Eleven Essential Training Tips
by Clay Hyght, DC, CSCS

1) Train Hard - It's no coincidence that this is my number one training principle. When you're in the gym weight-training, you should be focused on applying maximum effort to your workout. This doesn't mean that you must sniff 'smelling salts' and be slapped in the face by your training partner before every set, but it does mean that you should train as hard as your muscles will allow. Too many times we stop a set when it becomes difficult, when in reality we could have squeezed out a few more reps. In other words, train to muscular failure not mental failure. It is this maximum stimulus that causes the muscles to adapt by getting bigger and stronger.

2) Be Consistent - Bodybuilding is not a seasonal sport. Sculpting a great body takes a certain amount of 24/7/365 dedication. Sure you may eat a little more in the winter months and lean up for the summer season (although I don't necessarily recommend that), but you must still train consistantly throughout the year. You can blame this on the S.A.I.D. Principle which stands for Specific Adaption to Imposed Demands. In other words, your body will adapt to whatever stimulus you give it. Well guess what? If you fail to give your muscles a stimulus, they will adapt by shrinking (gasp!) Use it or lose it, baby. If you prefer a hobby that you can tinker with for a bit, ignore for a while, then come back and pick up right where you left off; then I suggest you try stamp collecting or antique car restoration.

3) Vary Rep Schemes - I have often wondered what is so magical about the number 15. Would you spontaneously combust if you were to do 16 reps? What about a set of 11 or 17? (Just be careful with those. You know how dangerous those prime numbers can be!) Unless exercise scientists have recently discovered the Golgi Counting Organ, muscles cannot count repetitions. Muscles simply adapt to the stress placed on them. Training a muscle with a lighter resistance (weight) for a longer period of time (about 15 or more reps) will generally cause an improvement in endurance.

Conversely, training with higher resistance over less time (about 1 - 5 reps) will lead to an increase in strength. Lastly, training with a weight that allows you to perform between approximately 8 - 12 reps is thought to be best for causing muscular hypertrophy (growth). However, almost without exception, we can all benefit from doing a variety of heavy, moderate, and light sets. For example, if your goal is to build larger muscles, you probably often do sets of about 10 reps and rightfully so. What you may not realize is that doing some heavier sets of five reps would increase your strength and enable you to lift more weight 10 times.

On the other end of the spectrum, doing a lighter set of 15 reps would improve your endurance so that you could do more reps with the same weight you used to cause you to peak out at only 10 reps. Both of these improvements ultimately mean more muscle. So although you should spend the majority of your training time in the rep range that specifically fits your goal, give the other rep ranges their fair share of time, too.

4) Change Exercises - Have you ever heard the _expression "Change is Good?" Well, when it comes to exercise selection, the saying does apply. I agree that barbell squats are probably the best exercise on the planet for your legs. However, you should not do them every time you train your legs. You body tends to become unresponsive when you give it a similar stimulus over and over. Sure you could give some variety to squats by changing your foot position, speed, reps, weight, or rest intervals; but they're still squats.

If you haven't done walking lunges in a while, give those a try and a day or two later you'll see how your body responds to a new stimulus. I recommend changing your routine about every 4 - 6 weeks. That doesn't mean you have to change every exercise, maybe only one exercise for a particular body part. In other words: routinely change your routine. (Sorry, but I couldn't resist the cheesy play on words.)

5) Use Forced Reps and Negatives Sparingly - Although both of these techniques can arguably help you break through a training plateau, they can very easily lead to overtraining. Forced reps and negatives both induce a lot of damage to the muscle fibers. Although some microtrauma is warranted to cause adaptation to occur, too much trauma will leave your muscles damaged and weaker. Just to be safe, I recommend that most people never do forced reps or negatives. The only time your spotter should touch the bar is if you are stuck on a rep. In that case your spotter would help you to complete that rep and then rack the weight. As former Mr. Olympia Lee Haney used to say, you want to "stimulate not anihilate" the muscle.

6) Use Impecable Form - If you're like me, the goal of your workout is to build muscle. In order to stimulate muscle, you have to use a form that places the stress directly on the target muscle - not on surrounding muscles and definitely not on joints. To do that you must use very strict form for each and every rep. First of all, make sure that you perform each rep through the precise range of motion of the targeted muscle. Secondly, control the speed of each rep by removing momentum from the movement.

As a general rule, the positive portion (where you are applying force, ie pushing in the bench press) of each rep should take about two seconds, and the negative portion (where you are resisting force, ie lowering the weight in the bench press) should take about four seconds. This rep speed will ensure that momentum is removed from each repetition. Lastly, do not pause during a rep unless there is lots of tension on the muscle during the pause. For example, you can pause at the top or extended position on the leg extension but not on the top/extended portion of a leg press or squat. In other words, no resting and no cheating.

