Don't Waste Precious Time

It’s Monday evening in Anytown, U.S.A., and the phone is ringing-“Hey, Dude, let’s hit the gym tonight-got to train Chest and Tri’s. I’ll meet you there around 6:00- let’s bust ass so we can be out by 8:30 –Got to get home so the ole’ lady won’t get on my case-See ya!” Around 6:05 the “Iron Buddies” saunter in the gym and spend the first 15 minutes or so acknowledging other familiar faces, then plot their plan of action –“Let’s see-for Chest, let’s start with 9 sets of flat bench, then on to 6 or 7 sets of incline press, 5 or 6 sets of pec deck, and finish up with 4 sets of vertical presses. Then we’ll hit “tri’s”--5 sets close grips, 5 sets French presses and finish up with another 5 or 6 sets of pushdowns for a really good “burn”--Dude, I’m still fried from last week’s chest workouts. I don’t know if I can hit Chest 3 times again this week, so let’s just do more sets tonight instead! Then tomorrow, we’ll do Back and Bi’s- hit them real hard again- and let’s do another 15 sets for the “guns”again- really fry ‘em !” Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the pals (who are in the gym 5 or 6 days each week) haven’t really packed on any noticeable muscle mass and have hardly progressed in any movement in terms of the amount of resistance used, in the past year. Sound familiar, or very much like someone you know ? If you’re being honest, the answer is most likely “yes.” Let’s step out of the dark.

There are multiple factors that dictate success in the pursuit of an improved physique and healthier lifestyle. Genetic predisposition (which would include muscle fiber type quantity and distribution), one’s motivation and volitional effort--the intensity factor-- (remember this !), movement selection, regulating the volume and frequency of workouts, quality of sleep, nutritional support, adequate hydration, proper execution of the repetition, etc., -well, you get the idea—all are examples of truly vital concerns. The decision to undertake the challenge of physical self re-invention is quite serious. I believe it is too serious to squander any valuable time, having little or no reward to show for your efforts. There are literally tens of thousands of trainees in gyms throughout the world who sadly, month after month, year after year, make no real meaningful progress. Most are totally unaware of the vigorous metabolic demands and stressors that are placed upon the body and its subsystems, as a result of both a proper and/or an improper physiological stimulus. As an end result, there is a non-theoretical pursuit that occurs by thinking that because an effective workout may result in progress, therefore immediate and multiple sessions must lead to faster progress (more is better). This is blind thinking at best- if that were true, then one could literally spend all day in the gym, every day, performing numerous set after set and receive far greater, unprecedented progress--how silly is that !!

Personal observation will reveal that the biggest mistakes most trainees make in the gym are as follows: 1. Training with far too much volume (excessive sets). 2. Not allowing for adequate recovery (training too often), and 3. Not training as hard as you should (insufficient intensity).

Intensity of effort and duration of effort are at the exact opposite ends of the spectrum .The greater the effort applied, the shorter the total performance time that literally can, and should, be expended. This is easily demonstrated by a simple motor skill such as walking. Almost anyone can place one foot in front of the other continuously at a very slow and controlled pace. Increasing the pace and footfall speed to a brisk walk will see an increase in effort, and as a result, a decline in the amount of time able to sustain this more intense pace. Next, move to an all- out “sprint”, and it is obvious one cannot continue this effort for long periods of time. The same rules of intensity/duration are applied to resistance training. One literally cannot sustain an intense and therefore truly productive workout for long periods of time- to do so demonstrates the lack of proper training intensity necessary to result in a subsequent increase in size and strength. Any unnecessary performance (too many sets, or training too often) will be counter-productive, compromising recovery and compensation, resulting in a high metabolic cost to the body’s subsystem recovery abilities, literally preventing the body from allowing the desired changes to occur.

Remember, it is not during the workout that progress occurs, it is between the sessions ( when the body should be properly at rest ) that compensation, (recovery) and finally, super-compensation (progress), should result. It therefore is mere common sense to realize that any workouts performed before this necessary process occurs will result in a halt of progress. Truly productive workouts should be intense, brief and somewhat infrequent. While we all possess a unique adaptive capacity to an imposed stress -i.e. weight training- (some may be able to train more often than others), there is no doubt that the workouts apply both a demanding localized and systemic stress that must be recognized and allowed for by both genetically “elite”, and average trainees, before total recovery and productive compensation will occur.

While it is possible to train more often using low-to-moderate intensity efforts (workouts), this will compromise optimal increases in potential strength and size. Unless one wishes to transform the workout time into a social platform, why would you want to spend hours daily in the gym, when it is so unnecessary and counterproductive to real progress ? Grasping this concept is (sadly) difficult for most, as we have all at some point been victims of traditional weight training folklore, and the “comic book hero” routines found in most “muscle rags”. Championship bodybuilders, like all champions in any athletic pursuit, are first and foremost, typically gifted genetically. This does not discount their efforts or disciplined approach, however most could merely jump up and down and still experience some favorable physical results ! Couple superior genetic traits with certain “ergogenic aids” and well, you get the picture. Hardly the stuff that the average trainee is concerned with.

The rules for progress have not changed and will not change- you must first train with sufficient intensity, so as to provide the potential stimulus for an increase in size and strength, then allow the process to occur through proper application of rest (sleep and tranquility), coupled with adequate nutrition. Remember, just doing more is not better (you should not be testing your tolerance for exercise), but HARDER IS BETTER--in both a focused, proper execution of the movement, and in the movement selected.

In summary, the 3 most important considerations touched upon here are : 1. The “intensity” factor in exercise, 2. The amount, or volume, of exercise, and 3. The recovery concern. It takes hard work to induce growth, and then a sufficient recovery period to allow for progress . Most trainees will benefit by training harder, less often, and resting more. As I wrap this up, thanks for taking the time to read, because please remember, time is too precious to waste.

-Eric Shrieves