Do you ever feel like you’re not doing enough in the gym? It’s normal to feel like you could have done more, and I go through that on some days, especially when I work my chest. It’s the toughest muscle group for me to fully engage, but after putting more emphasis on the actual motions of each exercise I do, I’ve seen a noticeable difference in how I feel at the end of each session.
There’s not a whole load of truth behind doing different exercises every month to solve this issue. The issue isn’t about the exercises you’re doing, but how you’re doing them. So here are some pointers for improving your workouts:
1. Time under tension (TUT)
Maybe you’ve noticed the guy next to you who lets the bar just drop to his waist when he’s doing bicep curls. The problem with this is that it neglects a large portion of the movement of an exercise. When you’re lifting, there are two main phases involved: the concentric (positive) contraction and the eccentric (negative) contraction. The concentric phase is the part when you lift the bar in a curl, or bend your knees in a squat. It’s when you shorten the muscle. By contrast, the eccentric phase is when you lower the bar in a curl, or stand up in a squat. It’s when you lengthen the muscle.
By emphasising the TUT, what you’re doing is spending more time on either the concentric or eccentric phase of the motion, or both. If you’re curling for instance, then a good way to really make those biceps burn is to lower the bar slowly and in a controlled manner, before lifting it back up. You can combine this with an explosive positive contraction as well or vice versa.
2. Compound or Super sets
Another, more intermediate technique is to do two different exercises one after the other without a rest in between. These exercises can either target the same muscle group (compound set) or target a different muscle group (super set). The benefit of a compound set is that you’re essentially adding more stress to the muscle fibres and thus maximising hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Super sets don’t contribute to hypertrophy in the same way, but are a great way to target two muscle groups in quick succession, which not only saves time but increases the intensity of your workout, which is always a good thing.
3. Progressive Overload
You probably know that to increase the amount of work you do in the gym, you need to up the weight or reps. Progressive Overload is just the sciencey term for it. After each set you do, adding weight (even a tiny amount), upping the reps, increasing the speed of the concentric (positive) phase of the lift, or shortening the time between sets. Any of these, or a combination of them, is bound to improve your workout session, and hopefully give you those gains.
Give these pointers a go, and I have no doubt that you’ll be breaking through your plateaus.