Maximize Your Efficiency: Three "Tweaks" That Will Revolutionize Your Workout
By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems
Here I present three methods which, when used consistently, will help you spend less time in the gym while getting better results at the same time.
Only applied knowledge is power, so don’t just read, but apply!
Efficient people instinctively try to get the majority of their work done early in the day (this also applies to week or month). The rationale is simple: you have more energy early in the day than you do later on.
Therefore, when I create training programs for my clients, I rarely indicate a standard amount of rest between each set. Instead, I’ll indicate a time-frame for all sets to be completed in (for example, 8 sets of 3 repetitions to be performed in 15 minutes - you might recognize Escalating Density Training (http://www.staleytrainingprograms.com) parameters in this example!).
In this way, my client will instinctively attempt to get a “head start” by taking shorter rests between the initial sets, which will permit longer rest intervals for later sets.
Since fatigue accumulates over the duration of a workout, front loading is far more efficient than using standard rest intervals between sets, which is how 99% of all people organize their workouts. Interested in joining the one-percent club? Apply this concept to your workouts starting today— the rewards will be significant and immediate.
Use Antagonistic Pairings
Every muscle in your body has a “partner” (called the antagonist) which is capable of opposing it’s contractile forces. For example, when you perform a biceps curl, the biceps muscle would be termed the “agonist” and the tricep would be the “antagonist.” (the easy way to remember these terms is to think that the agonist is the one that is in agony because it’s performing the work).
As you curl the weight, the motor cortex of your brain signals the triceps to relax in order to allow the biceps to contract. This phenomenon is called Sherrington’s Law of Reciprocal Inhibition. Here’s how we can take advantage of this phenomenon in a very practical way:
You first perform a set of barbell curls, and then rest perhaps 1-2 minutes. For set two, you perform a set of lying dumbbell triceps extensions. As you do so, the biceps muscles are “inhibited.”
The triceps contraction actually forces the biceps to de-activate, which simply means they will recover faster as a result of having performed the set of triceps extensions. You then rest, go back to the curls, and back and forth until all sets for both exercises are completed.
There are three additional benefits to the use of antagonistic pairings:
If you perform (for example) 5 sets of biceps curls one after the other using two minutes of rest between each set, you obviously get two minutes of rest between each set. However, if you perform a set of curls, then rest two minutes, then perform a set of triceps extensions, rest two minutes, etc., you now achieve more than four minutes of rest between two sets of the same exercise, even though the total workout duration remains the same.
Training muscles in antagonistic pairs ensures equal (or at least similar) strength development around both sides of the joint. This is very important for overall size and strength gains, because if the strength ratio between agonist and antagonist is significantly disparate, the brain will reduce your strength levels in an effort to protect your joints.
- In the preceding example, as you perform your biceps curls, you are keeping the involved joint warm for your next set of triceps extensions. Over time, this can be very meaningful in terms of joint integrity and health.
Here are a few examples of muscle pairings which correspond to the principles
I’ve just discussed:
Lats & Pecs
Biceps & Triceps
Quads & Hamstrings
Abdominals and Low Back Musculature
Lats & Triceps (biceps are usually heavily involved during most lat exercises)
- Pecs & Biceps (triceps are usually heavily involved during most pec exercises)
Use Submaximal Accelerative Efforts
If your best bench press for one rep is 300 pounds, then obviously the most amount of tension you can place on the targeted muscles will be just slightly more than 300 pounds.
However, Soviet force-plate research has shown that a load corresponding to 65% of your maximum capability (195 pounds in this example) can also result in 300 pounds worth of tension, provided that the weight is maximally accelerated. You might argue that there is no advantage either way, since both methods produce approximately the same amount of force.
However, there are distinct advantages to using “submaximal accelerative efforts” as opposed to the maximal weights method:
Using the above example, if you use 300 pounds, you can only perform one rep, and then you’re done. If you use 195 pounds for sets of three using maximum acceleration, you can perform multiple sets— usually between 8 and 12 sets can be performed before there is a significant decline in lifting speed. This allows far more total volume within a session.
When using submaximal accelerative efforts as described above, you’ll always have several reps in reserve on any given set, which means you can dramatically reduce the need for a spotter (although using a competent spotter is still a good idea when using unfamiliar exercises).
- Our bodies are essentially hard-wired to accelerate whenever performing difficult motor tasks such as running, lifting, or jumping. In fact, people have to be taught to move slowly, since it is far more efficient (and instinctive) to take advantage of momentum when performing motor tasks such as lifting heavy weights.
If these ideas seem unusual to you, let me stress that the most successful people in life are open-minded.
Have you ever adopted a new habit that ended up having a significant positive impact on your life? The three concepts I’ve presented here have had that effect on my own training, and on the results I’ve achieved for my clients. I’m confident they’ll produce similar results for you as well.