I was at the Coachella Music Festival in California for the last 5 days, which meant not a lot of writing was done.
I call it Neuromuscular System Development to encapsulate the many different forms of this type of training, including shock training (often called Plyometrics) which is a method of training utilized to increase velocity or speed of movement and can significantly aid in the development of strength, connective tissue development and bone density increases.
Here is a more in depth summary…
1. Train Smarter Not Harder
[toc] Forget what you may have read in bodybuilding magazines or what LeBron James is doing (these are advanced programs made for advanced athletes) and don’t bother trying to train different muscle groups on separate days.
It takes too long, doesn’t provide enough continual stimulus for most people, and over-emphasizes specific muscle development.
You probably don’t need to, or don’t want to train to complete fatigue like many of these programs advocate anyway, for now.
People often try to outrun bad nutrition habits, by simply ‘doing more,‘ however, ‘more‘ doesn’t equal better.
More if often worse, because it requires more time, that most people in the 21st Century, simply don’t have (time is also coincidentally the biggest excuse for not exercising…).
Smarter means fitting in training when you can, adjusting how you train to how you feel, being realistic with your fitness routine and optimizing your sessions with the methods below.
Training smarter means working selectively on the things you need to improve, while staying healthy (injury-free) enough to continue to do the things you love.
Stop doing things for the sake of doing them, and start asking yourself ‘why am I doing this?’
2. Train Movements Not Muscles
You’re best bet is always to train large compound movements, or movements that utilize large movement patterns and consequently require a lot of muscle and energy expenditure.
Doing these movements properly also generally leads to injury prevention in other activities too.
I recommend learning the following movements:
A) Squat (Bodyweight, Goblet, Single Leg, Front, etc…)
B) Deadlift (Rack Pull, Cable Pull-Through, Single Leg, Dumbbell, etc…)
C) Step/Lunge (Split-Squat, Reverse Lunge, Fwd Lunge, Step Up, Lateral Step-Up, etc…)
D) Press (Could be as simple as learning how to do a proper push-up)
E) Pull (Could be as simple as learning how to do a proper chin-up or inverted body row)
F) Stabilize (Front Plank, Side Plank, Glute Bridge, Dead Bug, Bird-Dog, etc…)
G) Anti-Rotation (AKA Proper Rotation – Chops, Lifts, Pallof Press, etc…)
H) Carry/Locomotion (Waiter Walks, Farmer Walks, Suitcase Carries, etc…)
Strength training is a set of skills you can use for a lifetime.
3. Paired Sets or Tri-Sets to Optimize
Rather than doing a set of squats and waiting the 90 seconds typically recommended before doing another set, optimize your training sessions by alternating upper with lower body movements in a supersetting type fashion.
Notation will typically look like this:
A1) Front Squats
1A) Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
1B) Feet Elevated Push-Up
1C) Reverse Crunch
This will maximize your time, but utilizing un-used muscle groups during your rest period. Shorten your workouts, without a drop-off in performance or results.
4. Train Full-Body Days, with 1-2 days rest between bouts.
This gives you continuous stimulus, at about the point where you’re body would start de-conditioning from the initial bout of strength training.
If you waited a week until your next training bout a week later, like many bodybuilding programs recommend, you will be losing strength and gains for 5 days after the initial adaptation, before your next bout.
Training more consistently but with less volume provides a constant stimulus.
You should always take a day off per week from all deliberate training too. We call it an ‘Active Rest Day,’ which basically means go for a walk or a hike and do some mobility work instead.
i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Saturday are NMSD days! You can however, train ESD in between to great results.
5. Alter Intensity Each Day
As opposed to traditional planning sequences that plan everything out to the letter for you, telling you exactly what to do and when, most trainees would be better served by learning to tap into how their body feels on certain days.
Once you start to get a feel for the movements I listed above, don’t worry about getting really specific — unless you’re relatively advanced or an athlete of some kind — with your sets and reps, think more about simply altering the intensity of each day, which will yield better results for most everyday people.
For beginners I recommend a 6-12 rep range for the first 1-2 months to get a handle on the exercises above.
Once you’re past that initial prep phase though, consider making a day each of the following:
Day 1 = Heavier Day: 2-5 sets of 5-8 Reps (For simplicity sake maybe pick 3 sets of 6 reps)
Day 2 = Medium Day: 2-4 sets of 8-12 Reps (For simplicity sake maybe pick 3 sets of 10 reps)
Day 3 = Light Day: 1-3 sets of 12-20 Reps (For simplicity sake maybe pick 2 sets of 15 reps)
Learn to lift heavier or do harder workouts on days you feel good, and take it easier on days you don’t feel so great.
6. Programs Should Cycle
To easily cycle the above type of program would be to simply add a set every week, then back off a set or go back to your starting set on week 4.
This week is typically called a deload week, and it becomes more important the more experience you develop.
