rep range, and we have to use different rep schemes to activate both Type I and Type II Muscle fibers to optimize the amount of muscle stimulated. Programming and workout wise we can arrange our split to help bring up weak points and also torture small lagging bodyparts to help them grow. Alright, let’s get to the beef of the article and what we can do to help your training to another level.
I am going to take about three different rep schemes we can use to help us break a small plateau. In common workout programs the scheme 5×5 is commonly used which stands for 5 sets of 5 reps. Someone utilized a 5×5 scheme will choose an exercise and aim to hit 5 reps for 5 sets with a given weight. Now here is a small twist we will give to this scheme:
Example: We are running a madcow 5 x 5 program (madcow is a very popular 5×5 setup). Instead this week we will do what we call a count-back or trace-back on our reps instead of the 5×5 we will aim for a 5,4,3,2,1 scheme. Therefore we will try to progressively overload the bar on each rep as we dwindle down in reps. This is a tactic of progressive overload which I would demonstrate on individuals over 4-8 week blocks to see if they have improved on their strength. For instance say an individual hits 225 x 5 on a bench press for 5 sets. Then, I will have them do the 5,4,3,2,1 rep scheme and they end up hitting 275 x 1 for the last set. In 8 weeks, if they do the same thing each week there should be progress. Ideally they should be looking to hit at least 285-295 or so for that single rep.
The 5×5 Rep Twist
A common method similar to this would be doing the reverse, instead of going from 5 to 1, you would reverse it from 1 to 5. While it sounds strange its also called a reverse pyramid scheme. You would go heavy for set 1 of 1 rep, and then get lighten the weights as the reps get higher. However, as you lower the weights they will still seem very heavy and get harder as the time does go on. Just think about a dropset for a second even when you are stripping weight is it harder or easier? For the most case harder because the muscle is fatigued and the pump is taking over which is a mental barrier for many. This shows that we can utilize two different rep schemes to help generate growth.
5×5 and Myo-Reps
Last thing to address is taking a 5 x 5 set and adding on a short intensity technique I like to call a myo-rep, which is pretty famous. Its basically a twist off Dante’s (The creator of DC or Dogg Crapp training) rest-pause set where you are going to continue to break down the muscle even after getting close to failure on every set (but never reaching failure). So lets say we hit 225 x 5 on a bench, wait 15 seconds bang out 1-2 more reps, wait 15 seconds, bang out 1-2 more reps, and then try again but come close to failure. This is when we would stop (not reaching failure) it’s a short intensity technique to keep constant tension on the muscle, keep the rest periods low, and also stimulate the muscle to a different degree keeping it Type I Dominant in the lower rep range.
Modifying Your Workout
Now while the ideas about training are great how can we modify our workouts? Well we usually have a basic plan of attack when we approach the gym. You go in the gym and think about doing something different than usual. Maybe you read a cool looking workout online, are training with a friend and go off what he is doing, or you are starting a new program with a trainer and feel like giving it a twist. This is what I like to call “Instinctive Training” . This is where you go into the gym and plan on doing a back workout you’ve laid out. However, once you get in there you feel like doing DB Rows and you start off by cranking them out. Then, proceed to continue to hit your lower back with Rack Deads, and continue a string of exercises, reps, schemes and finish your workout based off what you felt like doing. Some may find this works great but others are better off using a program and trying to beat the progress/log book with progressive overload. It all comes down to knowing your body and what works best for you!
Along the lines of instinctive training you will take that to another degree by challenging yourself to overcome some barriers/obstacles. Take for example you warm up with the DB Rows, perform 2-3 more exercises, and then finish your workout with deadlifts. Deadlifts being a major compound exercise (and can be grueling) you figure ok lets find a weight I can hit for 20 reps. The goal is to not leave the gym until you’ve completed all 20 reps. A small challenge like this can really turn up the intensity and take your workout to another level by throwing in small twists and turns. Instead of doing straight sets for an exercise throw in a myo-rep, a rest pause, or a drop set to turn up the intensity and get your muscles engaged to pre-exhaust them for the upcoming sets/reps.
Now what can we do with our programming or periodization to take our training to another level? First, look at your training and then try and find a weakspot.
Example:You run a basic M-F Split of each bodypart. Try to combine some of those workouts and allow a second day for a bodypart you feel could use more work. Lets say you want to bring up your legs, so instead of doing them one time a week we will hit them two times a week. So instead of doing just arms, throw arms in with a bodypart like chest or back and then allow for a second leg day. You could also breakup that arm day and have a few exercises tagged on the end of your second leg day. You can also break up your triceps or biceps with another day (Chest with triceps or back with biceps) to help lessen the load but also get that second day in there for extra programming.
Once you get a good grip on how much weight you can do per lift, you can start to use %’s in your workout and help include extra periodization (which will help prevent burnout and CNS overcompensation).
Example: You can hit that 225 x 5 on bench press but the 5th rep is a grinder. Over the span of 4 weeks you will build up to that (week 1 do 70%, week 2 80%, week 3 90%, and week 4 that 100% effort). In the next 4 weeks we will try to build that bench to hitting 235 or 240 for 5 reps to see if we have added weight to the bar and gained strength. This would be a good thing to utilize on your complex lifts to help dictate strength gains or loss depending on your goal (especially for those in contest prep and wanting to preserve every bit of strength they do have left). Once you meet that standard (225 x 5 as our example) lets try to build on that and continue to make progress.
Nutrition Fuels Your Progress
Last but not least one of my key points with periodization is making it suit the individual and trusting in themselves. I can look in the mirror and tell which bodypart I need to improve. Therefore I always try to adjust my nutrition to provide extra calories on that day or days during the week to help fuel those workouts. I do this by increasing my carbs in a refeed or taking a cheat meal after a workout of a body part that lags. I have found this to help me get a little extra calories and spur a little extra growth with my programming. I also find it beneficial to the individual who may be training because it’s a sense of reward for their hard work. Even if we feel satisfied there is always something to be done, so you have to stay hungry and keep your eye on the prize and future progress.
Take these tips and bring them into your training, try to modify some exercises, reps, programming, and see how it does treat you. The only thing you can do is take 4-8 weeks of something and reassess and see what it did for you. Then, continue to build off what your body told you and what the progress in the log book showed. Sometimes you will strike gold, and sometimes you wont get much success with things you do. That’s the human nature of the body it is always learning and always changing. You will have to keep finding things that suit you and your goals.
What things give you the best gains? What things don’t respond well on your body? What rep ranges help this bodypart grow the best? What exercises do I feel working the most? All of these have to be taken into consideration and applied to the future for success.