So often I speak to people and hear things such as,
"I know my routine"
And they have no interest in listening to new ideas, suggestions and advice.
I always say "No one knows everything, so listen!" I will HAPPILY listen to advice from others on the one condition: they can tell me "WHY?".
WHY should I do it your way? WHY is it better? WHY will I benefit?
So it frustrates me to even hear people describe their program as a "routine" !!!!
A gym program should not be routine, variety is key when it comes to making gains and bettering yourself.
So you may not want to rip up your gym program and start over. That's fine, but why not experiment with variations. Add a few twists and tweaks to your usual exercises, their format, tempo and technique. Then, sit back and admire your gains.
Varying your grip is one of the most under-rated ways of boosting your gains. Probably the best example is when working an exercise for your back. The back is such a vast area it's important to try and hit as many areas as possible. This is made easier by varying your grip; try narrow and wide variation, over-hand and under-hand variations and feel the difference.
It's not just back, consider your grip width on things such as bench press and for push ups or dips; even your feet distance for squats.
Adding an element of balance to an exercise can really test you and make the exercise much more challenging, targeted and rewarding.
By using tools such as a Bosu and emphasising balance you not only have more to think about and improve balance, but you negate the use of momentum and as a result, isolate the target muscle or muscle groups - win, win!
If you become familiar with how 10, 12, or 15 repetitions feel then it's time to shock your system!
If you always work to a format of 3 sets of 10. Or a pyramid of 12, 10, 8, why not focus a month on high repetitions. Really throw in something different. Nothing less than 12 reps, starting each exercise with 2 sets of 20 repetitions (eg: 20, 20, 15, 12). You'd be surprised how you can spot your shortcomings and also build a much more rounded "strength" while gaining some firm and quality mass.
Another shock tactic that a lot of people steer clear of is a "super-set". Simply carrying out two exercises back-to-back with no rest. Stop letting your body rest so much, push it to the limit,fill your muscles with blood, make your heart pump and work continuously for a longer period. Try it, you'll feel ace!
RUN THE RACK
Now.. writing this paragraph I'm not sure if "run the rack" is a phrase I heard somewhere or half made up myself!?!... Either way, I like it!
Basic idea, start an exercise (maybe your final exercise as a "finisher") on a really low weight, carry out no more than 15 repetitions. Finish your set, take a few second, move to a heavier weight. Work your way up the rack finishing on a heavy weight with just 4-6 reps.
For example, last week I did this with shrugs; with hardly any rest I got a serious sweat on doing this (number in bracket = repetitions): 16kg (15), 20kg (15), 24kg (12), 28kg (12), 32kg (12), 36kg (10), 40kg (10), 44kg(5), 44k (5).
Result: 4-5 minutes, 96 repetitions, 288kg shifted, filled, warm traps and forearms!
Personally, I think that when gaining strength there are a few essential things to maintain. Mobility, form and muscular balance. For the third reason, I think it's important to try and work single limbs at a time during each session.
Why not add some variety to your sessions in this way?.. Single arm dumbell chest press (a favourite of mine), single arm shoulder press, one-leg squat or leg press, one-hand seated row. Pretty much every exercise has an option for this.
These methods will test your co-ordination, core stability if you maintain good form, cardio fitness as you'll work for a much longer time and will also highlight any muscular imbalance or dominant side that you have.
CHANGE THE ORDER
There is NO reason that you need to do the same exercises in the same order. In FACT - it's counter productive for progress!Try changing the order in which you do your exercises at least every few weeks. Also, change the day that you do each program.
Your body likes routine and patter and knowing what demands you'll place on it. Simply changing the order in which you perform exercises can greatly increase the stress on your muscles and encourage growth. try it - you'll be pleasantly surprised!
Instead of working to repetitions, why not ignore the counting and work to a time limit? E.g: Reps in 30 seconds, then rest 30 seconds and repeat. One such method, tabata, was discussed in an earlier post and is a favourite of mine; something I try in some form at least once a week. It's a different way of working, places different demands on the body and requires a completely different mind-frame.
Mix two exercises together. It's simple, again places new demands on your body, often tests coordination and speeds up a session. Lunges with a shoulder press, straight leg deadlift with calf raises (and a shrug if you like?), squats and lunges alternate, chest press and flys alternate... the possibilities are endless!
If you enjoy making yourself feel weaker or perhaps enjoy a "pumped" feeling try pre-exhaust work. A basic and rewarding one is 60 seconds of dumbbell bicep curls with a light weight. Then straight on to a heavier preacher curl or cable bicep curl. The muscles feel full and both look and feel awesome. You can do this with ANY exercise and it's a good way of filling the muscles with blood before asking them to jump into action, encourage hypertrophy and also add new demands to your training.
Post-exhaust is the opposite. A "drop-set" if you like. Carry out an exercise, thenimmediately either drop the weight by around 50% or start another exercise wit a very light weight and aim for as many repeitions as possible. Same kind of feeling but play around and see which works for you.
I think a lot of people really overlook the benefits of adding variation to their workout. DON'T just do what you always do, think about how you can change it, improve it and increase it's complexity or difficulty. Try it a few times, get used to the technique and see if you get any gains from it.
Just a little tweak or few can go a long way - Variety is key! After all: "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got!"
Don't forget you can follow me on: www.twitter.com/MichaelD_PT