Saturday, January 25, 2014

8 Ways to Spice Up Your Training

Tired of the same old 3 sets of 10 reps with a 2/0/2 tempo, resting a minute between sets? Spice up your gym experience with a change in sets/reps, tempo, range of motion, exercise order, or exercise selection. You'll be glad you did.

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1. Negatives

Negative, or eccentric, training places an emphasis on the lowering phase of a lift. Negatives pack on a ton of strength (and even some flexibility ). They should be reserved for only one exercise per training session, though, as they induce extreme muscle soreness.

Pull-ups: Jump up to the top of the pull-up bar and lower yourself down to a count of 5. 

Leg curls: Grab sliders (or socks on a hardwood floor), and lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels on the sliders. Engage your abs, and lift your hips to form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Keeping your hips up the entire time, allow your legs to straighten to a count of 5. Really squeeze your glutes to avoid a hamstring cramp. Let your hips drop and bend your knees to return to the start position.

2. Dynamic Effort

Power, a key component of athleticism, is the product of force and velocity. Thus, in addition to lifting heavy weights, we must also lift weights quickly. Dynamic effort is essentially speed work: the goal is to perform reps quickly and explosively while still maintaining control.

Deadlifts: Choose a moderate weight, and perform 10 to 12 reps as quickly as possible while maintaining perfect form. Think about ripping the bar off the floor. There should be no pause during or between reps. These are extremely taxing, so make sure you get plenty of rest between sets.

3. Isometrics

Isometrics are static holds that place muscles under an incredible amount of tension for a prolonged period of time. If you've ever done a wall sit, you know this feeling. Isometric training is as much a psychological challenge as it is physical. Try deep breathing to help pass the time.

Hanging L-hold: For a nasty grip and core challenge, hang from a pull-up bar with your arms straight overhead and your thighs parallel to the floor. Start with several 10-second holds and work up to a minute straight. Don't forget to chalk up.

4. Partial Reps

From time to time, we all seek that Arnold-style pump. To this end, partial reps are the way to go. You will find partial reps to be so taxing that complete reps feel like rest in comparison. Try them out on the glamour muscles of the upper and lower body.

21's for biceps: Grab a barbell or EZ curl bar. Perform the first 7 curls through the first half of the range of motion (stopping halfway up). Perform the next 7 reps from halfway up to the end range. Perform the final 7 reps through the full range.

1.5 walking lunges: Lunge forward and kiss the trailing knee to the floor. Then, instead of stepping through, come up halfway and lower back down again to the bottom of the lunge. Finally, step through and repeat on the other side. Keep a vertical shin on the front leg (i.e. do not let your knee go past your toes).

5. Combinations

Combination exercises are a time-efficient way to work the entire body and get the heart pumping. Pick an upper body and a lower body exercise that you can alternate between without having to change position. The emphasis here is not strength; be sure to choose a weight you can handle for both movements.

Thrusters: This exercise combines the squat and overhead press in an explosive fashion. Stay in the 10 to 12 rep range at first. The key is to use your legs to drive the weight up overhead. For the greatest metabolic effect, string reps together with minimal rest at the top and bottom.

Stiff leg deadlift row: Begin by standing upright with a barbell in hand. Maintain a neutral spine as you slowly push your hips back and slide the barbell down your thighs. Once you reach your end range, perform a bent-over row. Return to standing, and repeat 10 to 12 times in this alternating fashion.

6. Complexes 

Like combination exercises, complexes require only one implement (usually a barbell, though dumbbells and kettlebells work just as well) and are done in a non-stop fashion without rest. Instead of alternating between two exercises, select about half a dozen exercises to perform several reps of in rapid succession without putting weight down.

Be certain you are proficient at each movement of the complex individually before grouping them together, as fatigue becomes a huge factor. In general, place power exercises at the beginning of the complex, and alternate between upper and lower body.

Complex with an upper body emphasis (Nick Tumminello): Choose a fairly light weight, and perform 5 to 8 reps each of the following: bent-over row, shrug, hang clean, pogo hops, overhead press, good morning, snatch, and curls.

Complex with a lower body emphasis (Ben Bruno): Choose a fairly light weight, and perform 5 hang cleans, 5 reverse lunges per leg, 10 push presses, 10 back squats, 10 high pulls, and 10 stiff leg deadlifts.

7. Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises

Closed kinetic chain exercises are defined by fixed feet (for lower body exercise) or hands (for upper body exercise) in space. Obvious examples include pull-ups and squats. These movements have open kinetic chain counterparts that are typically less "functional," like lat pull-downs and leg press. The following closed kinetic chain exercises also place an incredible demand on the core using bodyweight alone.

Inverted row: Replace seated cable rows with this analogous closed kinetic chain movement. Maintain a straight line from head to toe as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your chest to the bar. To make this movement easier, raise the bar to cut the angle, or just bend your knees. To made it more difficult, elevate your feet on a box.

Bodyweight skull-crushers: Assume a push-up position with your hands on the bar of a Smith machine (or other sturdy implement). Take one more step away from the bar, and -- keeping your elbows in tight -- slowly lower yourself to where your forehead nearly touches the bar. Return to the start position and repeat 10 to 12 times. Try to maintain a straight line from head to toe. A slightly piked hip position is okay to avoid lumbar (low back) hyperextension.

8. Tabata Protocol

A Tabata consists of 8 rounds of 20 seconds of all-out work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Traditionally, Tabatas are done by sprinting on a track, treadmill, or fan bike, but there's no rule against using the same work/rest scheme for traditional resistance training exercises.

Tabata push-ups: Do as many reps as possible every round. Don't save up for later. If you die, you die. Set a goal of an average of 8 push-ups per round for a total of 64 reps. As an added challenge, during periods of work, even if you can't do another push-up, continue to hold a high plank. Be sure to download a Tabata timer app so you don't have to keep checking the clock.

Although I list only one or two examples for the items above, there are, in fact, infinite flavors of each. Leave a comment below or on Facebook if you'd like more suggestions or have any of your own!

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