5 Keys to Having the Most Effective Workouts
Aron Ralston had a dream.
But his current reality didn’t match his vision. He had a comfortable job working at Intel and for years, he wrestled with the idea of walking away from the cubicle farm to step into what he really wanted to do – become an outdoorsman.
In 2002, he did just that. He left his job and moved to Aspen to pursue a life of climbing mountains.
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To the outsider, mountaineering simply looks like a decision to climb mountains. However, it’s far more complex than that.
A mountaineer needs to prepare diligently. There are several moving parts to becoming a good mountaineer.
You must possess excellent physical condition and grip strength akin to a bear trap. One must be sharp in their map reading abilities. Navigation skills must be on point. Understanding mountain weather can save your life. Dialing in your nutrition is critical. Carrying emergency shelter to protect you from the elements is a necessity.
For every, mountaineer, including Aron, there are some baseline aspects that are the pathway to effective mountaineering. Regardless of skill level, there are certain things that one must do in order to even consider the idea of tackling a canyon.
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Aron was a seasoned mountaineer. One of his highlights achievements is conquering the Colorado’s “fourteeners,” which is a feat only a few have said they have completed.
But along the way, he’s also had some major setbacks. He got caught in a level 5 avalanche at Resolutions Peak. Then, and more famously known, in 2003 he amputated his own arm to dislodge himself from a boulder in southeastern Utah.
While Aron had plenty of application under his belt, and did his part to practice effective mountaineering, the cost of the journey wasn’t subtracted due to his preparation. Meaning, setbacks and failure are part of the price he was willing to pay in order to climb mountains.
You may not want to climb mountains literally. However, if you’re reading this, I’d bet that you have that feels like you have to summit mount everest.
- Lose 50 pounds.
- Bench press 350.
- Get to 6% bodyfat.
- Put on 20 pounds of muscle.
I don’t know what it is for you. Regardless, the goal feels huge to you. It’s almost so large, that it feels a little ridiculous, right?
First off, I want to congratulate you. That feeling means you’re alive and you have a goal that is firing you up.
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Lets be honest for a second. If a goal doesn’t scare you even a little bit, then it’s boring isn’t it? It’s something like reading old magazines while sitting in the waiting room of your dentists office.
Like Aron who had a larger than life goal to climb some of the most, you too need some strategies for effective training.
Some baseline parameters that will allow you to pursue your goal soundly.
Without a set of principles to adhere by, it’s easy to swerve at best and dangerous to your trek at worst.
If you’re content with exercising, stop reading. Just keep doing your thing. But if you want results, you need to train.
In order to train effectively, what follows are seven ways to do just that. I’ll warn you however. These strategies will build the base for you to tackle your journey. What happens along the journey nobody can predict. Aron was prepared, and still his trek was graffitied with trials.
You may not have to cut your arm off, but please don’t expect a trip free of struggle. It’s the price you must be willing to pay to play the game.
How to Have the Most Effective Workouts
Key 1. Define your desired adaption
It would be laughable if a football player spend the majority of his days practicing free throws, wouldn’t it? Just imagine a high-level collegiate lineman actually believing that shooting free-throws all day will increase his athletic performance on the football field.
It’s obvious that this doesn’t make much sense.
But when we carry this over to fitness, nutrition and strength training, the error, for whatever reason, isn’t so obvious.
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Specificity means that you’re training matches the goal you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you want to compete in powerlifting, you probably don’t want to train like a triathlete. If you want get to 6% body-fat, you probably don’t want to eat until your stomach hurts every meal. If you want build as much muscle as humanly possible, you probably don’t want to run 40 miles a week.
Your behavior must match your goal.
In order to do that, stop for a second and really decide what you want out of your training. What tickles you when you think about achieving the goal?
Is it turning your body into a mountain of muscle?
Is it getting stupidly strong in the bench, squat and deadlift?
Is it getting shredded and being able to walk around shirtless without feeling like you want to curl up in the fetal position?
Find what the real desire is. The must come first. Then, and only then can everything else fall in place.
If you skip this step, you’ll end up like the football player practicing free throws and wondering why he isn’t getting better at football.
Key 2. Build your training around the big lifts
All sport is an expression of strength.
From rugby players to volleyball players, to basketball players to marathoners – it all comes down to strength.
The ability to apply force and be explosive determines how fast one can run and how high one can jump. Therefore, it’s critical for athletes to train the posterior chain (the back, hips, glutes and hamstrings).
