So you hit the gym and pound the iron on a regular basis.
You’re hitting the compound movements. Deads, Squats, Pull-ups, Bench, Military Press.
You’re in a nice groove, but you feel you could be getting more and want to access more gains from the time you put in, just like you did when you started the program.
Here are a few tips on how to get that access and break through any plateaus;
1. Use a Training Diary – how can you track your progress if you don’t know where you have been? If you are a world champion of memorizing lots of numbers and formulas, then you are the exception. However if not get a diary. You need to note every rep, every set, every weight, rest periods, time under tension (T.U.T. we’ll get to that later), how you felt, could you do more next time, etc. Then when next time comes you aim to beat those numbers and if you don’t you’ll have to change your program. For a great diary we use the Bodyminder Journal. (you can also use it as a food diary which is awesome!)
2. Use Periodization – This is the planning of your workouts. The old adage; ‘If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail’ certainly applies to weight training. If you get results when you have not planned then it is by more luck, than judgment.
We tend to plan in our businesses, with a multitude of tools, but when it comes to our gym-time we just go with the flow of how we feel on that day. This is not efficient, and you will miss out from optimizing your workouts!
The advantage of a training diary also allows you to pre-prepare your workouts, or copy those from previous weeks.
It makes sense to set your workouts into blocks of 4 weeks and then change them. This gives the body a window of opportunity to get the benefits from consistent efforts, but then to switch things before it gets used to those efforts. Once we fully adapt to a training protocol then we plateau and we just get efficient at doing that routine.
This also helps protect the body from injury as if you are frequently changing the exercises then the body has to keep adapting and keep up with the stimulus you keep throwing at it. If it always gets the same stimulus then it will get very strong at doing those things but weak in other areas! (and hence injuries happen as there is not balance)
3. Time Under Tension (TUT) – I first stumbled across this way to add amazing value to a workout about thirteen years ago when reading some books by Ian King (Renowned Olympic and Pro-Sports Strength/Performance Coach). Ian was the guy that developed this protocol and Charles Poliquin has since made it more mainstream.
I have applied it in my workout and that of my clients ever since and it’s one of the keys to getting great results.
Next time you are in the gym stop and take a look around at people going about their workouts. Now answer me this question;
Q : How many of them have the weight under control?
A: Not many of them!
Many will be using gravity and the elastic properties of a muscle to bounce a weight up and down. This is a great way to train the ego, but not great for muscle fiber stimulation and it’s another fantastic technique to get injured, fast, or over time….. but bottom line it’s not good!
Other people will be going slower, but is every rep the exact same length in time? If you train slower do you know how fast you go? Are you sure every rep is the same? It’s important to be consistent. Ok now onto TUT.
One word of warning, you may have to read and re-read the following a few times before it really sinks in, but when it does your workouts will hit a whole new level.
TUT may be written as 4010 or 32X1 or 2222 or a whole combination. Confused? You won’t be in a minute.
TUT breaks the Rep movement into it’s 4 parts. Lets use 4210 as the Time Under Tension and break it down one part at a time.
Part 1 is always the eccentric or negative part of the movement. It’s the part where you resist the weight (and where many say the best gains are made, depending on your training goals). On a Squat it would be when you are controlling the weight down from a standing start. On a pull-up, it is when you are controlling your body down from the top of the movement. On the bench press it’s controlling the weight down from the top of the move where you are near elbow lockout (but not actually locked out – remember good form!).
In essence it is the part of the move where you are resisting gravities pull. This negative part of the rep is what can cause the most stimulus, and many more muscle fibers will get called into activation as they are usually switched off due to them not being needed due to the fast training styles people adopt.
This will also cause a lot of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) to many people that start to slow down their training. This is the soreness you get deep into the muscles when you have given them a good pushing. It is thought to be attributed to micro-tears in the muscle which then get repaired by the body and made stronger for the next time you push them (train them).
