You walk out of the gym, hammies so tight you can barely step into your vehicle. You go home, shower, still sweating, pound some dead animal flesh, and head to bed. You wake up the next morning and can’t even sit on the toilet, let alone brush your teeth. The soreness is incredible. You come into the gym the next day to tell your trainer (who has a weekend certification), that he is awesome and that was the best workout ever!
What made that workout so good? You think it’s good because your sore and your shirt was soaked in sweat. But was it really a good workout? Was it an effective workout? Did you get better because of it, did you get stronger, or can you now move better?
Anyone can make you tired. It doesn’t take any knowledge to throw a weighted vest over your shoulders, run, and do push-ups until you puke. But does that make you better? When selecting your coach or trainer, and your workouts, try to think how is this going to make me better, not just is this going to kick my ass.
Parents and kids a like think that if their shirt is ringable, they’re sore, and they contemplated puking that it must be a good workout.
A great quote I love to tell people I heard from Eric Cressey: “You have to move well before you can move a lot.”
Meaning, get your movement patters assessed and fixed fist before you start moving with all kinds of loads and volumes. How is your squat pattern or lunge pattern? Can you perform a proper push-up or bird dog? How about your shoulder mobility? All of those areas, and others, need to move well before you start cranking up the volume.
Each workout should have a purpose. It should be a piece of a plan for that week, month, and year. You should be able to track if you get better. Walking into the gym with no plan, picking random weights and exercises is why the majority of people never see any substantial results.
Here are five common mistakes when it comes time to programming effective vs hard workouts:
1. Olympic lifts: Olympic lifts are complex. They take years to master. They are designed for power output, strength x speed. In order to train for power you need to perform 1-4 reps, and then rest 2-5 minutes. Otherwise, you will not be able to produce enough force to output maximal power. Often these lifts are done sloppy, with poor technique, and excessive amounts of reps. You see this in your typical group exercise class where they do “power cleans” with a mini bar and 10lbs on each side, for 2 minutes straight. That is just being able to last, endurance, not power.
2. Speed Training: Speed is a result of force production. You get faster two ways. First, fix your shitty technique. Second, apply more force to the ground. Speed training is often done by uneducated “coaches” who just pound them through countless cone drills, ladder drills, and sprint variations. It often looks fancy, but is really a bunch time wasting crap. Speed training should be used to perfect sprint mechanics, change of direction, and force production. Then supplement that with smart strength training. Now, with good technique and a higher output of force, you will get faster. Random ladder drills and cone drills is a cover for “I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.”
3. Plyometrics: Plyometrics, or jumping, is often used for athletes to get faster or jump higher. Exercises like box jumps, depth jumps, squat jumps, and plyo lunges are all common examples. The goal is to be able to increase power, or strength x speed. However, just like speed it is an output of force, so if you’re doing more then a handful of reps at a time, how can you produce maximal output? Plyometrics should be done for 2-5 reps, with ample rest between each set. That way, the client can go back into the next set and again produce maximal power output. Lower body plyometrics are often used for conditioning, which is just asking for an injury. Nothing says ” I can’t wait to tear my ACL” like doing dozens of box jumps. Typically we like to see plyometrics done in the beginning of a workout for 3-6 sets of 2-5 reps. We do 1 unilateral and 1 billateral drill at the beginning of each session.
4. Tabata: Tony Gentilcore wrote and entire blog post on this topic, you can find it HERE. Basically realize that a tabata lasts 4 minutes, that’s it. Not multiple rounds, not for an hour. It also is done at 170% of your max Vo2, so you shouldn’t be able to do anything else after this 4 minute workout.
5. Strength Training: So if you’ve read this entire blog and not just skipped to the bolded words you learned that power is between 1 and 4 reps, that’s it. So strength is between 5 and 8 reps, that’s it. Bottom line. If you do something over 8 reps it is not strength, it is hypertrophy or endurance. To get strong, the most efficient way to do it is to perform exercises in the 5-8 rep range, at 3-6sets. Performing exercises in a circuit fashion, for high reps, is endurance. To strength train, you need to perform 5-8 reps for 3-6 sets and get a good 45-120 second rest period in between each set. Why? If you don’t rest, how can you go perform that same weight again, or increase the weight? And if you’re not increasing the volume (setsXrepsXwt) you’re not getting stronger, plain and simple.
Next time you go to the gym for a workout, ask yourself this question. Is this making me better? If it’s not getting you closer to your goals then it’s not an effective workout. You don’t need a Phd to make someone tired and sweat. However, program design, periodization, and implementation of proper training sessions does take years to master. The above 5 areas are really just the tip of iceberg.
Just be smart about your training. Don’t’ do what your friends doing. Each person is different, different restrictions, different mobility issues, different strengths, and different weaknesses. So why do people think they should be doing the same thing? Track all your workouts. Follow an individualized program. Improve your movement patterns. Get stronger.
Do you do your own taxes? No, you hire an accountant. Do you represent yourself at a court date? No, you hire an attorney? Do you try to sell your house? No, you hire a real estate agent. Then why in the hell, with the human body, the most complex machine on this planet, do people think they can design their own program and training sessions. Go see a reputable expert. Someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about, not someone that just throws a workout on the white board, has you do a bunch of random drills, just to make you tired and sore.