If you are not getting the results you want out of your workouts or having a hard time breaking through a plateau, here are a few questions to ask yourself: 1) Do you consistently time your rest intervals between each set? 2) Do you alter your repetition ranges every few weeks? 3) Do you know how many seconds each of your sets lasts? 4) Do you control the speed of each repetition? 5) Do you alter the exercises you use every few weeks? 6) Are you getting sufficient recovery between each workout? 7) How do you determine which exercises come first in a given workout? 8) How do you determine which type of program split to use?
In over a decade as a Personal Trainer, the biggest and most common mistake I see made in the weight room by trainees and trainers alike, is simply overlooking the details, and by the details I mean training parameters.
Lets start with what training parameters actually are. Training parameters are the variables that strength coaches and personal trainers manipulate to produce a specific training effect on the body. Without control over these variables training becomes random and inefficient. These variables include sets, repetitions, load, rest intervals, time under tension, exercise order, program split, training frequency, etc. Think of each training session as a dosage of a training stimulus that needs to be specific, objective and measureable. That dosage sends a clear message to the body that tells it exactly how to adapt (that adaptation could be a gain in strength, a drop in body fat, an increase in lean muscle tissue, etc). Here is a basic description of some of these training parameters, why they are important and how to optimize them to reach your training goals more efficiently.
REPETITIONS: How many reps you perform in each set largely dictates the training effect. Working in the 1-5 rep range will generally produce gains in strength, 6-8 reps will produce some gains in strength as well as some gains in muscle mass, 8-12 will favor an increase in muscle mass, and reps above 12 will generally improve muscular endurance. The other important thing to know about rep ranges is that your body adapts very quickly to them, so it is crucial that you vary the rep range you are focusing on every few weeks.
SETS: The number of sets performed will generally be dictated by the Rep Range you are using. The lower the number of reps performed per set, the higher the number of sets needed and vice versa. The number sets generally range from 3 to 10 per exercise. Also keep in mind that the more sets you do per workout, the more recovery time you’ll need before training that muscle group again.
REST INTERVAL: Each Rep Range (and desired training effect) has a recommended rest interval. For Relative Strength a rest interval of 3-5 minutes is recommended. For Functional Hypertrophy (mix of strength and hypertrophy): 2-3 minutes. For Hypertrophy: 1.5-2 minutes. Muscular Endurance: less than 1.5 minutes
TEMPO: The tempo is the speed at which you a) lift the weight b) pause at the top, c) descend the weight and d) pause at the bottom. The time it takes to perform each rep will influences the amount of TIME UNDER TENSION per set for the muscles being worked. A time under tension of 0-20 seconds will favor changes in strength. A time under tension of 20-40 seconds will favor changes in strength and hypertrophy. A time under tension of 40-70 seconds will yield changes in hypertrophy. A time under tension of 70-120 seconds will produce changes in muscular endurance.
EXERCISE SELECTION: The exercises you select should be appropriate for your level of fitness and suitable to your goals. If your goal is to gain strength or drop body fat, then arm curls might not be the best choice… But if you’re a bodybuilder they are. The other important consideration is making sure that every few weeks you change the exercise or the variation of the exercise you are using. This could even be a small change such as a change from a flat bench press to an incline bench press.
EXERCISE ORDER: Always start with the most important or most demanding exercises. For example a big lift such as a heavy squat or deadlift should never come at the end of a workout. In the same vain you would rarely start a workout with smaller isolation movements. Order your exercises from big to small.