7) Limit Training Volume - Although it is somewhat admirable to have the willpower and determination needed to train three body parts in a workout, 20 sets for each bodypart, topped of with plenty of forced reps, negatives, and stripsets; that doesn't mean it's intelligent. Quite the contrary, actually. Because our bodies have a finite ability to recuperate from stress, we must control the amount of stress that we give to our bodies. Therefore, you must pay close attention to, and limit, the amount of exercises, sets, and reps that you perform in any given workout. As a general rule, I believe that most people will respond well to three exercises per body part, two 'work'* sets per exercise, performed about every five days.

*By work sets I mean a set taken to concentric failure. In other words, you could not have completed another rep without assistance.

8) Optimize Your Training Frequency - "How often should I train each bodypart?" If I had a dollar for each time I've been asked that question - I'd have quite a few dollars. The basic answer is this: It depends on how much damage you did to the muscle in the last workout. If you did a couple of sets of dumbell presses with the pink dumbells, I feel safe saying that you didn't do too much damage to your muscles and could repeat that workout again the next day. On the contrary, if you did two dozen sets of rock-bottom BB squats with a few wheels on each side, your legs will probably need two or three weeks to recover from that workout. (The original Quadzilla, Tom Platz, only did squats once every two weeks.)

If you are a beginner that trains pretty light and with a fairly low intensity, you could probably train each muscle every 48 hours. If you are a veteran to the iron game who trains with animal intensity, training each muscle about every six days is probably a good ballpark figure. If you are a mutant from another planet who recuperates from high-intensity, high-volume weight-training faster than terminal velocity (i.e. Ronnie Coleman or Arnold Schwarzeneger), then ignore my recommendations.

9) Develop a Training Plan - When asked what he thought of instinctive training, a top pro bodybuilder replied with something along the lines of, "Training according to your instincts is silly. No one's instincts are going to tell them to get under a bar loaded with 400 pounds and to squat up and down as many times as you can. If you let your instincts guide you, you'd be at home on the couch." Very good point. The moral of the story is that we should plan our workouts.

Most of you probably know what bodypart you're going to train today, but how many of you know what type of sets, reps, and exercises you'll be doing eight months from now? I advocate at least a six month plan. For example: you could do high reps (12 - 20) for eight weeks, moderate reps (8 - 12) for 10 weeks, and low reps (4 - 6) for 8 weeks; and about half-way through each of those periods change exercises. Assuming you train hard and don't miss workouts, I'd also plan to take a week off every three or four months. By 'take off' I don't mean sit around and eat bon-bons while watching Oprah, I mean just take off from weight-training. Continue to eat right and engage in some light cardio or cross-training. The following worn-out cliche comes to mind: "If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail."

10) Stretch - After prescribing some stretches to a patient of mine, with a befuddled look he asked why I was recommending stretching, because a trainer at 24-Hour Fitness had recently explained to him that stretching makes you smaller. Now I was the one with the befuddled look. Can you believe people actually pay this guy to train them? To address that ill-conceived notion, quite the opposite is actually true. Chronic stretching actually causes the myofibrils to lay down new sarcomeres. In english, the muscles will grow on the ends and when flexed will actually appear larger.

Besides that, stretching helps enormously to keep your muscles healthy. I see it every day in my practice - tight muscles cause pain and dysfunction. Although I am a Doctor of Chiropractic, I spend the majority of my day working on muscular problems, many of which could have been prevented by stretching. I often tell my patients, "you can either stretch, or you can come to see me every week for the rest of your life so that I can try to fix or minimize the consequences of your not stretching - your choice."

11) Apply the G.P.O. Principle - G.P.O., for those of you who aren't exercise science nerds like myself, stands for Gradual Progressive Overload. This rules states that you should overload your muscles but in a very gradual manner. As we've touched upon, in order to make your muscles grow, you must subject them to a stimulus or stress that they are not accustomed to. For example, if you can already curl 100 pounds 10 times, but continue to do 10 reps with 100 pounds in your workout, why would your muscles grow? They can already handle that stress. However, if you were to do 11 reps with 100 pounds or 110 pounds for 10 reps, your muscles would be subjected to a new stress and would therefore adapt by laying down more actin and myosin filaments (growing).

Let's go back to that word gradual; although it's necessary to overload your muscles, trying to do so each workout would very rapidly lead to overtraining. Take it from me. Despite my knowing better, my brawn often tries to override my brain resulting in me trying to progress too rapidly. Do as I say not as I do! Making an improvement in an exercise about once per month, though seemingly too infrequent, would ensure a lot of progress over the course of the next year. Be patient. As they say, good things come to those who wait!

Till next time, I'm Dr. Clay Hyght.

Feel free to contact me through my website: http://www.drhyght.com/