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Workout program for the best results

Optimal performance training programme or - what helps and what hinders us from achieving the best possible results?

Before we take the bull by the horns, let’s talk a bit about what’s preventing us from getting the best results we can.

Strange as it may seem – it’s us.

Or more precisely, our biases.

 

Focus on success stories

We want beautiful abs, strong arms, a round and firm bottom…

We look at fitness models, actors and athletes and dream of having a body like theirs.

We Google what Brad Pitt’s workout plan is, or what Cristiano Ronaldo’s diet is, or Scarlett Johansson’s or Kim Kardashian’s, etc…

And Google answers us.

With hundreds, and thousands of celebrity diets and workout plans of all kinds.

And we follow them – we try to emulate and learn from the successes, while completely ignoring the countless people who failed to achieve their goals by following these diets and workout plans.

 

To illustrate the point – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson all dropped out of college, and look at them now. They are all billionaires and some of the best-known people on earth.

But.

  1. Does this prove that formal education is not necessary for success? That these people succeeded because they dropped out?
  2. How many people drop out and become billionaires?
 

The same is true with workout plans and diets – does the fact that a successful person follows them mean that they work?

In addition.

It’s not just the name that counts, it’s also the backing – these celebrities’ diets and workout plans are put together by a team of professionals whose only concern is the well-being of these celebrities. In other words, a lot of professionals are involved who provide expertise and supervision that most of us do not have access to.

 

“Bad” genetics

Genetics is one of the main excuses (to ourselves) why things don’t turn out the way we dreamed.

Yes, we have different eye colours, hair colours and physiques. Some people are genetically more “gifted” in one area, others in another.

And.

We can’t change that:

  • Some people grow muscles seemingly effortlessly, but most need to work out hard to see results.
  • Some walk around slim and have never been on a diet in their lives, while others weigh every last crumb and slowly reduce body fat.
  • Some people gain significant strength and endurance through a specific training programme, while others gain little or nothing from it.
 

So, what can we do?

There are only two options:

  1. We can whine and complain.

Or

  1. We can make an effort and check what our genetic potential really is.
 

Will you become the greatest bodybuilder or the most beautiful fitness model? Maybe not, but who cares?

But.

Who knows. You’ll never really know where your limits are until you try – until you put in years of training and sweat.

The only real failure is not trying.

And.

You may discover that you are genetically much more blessed than you previously thought.

But.

Even if you don’t – you’ll still look better, be stronger, healthier and more confident.

Isn’t that a reason enough?

 

Muscle mass and strength

Muscle mass is usually associated with strength – the more muscle, the stronger a person is.

However.

Two people with the same muscle mass are usually not equally strong – one will be able to lift more weight while the other will lift less.

Because.

In addition to muscle mass, other factors contribute to strength gains, such as neuromuscular efficiency.

Most people don’t realise how important it is for strength.

To show it, here are two examples:

  1. In the 1988 Olympics, Turkish weightlifter Naim Süleymanoğlu lifted 190 kg, 3.15 times his body weight (62 kg).
  2. In the 2012 Paralympics, Lei Liu lifted 226 kg without leg support, 3.35 times his body weight (67.5 kg).
 

Neuromuscular efficiency is the ability of the nervous system to recruit the right muscles correctly, activate muscle fibres to generate force during physical activity, and dynamically stabilise the body structure in all three planes of motion.

Optimal performance in sports requires a balance between muscle mass development and neuromuscular efficiency. Too much emphasis on muscle mass without attention to neuromuscular control can reduce performance and increase the risk of injury.

In other words – correct technique is essential when performing exercises, as performing exercises correctly can improve neuromuscular efficiency and increase strength without necessarily significantly increasing muscle mass  (strength increases are due to the nervous system’s adaptation to specific movements/requirements).

 

85% rule for maximum progress

The harder you train, the better your results – seemingly logical.

But it isn’t.

If you push yourself to 100% in every workout – your progress will slow down, sometimes stop, or worse – you may start to regress.

 

If you want to make real progress in the long term, there is a better approach.

The greatest success comes to those who train consistently for years, without burnout or injury. You can’t do that if you treat every workout like a competition and aim for a new personal best every time.

 

The 85% rule requires a different approach and a different mindset.

If you work at 85% of your capacity during a workout, it is easier to perform the exercises correctly and therefore better promote both muscle development and neuromuscular efficiency.

The recovery process is also shorter and lighter.

 

Think of it this way – imagine anything else you do regularly – playing some musical instrument, cooking, writing, surfing…

Do you ever exert yourself to the point of exhaustion doing these activities? Do you play until your fingers bleed? Do you write until you can no longer see what you are writing?

Of course not.

To learn something and see results, you have to make it a habit. Habits will always take precedence over discipline.

You just have to go and do it. Maximum, 100% effort is not necessary every time – 85-90% effort is perfectly adequate. And this level of training intensity can be maintained for a lifetime.

