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Geeks Guide to Wokring Out

A Geek's Guide to Weight Training

Not being your typical geek (at least in my commitment to fitness and avoidance of Mountain Dew), I've been working out for more than 20 years. Over time, my training has changed as I've learned new things and grown (hopefully) wiser. I take a much more cerebral approach to training now than when I was in my 20s and early 30s, when my lifting philosophy could have been summed up as as high weight, low reps, every set to failure, never go down. This max effort training eventually takes its toll...

As my strength gains trickled to a halt in my late 30s, I began exploring alternate training methods and have found a good system that seems to work, in that I've made good progress in both strength and size. It's more of a high intensity training approach as opposed to the volume training I used to do (and the one most people who weight train still do).

When the average person begin weight training, he or she probably begins with multiple exercises per body part, multiple sets per exercise, and repetitions (reps) in the range of 4 - 10. Typical weekly schedules for someone doing such a workout might be 4, 5 or 6 days a week, with workouts similar to the below:
  • 4 day
    Mon, Thurs: Chest, shoulders, triceps
    Tues, Fri: Legs, back, biceps
  • 5 day
    Mon, Thurs: Chest, triceps
    Wed: legs, shoulders
    Tues, Fri: back, biceps
  • 6 Day
    Mon, Thurs: Chest, triceps
    Tues, Fri: back, biceps
    Wed, Sat: legs, shoulders
Volume workouts like these include doing 3-5 different exercises for each bodypart, 3-5 sets per exercise, and 4-10 reps per set, usually with increasing weight. There's nothing wrong with such a workout - I did a workout much like this for almost two decades. Everyone can make good gains lifting this way, especially beginning weight lifters. Varying the exercises you do each workout, along with the amount of weight and the numbers of reps and the rest between sets can keep this routine from going stale.

Since this type of workout didn't seem to be working for me, I decided to try something new. After much research and experimentation, I came up with a routine based on several high intensity workout (HIT) methods, which you can read more about online if you've any desire to research it (HIT workouts @ Bodybuilding.com).

To determine the intesity of my training (how much work I am doing), I use a pounds per second calculation. Lets look at that in a volume workout. I'm going to use a few assumptions for the ease of calculation - YMMV:
  • Time to complete 1 rep: 5 seconds
  • Time between sets: 120 seconds
  • Time between exercises: 180 seconds
Here's some of the formulas I'm using:
  • RepTime = # Reps * Seconds to perform each Rep
  • Set Rest Time = (# Sets - # Exercises) * Seconds of Rest Between Sets
  • Exercise Rest Time = (# Exercises -1) * Seconds of Rest Between Exercises
Tonnage is calculated on a per set basis:
Tonnage = Reps x Weight

I use Pounds per Second as representing the 'intensity' of the workout:
Pounds per Second = Total Tonnage/Total Time

Now let's take a typical volume chest workout. Substitute your poundages for the ones below if you want to see how your workout breaks down. The time under each exercise include rest time between sets ((# Sets - 1)*120):

Bench Press: 135x10, 155x8, 185x6, 205x5
Time: 500 seconds; tonnage: 4520 pounds

Incline Press: 135x8, 135x8, 155x6, 175x4
Time: 490 seconds; tonnage: 3790 pounds

Decline Dumbell Press: 70x8, 70x6, 70x5
Time: 335 seconds; tonnage: 1330 pounds

Dumbell Flys: 45x8, 45x8, 45x6
Time: 350 seconds; tonnage: 990 pounds

Rest between exercises: 540 seconds
Total time: 1675 seconds
Total Tonnage: 10630 pounds
Pounds per second = Total Tonnage / Total Time = 6.35

And after chest, if you were doing the 4 day routine (for example), you'd still have shoulders and triceps to do.

