By Patrick Striet, CSCS ProSource
Tips for Pulling the Plug on a Stale Routine and Recharging Your Training
Have you ever dated a woman for a while and then realized, over time, that the magic was gone? You know what I'm talking about. In the beginning, everything was great, but then maybe you screwed up or she screwed up. Maybe you blamed yourself, and you gave it another chance. Maybe she was so hot that you just couldn't let her go. In the end though, you came to the realization that, though things were always going to be "okay," they were never going to be great again. You had achieved a comfort level with this woman, but maybe you deserved more than that. So you let her go and started a new adventure.
What the hell does this have to do with training and laying down slabs of new muscle? Well, sticking with a training program--no matter how great it looks on paper or how many other people got great results following it--even though it continually fails to deliver results is equivalent to staying in a "okay" relationship with a woman who just isn't a fit for you.
Turning your back on a training program you are attached to can be tough, but it is completely necessary in order to keep moving forward. Here are my top strategies and ideas for ditching a lackluster program and starting fresh:
Try a New Training Split
This is one of my favorite methods for jump-starting new gains. Often times, we get in the habit of lifting with the same frequency and/or organizing our training in the same way. Increasing or decreasing frequency and targeting certain muscle groups or areas of the body in a different way may be ALL you need to start making gains again.
Here are my favorite training splits:
2 Full Body Workouts (2 days/week with 72-96 hours between workouts)
1 Upper, 1 Lower, and 1 Total Body Workout (3 days/week using a Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs/Sat schedule with one day of rest between workouts)
2 Full Body Workouts (2 days/week with 72-96 hours between workouts)
5 Day Body Part Split (chest Monday, lower body Tuesday, back Wednesday, lower body Thursday, shoulders & arms Friday)
I like to spend a 4-6 week block using each of the options listed above and cycle through them throughout the training year. This provides a lot of variety and stimulates the body in a new way every few weeks. The other nice thing about cycling through the above options is that organizing the frequency and intensity of your cardiovascular conditioning work is easy. There should be an inverse relationship between the frequency and intensity of your conditioning work and the frequency of your strength work. So, for example, if I'm using the 2 full body workouts per week, I'm going to be hitting my conditioning workouts with greater frequency and intensity, up to 4 or 5 days/week. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if I'm using a 5 day body part split, I'm going to back my conditioning work way down, possibly to only one day per week, and likely opt for low to moderate intensity steady state work.
Change Your Set, Rep, and Loading Parameters
One of the biggest problems I see with high beginner to intermediate trainees is that they never venture outside the functional hypertrophy rep range of 8-12 reps. This rep range is fine for beginners, and still certainly serves a purpose in the programming of intermediate and advanced trainees, but relying on it all the time, on every exercise, is a BIG mistake.
Eventually, in order to continue getting stronger, a lifter is going to have start working with weights between 85-100% of their maximum strength, and hitting multiple sets of 1-5 reps. While some will worry this approach will not provide enough volume to stimulate muscle gains, you have to keep in mind that if you increase your max strength, the amount of reps you can perform using sub-maximal weights and higher reps will also increase. For example, if you go from benching 250 lbs. to 280 lbs. for 1 rep, the amount of weight you can use for 5, 8, and 10 reps will also increase.
I'd also like to point out you don't have to use this approach on EVERY exercise. If you simply open up your workouts focusing on one exercise and using heavier absolute loads and lower reps, you can use the functional hypertrophy rep range for the remainder of the exercises in your workout. A sample lower body workout using this approach may look like the following:
1. Anderson Good Mornings 4-6 sets of 3 using a 5 RM (2-3 minutes between sets)
2A. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats 4 sets of 6-10 reps each leg
2B. Glute Ham Raises 4 sets of 6-10 reps
3A. Goblet Squats 3 sets of 8-12 reps
3B. Stability Ball Leg Curls 3 sets of 8-12 reps
4A. Leg Extension 2 sets of 12-15 reps
4B. Seated Leg Curl 2 sets of 12-15 reps
Change Your Training Environment and Training Partners
Consider the following lifters...
Lifter "A": uses a crap routine, but is training in a hardcore, well equipped, energetic gym alongside motivated, like minded people who push each other to get better.
Lifter "B": uses the "perfect: program, designed by the biggest guru strength coach, on the prettiest spreadsheet imaginable...but trains by himself in his Mom's basement.
When it comes to making progress, who would you bet on? I'd take lifter "A" every time.
If you are not making progress, sure, your routine could need some tweaking, and likely does. HOWEVER, before you go and analyze every aspect of your current routine, do me a favor and go find the nastiest, no holds barred gym in your area, where the biggest, most dedicated people train, and join that gym. I'll almost guarantee you train harder--and get better results--using your current workout. You could also take it a step further: jump in the fire, buddy up with the members of the gym and ask if you can train with them, doing whatever it is they are doing. If they look like what you want to look like, and are lifting weights you currently can only dream about, chances are, they are doing something right.
Try a New Supplement or Dietary Approach
Yes, a minor change, but it matters. I know people who have been on the same daily chicken/lean cut of beef/afternoon protein shake regimen for ten years. If you can't enjoy eating when you're an athlete, you're doing it wrong. The great thing about eating a healthy, interesting and varied diet is that it's not that hard to do. You don't like to cook? You don't have a good woman at home to cook for you because you took my advice in the first paragraph? It's still easy to cook. Check out the recipes in the ever-growing collection of really terrific meals here at ProSource.net. These meals are a delicious change of pace and many of them take mere minutes to prepare.
The same is true for supplements. Supplement science has advanced so far in recent years that you're really shortchanging yourself if all you're taking is your dad's creatine. A standard protein shake and a scoop of creatine are not the be-all and end-all. (Although a top-end product like BioQuest's MyoZene can make a big difference.) Try a reputable product in a different category. Add a BCAA supplement like ProSource's Mega BCAA. How about a fat burner/energy catalyst? There's been a lot of buzz about BioQuest's Zycor lately.
Are you getting into your 30s or beyond? Then you're at an ideal stage to try one of the new testosterone-boosting formulas. ProSource's AndroTest Extreme has a wealth of clinical validation to back it up, and could be just the thing. Likewise with a good fish oil supplement like Omega-1250. My point is, try something new. You're very likely to discover something that offers real benefits.
The ideas I listed above are in no way the only methods you can use to overhaul and change your training for the better. There are a myriad of other options: change the equipment/modalities you are using or train for an entirely different goal. However, give one or more of the above strategies a shot, reap the benefits, and don't be surprised if you quickly forget about the routine you'd been so attached to and were scared to give up.