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The Gym 101: P4: Creating Fun Workouts


You have moved past the beginner stage. You have gone to the gym for over 8 months, showing up at least 3 or 4 times a week CONSISTENTLY. For a real beginner, you can follow the same program for two years, only increasing the weights used, and you will most likely still see results.

Once you are past this, past 6-12 month of consistent work, you can start to play with your program and incorporate other things. This is when we start playing with supersets, metcons and 1 RM. Yeah yeah, CrossFit classes has you changing things up every day - but if you go to a real good coach, they will only have you doing a handful of movements until you get better. Foundations are foundations and anything built on a rocky one is doomed to break. You eventually will have to rewind to rebuild a solid one.

That's the oxymoron of exercise - it only hurts and sucks when you are not working hard enough. You have to pass a certain level of effort in order to get that awesome rush of endorphins that make you feel good.

So I’m going to go over some nice set and rep scheme techniques and how to use them to build a nice, fun workout for you to get into. If you have been reading the other articles in my Gym 101 series and following my advice, you have probably been doing the 3x12 at six to eight exercises. AWESOME. So lets find some other stuff to do.

Supersets - This is ground zero of efficient weightlifting. Really you can do this as a beginner. It saves time like no bodies business and get you strong like crazy. You can cut your workout time in near half with this technique. Creating a superset is zippering in two or three exercises together before resting. Usually its done with two movements. Instead of doing two separate sets of overhead press and push ups, it would look like this:

Overhead Press x12

Pushup x12

REST 1min

Overhead Press x12

Pushup x12

REST 1min

Overhead Press x12

Pushup x12

REST 1min

If you are not doing this already, do it. It wont give you a true test of strength but it will build a lot of strength and build muscle which burns fat.

Foundations are foundations and anything built on a rocky one is doomed to break. You eventually will have to rewind to rebuild a solid one.

Pyramids - This is a fun training technique that is grueling and a fun challenge. There are two ways to do it, a regular and an inverse pyramid. Basically, you start at one rep at a heavy weight of one, two or three movements, and work your way up to say, 10 reps at the same or lighter weight, increasing each round by one rep and then back down to one rep.

Let say its leg day and we want to do heavy deadlifts, medium goblet squats and burpees (because we want to breath a bit hard. If we wanted to just lift strength train, we would do it without the burpees).

Our Pyramid looks like this: 1->10->1 (If we we were going for more cardio and sweat, we would use a lighter weight for deadlifts and squats, then make an inverse pyramid: 10->1->10). Round One is one rep of deadlift squat and burpee, Round Two is two reps of deadlifts, squats and burpees, Round Three is Three reps… and so on up to Round Ten, And then back down again.

We are going to use a weight that is heavy but we can complete about 5-7 reps unbroken. This means that in this workout, Round 5 with start getting pretty serious. Round 10 will definitely be a challenge, probably making us break that set of 10 deadlifts into two or three sets.

This is going to be the meat of our workout for the day. See, you only used two lower body movements but you took a lot of time and did a lot of reps. If you want to call it a day, stretch and go home, that's fine. You worked hard. If you want to do some accessory movements like 2x20 glute bridges and kickbacks, also good. That is a complete workout.

Keep in mind, you can go all the way up to 20 or 100 if you want. You can also increase the movement by two or three reps per round: 2->16->2 or 3->33->3.

Ladder - The sister of the pyramid. Same idea but you don't descend. This is good for work outs that you change the weight. A squat ladder is a great way to get strong and test your ability to move weight. If long, lean and strong is your goal, enter the ascending and descending ladder.

Descending ladder (10->1) is one of my favorites to challenge the legs. Start at a pretty doable weight and complete 10 reps, then rest 30 seconds to a minute. Increase the weight by 5-10 pounds/2-5 kilos and do 9 reps for the second round. Increase the weight and decrease the reps by one for every round. By the time you get to one rep, the weight should be pretty heavy and it should be a bit of a struggle to get it up. If you fail, just drop the weight and try again.

See, you only used two lower body movements but you took a lot of time and did a lot of reps. If you want to call it a day, stretch and go home, that's fine.

MetCon - This is a newer term that has hit the fitness world when CrossFit started getting popular. It is short for Metabolic Conditioning. Basically it combines cardio type movements with weightlifting and light gymnastics. Think sprints & squats, deadlifts & box jumps, cleans & burpees. They are meant to be done at a relatively high intensity but not last all that long. I believe that these kinds of workouts keep things fresh and have space even in the most traditional weightlifting program. Cardio is good for your heart - and soul - and I think every program should have you out of breath one or two times a week.

Beefy bodybuilding men are usually scared of this kind of workout because it “loses gains.” That's not true. This workout does torch fat but it also tests your true strength my working it under fatigue. This is a good thing and build more than just muscle - its build mental toughness.

