‘How To Maximize Your Exercise Sessions’ by Kat Millar published in Great Health Guide (Oct 2015). When it comes to exercise most of us want to maximize our sessions in order to achieve the best possible results. There are two common problems which may prevent us from achieving the desired result. Find out what they are & the tips to maximizing your workout.
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FITNESS: How To Maximize Your Exercise Sessions
written by Kat Millar
When it comes to exercise most of us want to maximize our sessions in order to achieve the best possible results. There are two common problems which may prevent us from achieving the desired result. Let’s take a look at each one.
Problem 1: Staying with the same exercise program for too long
The first problem is becoming stuck in the same routines for too long. As a human race we are creatures of habit. This is because one of our fundamental human needs is certainty and we create routines naturally to help free up mental space to make it available for other things. Many of us have our favourite exercises, our favourite ways of doing things, our favourite times and days to train etc. It’s a way of reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed and creating certainty. This problem happens when we stick to the same things for too long.
Problem 2: Changing the exercise program too often
The second problem is ‘program hopping’ before making consistent progress. The reason many of us do this is because, just as we have a fundamental need for certainty, we also have a need for variety. We like the ‘latest and newest’ workouts or search for the secret method or next best thing that we haven’t tried before. It becomes a problem if our short attention span and tendency to get bored easily causes us to give up on things too quickly. This needs to be considered if one of your goals is to improve performance or skill or increase strength for example.
There are different considerations with each of these problems. Firstly, while changing your program regularly is essential, problems arise when you try new things too often and discard old routines. In many cases some of these ‘old’ routines could be the ones that are working well for you. I remember a coach saying to me years back, “Kat, building your body is not always exciting. You need to do it anyway”.
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On the other hand, it can be ineffective to jump from one program to the next in search of the ultimate routine that claims it’s the best and is going to work (often unrealistically) fast. However, if you don’t change anything, nothing will change for you. If you keep doing what you’re doing and expecting different results, you’re probably going to be disappointed. What you need, is a healthy balance of these two.
In order to maximise your exercise sessions, it’s important to look at ways to change your workout routine so that it continues to produce better outcomes and results and also focuses on the individual areas of your body that you personally need to improve. So considering these two common problems, how do you know when you should change your workouts? Here are three different reasons.
When to change your workout routine:
1.If what you’re doing stops working for an extended period of time
2. If your goals change
3. If you get so bored that it’s affecting your motivation
1. If what you’re doing stops working for an extended period of time:
If you stop achieving results, this is really the number one (and most obvious) reason to change your workout routine in some way – when it is no longer doing what it’s supposed to do. The longer you’ve been training, the more often you need to change your program. For example advanced trainers (over a year of regular and consistent training) need to change their program much more often than a beginner or an intermediate exerciser.
2. If your goals change:
If your primary goal was always strength related and now your primary goal has changed to building muscle or losing fat, then changes should be made to your program to reflect the changes in your goals. If your goal is fat loss, then your program can generally be changed more often than strength training or specific skill training.
3. If you get so bored that it’s affecting your motivation:
If you become really bored with what you’re doing that it’s beginning to affect your motivation to exercise, then it’s probably time to change something to bring your interest, desire and motivation back.
So, what does maximizing your exercise sessions really mean?
1. Taking you out of your comfort zone
2. Giving your brain a change
3. Taking you to the next level
1. Taking you out of your comfort zone:
There is no growth in the comfort zone. There may be maintenance, but not growth. Maximizing your sessions gets you out of your comfort zone where change happens.
2. Giving your brain a change:
Again this comes back to variety being a fundamental human need and so it makes sense to include some mental variety and change to prevent boredom. It can help you to look forward to your sessions and bring out your best.
3. Taking you to the next level:
Maximizing your sessions is about optimization, efficiency and effectiveness. It’s about looking at every area of your exercise plan and thinking about how you can improve it.
Before I elaborate further on how to maximise your exercise sessions, there are a few things you need to establish:
a. What’s your Number 1 goal?
What do you really, really want to achieve more than anything?
b. What is keeping you stuck?
It may be procrastination, fear of failure, fear of success, a limiting belief, lack of know-ledge etc. It’s important to identify what it is.
c. What needs to change?
You now need to establish what needs to change and what needs to stay the same. It’s not necessary or helpful to change everything all at once, all the time.
So, how do you maximise your exercise sessions?
1. Get more bang for your buck
2. Try some complexes
3. Change one or more variables
1. Get more bang for your buck:
Compound lifts (using two or more joints) give you more bang for your buck because they burn more calories and are conditioning more of your muscles. If your goal is fat loss, it’s not the most effective use of your time to do six sets of bicep curls. To lose fat, it’s wise to incorporate big lifts that burn a lot of calories. I recommend you choose 1-2 big lifts for each major muscle group. For example, front squat or rear-foot elevated lunge, deadlift, incline press, military press, some form of row and chin-up.
Most of your results will come from simply practicing and refining fundamental compound lifts regularly. It doesn’t mean every single session needs to be a gut-busting effort, however to continue to achieve results focus on progressively overloading the muscles in some way over time.
2. Try some complexes:
A complex is a series of fast pace exercises where you perform all of the assigned reps on one exercise before moving to the next. If you want your training to be rewarding, complexes are a great heart-pounding alternative to traditional cardio.
Weight training can be a fun and challenging workout and when performed with things like complexes, there is post oxygen consumption effect which means that you burn more calories after the workout. Also, if you set up your complexes properly, you can exercise all of the main muscle groups and even have specific work for your abs, at the same time as burning loads of calories (plus setting yourself up to burn loads after your workout too). This is a win-win!
Complexes could include:
Barbell complex: Barbell deadlift, barbell front squat, barbell bent-over row, barbell shoulder press
Dumbbell (DB) complex: Walking lunges holding DB, DB chest press, DB push-press, DB alternating bent-over rows
Body-weight complex: Burpees, walking push-ups, body-weight squats, jump-lunges
If you want to use complexes to firm up your muscles, increase your general fitness or just to become more athletic, I recommend you pick two or three complexes and perform them after your regular weight training session.
For fat loss, I’d recommend doing all three complexes, one for each day per week, on the days when you’re not doing your regular program. Just remember to start at your own level and if in doubt, work the intensity up slowly.
3. Change one or more variables:
In most cases, you’d probably be able to keep the overall setup and structure of your routine exactly the same and just make smaller changes to various aspects within the workouts.
Variables to change:
1. Change your positions, angles, grips & order
2. Additional suggestions for substitutions
3. Personal Best opportunities
These include sets, reps, time, tempo, frequency, intensity, type, overload methods and rest periods. If your goal is strength I recommend you mainly concentrate on the major compound lifts you want to improve and within those exercises make subtle changes. This will ensure that your strength and coordination continue to improve.
By varying your movement patterns slightly, you may increase your chances of sparking continuous gains and motivation.
1. Change your positions, angles, grips and order:
There are always alternatives to the exercises you are already doing which can help to spice up your routine. For example:
Switch incline barbell presses to decline dumbbell presses
Switch standing barbell curls to seated dumbbell curls
Switch seated cable rows to T-bar rows, bent over barbell rows, or some type of chest supported row
Switch lunges to single leg squats
Switch exercises with an underhand grip to an overhand grip
Switch bilateral exercises (where both arms and legs are used at the same time) to unilateral exercises (each arm or leg is trained individually)