With the new workout, I do mainly compount exercise (exercise that involve more than one joint) and have gone to doing the full body three times a week (Mon, Wed, Fri). Each exercise is done for 1 set of 15 reps, with 2 minutes of rest between exercises (keeping the assumed 5 seconds per rep):

Mon, Wed, Fri
Squat: 215x15 = 75 seconds = 3225 pounds
Leg Curl: 130x15 = 75 seconds = 1950 pounds
Dumbell Press: 80x15 = 75 seconds = 1200 pounds
Lat Pulls: 160x15 = 75 seconds = 2400 pounds
Military Press: 105x15 = 75 seconds = 1575 pounds
Triceps Extensions: 100x15 = 75 seconds = 1500 pounds
Dumbell Curl: 40x15 = 75 seconds = 600 pounds

Total time: 1,245 seconds (20mins 45secs)
Total tonnage: 12,450
Pounds per second: 10

Comparing the pounds per second with the volume workout, this routine moves 157% as much weight per second. In less time than it took to do the volume chest workout (only one bodypart), we've completed a full body workout.

I realize traditional weight lifters will look at this and scoff, thinking there's no way such a workout could result in gains. Although overall exercises, sets, and tonnage is lower, there is actually more work being done per second of this workout - 157% more work.By cutting out most isolation exercises and focusing on compound, multiple joint movements, we can get a full body, high intensity workout done in 20 minutes.

I know many lifters enjoy those small isolation movements, but they really aren't necessary to a workout program with the goal of increasing OVERALL strength and fitness. If you're a bodybuilder, you might need to do isolation movements to bring out details, but for someone who simply wants to get bigger, stronger, bigger, and look better, basic, core strength movements are best. If you really want to put a little emphasis on a muscle group, add it in at the end as I've done with biceps and triceps.

  • Go all the way doen on squats. Don't listen to whiners who say you'll injure your knees; that's BS. If you're knees are fine now, squats won't hurt them. If they aren't fine... well, do the best you can. Knees are made to bend - deep squats will make them stronger, not weaker.
  • Vary the exercises. For legs you might do squats on Monday, Leg Press on Wednesday, and Deadlifts on Friday. For chest you might do Flat Bench, Incline Bench, Dumbell press. For back maybe Close Grip pulls, Wide Grip Pulls, Seated rows.
  • Warm up! I didn't discover how important this is until I hit my late 30s. Now I do 20 minutes slow jog on a treadmill or stationary bike at the start of every workout to get the blood flowing.
  • Stretch - after the warmup, I do 10 minutes stretching.
  • Don't slack between sets - 2 minutes and no more.
  • You can do less reps with more weight if you want, but your goal should be to do no less than 10. If you can't do 10, it's too heavy. If you can do more than 15, it's too light.
  • I do my 'real' cardio 3x a week on my off days, jogging about 2.5 miles on Tues, Thurs and Sat or Sun.
  • If you want to use this for mass, eat like a horse and dont' do cardio. ON such a routine, a novice lifter, in good health, eating enough calories and adequate protein could gain 30 pounds or more in only 6 months.
Very important: You don't get that workout body through workouts alone. Watch your diet - you don't have to be a food Nazi, but you limit fat and sugar. Get rid of soft drinks and fast food. Snack on trail mix or almonds or mixed nuts/dried fruit. Limit red meat, eat more chicken, preferable white meat chicken. Tuna is good, but don't eat too much because of mercury content. Replace white rice with brown, white bread with whole wheat. Eat more fruits and raw veggies. Make sure you get enough protein (1 gram per pound of target bodyweight). If you're going for size gains, don't overdo the cardio and make sure you're getting sufficient calories.

Supplements are a good idea too. A good multivitamin, a protein bar without to omany carbs, meal replace packs (MRPs) or ready to drkn shakes (RTDs) are also helpful for trying to get protein. Read the label and avoid those that have a lot of sugar.

For a beginner, it might seeem overwhelming, but if you can get going and stick with it, you'll soon reap the benefits.

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