1. Tabata Protocol
If you didn't just get the chills, then you've never experienced the horror of Tabata front squats, allow me to explain. Tabata is essentially an interval training protocol created by Izumi Tabata and involves eight rounds of 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest. So four minutes total (3:50, technically), what could be so tough about four minutes of work? The answer - everything. The ten seconds goes by in a hurry and the twenty seconds seems to last about three weeks. The demand on the anaerobic system is incredible, and the added rest periods (brief as they may feel) result in higher demands on the aerobic system as well. If you want to use weights instead of machines for cardio, try Tabata - specifically front squats or goblet squats. You won't need much weight and these two exercises are great at forcing good form, whereas back squat or deadlift technique would suffer as you fatigue. If your form begins to fail you in a front squat, you drop the weight - a much safer alternative than straining your lower back.
2. Vary your Sets & Reps
While it might seem simple, often times this is all the variation needed to break through a plateau. For athletes who are training on their own without a coach providing the programs, or active individuals not using personal trainers, it's easy to get locked onto a specific workout. The most common I see is someone staying on 3x10 work for months at a time. If it's been a while since you lifted heavy, try a 5x5 program or some variation that demands more weight. Besides, I know for me it's a lot more fun to lift for a triple than move moderate weights for 8-12.
3. Cluster Sets
If your in a phase where you NEED to maintain heavy weight training and don't have the luxury of tossing in a week or two of higher rep workouts, then try cluster sets. Basically, cluster sets are groups of mini-sets with intraset rest periods. An example of this would be to take your 5RM deadlift and perform three sets of triples, with a 15-25 second rest between each. So in one set, you completed nine reps of your 5RM, nearly doubling the volume you would be able to complete without the short rests. The only limitations of cluster sets are you need to use heavy weights that can be split into manageable mini-sets (such as 3x3, 3x2, 4x2, 3-2-1, etc.) and lifts that aren't power-based (like Olympic lifts).
|Arnold doing Cluster DL...maybe|
4. Pyramid/Countdown Sets
5. Interval Sprints
|Usain Bolt doesn't even run for 30 seconds|
Once you decide on how hard you want to run/bike, then it's easy to program - start on every minute. So if you're doing a 15 second sprint, you have 45 seconds to rest, then at 1:00 sprint another 15 seconds, and so on. The time of the sprint dictates the intensity, you should be spent afterwards and in need of the rest period. Speaking of the rest period, it's just that - rest, no light jogging, walking, pedaling, anything. Recover as much as you can so you can hit the next round with maximum intensity. 8-15 rounds is a good way to end a workout, or if you like to mix it in during your lift (it instantly cranks up the intensity), 5 minute bursts work well.
These are just a few ways of giving your workout a boost or change of pace. Remember, use each independently, a workout consisting of all the above would - a) take several hours, b) probably kill you, or at least leave you unable to function for several days. Moderation is always important when using little boosters like these.
I hope you give them a try and enjoy the change. As always, if I can ever help you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES