Training, like everything else, is better simplified. There are so many methods and so many different ways to train and build, that people quite often get lost and forgot why they started it in the first place. When I test the waters and apply a certain training method, I make sure to give it time to work, before calling it quits and coming up with a verdict. Yes, variety is needed to help the muscle guessing and growing, but you have to make sure you give your body time to start adapting to it.
In my beginner days, I would wander the gym floor, grabbing random dumbbells and cable attachments, trying them out, then moving on. I understood back then that my progress will be slow and I accepted it. Slowly learning, reading books, articles, asking people questions, I learned to train the way I do now through trial and error. It took me years to get comfortable with the style of training that I implement into my regimen these days, I really had to find that niche that worked best for me. I’ve tried some sporadic methods, some more calculated, nothing worked for me like applying the utmost focus into my training and forgetting the amount of weight I may be working out with. It may sound silly for some, because tracking everything (calories, carbs, protein, weight, reps, sets, etc) is a good way to know whether you’re heading in the right direction, but for me, heading to the gym blindly, so to speak, without a plan of attack, is the only way to train these days. There are restaurants you may have heard of, that put a blind fold over you, then lead you to your table and you eat in the dark. This process is suppose to heighten your sense of taste, because the only thing you do when you can’t see the food is focus on the actual taste of the food. The mind paints a much better picture of the food than the eyes will, and mind, is a very powerful tool. What does that have to do with training? Well, shutting out everything while you’re training and solely focusing your mind to work along with your body is called mind-to-muscle connection. It’s a method I credit for my last several years of progress.
At one point, I wasn’t too happy with the progress I was making, or the lack of. It took an injury to make me re-evaluate my methods. I slipped two disks in my lower back doing t-bar rows, which took me out of my training for several months. Timing couldn’t be worse, because at the time I was about to start my competitive season for that year. Call it foolish, but it cost Bruce Lee a damaged back to learn about the importance of stretching, we live and learn, it’s all part of the process – the good with the bad. In a way, the injury was a blessing in disguise, had I not injured myself, I would probably still be training the same way I always have, lifting as heavy as I can, counting the reps in my head on autopilot. As I recovered, I totally reset my training, started from scratch, concentrating on the importance of the contraction and stretching of the muscle. The tempo of my reps was slowed down to half the speed than I typically did before the injury. I started with weight so light, it made some people turn heads. They didn’t understand why a guy with some decent size and muscle was using the weight so light, I’m sure it looked funny from the side, but I wasn’t training for other people, or to impress anybody. I shut everything out and visualized my chest growing with each rep of a press, the same visualization Arnold talked about in his books, when he pictured his bicep peaks growing into mountains with every rep. I couldn’t believe how sore I was the first few weeks, especially considering the weight that was used. Focusing and feeling the muscle I was training, made me sore the following day in the same exact spots of my chest that I was targeting – my upper chest mainly. I would start seeing my chest fill out more and more beneath the collarbone, changes I didn’t see through years of training before applying mind-to-muscle connection. Same method was applied for every other muscle group. On my arm days, I would try to shape a nicely developed brachialis and the long head of the triceps. On back days, I focused on getting my lats wider. On legs days I had put emphasis on bringing out my quads more. Everything was coming together just like I was planning to. I’m not saying the progress was faster, but it was definitely more consistent.
When I said these days I have no plan of attack, I mean I don’t really have a program that is set in stone. When I walk into a gym, everything is at my disposal, I do not limit myself to anything. I have a list of exercises in my head that I would prefer to do, but if I feel like changing it up (and I always do) I have no problem taking out certain exercises and replacing them with something else, or rotating the order. Most people train in a way that is very systematic, just because they always start with pull-ups to warmup their back, to them it means starting back day with any other exercise is wrong. I’m very laid back with my order of exercises. My training mood all depends on how I feel on the day of my workout. Sometimes I will come in fully energized, wanting to lift a little bit heavier than normal, other times I’ll do much lighter weight and increase my reps, slow down the tempo even more and concentrate on the negative portion of the movement. It all comes down to listening to your body and working with it to create a better you. If you feel sluggish for example, but according to your tracking record of weight per exercise, it says lately you have been lifting so & so amount, it’s not always a great idea to try and utilize the same weight as in your previous workout. It could lead to injury, which will lead to discouragement and disappointment. Pick your weight accordingly, feel it out for the first few sets (warmup sets) and increase your weight from there. If you fail at 6-8 reps, I would not recommend increasing anymore weight on the following set. Your body doesn’t speak numbers, your body only knows the amount of stress you put it through when you’re training. Slowing down the tempo of your reps, focusing your mind on the muscle allows you to control the movement from top to bottom and keeping the tension on the muscle for longer periods of time. Slow, concentrated reps are less prone to injury, they also let you keep hold on to proper form throughout the entire set, preventing secondary muscle from stepping into play.
