Need an upgrade in your life? How to Upgrade Your Workout

by Tim Boje, CSCS

If you are serious about your fitness, optimizing your workouts and maximizing your training time should be a top priority. Time is our most precious resource and no one likes doing hard work that doesn’t pay off. It is essential to create a training plan that focuses on fundamentals, builds on strengths, and ensures that you make progress every day. It’s time to upgrade your workout.

Balance

A good program should include mobility, strength, and conditioning. Starting your workout with a mobility based warm-up will prepare the body for the movements you will be performing. Both the strength training and conditioning should be specific to your training goals. Your training will require different intensity, volume, and other variables depending on what you are trying to achieve – whether it be strength, muscle building, fat loss, or performance in a sport or activity.

Find a balance of strength and conditioning – you tend to favor one or the other. Aim to build a solid foundation of general strength and movement, along with developing both your aerobic and anaerobic systems. Varying the mode and intensity is the key to finding a good balance. Once you have a solid base in each, it is much easier to progress toward more challenging movements.

Address and improve your weak areas and build on your strengths. Evaluate your program to see if there are any major movement patterns you may be missing. Squats, hinges, lunges, bridges, pushes, pulls, rotations and planks are fundamental patterns you should be skillful at. You need adequate mobility, stability and strength to perform them properly. If you have any past injuries or pain during certain movements, that is a good place to start. Seek out a knowledgeable fitness professional or physical therapist to perform a movement screen if needed. Continue to perform the exercises you are best at while getting the rest up to par.

Focus on movements, not muscles. Move well, then load. The optimal movement should be your primary goal. Performing major movement patterns should be coordinated and controlled – even at faster speeds and heavier loads. Practice quality movement with your own body weight, or with light bands, cables, or free weights before you start to add heavier loads.

Mobility and stability throughout the body is a prerequisite to moving well. If you don’t have enough range of motion around a joint or stability to control a movement, you may have weakness or tightness. You need to work on these, or you may need to correctly (re)learn the pattern. Your joints are designed to alternate between stability and mobility to keep your body moving efficiently. If one of your joints lacks either, it can be a recipe for injury.

Design an individualized training plan. An individualized approach to training is paramount to achieving an optimal workout. Determine a training split based on your goals and current capabilities.

Take into account your goals, schedule, training age, and energy system requirements to determine how many days per week you can commit to training. Then decide the frequency, intensity, volume, and mode for desired movements. If you are training 2-4 days per week, use a full-body routine which includes non-competing supersets and circuits to maximize training efficiency.

Any additional days you have to train should be spent developing your aerobic base, working on flexibility and mobility, or adding in extra strength or muscle building where you may be lacking. Recovery and rebuilding are just as important as the work you’re putting in, make sure that your sleep and nutrition are aiding this process, not hurting it.

Upgrade

Train in all three planes of motion; don’t forget about the transverse and frontal plane movements.

Most of the traditional movement patterns are in the sagittal plane. Add more lateral and rotational movements to your training to ensure that you are strong and stable in all environments.

Train all three phases of muscle action; the eccentric and isometric phases are just as important as the concentric. Typical training has an emphasis on the contracting (concentric) phase of muscle action. Include slow eccentrics and isometric holds to keep your muscles active and strong throughout the movement continuum.

Start lighter and progressively overload within your sets; “ramp up” the intensity.

Instead of jumping right into heavy loading, add a few lighter “warm up sets” to prime your muscles and groove your movement patterns. This will improve the brain to muscle connection, ensuring better coordination and activation of your muscle fibers that are needed to lift heavier weights.

Develop your energy systems on a broad spectrum, then specialize depending on your goals. Commonly lumped together under the term “cardio,” your cardiovascular system is made up of three distinct energy pathways (oxidative, phosphagen and glycolytic – referring to the way they make energy) that must be trained specifically. Build efficiency in all three, then focus on the one you want to improve the most.

Ditch the “leg day” and incorporate multiple modes of lower body training each workout. Your legs contain some of the largest and strongest muscles in your body and therefore should be trained often to maximize their development and build endurance. Just because you train lower body doesn’t mean it has to be exhaustive. The goal is not to walk like a penguin after each workout. It’s to build strength, stability, and stamina in the limbs you use the most. Train multiple lower body movements each session – just use a variety of squats, lunges, bridges, deadlifts, jumps, crawls, and lateral walks to keep the legs fresh each session.

Use cluster sets and supersets to increase strength and build muscle mass. By combining exercises into supersets (typically with opposing muscle groups) you can do more sets in a shorter amount of time. This helps maximize time under tension (which is how your muscles grow) for a specific muscle group, leaving time to complete more exercises in a given workout. Cluster sets help you get more quality reps at higher intensities because you allow the muscles to recover between reps and between sets. Both methods add efficiency to your strength and muscle building goals.

Finish the workout strong by adding finishers, carries, or crawls. Add an intense combo exercise or circuit of exercises at the end of your workout that ramps up the heart rate and gets the muscles burning one last time. This can be specific to your training goals or just for a “fun” challenge at the end of the day. It trains your brain and muscles to “start strong, and finish stronger.”

Maximize your workout time by sharpening your movement, building on your strengths, and improving your weaknesses. The proper mix of mobility, strength, and conditioning will create a balanced training plan and optimize your progress. Upgrade your workout, and you’ll upgrade your life.