Many people I see doing their own programming are one of two types of people. The first is those who are always looking for the next big thing. This program will finally be the one to get them jacked… until the next one they find two weeks later. This does not allow you to improve upon anything and therefore, you never end up moving forward. The other type of people are those who stick to the same routine for way too long. Things become stagnant, people hit plateaus and they may even become bored and call it quits.
The following advice will work for either of these populations. Even those who are using progressive overload properly and updating their program regularly can benefit from a little variety in just the right places. What I will speak about momentarily is some ways you can increase the difficulty of your workouts without constantly having to increase the weight. You see, there are hundreds of ways to make an exercise or workout harder and increasing the load (adding weight) is just one of those ways. Once you get strong enough, your gym won’t have ’em heavy enough for ya!
I would suggest doing most of this stuff in the accessory portion of your workout. Keep the main, compound exercises as they are and start playing around later in the workout, when most of the movements are simply to address weaknesses and improve upon the main lifts. You can learn more about basic programming in my article, The Essentials Package. Some of these can also be used as full workouts if you’re pinched for time.
1. Same Work, Less Time or More Work, Same Time
High-density training is as old as the barbell in the bodybuilding world, but many in the general public have not heard about it, forgot about it or are literally scared to try it. I will warn you, high-density training is not for the faint of heart.
Essentially, all you have to do with this method is try to complete either more work in the same amount of time or the same amount of work in less time. For example, let’s say this week you did 3 sets of 10 chin-ups in about 5 minutes, including checking your Instagram and chatting with a buddy that came in. What if, next week, you shot for 30 total reps in under 3 minutes? Or maybe you tried as many reps as possible in 4 minutes?
This way, we’re not making the exercise any harder or adding any load, per se. All we are doing is increasing the density of your training. Not only is this a stiff physical test, you will find your mental capacity tested as well with the back-and–forth of “I got 5 more in me” and “just shut it down”.
Back to Back to Back
Complexes are another awesome way to get a lot of work done in a short period of time. While most barbell complexes should only be attempted if you have quite a bit of barbell experience, many different complexes can be effective. Below are two options:
While this would more properly be named a drop set, the principle is the same. We will do several exercises or exercise variations back-to-back as a burnout for a particular muscle group or movement pattern.
The first of my favourites involves just bodyweight. You will start in the hardest pushup position that allows you to keep a high quality of movement for 8-12 reps. You then go immediately to an easier variation, bringing the hands up or feet down and complete as many as you can. Do this a third time for max reps at an even easier level and let the chest, triceps and shoulders buuuuuurn.
The second is a shoulder press variation. Here you complete an Arnold press, rotating the dumbbells as you press overhead for max reps at a weight you can handle 8-12 times. Then, take a breath and complete as many as you can with a normal overhead dumbbell press grip (either neutral or 45 degrees, whatever works best for your shoulders) until you feel like you may drop a weight on or near your head. Stop there.
A barbell is essentially just another tool of destruction when it comes to complexes such as these. The principle is the same, but these will test your grip and upper back strength as well as you are not allowed to (or supposed to) put the bar down in between different exercises.
I would be remiss to not mention once again that these should only be completed if you are experienced in barbell training and Olympic Lifting. These are not safe for everyone and should not be treated as such. If you decide to try them, start light my friend.
Barbell Complex #1: Olympic Lifts
This is a favourite of current landlord Richard Burr and tests grip strength, form, cardiovascular and psychological endurance if done with enough weight.
A1) Hang Clean and Squat x6
A2) Bent Over Row x6
A3) Romanian Deadlift x6
A4) Squat Thruster x6
A5) Front Squat x6
A6) Jump Squats x6
<VIDEO TO COME SHORTLY>
Barbell Complex #2: Carries
For this one, I have to give props to one of my first mentors, AJ Zeglen. AJ created this beauty in his backyard with just one barbell and a few plates. I think copious amounts of meat were consumed afterwards as well. Add the meat at your own risk.
A1) Barbell Deadlift (variation that works best for you) x12
*You can sub in a heavy Trap Bar Deadlift for 6 reps if available
A2) Barbell Bent Over Row x6
A3) Barbell Hang Clean x6
A4) Barbell Rack Carry x30 metres
A5) Barbell Front Squat x6
A6) Barbell Overhead Press x6
A7) Barbell Overhead Carryx30 metres
A8) Single Arm Barbell Carry (lighter) x 30 metres per arm
<VIDEO TO COME SHORTLY>
3. Hold on… for Dear Life
This is something that I have taken from LA-based trainer Ben Bruno recently. Not only is this guy an excellent trainer and innovative resource, he’s an absolute beast and posts YouTube videos that become monotonous only because he goes so hard for so long (click the link or watch below for 50 seconds of Ben holding a single arm row position).
The basic principle is that instead of adding weight, which may decrease the quality of the movement pattern, we add a hold to the end of each set. I love using this method for single arm dumbbell rows in particular and often program a 10-second hold after a set of 10 reps. On the last set, I have the client hold for as long as possible with perfect form, chasing a ridiculous lat burn. The only drawback is that many-a-dumbbell have been dropped on the floor out of sheer exhaustion (and maybe a little anger).
So there you have it. You’re looking for something to spice up you’re training and you (or maybe your joints) are sick of simply adding weight. One final piece of advice, though:
You do not have to stick to these exactly as is.
Do some research or some anecdotal testing yourself. See if something works better or if you can really hit a body part or movement that is lacking. There is no limit to what you can do with a little imagination.
And if you find something, please let me in on it so I can add it to the arsenal.
To your continued health,
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