What You Should Know About Strength Training

Part Three

Variety is truly the spice of life when it comes to getting the best results you can from your strength training program. This is true for your body as well as your mind. Life can be boring when you do the same thing over and over again. Your body gets "used" to the exercises and doesn't make any progress. Your mind gets bored as well and you feel like there is no more challenge. Many new exercisers reach a plateau in about three to six months. The results they initially experienced have dwindled to nothing. Because of this, the dropout rate is high at this stage.

Last week, I said that you have to make changes to your program every four to six weeks to maximize results. The body responds best to variety or 'changes' but it needs to be done in a systematic manner, not a haphazard "strike anywhere" approach. Here are the different ways you can fight boredom and get better results.

Use a variety of equipment.
Doing a chest exercise with a barbell, dumbbells, machine, cable or body weight (example is a push-up) all feel slightly different and brings a fresh challenge to your chest muscles. You could do one barbell and one machine exercise for four weeks. Then, change your program to a dumbbell exercise and a body weight exercise for the next four weeks and so on.

Do different exercises for the same muscle.
Even on the same type of equipment, there are a variety of exercises that you can choose from. For example, changing the width and angle of your grip on a 'lat pull down' exercise is a way of doing different exercises for the same muscle group on the same type of equipment.

Alternate between unilateral and bilateral exercises.
A 'seated row' and 'one arm row' both work the lats or the sides of the upper back. Not only are they done on different pieces of equipment (a cable and dumbbells respectively) but they also affect the lats differently because you pull with both arms simultaneously when doing the 'seated row' (bilateral) while the 'one arm row' is a unilateral exercise. The trunk muscles (abdominals and lower back) are more challenged when you do unilateral exercises because they have to work harder at stabilizing your body.

Vary your rest periods.
Not many people time the amount of rest they take in between sets but this is another way to add variety. For most people, 30 seconds to one and a half minutes is all the body needs to rest. When I say "most people", I mean the average exerciser who is lifting 8 to 12 repetitions (moderately heavy) or 12 to 15 repetitions (slightly lighter). People who lift much heavier doing 6 to 8 repetitions need to rest for two minutes or more. Here is an example of how you could vary your rest period. For four weeks, rest one minute. The next four weeks, rest for 45 seconds. Then, try a four-week period of resting for only 30 seconds. Repeat the cycle again beginning with the one-minute rest.

Play around with the sets, reps and weight.
Without having to change the kind of exercises you are doing, you could infuse variety into your resistance program by playing around with the sets, repetitions and weight. For my own program, I am not too fond of adding sets because I like to make my program as time-efficient as I can. However, if you have the time, feel free to add or decrease your sets. Personally, I would rather vary the repetitions and weight. The rule is the heavier the poundage, the less the repetitions. The lighter the poundage, the more the repetitions. This is a common sense rule because the heavier an object is, the fewer reps you can lift it. So you could lift heavy for two weeks, then lift lighter for another two weeks. Or you could alternate "heavy" weeks with "light" weeks. If you lift three times a week, alternate heavy and light days.

Mix up the sequence.
Mixing up the sequence of your exercises is a way of 'confusing' the muscles to get the results you want without having to change the kind of exercise you are currently doing. If you are very used to doing your bicep exercises before your tricep exercises, switch the order. Try doing your lats, biceps, chest, and triceps in that order. Another way is to do what is called a "superset" or "tri-set". This means combining two or three exercises and doing them one after the other without any rest in between. Needless to say, you will have to lower the amount of weight you are normally used to. You can superset two opposing muscles (for example, biceps and triceps) or superset the same muscle group with two different exercises.

Recycle your routines.
As you can see there are so many ways to "shake up" a boring routine. In the beginning, the possibilities will seem endless but after a while, you may run out of ideas. That's when you should recycle your routines.

Keep records.
It is very important to keep written records of your programs so that you can keep track of the changes you are making. This will also help you recycle your programs systematically in the future.

Build a stable foundation of strength.
If you have just started to lift weights, it is not a smart idea to be varying your exercises right away. You need to build your foundation of strength first. This can take anywhere from four to twelve weeks. Learn the basic exercises well before jumping into all sorts of variations. Gradually increase the amount of weight you can lift so that at the end of your introduction period you are much stronger than when you began. Don't worry about not seeing results. Beginners make quick progress because their bodies are starting at 'ground zero'.

Safety first.
Do not do an exercise just because it is 'different" if it will compromise your joints. Do not choose an advanced exercise until your body is ready for it. Whatever you do, do not sacrifice safety for variety.

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