 

How to practice the 85% rule?

  1. To determine the working weights, do a simple calculation – weight used in the exercise / weight of personal best x 100 = your per cent of effort (personal best in any given exercise is considered 100% effort.).
  2. Focus on doing the exercises correctly first!
  3. Before you start the exercise, take 10 slow breaths.
  4. Speed up the movements you do best, and slow down the difficult ones.
  5. Leave your phone and other interrupters in the gym locker room – focus on yourself and try to find your most efficient pace.
 

Workout program for the best results

An optimal performance training routine consists of five stages or phases:

  1. Coordination and Endurance.
  2. Strength Endurance.
  3. Muscle Development/Hypertrophy.
  4. Maximum Strength.
  5. Maximum Power.
 

This model is highly adaptable and versatile in its application, and by progressing through these five distinct but highly complementary phases we can achieve optimal gains in muscle mass and strength.

 

1 Coordination and Endurance

Coordination and endurance are the foundation of all training.

In this phase usually 12-20 repetitions in one set are performed. The speed of the movements and the intensity/working weight of the exercises are kept relatively low to promote muscular endurance and ensure correct exercise technique.

Correct movements (correct exercise technique) during this phase can contribute to strength gains even with lighter weights as joint and postural control and coordination improve. The focus in this phase is on increasing proprioception (controlled instability) rather than increasing the working weight used.

 

2 Strength Endurance

This phase is about adapting to heavier weights and higher training intensities. Training involves superset techniques – after a traditional strength exercise (e.g. barbell press), perform an exercise that has similar biomechanical movements but requires more coordination (e.g. push-ups on a stability ball).

The number of sets increases to 2-4, but the number of repetitions is 8-12 per exercise (set) and 16-24 per superset. Supersets combined with reduced rest time significantly increase the degree of difficulty (creating progressive overload), thus not only significantly improving strength and endurance, but also increasing caloric expenditure.

 

3 Muscle Development/Hypertrophy

This phase is dedicated to building strength and maximising muscle growth by focusing on heavier weights at moderate to high-intensity levels with minimal rest periods between sets. These training variables promote changes in muscle cells that result in an overall increase in muscle mass/size.

If calorie intake is adequate, the increased training volume, intensity and reduced rest periods are excellent for changing body composition (body recomposition) – increasing muscle mass while decreasing fat mass.

Typically, workouts in this phase include 3-6 sets with 6-12 repetitions of each resistance exercise at an intensity of 75-85% of the one repetition maximum (personal best).

 

4 Maximum Strength

This phase focuses on developing maximum muscular strength. This requires maximum effort – work weights/intensity is 85-100% of the one repetition maximum (personal best), number of repetitions is 1-5.

Although similar in scope to muscle development training, the development of maximal strength is largely dependent on neuromuscular adaptation, which occurs by consistently and progressively overloading the muscles with higher intensities (load). Due to the very heavy exercises performed during this phase, longer rest periods between sets and higher training volumes are required to optimise strength gains.

To achieve maximum strength:

  • Focus on appropriate overload to maximise muscle fibre engagement and synchronisation.
  • The number of repetitions should be low while the effort should be maximal.
  • Increase the number of sets per exercise to 4-6 sets.
  • Increase the length of the rest period to allow energy stores in the muscles to recover so that you can perform the next exercise at full capacity.
 

Exercises in this phase usually consist of compound multi-joint movements (exercises may vary depending on the requirements and goals of the particular sport).

 

5 Maximum Power

In this phase, the focus is on exercises requiring high strength and speed to maximise power.

One method is supersets with contrasting loads. Like the supersets described in the second phase, but now the supersets consist of two biomechanically similar exercises performed one after the other – the first exercise should be performed with near maximal strength (1-5 repetitions) and the second with maximal speed by moving a relatively small weight (8-10 repetitions).

This sequence helps to activate and trigger as many muscle fibres as possible during the maximal strength exercise, and immediately afterwards to improve the speed and efficiency of muscle fibre contraction with the speed exercise.

 

Key takeaways

No one can set a new personal best in every training session.

Progressive overload is necessary, but it doesn’t mean that the weights and intensity have to be increased every time.

Train at 80 – 90% intensity and test your limits no more than once every six to twelve weeks.

Strength or resistance training (lifting weights) uses a lot of muscular force, which requires recovery of those muscles.

However.

Lifting weights also involves your central nervous system, which also needs time to recover. Being able to train consistently at 85% intensity is a good indicator that your central nervous system is working properly.

 

If you are consistently unable to perform single exercises at 85 per cent intensity, you are probably not giving your muscles or central nervous system enough time to recover.

Try to train at a steady pace, and avoid overexertion and the exhaustion that inevitably follows. Teach your body to speed up, not slow down, as you train.   

 

Train hard, but more importantly – train smart.

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