I think everyone starts a new exercise program with the best possible intentions. Whats important though is sustaining this positive mindset throughout the inevitably tough sessions ahead.
This is where goal setting is hugely important. Not only does goal setting allow you to track progression but it also gives you very definite performance perameters within each session. I’ll start by saying I think you need more than one goal in order to truly periodise your program. In the fitness industry we like to work off short, medium and long term goals. This allows progression to be monitored and any necessary changes to be made. Let’s face it you don’t want to wait 12 weeks before realising you aren’t getting the results you planned for. Hence the reason for short term goal setting – meaning you can assess results after just 2-4 weeks. This is where the ability to periodise your workouts is incredibly important. It may be that you have very easily reached your goal and have progressed further than you previously thought possible. In this scenario you would almost certainly re-address your future goals to incorporate this improvement in performance. This obviously works both ways, you may feel you have under achieved and as a result want to be more realistic with future goals.
Once you have identified your goals, you begin planning your workouts. The content of each session should be prescribed mainly by your desired end result. Of course you must take into account other factors such as likes/dislikes, time restraints, experience level and so on but the goal should remain the primary focus. Research becomes very important at this stage in the planning, you want to equip yourself with the best possible tools to succeed.
This whole process is by no means an exact science and you may feel frustrated at first. Goal setting is very much trial and error as is learning how to periodise your new program. These factors are almost entirely dependant on your own understanding of your body and its capabilities. However, once perfected it’s a great way to monitor both intensity of sessions and progress.
Firstly, lets just say this isn’t reinventing the wheel. Intensity has always been a tool utilised by those willing to push themselves out of their comfort zone. Intensity itself can be varied many ways, less rest, more weight, more sets, more reps, slower tempo and so on. However, all these methods produce very different results and its sometimes easy to get lost in the information circulating gym floors and internet forums.
I’ll assume that most men who use the age-old 4 sets of 12 routine want to achieve muscular hypertrophy. However, what’s more important than the number of reps is the way they are completed. Sure, you can choose a moderate weight, force 12 reps out then rest for a minute and go again, but what is this actually achieving? The primary focus should be on tension in the desired muscles. When one trains with the idea of intensity in mind it’s very easy to simply think this means more weight lifted more quickly. This maybe the reason lots of people aren’t getting the results they deserve. I say deserve because most peoples dedication isn’t in question, what is in question however, is the method behind their training sessions.
Needless to say the biggest hindrance to personal results in most gyms is training with too heavy a weight. This is where ego comes into play massively. Sure, it may feel like a backwards step to reduce your poundages but it most certainly isn’t. Lower weights allow you to isolate muscles more effectively whilst concentrating on constant tension. I’m a massive advocate of full sets under tension with no momentary muscle relaxation at all. You achieve this by never locking out the mobile joint, ensuring tension never leaves the muscle. I appreciate this can be extremely difficult but when working weights are reduced you can truly tweak your intensity. It is well stated that time under tension is hugely important for hypertrophy. You can double the time of a set with proper control throughout the movement – Next time you’re under a bar preparing to bench why not time your sets rather than aiming for that magical 12 reps. Set your stop watch to 45 seconds and stop pressing when time is elapsed. This will serve to highlight just how important consistency is with regards to tempo. Try and complete each rep with a 2-2-2-2 tempo, done correctly you will only complete 5 or 6 full reps in a set of 45 seconds but I guarantee you’ll isolate much better than a 12 rep set lasting half that.
As I mentioned earlier this is nothing new but it’s often overlooked in favour of the plethora of fitness crazes currently doing the rounds online. It’s very simple, but very effective. Try it and see for yourself.