What’s the number one complaint you hear in most gyms and health clubs?
“I’m not getting anywhere with my workouts.”
“I’m not getting results like I used to.”
“I’m training harder than ever, but I’m still not ____________(losing weight, gaining size, etc.)”
Sound familiar? I find that every time I take a closer look at these complaints, a common factor emerges. Typically, the person is on a program where they do the exact same exercises, in the same order, each time they do a particular workout. Whether on a circuit routine, upper/lower body split, or training individual muscle groups, the story is usually the same.
The human body adapts very quickly to any stress put on it. While any well-planned program can produce results, if it is not changed or varied occasionally it will not succeed in the long run. How is this best accomplished?
I want to let you in on a little training secret that I and many trainers use with our clients:
Never do the same workout twice!
It’s a simple philosophy, but when followed, will ensure consistent progress without the plateaus many experience in their routines. Now keep in mind that other factors can come into play when you’re not progressing: poor diet, lack of sleep, overtraining, poor exercise form (but that’s another article!) I want to address the workout program itself, and how you can control the direction it takes.
For example, let’s take a look at a typical gym member I’ll call John. John is very diligent, and works out 3-4 days a week. He has been training for a number of years, with a goal of adding more size and muscle definition to his body.
Lately his progress has stalled, and I observe him as he’s performing the chest and arm workout below:
Barbell Bench Press
Barbell Incline Press
Lying Triceps Extension
Standing barbell curls
Seated Dumbbell curls
(With each exercise, he does 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions).
After watching him train, I can see he’s very focused, using proper form and gradually increasing his weights on each set . So what’s the problem? He’s been doing this same routine for over a year! His body has adapted to the particular stress he’s placed on it, and he will not see any further progress until he makes some changes. Just a little tweaking and modifying of this program will make a difference in the results. He can even retain the same basic structure, while shaking things up a bit.
The concept of never doing the same workout twice is easy to implement.
All you need to do is vary the equipment used, angle, body position, weight, number of repetitions, order of exercises, hand position, etc.
For instance, a barbell bench press is a compound movement that works the chest, shoulders and triceps. Look at all the options John has available to vary this exercise and the manner in which it’s performed:
Dumbbell bench press
Dumbell Chest Press on a Stability Ball
Push-ups on a Stability Ball
Chest Press Machine
Cable Chest Press
Resistance band chest press
(There are even more possibilities, but you get the idea).
Wide/medium/close grip on the barbell bench press
Drop Sets-Performing as many repetitions as possible with good form using a heavy weight, dropping to a lighter weight and continuing, finally dropping to an even lighter weight , and repeating once more before resting..
Superslow repetitions-Taking 5-10 seconds on each part of the movement, lowering and raising the bar or dumbell in a slow, continuous manner.
Supersetting-Doing the bench press with another exercise for the chest or opposing muscle group before resting.
Order of exercises-Performing pectoral flyes before the bench press (pre-exhaustion principle).
Giant Sets-Doing 3-5 different exercises for the same muscle group in a row before resting (this is done using lighter weights and is a real shock for the body, so it should only be done occasionally-think of it as a jumpstart for your muscles).
Lighter weights and higher repetitions-this is part of the concept of per iodization-varying the volume and intensity of training for optimal strength gain and progress.
The above examples give a great deal of variety in just one single exercise, and they can be applied to any movement. John could use these same principles to vary his exercises for each muscle group. The key is to analyze what you did in the previous workout, and do it a little differently the next time. The body will constantly be adapting , and the variety in movements, angles, weight, balance and muscle coordination will keep it continually challenged and progressing. This process also eliminates boredom-it’s a new workout each time you go into the gym.
Give these tips a try and and watch your workouts produce better results. Remember:
Never do the same workout twice.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
-attributed to Ben Franklin, among others