There workouts are written in couplets and triplets (a group or two or three complimentary movements). The example of the pyramid workout with the burpees is a great metcon! Some nice metcon templates are 21-15-9 (first round 21 reps of each movement, second round 15 reps of each movement, third round 9 reps), 10-20-30 and 10 Rounds For Time (of low rep exercises. Ex: 6 goblet squats, 7 kettlebell swings, 8 jumping lunges).

Plyometrics - JUMPS! Exhaust yourself and build some seriously HOT legs in no time at all. All I can say is keep you expectation low for these. A solid workout of plyometrics is a total of 20-25 jumps. Go to 40 and your playing in the professional league. Low reps and high rest is the way to go here. People start to get hurt and fall of boxes when they program 4 rounds of 15 high jumps in their workout. Keep it to 3-8 reps per rounds and get some rest. Or if you do a series of high jump, broad jumps and jumps overs, rest for a good amount of time. If it too you 30 second to complete the round, rest for 3 minutes. These are considered power workouts: short, high energy bursts. If you want to get better at them, ie: create more power, you’ll be wise to keep your work to rest ratio BIG.

You will get scared of the weight. It’s a lot of work. But most times, the worst thing that can happen is you drop the weight.

Sprints - Darn near the same idea as the plyometrics. Keep work to rest ratio big at 1:4-6. As in, if you sprint for 30 seconds, you need a two or three minute rest. Yes there are workouts of 30 seconds sprint and 30 seconds rest, but you don't really give yourself enough time to build the energy back up to complete a big and powerful sprint. Therefore, you are working within the same energy system and not building nearly as much muscle. If you want to torch fat and get strong, you want to do true sprints. Those will seriously kick your but and build muscle.

So think compete 50-100 meter dash and 2 heavy squats every 3 minutes for 6 sets. This is a great scorcher.

HIIT - Up and down. This stands for high intensity interval training. It has the same idea of the sprints but its doesn't require that same power intensity. This is goo for you and your heart because it really challenges you parasympathetic nervous system to return your heart rate to is resting rate as quickly as possible. This ability to recover quickly is one of the pillars of physical fitness. Healthy hearts can recover quickly. This would be that sprint 30 and rest 30 workout. Think high intensity movements with a smaller rest period in between sets. Think tabata with its 20 seconds on and 10 seconds rest. These are good to get you moving and turn of your brain.

1RM, 3RM, 5RM Testing - Max Repetition testing! This is another power workout and it will test your strength. Just like sprints you really want to rest in between attempts for these workouts. And most times, you just want to warm up nice and long, hit your heavy sets, do some light cardio or accessory work, stretch out and go home. Although it may not seem like much work at the time, finding the heaviest weight you can pull for three reps is quite taxing on your body. Many times you are stronger than you think and you can end up do 10 sets of heavy 1’s, 2’s and 3’s before you find out how strong you are. For a real strength number, you are going to rest 4-6 minutes in between attempts. It take this long for the ATP in your body to build back up and give you power energy system some rest to be able to pull max numbers again. If you are really strong this workout can last an hour or two. But most beginner and intermediate lifters wont be at this for more than 40 minutes. And keep in mind, its 40 minutes of mostly sitting around.

You will get scared of the weight. It’s a lot of work. But most times, the worst thing that can happen is you drop the weight. Make sure you have a coach or friend that has taught you the proper form and can help you out if things get sticky. Don’t be scared, be curious if you can do it. And if you feel something is “off” or you don't feel like you are lifting with the right technique, just don't do it.

Weightlifting can be a lot of fun. In fact it is the most fun thing you can do in a gym. Many women suffer through the same grueling workout and never see result. Here is a tip; if its boring, it needs to be changed. If it doesn’t excite you, you are not working hard enough. That's the oxymoron of exercise - it only hurts and sucks when you are not working hard enough. You have to pass a certain level of effort in order to get that awesome rush of endorphins that make you feel good. You should feel energized after your workout. Although there are days when you just don't want to go, you should leave the gym feeling better about your session and yourself.

Learn all the basics and insider knowledge

Check out The Gym 101 Series

Part 1: Exercise Selection

Part 2: Set and Rep Schemes

Part 3: Training Splits and Organizing Your Week

Part 4: Creating Fun Workouts

Part 5: Training Around Injuries and Imbalances

Part 6: Menstruation and Muscle

Part 7: Finding New Gyms

Part 8: Navigating the Gym

Part 9: Gym Rules

Part 10: Fitness and Pregnancy

Part 11: Postpartum Exercise, Birth to 4 weeks

Part 12: Postpartum Exercise, 4-16 Weeks

Part 13: Recovery

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