Have you ever stopped to consider what makes a training program genuinely effective? Maybe you need the right combination of exercises? Or perhaps what matters most is the effort you put into it?
What about the warm-up? What about the rest between sets? Or what if none of these things matter as much as we believe, and other factors determine the effectiveness of our training program?
Effective training has been the subject of much debate over the years. Go to any forum today, and you are bound to come across countless arguments between people. Everyone has their unique take on the subject, and people defend their preferred style of training with great fury. But what is the essence of practical training? What makes one program good and another program useless?
We have put together this guide to help you understand the principles behind effective training. You can have effective workouts anywhere you go by knowing and recognizing them. Let’s dive in.
It begins with a fundamental shift…
Many people focus on a single thing and consider it to be most important for success. I believe that the problem often comes from market saturation and an ever-growing population of gurus. Allow me to elaborate.
Many people today aspire to build a presence in the fitness industry. But the competition is fierce, and doing that can be difficult. So, many people today resort to branding. In other words, they become the go-to guy for something. They take one aspect of fitness and over-promote it to appear like they have re-discovered practical training. For example, one person bases their presence around intensity, another focuses on a single exercise, and a third promotes a specific type of equipment. People who follow such individuals often believe that their singular focus on fitness makes it effective.
In reality, no single factor outshines the rest. Sound fitness successfully integrates several important factors, which we will look at below. The moment you internalize this, you will be able to put together effective workouts, no matter your circumstances.
Do what you can with what you have.
How many times have you heard that you need to do a specific exercise, train in a particular way, or use a special kind of gym equipment to make the most of your workouts?
Many people today preach the importance of something specific - an exercise, style, or piece of equipment. Granted, most of these claims hold validity. For example, I recently encountered a fitness person who preached one specific exercise. And sure, the movement is excellent, but the person is trying to make it look like we absolutely must do this one particular exercise for success.
In truth, fitness is amazing precisely because it is fluid. There are dozens of ways to train, thousands of exercises to pick from, and you do not have to marry a single approach. So, when training in less than optimal circumstances (perhaps you are on the road), remember this: You can have effective workouts, so long as you do what you can with what you have. For example, if you have no equipment, do bodyweight exercises: squats, push-ups, and similar. Do rows, presses, curls, extensions, and similar if you have nothing but dumbbells.
The more equipment you have, the greater your options. But none of this is to say that you can not have great workouts with no equipment.
Perform each exercise with proper technique
No matter where you are training and what your goals are, the most important thing you need to keep in mind is proper exercise technique. We tend to feel unmotivated when training in less than ideal circumstances. As a result, we pay less attention to the critical details that determine our training quality: exercise selection, training volume, intensity, effort, and form. In other words, we rush to finish, so we do not have to endure the disappointment any longer than we should.
The good news is that once you change the mindset you carry toward training, you will not see workouts as ideal or bad. Instead, you will gain an appreciation for every workout. In addition, you will see each bout as an opportunity to improve yourself in some capacity - strength, endurance, explosiveness, or something else. One person who celebrates every workout opportunity is Chris Castellano, also known as FittestTravel. Follow people like him on Twitter, and you will feel their passion and creativity.
However, to reap benefits from your training - whether you are in one of the best gyms on the planet or in a hotel room - you need to respect each exercise. You need to be conscious of what you are doing, and you need to take the time to do each repetition with a purpose - to better yourself. In doing so, you will be able to get more from each repetition. But, more importantly, you will learn to train effectively, regardless of your circumstances.
Begin each Workout with a proper Warm-Up
While many people frown at warming up, preparing your body for physical work is vital. Think of it like this: You would not take your car on a road trip without first preparing it, right? You would check fluid levels, tire pressures, the condition of its lights, and how it runs before setting off. So why treat your body any differently?
A good warm-up prepares your body, puts you in the mindset for training, boosts your performance, and decreases your risk of getting injured. The goal is to raise your core body temperature, warm up your muscles and joints, and prevent undue friction or stress. To achieve these effects, you should go about warming up in two phases:
1. Do a general warm-up.
The goal of the general warm-up is to get you going and raise your core body temperature. This activates your muscles, warms up the enzymes responsible for energy production, and gets you in the mindset of training. Some light cardio and a full-body dynamic warm-up routine will be enough to get you going.
2. Follow up with specific mobilization.
The goal of specific warm-ups is to practice the activities you are about to do with less intensity. For example, if you plan on bench pressing as a first exercise, start with low weight for more repetitions. This helps get you in the groove and allows you to detect any potential pain points or discomforts with light enough weight.
Do not overthink this point. What matters most is that you start with an incredibly lightweight and make reasonable jumps until you reach your working weight. Avoid pushing yourself too hard - you do not want to be tired by starting your workout.
3. The Ritual
There is a third less popular benefit of warming up well: it can become a ritual and make the act of initiating workouts easier. Contrary to what many believe, finishing a workout is not that challenging once you get started. Starting is often the biggest hurdle, so you can easily overcome this challenge by establishing a simple ritual like warming up. As time goes on, you will begin to associate the unique warm-up moves with the act of working out.
Plan for proper Rest between Sets
How many times have you thought about your rest periods? Like most people, you probably go about your training intuitively. You lift some weights, get tired, rest, and go back at it when you feel ready. But, the truth is, adequate recovery between sets is essential for your performance and gym progress.
The Importance of Recovery between Sets
To understand why rest between sets matters so much, we first must understand what drives our muscles to grow and get stronger. According to research, one of the primary factors that drive growth and strength is doing enough work in the form of sets and reps. The more we do, the quicker we can progress, up to a point. However, doing too much is not ideal as it can lead to overtraining.
The problem with resting too little between sets is that it interferes with our ability to do enough work on each set. For example, you might get 10 reps during the first set, but the number will drop to 8, 7, 5, even 3 as the sets progress if you do not recover well. As a result, you might finish your workouts quicker, but you will not be able to stimulate your muscles effectively.
Training for strength is similar in many ways. While many trainees focus on training to failure, what matters more is that you do enough quality sets to stimulate positive adaptations. Resting too little would prevent you from doing that, leading to sub-optimal progress.
So, how long should I rest between Sets?
The most straightforward answer we could give is this: You should rest for as long as needed to maintain your performance from set to set. For example, if you can do 10 repetitions on the first set, you should ideally get at least 8 or 9 on the last. Anything less would suggest that you have pushed too hard in the first sets or you have not rested enough between sets. Here are some simple guidelines to keep in mind when determining rest periods:
- Sets of 2 to 5 reps: 3 to 5 minutes of rest
- Sets of 6 to 10 reps: 2 to 3.5 minutes of rest
- Sets of 11 to 15 reps: 1 to 2 minutes of rest
- Sets of 15 to 25 reps: 1 to 1.5 minutes of rest
- Sets of 25+ reps: 30 to 60 seconds of rest
These guidelines will give you a starting point when determining rest periods, but it will come down to you to understand what is optimal. For example, you should not feel winded as you initiate a set because that will limit your performance and possibly force you to stop before you’ve trained your muscles well.
As a final Word
Training to failure (until you can no longer do reps with a full range of motion or proper technique) can increase the amount of rest you would need between sets.
We recommend stopping short of failure because pushing yourself to your limit leads to more fatigue and does not seem to offer any significant benefits related to muscle growth or strength gain. Using a simple app like FitBod can make it easier to track your workouts and improvements over time.