Taking a simple exercise like bench press, you’d be surprised how many people get it wrong. Just because you lay on the bench, grab the bar and start pressing, doesn’t mean you’re automatically training your chest. If you’re a beginner, chances are you are utilizing a lot of your front delts and not enough chest. I’m sure you see this all the time, guys in the gym that load up the bars with plates, press all that weight, but the development in their chest is nonexistent, turn them sideways and they disappear. Before starting your set, make sure your mind is focused, you’re in the perfect starting form and you’re feeling and contracting exactly what you’re training from the very first rep. It’s okay to fail short of your desired rep range, you can only push your muscle so much, before another one takes it’s place to finish the rep – which is what happens often on a bench press when front delts take over the movement. Don’t pick weight to impress the people around you, pick the weight according to what your body can handle.
Splitting your muscle groups throughout the week all depends on personal preference, I don’t think there is a wrong way, it all comes down to the amount of time you have to work with and your desired result. Personally, I train a single muscle group a day, and every other day I throw in a smaller (or lagging) muscle group in the beginning of the workout, like calves or traps. I tend to put on size a lot quicker in my shoulders than any other group, so there are weeks when I just simply skip training them. Some people train for an hour before calling it a day, training their full body or several muscle groups at once. I prefer to dedicate that hour to a single muscle group, working every angle of the muscle thoroughly. Some may call it overtraining, but if you’re eating enough and getting enough rest, I think overtraining goes out the window. I don’t like to take too much rest, about a minute between sets. Most of my sets are either drop-sets or supersets, for example if I’m training my biceps and just finished a set of preacher curls, without rest I’ll go into a set of drag curls for finishing touches, or I will take off some weight of the bar I used for preacher curls and perform a drop-set. I like training with high volume and intensity, when I’m in the gym, I’m in my zone and nothing else at the moment matters.
Most of the people’s train of thought when they are at the gym is very stereotypical.
“I have to do 12 reps, because it says so on this piece of paper here, so let me pace myself these first 6-8 then finish it up with whatever form I can until 12″
That’s the most common mistake people make, instead of making every rep count, you’re out there just chasing a number. Well, guess what, your body doesn’t speak numbers, it only knows the amount of stress that you put it through during a certain time period, that’s why keeping your muscle under tension is as crucial as the contraction. You have to go all out from the beginning, contraction, good form, steady tempo, controlled reps, should all be present from the very first rep. If you are there for results, then why are you short handing yourself?
I add weight until my form starts to go, feel every fiber in my muscles, then I move on. Sure I have a preferred amount of sets and reps, but I approximate. I know my body well enough to know where I can still push through the last rep or where I’ll simply fail. Maximum contraction on every rep is what you should be after, not a number. After you’ve reached a number close to failure and feel like you’ve stressed the muscle enough, then write that number down and that would be your approximate rep range.
I usually incorporate cardio into my mornings and my weight lifting later in the afternoon. As far as cardio goes, I like to combine high intensity interval sprints with low intensity steady cardio, like stair master or stationary bike. Before my cardio I’ll work on my core and train my abs, I use my own slow-burn method in which proper breathing is a key factor. My morning routine usually takes no longer than an hour and I prefer to do it fasted, on empty stomach. I credit my progress to keeping an open mind and constantly learning from everything. If something doesn’t work for you, change it, but make sure you actually gave it a good amount of time to work and did everything properly. Don’t disregard something just because you THINK something will not work before trying it, you could pass up the opportunity that could lead you to creating something that you and the rest of the world can be proud of. Stay positive, the best is yet to come!
The training routines I’ve put together for myself are available in the Members Only section, by clicking here.