The days of spending an hour slaving away on the stair stepper, then another hour and a half working out with weights, are over. Most normal people with jobs, kids, school, amongst other things, don’t have time for that. It’s simply just not smart. There’s a smarter way to build muscle and lose body fat.
For everyone reading, actual training in the gym comes down to two categories—volume and intensity. In this article, I will cover both of those concepts and give you things to consider when thinking about each in regard to your training.
Doing More Isn’t Always Better
Volume is essentially broken down into how many minutes of cardio you do, how many sets you do, and how many reps you do—the total amount of work you do when you are in the gym. In my opinion, too much volume is the killer for most people.
The more cardio you do, the more weight you lose. Why? Is it because you “burned more calories”? As a trainer, I would much rather you take that hour of cardio you’re doing, cut it down, and use it towards meal prepping or researching what carbs do to your blood sugar.
Most people just burn more calories without taking into consideration what it does to their body. Little do they know they’re putting their body in starvation mode, and actually making them gain weight in the long term. But that’s a different topic for a different article. If you would like an overview on that leave a message in the comments or reach out.
The more sets you do or reps you do builds more muscle and burns more fat. Again, why is this? Take into consideration your recovery. If you just keep bashing your muscles with a chest day of seven exercises with 4 sets of 15 reps each exercise, twice a week, how is your body recovering from that? That’s just one body part. Total the amount of work your body endures over a week span and evaluate the amount of time you spend in recovery—it’s eye-opening. Trust me.
You must give your body adequate time to recover from the work you’re doing to it. When there’s too much volume your body can’t recover enough to adapt, and instead gets beat down consistently. This leads to all sorts of problems, including exhaustion, higher stress, brain fog, poor sleep quality, and lack of appetite, just to name a few.
Increase Your Intensity
Intensity is the other variable that goes into training that we talked about earlier. In simple terms, this is how hard your body is working and how much you’re pushing yourself to 100% maximal effort, every time.
Now you might think that if you’re doing all those sets and reps, you’re pushing myself. Okay, let me ask you if you’re doing all those reps and sets, are you really pushing yourself as hard as you can? Are you really pushing yourself to a point of exhaustion during every one of those 12 reps? Save the thinking, I can answer that no, you’re not. You’re going through the motions chasing the “pump” or following a certain workout because that’s what some Instagram person put out.
If I told you to do two sets of squats, one set of eight and one set of 12, you’d look at me like I had three heads, and none of them had a brain. But I urge you to find a weight for those two sets that are within the rep range of 6-12 (the rep range for hypertrophy and muscle growth) that challenges you. I want you to be challenged you to the point where you either come close to failure, or hit failure, and once you complete those two sets, move onto the next exercise.
By increasing your intensity, you will approach sets with a mentality to really push yourself and maximize your body’s output, rather than just trying to hit a number of reps and sets. Do this week after week, and I can guarantee you will see progress, which should be the sole standard to measure an effective workout.
To take some tangibles away, this is what I would suggest for volume for strength workouts.
- For larger body parts (chest, back, legs, shoulders) eight to ten working sets will do you well.
- For smaller body parts, (bicep, tricep, calves) six to eight working sets should work.
As far as cardio, that all depends on your current body fat, nutrition, and a whole lot of other things. Generally speaking, 3-4 days a week of about 20 minutes should be a good gauge to see if you need more or less. Push yourself more mentally and physically with what you have, as opposed to trying to pile more on top of things that aren’t working already.