Eccentric or Negative training is an advanced training style where someone will work together with a spotter and lower a weight that is heavier than their 1RM (one Rep Maximum) under control for a certain count. Otherwise known as negs. This overloads the muscle and takes the system way out of it’s comfort zone. If this is done occasionally and smartly with the right nutritional backup and recovery, then great results can be expected. You see sometimes a negative can be a positive 😉
Part 1 is the hardest to grasp, so make sure you understand that before going onto part 2 below.
So if the TUT is 4210 you see the first number 4 here means 4 seconds to lower the weight.
Part 2 is the pause after part one. On some moves it makes sense, and hits many more muscle fibers, if the rep is paused in the bottom position of the move. This stops the momentum of springing the movement into reverse as you see most people doing (there is a certain time for that training, but it’s certainly not all the time). This will allow you to get stronger in that position and hence handle more weight in the long term, although in the short term many people will be weaker when using the poundage they would usually have lifted.
So if the TUT is 4210 you see the second number 2 here means pause at the bottom for 2 seconds.
Part 3 is the concentric or positive part of the lift. This is the part that is usually against gravity and it is the opposite of the eccentric/negative part of the lift. If we use the squat as the example once again it would be from the bottom part of the lift, back up to standing.
Once again there are different training goals but in general a controlled, faster concentric part to the lift is best to generate power and strength. When a X is written in the place of a number in the TUT it means make that part of the rep eXplosive (but once again controlled).
So if the TUT is 4210 you see the third number 1 means 1 second to raise the weight.
Part 4 is the part which is next and ties all the parts into a circle. It’s the pause at the opposite end of the move, so the top of the squat. It can be used to grab a few breaths, gain composure and focus, strengthen that position (if held for a longer duration), etc.
So if the TUT is 4210 you see the last number O means there is no pause of note and we follow the last movement directly with the next eccentric movement.
I’ll go into more strategies of how to optimize TUT training in a future article, as we don’t want brain overload here. Just get to grips with the concept of it for now and try it in some lifts and see what you think.
4. Changing the order of the exercises – people are habitual and subconsciously tend to do things the same way.
If you think about how you brush your teeth is it always different or do you always start with one part of the mouth and work your way around? Start in reverse order next time and see what happens…. Be careful though. Likewise when you towel dry after a shower. Do you always do this in exactly the same way, or pattern as it is better described. Try doing it in another order next time and it will feel alien.
Exercise selection can often be governed by habit, which is not a good thing. When many people start training the exercises such as Bench Press and Bicep curls tend to get prime place as they are the muscles many want to improve first. A big chest and big guns are impressive, right. Well they can be in the right circumstances and proportions. If, for example they are ‘backed’ up with a small back, small triceps, or chicken legs, then the look will have the opposite effects (ever seen these guys that are front heavy, with no legs?)
A good remedy to stop that worst case scenario is to switch your workout around. If normally you start with chest, now start with back. If normally it’s bi’s, then now start with tri’s. Do legs at the start of the week, not at the end (if you do them at all). We usually give more focus to the muscle we train first, so think about that and change your habits and the result’s will re-start!
5. Changing Rep Ranges – how many reps do you do and how many sets?
That habit formed into exercises will often carry over into the number of reps and sets done.
Lets look at reps first. If someone always does eight reps, then they will condition themselves to that training pathway. It is beneficial to look back up to point 2 in this article, the one about planning and make sure your rep ranges differ every time you change your four week block of working out.
For example in one block do 6 reps of squats and 12 reps of bench press. The next time around switch it around. If you start to apply some of the TUT principles within this, then you can really start to see great gains and have fun.
You could also play with the amount of reps within the sets. So set one is a lighter weight for 12 reps, set two is slightly more for 10, set three goes up again and is for 8. Set four, yes you guessed it your heaviest weight for 6. There is an option to then take a two minute breather and see if you can complete a heavier weight for 12 than you did in set one and track this over time in your workout diary!
Well there is five ways to look at training slightly different and how to maximize your gains and get them noted down. You may know them all, you may know some, or they may all be new to you (lucky you) but I hope it gives you a few new ideas for the future.
Tom @ UCB
We are available for Personal Training where we apply these principles plus many others depending on your goals. Email us on email@example.com for more info and prices.
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