To the average gym goer, strength training can seem like a daunting task. Most influencers on social media showcase unnecessarily complicated and sometimes dangerous workouts that the general public does not need to do to see results. In this blog post I’ll be listing 5 tips to help you simplify your strength training because strength training is actually not as complicated as you might think.
1) Choose a Workout Split that Fits Your Schedule
How much time do you have to dedicate to strength training? Despite what may be pushed across social media platforms, progress can be made with sessions ranging from as low as 2 times per week to as high as every day of the week. The major factor determining what you should choose is how much time you have to dedicate to your program. Don’t feel discouraged if you only can commit to two 30-minute lifting sessions per week. As long as progression is made in the form of weight increased, better technique, more repetitions, more sets, etc., progress and health benefits can be seen at that lifting frequency.
2) Choose Exercises Based off Fundamental Movement Patterns
A previous blog post I wrote titled, “How to Create a Training Program Using Movement Patterns,” lists detailed steps on how to structure your lifting routine based on movement patterns. Doing so will simplify your training and take a lot of guesswork and confusion out of the process. Fundamental movement patterns include things we perform in daily life such as: squats, hinges, lunges, pushes, pulls, carries, and twists. Performing different variations of these movement patterns weekly will ensure that you get enough variety in your program to target different muscle groups and prevent imbalances as well as make sticking to your program and making progress a lot easier.
3) Record Your Workouts in a Progress Log
I recommend using a simple notes pad on your phone to record your exercises, sets, reps, and weight while training. You can use the rest period between sets to record this information so making progress in the future will be easier. If you don’t write down the weight, reps, and sets each session, it will only make it difficult to track progress as remembering what you performed previously will be really hard to do on the spot. You can also videotape your workouts with your phone to check your progress. Seeing your deadlift and squat technique improve is not only motivating, but is also another way to progress in the gym besides increasing weight or repetitions executed.
4) Train 2-4x Per Week
This recommendation ties into the first two recommendations listed above. In order to allow for proper rest and recovery as well as outside commitments, stick to only lifting weights 2-4x per week. Unless your goal is to be a professional athlete or bodybuilder, it’s not necessary to spend all of your free time in the gym. Training 2-4 times per week allows you to stick to a routine like a full body or upper/lower split and include enough rest days in between to allow yourself enough time to recover between workouts and enough mechanical stimulus to see progress in the weight room. Typically, training more than 5 times per week doesn’t allow yourself enough time to recover between workouts unless you are following a “bro split” that involves training one muscle group per day. The only downside to training this way is having to go to the gym every day of the week as well as having to do lots of volume for one body part in one session which most beginner lifters cannot physically handle. Choosing to stick to 2-4x per week is a more balanced and manageable approach to produce enough stimulus for the muscle to grow as well as provide enough time to recover from those workouts during the week. In order to see progress and keep the results long term, your routine needs to be sustainable, reasonable, and fit into your daily life. Your life does not need to revolve around the gym in order to see progress.
Recovery is a huge factor in keeping your mental sanity as well as seeing progress in the gym. We don’t get stronger while breaking down our muscles in the gym, we can only see progress after building our muscles in the recovery process. This involves getting optimal sleep (7-9 hours per night), optimal nutrition (especially adequate calories and protein), and managing stress levels. Training does not need to be that serious unless it is your career. Don’t stress about progress as the stress itself may actually hinder your progress in the long run. Take breaks when necessary, feed yourself appropriately, and manage your stressors to the best of your ability.
Once I adopted this way of thinking about my training, I became a lot less stressed about what to do and whether or not I’m seeing progress. Lifting weights is fairly simple in theory. Get stronger, lift heavier, lift more repetitions, repeat. It does not have to involve percentage calculations, macro tracking, pre-activation, post-activation, etc. Those techniques are reserved for advanced lifters who need to tweak these variables in order to continue seeing progress. First, master the basics listed above and if you can do that for 3-5 years while seeing progress, then consider diving into very advanced techniques and practices. The majority of the population can receive tremendous health and fitness benefits from simply training whole body exercises 2x per week and walking more (or being more physically active in general) outside of the gym. Don’t be fooled by what is constantly presented on social media. Master the basics and continue them long term and you’ll be surprised by the progress you manifest after doing so.