If these groups of muscles get stronger, the trainee becomes a more explosive athlete. Like Lou Simmons says, “A strong athlete is strong in the back of his body.”
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Additionally, when your posterior chain gets as strong as a sea-swell, it creates an “irradiation effect,” such that when your bring up your low back, hamstrings, and glutes, you strengthen other muscle groups. For example, in the military press, a great deal of low back and glute musculature is recruited when pressing overhead – strengthening these areas will allow you to press more. In the bench press, low back and glute activation is critical when moving large loads – by bringing those areas up, you’ll have a stronger foundation when bench pressing.
This not only applies to athletes either.
For the modern day exerciser, this is where they must start too. Building your strength training program around the basic lifts – regardless of your personal preferred expression of sport – is the best place to start.
By first getting proficient in the basic lifts and then getting really strong in those lifts,you’ll bring you up your posterior chain. Thus, you will you develop impressive core-to-extremity strength, making more explosive, stronger and primed to move into more isolating exercises.
The movements below is a short list of where every trainee should become proficient and then strong:
- Bench press
- Clean and jerk
Key 3. Movement efficacy
Thankfully, the barbell is in the midst of revival these days. It’s alive again.
But, with it’s return also comes with it a residue – a stain that must be addressed.
Having a barbell in your hands doesn’t mean you automatically know how to use it. Unfortunately, many don’t understand this.
It’s something like the recklessness of a raging bull.
I respect the enthusiasm. However, learning how to use a tool properly must come first before you start doing tricks with it.
In the barbell world, this means practicing with loads that you would never post to Instagram. Ya know, like squatting with the bar for 100 reps – not for load, but for quality.
I agree. It sucks. Nevertheless, if you’re new to the iron game, you must put the practice reps in before you go for the PR’s.
Lots reps with the actual movement, accessory exercises and mobility work are all possible ingredients to get technically sound in the barbell lifts. It’s not fancy or show-stopping, but if you can bite the bullet with the grunt work up front, your life in the gym will be a lot simpler down the road.
Key 4. Structuring your workout
This gets painfully overlooked – the structure of a workout.
The arrangement of your movements should descend in difficulty and in nervous system demands. Typically, they should not be arranged by the body part, but by the difficult and dynamics of the workout.
After a warm-up, the most demanding – both physically, and neurologically – should be placed at the front of the workout. From there, the work load should descend in difficulty.
- New technique practice of a skill or movement (learning how to drop snatch)
- Speed strength drills or movements (Speed work with bands or chains. Any clean and jerk variation or snatch variation)
- Strength and accessory movements (squats, presses, pulls)
- Endurance or conditioning drills (zone 2 cardio, sprints, airdyne intervals)
Key 5. Determine rep ranges
A good solid program will have a touch-point of all the following rep ranges. The reason being is that building a body that can show and go requires all three range to produce the result. During a training week, one should experience an undulation of some sort across these three rep ranges.
This range will focus on one of two things. Rep ranges at or above 90% – usually done with varied takes on the classic lifts – will address absolute strength. Lifts done with bands or chains in the 1-5 rep range will help increase your acceleration with barbell lifts.
This range is the sweet spot for strength and size.
Moderate to high: 11 +
Reps over 10 address metabolic stress which is correlated with muscle growth. It won’t do much for absolute strength, but as long as you’re covering your strength needs accordingly, using high reps is a critical role in building muscle and improving body composition since GH (growth hormone) production is induced at high rep ranges.
You’ve got your goal in front of you. It feels huge. Maybe slightly impossible. But you’ve got the resolve to take it on head first. If that sounds like you and this is your first rodeo, I need you to do me a favor.
Take these five keys to effective training and adopt them into your plan. Use it like a template to guide you. To build up your habits. To refine you into a being that is equipped to summit the mountain.
It won’t guarantee a journey free of struggle, but it will equip you with confidence to keep going when you get hit in the mouth. And in the end, those who can get hit in the mouth, get up and still keep going are the ones who win.
That’s what Aron did. In fact, it saved his life.
In your case, in regards to your fitness goal, it might save you from quitting.
Kurz, Thomas. Science of Sport Training. How to plan and control training for peak performance.. N.p., n.d. Print.
Poliquin, Charles. The Poliquin Principles: Successful Methods for Strength and Mass Development. Napa: Dayton Writers Group, 1997. Print.