5 Tips to Train Smarter
– By Bob Kupnieski
I have noticed a few things while working out the last few weeks that show why people are not progressing in the gym. There will always be those select few who come into the gym and train to failure every single workout, try to push a certain number of reps or certain amount of weight on a particular exercise and day in and day out continue to fail and not succeed in what they are shooting for. Then there are those individuals who come into the gym and perform the same routine over and over again and yet see no physical change or any change in the amount of weight or the number of reps they are performing in their routine. So what gives? There are a few things that could be changed in their training to help give them better results while training smarter at the same time. How is this possible? I will give you 5 tips I have found to be very effective not only for myself but many trainees when implemented into their program to help push over a small plateau.
1. The first and foremost thing nearly all trainees have never heard of or implement is a “Deload” or time off from the gym. Now while those two are separate things there are too many benefits to recognize from what a deload can do (Nearly 50-60% of normal weights you use or cutting volume for a week) or multiple days off from the gym. Now as you read that, you may think this is counter-productive to your overall goal, but in reality its not. Most people who do take deloads or time off see better and longer consistent gains, have less injuries, and they also ENJOY their time in the gym because they know that taking time off gives them more motivation to come back even harder and slam the weights and set new personal records. Deloads help the body restore/refresh after prolonged periods of hard lifting and giving it a break just like we all need a mental break when we get very stressed in life and come back feeling refreshed and feeling better. Same could be said for prolonged periods of time we get inadequate sleep….what do we do? Take naps or sleep a lot longer some nights and wake up feeling like gold. I would suggest taking a deload every 6-12 weeks of your training, depending on your training (Strong man, normal training, bodybuilding training etc etc.) you may need to take dealods more often considering if you are training for a powerlifting meet and constantly straining your CNS (Central Nervous System) with multiple 1 Rep Maximum’s on your complex lifts. In the end, give it a shot. It sounds ridiculous but I can guarantee you will see better progression, more enjoyable time in the gym, and less injuries.
2. Another smart tip varying your rest times between sets and exercises. You will tend to notice some individuals who train with little to no rest periods, and then there are those who train with 2-3 and sometimes up to 5 minute rest periods between major heavy lifts. So which one is more optimal and which ones should you implement? Lets look at what shorter rest periods may result in. You can always bounce from exercise to exercise and look like a cardio bunny running around the gym, but does it have a benefit? It may pump up your muscles but you are going to sacrifice a ton of intensity from a longer prolonged period of rest. If you are looking for a hypertrophy type workout or want to really focus on pushing blood into the muscles it does have its benefit, but the only major time if you are a bodybuilder to keep a rest period very short would be on peak week trying to deplete your body and get ready to load for your show. Most individuals will leave around 30-90 seconds between sets, this gives them adequate time to recover and recoup from their exercise and bring back their intensity to the next set and focus on trying to approach each set like its their last. The only time I would implement a long rest period (3-5 Minutes) would be if training for pure strength such as powerlifting, and then implement the shorter rest periods (30-90 seconds) on your accessory work for your complex lifts to get the best of both worlds. The bottom line will come to your overall goal and what you are trying to do with your physique to give your training the best periodization.
3. A missing piece to most individuals training nn my opinion would have to deal with their foam rolling, recovery, and mobility work. This is a hidden gem because it is so valuable for overall recovery and helping you progress in the gym. Those long foam rollers that most people have in their gyms…. do you ever see people on them? Most likely not. The weights will always be there but your health should take priority and these little additions can play a huge key to your success and seeing gains. Most people neglect a proper warm-up or cool down after a workout or before a workout. So what could you change to help push through a plateau? How about trying to ride the bike for 5 minutes before a leg day, and then following it up with 10 minutes of stretching your legs and 5-10 minutes of foam rolling? Give it a shot see how you feel the next day due to the fact foam rolling is a form of active release therapy (ART) that will aid in releasing some soreness from your body and helping you stay refreshed and not feeling like a rock the next day. For those warming up for an upper body session try using TRX bands to help stretch out your arms, shoulders and chest muscles before trying to throw on a stack of weights and dig into a workout. Try using mobility work with 2.5 or 5 pound weights and rolling out your shoulders to loosen up your muscles and see how this treats you next time. Not only does it warm up your muscles but helps prevent long term injury!
4. Fourth Tip I would give to most individuals is addressing your off-season. Everyone has different goals but not everyone really takes a look at what they are trying to change and then give it some thought on how to capitalize on what is considered a weakness. For bodybuilders they should still take bi-weekly pictures to help see the changes in their offseason and what their training is doing. After your show talk to your judges, see what they, and then continue to pound the weights, take deloads, listen to your body, and gauge your progress in the mirror to see if you are making the changes needed to bring up those lagging body parts. For those training to be an athlete or just for fun…..are you seeing the gains you want? Are you gaining strength? Are you losing fat? Depending on the overall goal this will vary greatly, but you still need to sketch up a plan and attack it to see if you can change and if your hard work is paying off!
5. The last and most important tip I see neglected in training is Time Under Tension (TUT). I may write an ENTIRE article regarding this because I feel it’s a very important aspect in training, but for today I am going to touch on what it has to bring and its benefits. Time Under Tension deals with the eccentric part of the lift. (the lowering of the weight) Most people do not realize this is where the muscle is under most tension. Many people are guilty of training and just throwing weights around, letting the weight fly down to their chest on a bench, dropping down into a squat by plummeting and not focusing on pushing their hips back and digging deep into the hole. Small changes in lowering the weight with a controlled motion will really help engage a stronger MMC (mind muscle connection) and give you stronger gains (believe it or not). Training tempo is a huge part of understanding TUT and its benefits. Most people are stuck in a single groove of how they have been training their entire life, but my proposal to you is try slowing down your negative by 1-2 seconds on all your lifts and see what it brings. Granted you will have to lower the overall weight your using but see how you feel (soreness) the next day, and if you can engage your muscles in a greater fashion. I am not saying ALL your lifts have to include these slow reps, you can still train with explosion on your accesorries or complex lifts, but throw it in on a few different lifts and see what it brings to your overall physique and how it plays with adding weight to the bar over time.
Take these 5 tips, implement them into your training and see the results it brings. If it gets you over a small plateau, I know the information did its job. I will continue to expand on this article in the future, but for now, these are major issues I see that need to be addressed to most individuals and their training programs to get them over the “hump”.