With home workout suggestions absolutely everywhere given the current unprecedented Covid-19 global lockdown, most of us who are lucky enough to still be training are doing so at a much reduced resistance level using dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, if we are lucky enough to have them or indeed every day house hold items to provide some sort of resistance into our training routines.
With all of this change it can be easy to forget some of the key principles which are the difference between a good workout routine and a great one.
Full Range of Motion of the working joints
Time under Tension
Activating the Correct Muscles for the Exercise
Exploring Variations of an exercise that work best for you
There are numerous ways to create a progressive overload; add weight, add reps, add sets, reduce rest time, etc. but to ensure that you are testing yourself in every single set the above easy formula should be used when it comes to weights training. If you want to make the best possible progress in the shortest possible space of time you have to challenge yourself on every single set and to do that you have to find your level.
Form is key. Its the start point of your training and the item that you must learn to master on every single exercise. If you are lucky enough to have a coach or a personal trainer then they will help you here. The best coaches are obsessed with form and you should be too. Even if you do not have a coach or PT you should be familiar with the various phases of an exercise, start position, end position and transition phase. The desired range of motion between start and end position is also key to know. Use the mirrors, use the diagrams present on all gym machines, use Google, use whatever you can. At an absolute minimum you should know where you should be feeling the exercise, the machine diagrams will usually highlight these but for free weights you should become familiar with what body part is being primarily targeted during an exercise and what body parts are being targeted on a secondary basis. If you are feeling the exercise anywhere else or indeed not feeling it at all in the primary target area then it’s usually a good indication that your form may be off. This is something that I constantly ask my clients during a PT session to ensure the correct muscles are being worked.
Performing exercises without proper form and/or without full range of motion is your biggest blocker to success. You must get these right before even thinking about increasing the weight you are lifting.
When your Form is perfect (or near perfect) and you can perform the exercise for its full range of motion, you next need to look at your reps. For simplicity lets imagine you are doing 10 reps at the same weight for a set. You must pay attention to your form and rep range for ALL 10 reps. It usually happens something like this:
Reps 1-5: Form Good & Range of Motion Good
Reps 6-8: Form Ok & Range of Motion slightly less then full
Reps 9-10: Form lost & Range of Motion halved
If the above is the case, you need to look at lowering the weight you are training with to ensure that you have correct form and range of motion for the entire set.
However, if you make if from 1-10 perfectly then you must immediately review the weight you are lifting!
If your Form is correct and you maintain that Form for the desired Rep range
How you train and recover matters. Over time, both good and bad, training and recovery habits compound to drive you in the right or wrong direction.
The below four training types are fitness level agnostic and can be commonly identified across all levels and types of training. The ‘Over Training / Injury Zone’ highlighted in each diagram below exists for everyone but depending on your own personal fitness level it may take more or less effort to reach it. The four commonly identifiable training types are as follows:
As the name suggests, this is optimal training. This is where everyone wants to be and with the right coach and mind-set this is where you should be. Optimal training has two key identifying traits:
Train Hard – Those performing at an optimal level are consistently training hard and pushing themselves close to their limit without over doing it.
Recover Properly – After a hard training session you are actually less fit than prior to it in the short term. It’s the recover phase that makes you fitter. To consistently perform at an optimal level you must also consistently recover at an optimal level. Every correct recovery allows you to again empty the tank in training and push yourself further again.
You can see from the graph the Optimal trainer is consistently training hard and recovering properly which is making them fitter and fitter over time.
Sub-Optimal training is unfortunately the zone that most fall into without the assistance of an experienced coach or indeed when the motivation is not there. Sub-Optimal training is identified primarily by the following:
Not Training Hard Enough – The key identifier of sub-optimal training is not pushing yourself hard enough. Skipping sets, skipping exercises, working with weights or resistance that does not challenge you, or simplifying exercises are all habits that can lead you to sub-optimal training.
Recovery – Recovery here could be optimal. Rest and nutrition on point but you are unable to get the maximum benefit due to not pushing hard enough in training.