Unless you’re an aspiring bodybuilder, or elite-level athlete, there’s no need to complicate your strength training regimen. And although I’m reluctant to say it, there’s no need to do strength training more than 3 times a week for any longer than 45 minutes.
The key, in both cases, is maximizing your time in the gym, and committing to the movements and training variables that matter.
1. Favor Free-Weight & Multi-Joint Movements (Bend, Hinge, Press, Pull)
There are times when machine training and isolation work is warranted. But not as long as your waist measurement is 2x your biceps measurement!
In all seriousness, free weight exercises (think dumbbell press) and multi-joint movements (think squat) are going to give you a much bigger bang for your buck, because they recruit more muscle fibers. Resulting in a greater stress response, higher secretion of muscle building hormones (testosterone, etc), and greater adaptations in future strength and performance.
For example, research presented at the 8th International Conference on Strength Training in Norway (2012) compared 6 sets of 8-10 reps in the squat versus the leg press, and found 50% higher testosterone levels, and 3 times the growth hormone for the squatters.
Moreover, these “functional” movements tend to develop a more well-rounded physique that’s less prone to injury. Not only because the stabilizer muscles are recruited to support the prime movers, and the muscles learn to fire (and function) together, but because free weights permit a full range of motion. Familiarizing the musculature with extended ranges that may or may not be encountered in every day life.
And, in my opinion, reducing the need to become a yogi and downward dog your muscle (and manhood) away.
2. Superset Non-Competing Muscle Groups (Upper & Lower)
Enter any commercial gym and you’ll come across a guy or girl sitting at a machine between sets. Which is obviously a major pet peeve for the serious gym rat; especially if it’s the machine they want to use.
However, I don’t think you should get mad at these people, I think you should feel sorry for them. As they came to the gym to sit at a machine, when they’d probably be better off at home doing bodyweight squats, and they’ve been on this planet for 20-40+ years, yet somehow never heard of a superset!
Simply put, a superset is using the 1-3 minutes you’re resting between sets to go perform another exercise that works non-competing muscle groups. Giving you the ability to do twice as much work in the same amount of time, or the same amount of work in half the time. And giving you FAR BETTER results in muscle gain, fat loss, and even strength.
Especially when it’s an upper-lower superset!
Which I’m a big fan of the general population, and the busy executive. Who, along with being in desperate need of a hormonal and neurological boost (from the big compound leg movements), doesn’t necessarily have the time or commitment level to warrant executing “just a leg day.”
For instance, research from 1994 in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology divided 30 young women into 2 groups:
- Upper-lower combined training 2 times per week
- Upper-lower split training 4 times per week
And despite only completing half the strength training sessions, the whole body group had better increases in muscle mass for the trunk (3.4 vs. 2.7%) and legs (4.9% vs. 1.7%), and total muscle mass overall (4.1 vs. 2.6%).
Similarly, in a 2011 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research – that compared total-body training (upper & lower) 3 times per week with upper-lower split training 4 times per week (2 upper, 2 lower) – researchers found greater increases in muscle mass with the total body routine (3.1% vs. 1.5%), even though both groups performed 72 sets per week for 8-12 repetitions with weights corresponding to 50-80% of their 1 rep max.
(read more HERE)