This would look something like:
Day 1, Week 1 – 3 sets of 6 reps
Day 1, Week 2 – 4 sets of 6 reps
Day 1, Week 3 – 5 sets of 6 reps
Day 1, Week 4 – 3 sets of 6 reps
Day 2, Week 1 – 2 sets of 10 reps
Day 2, Week 2 – 3 sets of 10 reps
Day 2, Week 3 – 4 sets of 10 reps
Day 2, Week 4 – 2 sets of 10 reps
Day 3, Week 1 – 1 set of 15 reps
Day 3, Week 2 – 2 sets of 15 reps
Day 3, Week 3 – 3 sets of 15 reps
Day 4, Week 4 – 1 set of 15 reps
This is simplistic, but easy to follow right? When you’re done a 4 week block, simply change the exercises.
Basically change your program up every month or so.
7. Programs Should Progress
Most people presume this to mean that the program should continually get harder and harder, but by progress I mean more that you should just aim to challenge yourself on a fairly regular basis.
Try to move just a little more weight each time you head to the gym, or do a few more reps, don’t get stuck or fixated on lifting a specific weight for each of the days I mention above.
Think of training programs more like flexible guidelines.
You won’t always see a linear curve of improvement, but as the workouts will probably be changing at least a little bit, every 4 weeks, you should probably for the first little while at least, experience some gradual gains over the 4 week period, before you move onto to new stuff the next month.
Simply changing the programs up a little every month, means you have new things to make progress on.
Improvement doesn’t mean finite either, it doesn’t have to be measurable to be an improvement, maybe the same workout just felt easier this week than last, or you felt the right muscles working better, or you thought your form felt better.
Challenge yourself when the opportunity presents itself, just don’t do anything that would jeopardize your safety.
You’ll always have things to work on.
8. Learn How to Ramp
Ramp sets are the most simplistic and easy way to approach training.
Most people pick a weight they think they will be able to do for 3 sets of 10 and just keep that weight, or they attempt to lift to failure or complete fatigue.
What happens as you fatigue though is that you are less and less likely to be able to complete the sets and reps you’re looking to achieve with a given weight.
Fatigue also lowers your ability to execute an exercise correctly, and increases the likelihood of injury.
Instead pick a weight you think will be easy for you to do, then add small amounts of weight each set (5-10 lbs), effectively ramping yourself up to finish on a high note.
i.e. Set 1 of Squats = 95 lbs, Set 2 = 115 lbs, Set 3 = 135 lbs, Set 4 = 165 lbs
Ramping, particularly with large compound movements allows you to warm up the movement pattern, but also gauge how you are feeling over the course of the first couple of sets before adding weight or you go for a personal best weight.
Executing your training this way is also psychologically encouraging, by allowing you to finish with your best set, rather than your worst — which is how most to-fatigue training programs would work.
It also aids in effectively ‘ramping’ up your nervous system to handle heavier loads later.
Generally speaking, for large compound movements I would add 5-20 lbs per set — but I entirely go off feel, and encourage others to do the same — and smaller isolation-type-movements, keep the increments smaller to 0.5-5 lbs, if you have access to something like plate mates or small weight increments.
9. Train 4-10 exercises.
Keep it simple, relatively low volume, because you’re stimulus is going to be more continuous than someone doing the whole body part split thing.
It’s very effective simply doing something like this:
A1) Rack Pull
A2) Single Arm Dumbbell (DB) Bench Press
B1) Reverse DB Lunge
B2) Inverted Body Row
Everything else is pretty much icing on the cake, though you may want to spend some additional time on your weaknesses.
Most of the training days in the programs I design are 6-8 exercises.
The first four are main lifts, the next two or four are accessory lifts. I program accessory movements often to improve imbalances or weaknesses, but that might be a little more specific than you need to get right now.
10. Order Exercises Hardest to Easiest
Or most technical to least technical.
This also means that your most explosive strength (speed-oriented) lifts or movements — think Olympic Lifting or Plyometrics — and your most strength oriented — the heaviest stuff, so a 5 rep back squat should go before a 12 rep push-up — should come first in the workout.
The stuff that requires less technical ability and is more fatigue resistant — even Energy System work, which we’ll be discussing soon — is better served left to the end.
And yes, do your ‘cardio‘ or ‘conditioning‘ after you lift too.
A1) Jump Squats for 5 reps
A2) Clapping Push-Up for 5 Reps
B1) Deadlift for 5 Reps
B2) DB Rows for 5 Reps
C1) Reverse Lunges for 8 Reps
C2) Ab Roll-Outs for 8 Reps
D1) Facepulls for 12 Reps
D2) Waiter Walks for 40 meters
11. Do 2-3 days per week.
Two is my recommended minimum, but something is always better than nothing. However, for weight loss purposes I like to add at least one energy system day.
This depends on schedules though, there are many ways to work it around a schedule, which is indeed the art part (leave a comment if you want a little help).
It could look like 3 NMSD days, 1 ESD day, or 2 and 2, or 3 and 2, or 3 and 3 if you’ve got the time and can make the commitment.
There is an obvious co-relational thing going on between the amount of time you can dedicate and the results you will see, but don’t fool yourself into over-committing, which is psychologically taxing.
Start small and work up, start with anything, even if it’s only once a week to start.