We asked our experts to give us their best week-long training challenge. Pick one and tackle it. In seven days you'll be bigger, stronger, and wiser.
What's a great 7-day workout challenge for T Nation fans?
Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder
Train every single day for one week.
Most people don't train this often, but I'm a believer in high frequency training. Here's my suggested training split:
- Sunday: Chest, shoulders, and triceps
- Monday: Back and biceps
- Tuesday: Quads and hamstrings
- Wednesday: Chest, shoulders and triceps
- Thursday: Back and biceps
- Friday: Quads and hamstrings
- Saturday: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), full body
A key here is to make sure each workout doesn't exceed 45-50 minutes. This is achieved via supersets, giant sets, and short rest breaks.
You might need to find a new gym for this week because you won't have time to chit-chat. Also, you'll be too busy breathing hard to make small talk! Your heart rate will be way up and the sweat will be pouring.
You can expect to lift less weight than normal due to the cumulative fatigue of the short rest periods. That's fine. Instead of focusing on moving big weights, chase the pump.
On the seventh day, the full-body HIIT session should include upper and lower body and take no longer than 20 minutes. Skip rope, do burpees, sprint, swing kettlebells, use battle ropes... basically anything to get your heart rate up. Focus on variety; don't just do 20 minutes of a single exercise.
Drink Plazma™ during each training session to fuel the workout itself and greatly accelerate recovery. I wouldn't suggest doing 7 straight days of intense training without Plazma.
This approach will build confidence, improve body composition, boost insulin sensitivity, and increase your cardiovascular capacity. – Mark Dugdale
Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO
Make every set last at least 60 seconds.
I have a theory about training pain. I'm not talking about the pain of getting injured, but the normal discomfort experienced when lifting weights.
There are several types of it, and everyone has a different tolerance level for each type. Here are two examples:
- Burning Pain: This is that acid-fire pain you feel when you do a quad exercise for moderate to high reps, then add some partials to the end of the set when you can't do another full rep. Colorful language is often heard when burning pain kicks in.
- Load Pain: This is that unique type of discomfort felt when you do 1-3 reps of a very heavy weight. It's a grinding, straining pain that makes your head feel like it's going to pop off, roll under a nearby treadmill, stop the belt, and send some poor fella flying off.
For many experienced lifters, burning pain is much harder to tolerate than load pain. The latter hurts, but it's over with in just a few reps. But burning pain? That only comes around when a set is extended over 40 seconds or so. It accumulates and sizzles. It also builds buckets of muscle.
According to my theory (peer-reviewed and published in the March issue of "The Journal of Random Shit Chris Thinks About") many guys who only use big weights for low reps aren't really as strength-focused as they say. No, they just really hate the burning pain of hypertrophy-range reps and lifting tempos.
But if you always avoid this type of pain, that means you're also avoiding several important muscle-building mechanisms, like time under tension (TUT).
My 7-day challenge for you is to make every set last for 60-90 seconds, from leg presses to push-ups to your favorite delt exercise.
Now, you may be thinking, "Heck, I already do that." But do you really? I tried this recently and discovered that my average set for biceps work was 15-20 seconds short of the one-minute mark. When I lightened the weight a bit and slowed down the eccentric tempo (the negative), the burn and pump was much more intense... and that one minute felt like three minutes of torture. Colorful language ensued.
Remember, all sorts of muscle-building magic happens after about a minute of TUT, assuming you're using adequate weight: not light weight, but not too heavy either. So set a timer, choose the right load, slow down your tempo a little and see what 60-90 seconds feels like.
Hint: It feels like bodybuilding. – Chris Shugart
Lee Boyce – Strength Coach and Performance Expert
Take a week to train intuitively.
That means coming into the gym with no set program, and no plan for the deep details on what you're going to train, other than (maybe) the muscle groups you intend to hit for the day.
If you're an experienced lifter who's lived by rigid programming your entire life, that's going to come as a huge shock. But it can also be a great learning tool to force you to understand how to put your knowledge to good use.
Don't count your reps. Don't count your sets. Do isolation work, chase a pump, and focus on muscle fatigue if your goal is hypertrophy.
If your goal is to get stronger, base things off of your rates of perceived exertion (RPE), not the numbers on the bar and how they relate to your "max percentage."
