5 Ways to Boost Your Workouts

It happens to everyone, we all get bored with our workouts from time to time. Maybe you’ve just been doing the same thing for too long or your training partner has skipped out on you lately, so you haven’t been as motivated. Then again, maybe you’re like me and enjoy trying new things in the gym and playing around with them in your workouts. Whatever the reason, here are a few ways to put the spark back in your love/hate relationship with training (because some will leave you cursing at me and/or the chair you try to sit on the next day).

1. Tabata Protocol

If you didn’t just get the chills, then you’ve never experienced the horror of Tabata front squats, allow me to explain. Tabata is essentially an interval training protocol created by Izumi Tabata and involves eight rounds of 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest. So four minutes total (3:50, technically), what could be so tough about four minutes of work? The answer – everything. The ten seconds goes by in a hurry and the twenty seconds seems to last about three weeks. The demand on the anaerobic system is incredible, and the added rest periods (brief as they may feel) result in higher demands on the aerobic system as well. If you want to use weights instead of machines for cardio, try Tabata – specifically front squats or goblet squats. You won’t need much weight and these two exercises are great at forcing good form, whereas back squat or deadlift technique would suffer as you fatigue. If your form begins to fail you in a front squat, you drop the weight – a much safer alternative than straining your lower back.

2. Vary your Sets & Reps

While it might seem simple, often times this is all the variation needed to break through a plateau. For athletes who are training on their own without a coach providing the programs, or active individuals not using personal trainers, it’s easy to get locked onto a specific workout. The most common I see is someone staying on 3×10 work for months at a time. If it’s been a while since you lifted heavy, try a 5×5 program or some variation that demands more weight. Besides, I know for me it’s a lot more fun to lift for a triple than move moderate weights for 8-12.

3. Cluster Sets

If your in a phase where you NEED to maintain heavy weight training and don’t have the luxury of tossing in a week or two of higher rep workouts, then try cluster sets. Basically, cluster sets are groups of mini-sets with intraset rest periods. An example of this would be to take your 5RM deadlift and perform three sets of triples, with a 15-25 second rest between each. So in one set, you completed nine reps of your 5RM, nearly doubling the volume you would be able to complete without the short rests. The only limitations of cluster sets are you need to use heavy weights that can be split into manageable mini-sets (such as 3×3, 3×2, 4×2, 3-2-1, etc.) and lifts that aren’t power-based (like Olympic lifts).

4. Pyramid/Countdown Sets

This is another set/rep variation that I’ve used as cardio or to mix things up. Pick two or three exercises (any more and it just becomes a circuit, I prefer just using two) and do one rep of each, then two, then three…up to ten or twelve. Then head back down, nine reps each, eight reps, seven…then go invent some new curse words because your water is too far away. That’s a Pyramid set; it has other names, but Pyramid always made sense to me. A Countdown set is just the second half of a Pyramid, start at a set number of reps (again, I usually suggest between ten or twelve) and alternate exercises as you go down. With Countdown sets (also known by other names by other people) you can do two or three rounds, switching in different exercises to hit different muscle groups. For both varieties, be sure you’re using compound lifts to actually get the cardio benefits. Deadlifts, squat variations, lunge variations, push ups, presses, chin ups, rows, etc.

5. Interval Sprints

In case you haven’t noticed with the above suggestions, I like interval training as a change of pace or conditioning tool. The key difference is this time I am suggesting using actual cardio machines for your cardio – shocking. I’m not a huge fan of the treadmills in commercial gyms, they are usually more style than substance, but if you’re lucky enough to have a Woodway treadmill, sprint intervals are a whole new level of exhausting. If you’re one of the many who don’t have access to a Woodway (or similar, heavy-duty treadmill), then I suggest either a Schwinn Airdyne or a Spinning bike. I like the Airdyne because it’s the only bike I know of that involves your upper body, and spin bikes are great because you can stop and rest without needing to reset everything, as is the case with normal stationary bikes. There are several variations of sprint intervals, but coming from a track background, I recognize fast sprints – 10, 15, 20 seconds – instead of rapid jogging (30+ seconds).

Once you decide on how hard you want to run/bike, then it’s easy to program – start on every minute. So if you’re doing a 15 second sprint, you have 45 seconds to rest, then at 1:00 sprint another 15 seconds, and so on. The time of the sprint dictates the intensity, you should be spent afterwards and in need of the rest period. Speaking of the rest period, it’s just that – rest, no light jogging, walking, pedaling, anything. Recover as much as you can so you can hit the next round with maximum intensity. 8-15 rounds is a good way to end a workout, or if you like to mix it in during your lift (it instantly cranks up the intensity), 5 minute bursts work well.

These are just a few ways of giving your workout a boost or change of pace. Remember, use each independently, a workout consisting of all the above would – a) take several hours, b) probably kill you, or at least leave you unable to function for several days. Moderation is always important when using little boosters like these.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the change. As always, if I can ever help you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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