If you’re just exercising for health, just about any amount of activity will positively benefit you; however if you have specific goals you hope to achieve through exercise, you’ll need to adjust your training according to those goals.
Even though doing so can often be difficult, I’m going to attempt to give you some of the basics for adjusting your training based on your desired outcome.
In this article, I’ll discuss the most important variables you need to adjust, based on the results you wish to achieve.
Essentials of Exercise For Success
Before you get into manipulating the ways that you exercise to meet your goals, you first need to understand the most important aspect of exercise. Once you understand these basic principles, you’ll be able to adjust your exercise style to accommodate the changes that you actually desire.
First on the list is resistance. I say this because sometimes it’s not always obvious that you need to use resistance in workouts, since there are plenty of fitness models posting videos of them doing bodyweight-centric exercises.
While you can definitely get in okay shape with bodyweight movements, doing so becomes extremely difficult because of the next principle of exercise, which is known as progressive overload.
Progressive overload is a concept that, in order to actually get better, whether that be by increasing muscle mass, increasing strength and endurance, or simple dropping a few pounds, you need to consistently overload your body through the type of stress you’re exposing it to.
For example, let’s say your goal is to improve strength in the squat. Right now, you can squat 135 lbs.
If, for the rest of your life, you continued to squat 135 pounds, would you expect to get any stronger? If you answered no, you’re perfectly correct. In this situation, in order to actually get stronger, you eventually need to overload your muscles by either increasing weight, sets, reps or really, all three.
Finally, you need to exercise in ways that will actually be conducive to the result you desire. For example, if your goal is to increase strength, then you’d want to regularly lift with heavier weight.
On the other hand, if your goal is to improve endurance and fatigue resistance, you should definitely consider training in higher rep ranges to ensure that becoming resistant to high repetitions fatigue (as would be the case during an endurance event) is a prime focus of your training program.
Bottom Line: Before getting into specifics of manipulating your exercise program, you first need to recognize that, above all else, using resistance, practicing progressive overload and training in ways conducive to your desired result, is imperative for success.
Training For Muscle Definition
First and foremost, if you’re attempting to improve muscle definition and tone, you have the most leeway of all different types of exercise, essentially because you can improve muscle mass with a wide range of resistance and rep ranges.
In the old days of exercising, many people assumed that in order to build muscle, you needed to lift very heavy. Fortunately, recent research suggests that you can build muscle, using almost any rep range, as long as your sets are close to failure.
Essentially, the degree to which you fatigue the muscle is a deciding factor in actually building muscle mass or improving definition. It’s because of this leeway that working out for muscle definition is a bit more relaxed than other goals which demand specific training styles.
I suggest for all different muscle groups, exercise using daily undulating periodization. That’s just a big term for saying that each time you perform an exercise, you should adjust the weight and rep ranges.
This can include performing exercises from 2, all the way to 30 repetitions. The catch, however, is that you need to approach muscular failure when doing so. Based on the weight you’re using, this will determine the amount of reps you do.
For instance, if your back squat 1 rep max is 135, when using 115 lbs., you may only complete 2 reps, close to failure. Alternatively, if using 65 pounds, you might need to complete close to 30 repetitions.
Overall, improving muscle definition is possible through a wide range of weight and rep ranges. I suggest using all of them for the maximum benefit.
Bottom Line: When attempting to improve muscle definition, you can exercise with a wide range of weight and reps; the catch is that, regardless of weight you’re using, you should approach muscular failure on each set.
Training For Strength
The interesting thing about exercising specifically for strength is that it’s only slightly different from what happens when training for muscle definition. The only difference is that most of your training will need to be done with heavier weights and fewer repetitions.
When training for strength, you have to consider what the body needs to do in order to actually perform feats of strength. Then, you need to consider how exercise can influence that performance.
When performing feats of strength, doing so actually doesn’t rely entirely upon how much muscle you have. Rather, strength is dependent on how frequently, how quickly and how powerfully your muscle can contract, in order to overcome the weight of whatever you’re attempting to move.
If, for example, you were exercising with 30 repetitions per set, you would necessarily be creating a stimulus where you’ll improve muscle contraction speed and power.
Just as with muscle definition, I suggest using daily undulating periodization, but reducing the range of repetitions that you’re practicing. This would include training most of your compound movements (bench, squat, deadlift, etc.) in rep ranges of 2-8. Anything more than that and you’re likely not directly improving strength.
Lastly, you’ll want to practice your target exercises much more. Movements like the squat and deadlift take a lot of practice. Further, the simple act of getting more efficient at a movement can make you stronger, so regular performance of these movements is necessary.
Bottom Line: If you’re training to improve strength, you’ll want to exercise with lower rep ranges and much heavier weight. Otherwise, you probably won’t get much stronger.
Training For Fatigue Resistance and Endurance
If you’re an athlete, a runner, a cyclist or any other individual who wants to improve their cardiovascular health, then you’ll need to exercise in drastically different ways from others.
The first reason for this is that resistance training can often interfere with your endurance exercise, simply because they promote different adaptations. For example, having large, strong muscles is not conducive to running long distances.
Additionally, if you’re training in the gym and for your endurance events, you’ll need to drastically reduce your time in the gym, since doing too much can hamper recovery and increase risk of injury or performance decrements.
As far as training in the gym goes, you have to train in ways to bring about the adaptation that you desire, which in this case is fatigue resistance. Thus, training with much heavier weight for low reps probably isn’t a requirement or even recommended.
For the most part, I suggest training with higher rep ranges from 12 all the way to 30. This will help you adapt to situations that require long durations of muscle contraction, similar to those which occur when running or cycling, for instance.
Again, like the other goals mentioned here, you need to train in a way that matches the result you’re actually working towards.
Bottom Line: When training to improve fatigue resistance and endurance, you first need to recognize that training for endurance and in the gym can be extremely demanding. Second, you should definitely consider training with higher rep ranges, since that more closely represents the type of activity you want to improve at.
Training For Fat Loss
When you train with the explicit purpose of losing body fat, your primary goal should be to maximize calorie burn, both during and after your training sessions. This means training at a high intensity, with fairly short rest durations, working a large amount of muscle mass.
In order to complete this, I suggest performing most of your exercise programs as full-body workouts. The reason for this is because they will work a large amount of muscle, and often, which will maximize the amount of calories you burn. This is a bit different from what you would see if you were doing arm-specific workouts, for example.
Second, I suggest using advanced techniques such as antagonist training, where you complete opposite exercises with minimal rest in between. For example, this would be like completing a leg extension right after a leg curl or a bent over row after bench press.
Supersets and giant sets are also great options since you’re paring 2 or 3 exercises, respectively, with little rest in between. This is a great idea for maximizing calorie burn.
Lastly however, make sure to not discard heavier lifts altogether. If you’re attempting to lose body fat after building muscle, you want to make sure that even if you’re trying to lose body fat, you still want to give your body a reason to keep muscle mass. Otherwise, you’ll lose much more than just body fat.
Bottom Line: If your goal is to lose fat, I suggest using full body workouts, while leveraging advanced training techniques like antagonist sets, supersets and giant sets.
How To Adjust Training Based On Your Goals
Just exercising consistently can be difficult enough, but once you get into training for specific outcomes, things can become even more difficult if you aren’t informed.
Fortunately, these tips and suggestions will be a great starting point for you to begin manipulating your training based on your primary goal, so that you can begin to actually move in the right direction.