If you feel like you don't have it in the tank some days, don't push it. If you feel like you've got extra gas in the tank some days, then by all means have a two-hour workout that includes 8 exercises for one muscle group. Choose exercises that work best for you by feeling – not exercises that are laid out for you in your program.
Lots of people fear-monger themselves into thinking that if heralded or popular exercises aren't included in their workouts then their program is inferior. In truth, it all depends on the person and what works for him.
It's a valiant idea to squat or deadlift three days per week, but no one talks about the collateral damage that could potentially place on your spine or load-bearing joints.
If you haven't tried this yet for a full phase, let this be your chance to toy with the idea. Your body will probably thank you, and you'll learn a whole lot in the process if you take it seriously.
The most important lesson? You're supposed to be in this for the long haul, so you'd better train like it. – Lee Boyce
Nick Tumminello – Strength Coach and Author
Do something fast every day!
By fast I mean run a few short sprints (30-60 yards), throw medicine balls (6-12 pounds), do some jumping exercises, or do some boxing/kickboxing on pads or a heavy bag. Basically, do movements that require you to move fast and explosively.
Do a few sets of explosive jumps or medicine ball throws (outside or against a wall) after your warm-up and before you lift. Or do a few rounds on the heavy bag as conditioning after you lift.
It doesn't have to be a formal part of your workout. You can run a few short sprints with your dog while out for a walk. Whatever best fits that day. Just make sure your effort is to move as fast as you possibly can on each sprint, throw, jump, or strike.
Why do it? It's really just power training, which is about developing force (using your strength) as quickly as you possibly can by using exercises that involve moving loads as fast as possible. Remember, if you don't use it, you lose it.
Speaking of losing it, although power is related to strength, it's a separate attribute that may exert a greater influence on physical performance (1). Between the ages of 65 and 89, explosive lower-limb extensor power has been reported to decline at 3.5% per year compared to a 1-2% per year decrease in strength (2).
So, power training isn't just for athletes. It's for everyone. As legendary Olympic wrestler Dan Gable said: "If it's important, do it everyday." – Nick Tumminello
Chris Colucci - T Nation Forum Director
Use all new exercises for one week.
Next Saturday night, take a few minutes to sit down, grab a pen and paper or your preferred Notes app, and literally write down every exercise you did over the last seven days.
Most likely, you'll come up with flat bench, back squat, and conventional deadlift (the big three, of course). There's probably a barbell overhead press in there, and maybe a dumbbell row, chins, dips, and lunges if you're smart. If you did at least one set of it, write it down.
Now, for this coming week, your mission is to keep training with the same split (though not necessarily the same sets and reps) but NOT use any of those exercises. It could be as simple as using semi-sumo deads instead of conventional, dumbbell bench instead of barbell, and neutral-grip chins instead of pull-ups.
Or you could finally decide to start pressing the kettlebells your gym has stashed in the corner, hopping on the leg press you made fun of for no valid reason, and using the preacher curl machine that pretty much every bodybuilder with big arms has used.
This new-exercise-only week will accomplish a few things:
- It'll make you flex your programming muscles. If you simply don't know how to effectively train without your precious Big Three, you've got some learning to do. Not being able to rely on the same-old-same-old means, you've got to put some effort into thinking about why you're using a specific exercise, and then make an intelligent choice to determine the next-best tool for that job.
- It'll refresh your technique on exercises you haven't used in a while. Brushing the dust off "old" exercises is never a bad thing, especially if it reminds you how much you like throwing big weight overhead in dumbbell shoulder presses, which gets you to plug them in more consistently for the next month or two.
- Lastly, this will not only give your joints some variety from the wear and tear they're typically beaten down with, but you'll automatically be using different support muscles and providing new growth stimuli. So don't be surprised if you have more DOMS than usual this week, as your muscles are being hit by new angles and in slightly different patterns.
The old cliche is true: If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. But even if you've gotten decent results, a bit of strategic training variety will always help to kickstart even more progress. First, the change itself is different and new. Second, if/when you return to your previous "usual training," it's another change that brings even more results. – Chris Colucci
- Bean JF,. et al. The relationship between leg power and physical performance in mobility-limited older people. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2002 Mar;50(3):461-7.
- Skelton, D.A., et al. 1994. Strength, power and related functional ability of healthy people aged 65–89 years. Age and Ageing, 23(5), 371–77.