We’re almost two decades into the 21st century, and one thing that sets us apart from previous generations is that we’re never satisfied. We always want something better than what we have, which has led to a much wider usage of the word “upgrade.” From our smartphones to our cars to our homes, we constantly want to upgrade to newer and better ones.
Your workout is another story. While you’re constantly striving to improve the quality of the gadgets you use, when was the last time you did anything to upgrade your workouts so you can get superior results from your time and effort spent with the weights? If you’ve never given much thought to a workout upgrade, we’ve got you covered.
Upgrade 1: Have a Set Workout with Specific Goals
Many people who train don’t have a plan when they hit the gym. They probably know which body part or parts they will train, have a vague idea of which exercises they will do—typically the same ones they do every time—and have a nebulous goal of giving their best effort or getting a pump. That’s about as detailed as they get, so it’s no wonder their workouts are meandering and uninspired.
Try this instead. At some point before you go to the gym, ideally the night before, write down exactly what you will do, including the exercises, sets, and reps. Set specific goals. For instance, maybe you squatted 315 pounds for 9 reps last week. It could be your goal this week to get 10 reps. Rep goals are excellent because they are easily quantifiable. You either hit the goal or you don’t. Get yourself a small spiral notebook or keep records on your phone, but you should have every workout planned out along with at least one specific goal.
You can’t get stronger on every exercise every time, but you certainly can pick just one or two to focus on. Many people find it best to stick with one exercise for 4-8 weeks, such as the bench press, squat, or deadlift, trying to move up in small weight increments week by week or do another rep with the same weight until it’s time to put a little more on the bar.
Upgrade 2: Find a New Gym
So many people tell me their gyms suck. To that I respond, “Why don’t you find a better one?” Common complaints include meager equipment; poorly maintained equipment, locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers; and a wimpy atmosphere not conducive to the type of hard training needed to build a better physique. Some of them even train at establishments that actively discourage bodybuilders from setting foot on their premises and that sound “lunk alarms” if you dare grunt or exert any meaningful effort. Oh, yeah, tank tops are forbidden, the dumbbells only go to 60, and the posts on the leg presses have been sawed down so they can’t hold more than four 45s on each side.
If any of this sounds familiar, you need to get your ass to a real gym, stat! It may not be 10 bucks a month, and you may have to drive more than 5 minutes to get there, but there is a gym somewhere in your area that’s exactly what you need. Check out local top amateurs or even pros on IG and see where they train. Chances are they’re at gyms that offer vast arrays of excellent equipment, all the heavy iron you could ever want or need, and a membership populated with men and women working damn hard every day to build muscle and burn fat. You won’t be looked down on for wanting big muscles and a ripped six-pack. You will be encouraged and surrounded by others who are in there for the same reasons. We are all products of our environment and the company we keep, so choose yours wisely and don’t settle for mediocrity.
Upgrade 3: Hire a Trainer or Coach
I know you know what you’re doing, and you may scoff at the idea of hiring a trainer or coach, even for a brief period, but remember this: You don’t know what you don’t know. An experienced trainer or coach with a proven track record for transforming physiques is bound to have some knowledge you don’t and can pass on tricks and techniques for your training and diet that will help take you to the next level.
This doesn’t need to be a long-term arrangement. A few sessions may be all you need to get some new ideas and improve your form. Many of us fall into patterns where our form is poor, but we have no one to correct us and thus keep doing it wrong for years. This is especially true for lifts that require technique, such as the three power lifts—the squat, bench press, and deadlift—but it can also apply to exercises like curls or lateral raises. You may be doing something like cutting your range of motion short without realizing it. A good trainer or coach will fix those issues and get you back on the gain train.
Upgrade 4: Try a New Exercise—at Every Workout
Here’s a very simple way to upgrade your workouts. At every workout, for every body part, perform one exercise that you have never done or haven’t done in years. We all tend to compile our own little playlist of exercises that we shuffle around a bit but rarely add to or subtract from. It’s no wonder our workouts grow stagnant and we grind to a plateau. The body gets accustomed to the same things it’s been asked to do over and over for long spans of time.
You will need to open your mind and stop making excuses as to why you don’t do certain exercises 99 percent of the time. If you’re brutally honest with yourself, you will realize that your excuses are bullshit anyway. Shake things up. Do you always press with barbells? Use dumbbells. Do you shy away from movements like power cleans because you’re not sure how to do them? With the thousands of training articles here on Bodybuilding.com, you have no shortage of exercises to select from, and you’ll find instructional videos for every exercise under the sun. Look for some new moves to try for each body part right away.
Upgrade 5: Base an Entire Workout on Supersets
I’m sure you’re no stranger to supersets, but have you ever tried to perform an entire workout of them? If not, get ready for one of the most intense experiences of your life, not to mention pumps you never thought possible. There are many types of supersets you can do. One common variation is the antagonistic superset, in which you perform back-to-back sets of opposing muscle groups; for example, biceps and triceps, chest and back, and quadriceps and hamstrings.
Arnold was a huge proponent of supersetting chest movements like the bench press with back exercises such as chin-ups or bent-over rows. Many men with immense arms have sworn by going back and forth without rest between biceps and triceps exercises, such as barbell curls and skullcrushers. One muscle group contracts while the other stretches, and the overall effect can be astounding.
You can also do standard supersets of two movements for the same body part, such as squats and leg presses, or opt for the more taxing pre-exhaust superset, in which you perform an isolation movement for the target muscle followed by a compound movement that works the same muscle but brings other groups into play. Common examples include:
- Leg extension and leg press or squat
- Lateral raise and overhead press
- Fly or pec-deck and bench press
- Cable push-down and close-grip bench press or dip
- Curl and close-grip underhand chin-up or lat pull-down
- Cable machine pull-over and barbell or machine row
Assemble a workout composed purely of supersets, and I guarantee it will be a workout you won’t soon forget!
Upgrade 6: Put Your Workout on the Clock
One highly effective way to improve the quality of your workouts is to put a time limit on them. Maybe you don’t like to be rushed, but hustling may be exactly what your workouts are lacking. Do you talk to a lot of people? Do you text, answer messages, or just scroll through your Instagram or Facebook in the gym? Chances are you waste a good amount of time, which isn’t really the point—unless you’re a powerlifter and need 3-5-minute rest periods between heavy sets of 1-3 reps. Otherwise, you should be keeping it moving from exercise to exercise and set to set. Once you get a pump going, you should be able to maintain it until the workout is over. You should be sweating and only resting as long as it takes to get your breathing back to normal and change the weights. I’m willing to bet you a couple tubs of whey protein that picking up the pace of your workouts will instantly make them better.
Those are just a few ideas for upgrading your training experience. Give them a chance and start seeing better results from your workouts today!
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