Here’s a no brainer – Me and my pals who write for magazines like TNation definitely provide awesome guidelines for smart, effective training. As a group of knowledgeable authors and strength coaches, we put together some wicked programs to help you bust through plateaus and avoid injury.
But, I think we dropped the ball.
Before I go any further, here’s a quick example. When I worked for a busy fitness chain gym, at certain times the management would hold group “workshops” for the team of 25 or so trainers on staff to develop skills on various topics (kettlebell training, stretching, Olympic lifts, the list goes on). The intentions were good, but notably, some of the chosen topics had no business being administered to the clientele at that gym (like a 115lb 23-year-old, mid-set-texting, clubhopper with ZERO structural balance doing Olympic lfts because their certified personal trainer just learned them on lunch break? Please…). Worse yet, many trainers -especially the greener ones- would exacerbate this issue by making what they just learned in those workshops the “flavor of the week” – everyone and their brother would be doing oly lifts, even if some of them should have taken some major flack for even thinking of attempting such complex movements.
Tuned in? Awesome. Now let me link this to where we drop the ball on a regular basis, and how this applies to this article’s title.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re someone who works out regularly and probably wants more sophistication than your typical Muscle and Fitness has to offer as far as a strength training program is concerned. But there are also the “gym rats” who often come equipped with capricious mentalities. So when these guys see new programs and articles come out every week, they’re all over it. They are provoked to go above and beyond with good authors’ simple training tips to selectively apply for preventative maintenance. On that note, “safety first” is a saying that I’ve noticed people may be taking overboard.
When I see it in practice, I question myself and often my abilities as a trainer. Running, rotator cuff prep, glute activation, foam rolling, stretching, ballistics, hip mobility exercises, and then finally the first training sets all before the workout starts? It’s time to be honest with ourselves and ask how much of this massive list is actually necessary. If our goal is to be a larger guy with a heavy bench press and deadlift, the most amount of time invested must be in actually practicing the deadlift and bench press movements. There’s no substitute. It’s like trying to make a sprinter faster off the track. He can do all the power lifting, plyometrics, and other conditioning under the sun, but his performance as a faster sprinter comes from getting on the track and sprinting.
The first article I ever wrote talked about different, practical measures to take before and during workouts to make it more effective. The emphasis was towards a thorough but time saving strategy to get muscles prepared to move big weight, and some much needed quick fixes if you’re having some trouble hitting muscles hard. Granted, I left out an important element in foam rolling, but the import of that write-up was to emphasize that this stuff is all necessary as a supplement to your workout –not in place of the workout!
Let’s face it – a lot of people don’t have 3 hours to spend in the gym, let alone multiple times per week. And honestly, you should never need to spend that long anyway! Following a protocol like the dreaded list I stated above would make your workout last forever. This can do two things we don’t want – take the nervous system down, and lower the training volume of your size program.
See, it’s easy to feel really “good” from all the scapular stability work that you do before your chest workout for the first half hour, but if it brings you to the point that you only do 9 sets of total chest work for the whole workout before you’ve gotta leave, then is it helping you move towards or away from your goals of becoming a ripped freak? The worst part is, if you’re doing a warmup for a total body workout (or workout that comprises of large compound movements), the length of that warmup and what’s involved with it can act to take your nervous system down away from its peak stimulation, therefore dulling it for the actual workout.
There’s nothing wrong with any of the above exercises I’ve listed in themselves, but having a neurotic obsession with them before each and every workout for a prolonged period of time becomes redundant. Here’s a list of things the typical gym rat may choose as a warm up and where they can be put to use:
Considering there are other effective ways of increasing the muscles’ temperature and lubricating synovial joints, I find this to be a weak warm up strategy that can easily be tossed from a regime. That’ll be one step towards getting to what counts – the weight lifting.
If you have a foam roller handy, it’s a good idea to take advantage of it and improve the quality of your muscle tissue. Especially that of the lower body. Following up with static stretching is definitely necessary before exercise. Spending 5 to 10 minutes before your workout to foam roll and stretch before your workout is a staple in my books.
By calisthenics, I refer to exercises like pushups, bodyweight squats, jump squats, or split lunges. It doesn’t take 3 sets of 20 reps to get your muscles amped up to move weight. Your heart rate will increase rapidly from movements like these, and it only takes a couple of sets of 5 or so explosive reps to get the nervous system on point. As far as synovial fluid release and increasing muscle temperature goes, choose movements that involve a large, full ROM. Even simple arm circles and leg swings can do the trick. Stuff like this shouldn’t take longer than another 5 mintues.
Depending on the muscle group(s) you plan to train on a given workout, a little prehab may come in handy. But the trick is to not overkill it. If you feel you need scapular stability to prepare for a chest workout, choose ONE of the countless scapular stability geared exercises there are out there, and perform reps of that one exercise until scapular stability is promoted. Got it? Good. Now go start your pressing workout! You can always throw in another set here and there between pressing sets if you feel you need to.
The perfect warmup would be again, sensitive to the muscle groups and exercises you’re planning to train on that given day. Here are a couple of examples.
A) Foam Rolling to IT band, glutes, quads, hip flexors (5 minutes)
B) Static Stretching (hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, low back, glutes) – (5 minutes)
C) 3x5 jump squats, plyo pushups, leg swings/arm circles (3 rounds without rest -3 minutes)
D) 2x6-8 glute bridge, or prone superman (2 minutes)
E) First ramping set of deadlifts
A) Foam Rolling and static stretches to pecs/shoulders/lats (5-8 minutes)
B) One of: i) Scapular wall slides
ii) light weight seated rows
iii) reverse flies (palms out)
v) face pulls
Perform 2x15 (3 minutes)
C) Plyometric push ups/plyometric incline pushups and arm circles - 3x5 (3 mintues)
D) First ramping set of presses
In both examples, in about 15 minutes, the proper measures are taken to do all the things a warmup should, in a basic 3-step process: Improve tissue quality, lengthen tissue, activate key muscles. That way you have tonnes of muscle glycogen (and TIME!) left for your actual workout, rather than spending it all doing calisthenics, “warmup sets”, and jogging.
You’ll also notice that I mentioned a first “ramping” set at the end. This begins the actual workout. Ramping sets are a method that I’ve adopted where the lifter perfroms a couple of reps of the actual movement at increasing submaximal loads in order to stimulate the nervous system until it’s finally time for the first “working set”, which are the heaviest sets that mean the most.
Example: Bench Press – 5x5 work sets @ 295lbs
Set 1: 135x4 reps
Set 2: 185x3 reps
Set 3: 205x3 reps
Set 4: 225x2 reps
Set 5: 245x2 reps
Set 6: 275x2 reps
Set 7 (work set 1): 295x5 reps
This is a much more effective method to charging up the nervous system, and science supports this. An emphasis towards accelerating the weight, and avoiding wasted reps or sets, will potentiate lots of muscle hypertrophy. When applying these principles, it’s important to try to use maximum force on the concentric (in this case, when the bar moves away from the chest). Aim for the bar to go up like a shot!
Okay, maybe we didn’t entirely drop the ball like I said, but if you’re an intelligent enough reader and trainee to differentiate between good info and bad info, then shouldn’t you be intelligent enough to apply the advice in moderation?
So, what say you? Do you want to be ripped with healthy shoulders, or a weak, skinny mini with…well… healthy shoulders? The warmup to your workout should be short and sweet. 15 minutes is more than enough time to get the muscles and joints prepared for some solid lfting. Remember that a size and strength programme should be geared towards lifting for size and strength. Take the appropriate measures to stay safe, by all means, but if the horse is dead, please, stop beating it.« back to previous page