The program you’re on is slugging along. You’re bored, unmotivated and not looking forward to your workouts. I hate to break it to you, but effective programming can get a little boring. Creating the correct stimulus needed toimprove certain movements or goals requires you to hone specific "skills", properly stimulating it, and then adding in rest and repeat. It’s systematic. It works, but it’s really, really boring.
Today I'm going to explore a few ways to "charge up" your program without sacrificing the "meat and potatoes" of it. The following tactics can be used in conjunction with your program or can be used to completely overhaul your program. Let’s get started.
1. Are you BREATHING correctly?
You’ve heard it a million times: stabilize, lock down, tighten up...yadda yadda yadda. Sound familiar? But all of these things are really how you’re BREATHING. Here’s a simple test: stand in front of the mirror and take 5 big, deep breaths. Look at where the air is going. Are your shoulders rising and neck tensing up? Or is your belly expanding with each breath in? If it's not the latter, then you have some breathing issues.
Here’s how to change it:
Start by lying down on your back with your lower back flat to the floor (raise your knees in the air if needed).
Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and your hands across your belly and take a massive breath in. Try to "fill your hands" with your belly.
Once you have fully inhaled, hold that breath for 3 or 4 seconds and fully exhale...deeply...get every last bit of breath out of you. Repeat for 5 breaths.
Seriously. Do this exercise right now. I’ll wait..............
You’ll notice a couple of subtle changes. Even while your lower back is staying flat to the floor, the range of motion in your shoulders has increased. Do you feel that? Pretty cool, right?
Now, take that big, diaphramic breathing into the weight room. Before going into the concentric (driving) phase of a movement, BREATH though that diaphragm and notice how TENSE you become (this is what trainers mean!!). This tension will lead to more weight on the bar, more reps in the tank, and overall better progress. Muscles require oxygen for contraction, give it to them!
2. Train Total Body and Contrast Super-Sets
For most, the old school body-part training is still a major theme for programs. I want you to expand your thought process and try something completly differentnter TOTAL BODY training.There are many benefits to training total body each workoutore calories expendedore frequent training stimulus = more practice at the movements you want to maximizeetter mobilitya "use it or lose it" type of dealust more fun.
Doing 20-25 sets of chest press variations sounds cool, but lets be honest, it’s Andif your not an aspiring body builder and just want to feel better, look better, move better (like most people in the gym) then this is the most effective way to train. Period. Plus this allows you to hit your favorite body parts more often, and allows the muscle to be more fresh
This is also where contrast super-sets can come in. Instead of a ench press paired with a DB fly or even a rowchallenge yourself and pair it with say, a DB Step back Lunge? This not only gives the primary movement, but allows you to keep the up and doesn't impede the progress of the first movement. And I promise, you will keep "da pump" as well.
Here’s an example workout using both Total Body and Contrast Super-Set principles with an "Upper Body" Focus:
A1- Incline Barbell Press 4x6-8
A2- Band Straight Arm Pulldowns 4x15-20
B1- Barbell Hip Thrusts 3x10-12
B2- DB Fly 3x8 (Explode up, 3 seconds down)
B3- DB Single Arm Row 3x8-10/arm
C1- Feet Elevated Pushups 2xfailure
C2- Bulgarian Split Squats 2x30 sec/leg
D1- Ab Wheelouts- 2x10-12
3. Add Accommodating Resistance
Can’t seem to budge the weight on a certain lift? Don't worry, it’s super common. The problem with traditional strength training is that it only truly strengthens at the bottom of the lift. Hence why most "fail points" are either right in the middle of the lift, or at the lockout position...this is where accommodating resistance fills the void.
The way a band or chain works is by adding resistance THROUGHOUT the entire movement path. For example, the bench press the band doesn't add much resistance at the bottom of the movement, but as the bar moves further into the path, the band/chain gets stretched, adding constant tension.
Here is an example of a quick way to set a band up on a bench press. I use these for either a couple sets before the benching to activate the nervous system before the heavy work, or with weight (start with about 50% of normal working weight here) for helping to "bring up" the mid-portion of the lift without taxing the muscle in the eccentric phase.
Check it out here.
The object using accommodating resistance is not more weight on the bar, but SPEED of the movement throughout the entire bar path. This speed throughout will transfer very well to when the bar is fully loaded. I suggest starting with a smaller band, and about 45-50% of max on the bar. Shoot for 5-8 sets of 2-3 reps each set. The focus is to move the bar faster and faster each set, and to feel nervously"turned on" and explosive after the setsot trashed and tired.
Here’s an example weekly template for incorporating speed:
M- Heavy Pressing ( can use workout from above)
T- Off or general movement prep/conditioning
W- Heavy Leg Emphasis (squat or deadlift pattern as "main" lift)
Th- Off- Recovery techniques
F- Speed Bench Press (banded) Med Ball work (Below) + Direct Tricep work
S- Speed Deadlift or Squat Pattern + Direct Bicep and Ab Work
4. Med Ball or Banded Speed Work
To continue improving neuro-drive and explosion, there is no tool better than the medicine ball. Med balls really utilize the "anti-rotation" and rotational aspects of training, and are a very safe way for anyone to improve power output. The med ball creates both tension and force in the "wind-up" portion of the movement and then sends that force away from the body and into the med ball, dispersing it into the floor or wall. This really improves contractile forces and can be the missing tool in that extra "pop" needed to complete a lift or improve explosion in a sport. When plugging these movements into the workout, keep the reps low and maximize SPEED of the ball. I prefer to do 2-4 sets of 1-2 movements for 2-5 reps each set.
Another great warmup or super-set to add to an upper body (I prefer with a pressing movement) or for a BRUTAL same-pattern combo with a heavy front/back or goblet squat are mini-band resisted squat jumps.
Check them out here
I really like these due to the safe nature of the plyo (the band really reenforces good form on the eccentric or force accepting portion of the movement- Better landing mechanics) and really lights up the booty, most people I work with's weak point.
A2- Band Loaded Jump Squats 15-20 sec. (load and reload)
Or if you want your legs to hate you, try this guy out:
A1- Heavy Squat Pattern (Front/Back or Goblet Squat) 6 reps (Down 2, hold 2, Explode up)
A2- Banded Jump Squats 20-30 sec
5. Work the Middle of the Lift
This is an oft-overlooked part of lifting. Take the deadlift for example. If you find yourself getting stuck at the point where the bar is reaching the knees, then doing a Rack-Pull (or setting the bar up in the rack at that knee high position) can help you improve.
It’s also useful in creating tension in that portion of the lift, bring up the weak point and hopefully transferring it over to the full lift.
I like to program these in every couple of months to keep the lift honest and to keep up on weak points.
Here’s another example, instead of a full barbell bench press, for a 3-4 week cycle, I would work the mid-portion of the bench press either by placing the bar in the rack at the mid-point position or using a block/board press (sitting a yoga block or 2-6in board on your chest for a stopping point). Then, follow up with a secondary, full range of motion pressing movement like a DB Flat Bench press to continue to progress on overall pattern. Use these either to replace your main movement for 2-3 weeks, or as a secondary movement after you big lift for the day is completed.
Hopefully after reading this you will find an idea or two to add to your own workout to "spice it up" without sacrificing the progression of the programming. Training is all about building on the previous workout and progressive overload, but keepin' it fresh is important (and fun) too! Now get out there and train.