Show of hands.
Who has been to a gym and had a "trainer" or "wellness coach" tell you to do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise? "...and, "if you can do 12 the then you need to add weight."
Of yeah, don't forget to do 3 sets.
That's a stupid plan.
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In this article I am going to explain why we tell people the whole 8-12 reps and 3 sets silliness, why it is dead wrong and what you should do instead.
I don't pretend to be a scientist nor do I pretend to be a professional researcher. If you are looking for an article that is thoroughly researched with notes and empirical proof then go back to Google.
If you are looking for real word advice from a trainer who has been producing results in his own body and in many others for a whole lot of years then you should keep reading.
OK, why do we teach 8-12 reps and 3 sets?
We do this for a couple of reasons. For one there is some scientific "proof" behind the numbers. This proof, however, is for the wrong thing. It's about muscle hypertrophy (growth). Like much of fitness today these numbers come from the body building craze in the 70's. To gain muscle it is best to do 8-12 reps. Yay.
Of course this isn't with power lifting moves or "abs" but still be like the numbers so we keep teaching them.
So there is some truth behind the numbers and it is not random.
But why do we STILL use these numbers.
The other reason we keep with the 8-12 numbers is because it duplicates for any 18 year old wanna be trainer who cleans equipment, picks up weights and puts new gym members through orientations.
Believe me, it's not the fault of the "wellness staff", it's the whole "gym model" that is messed up in my eyes.
That is a whole other topic I'll cover another day. The gist is this: gyms are set up to make money. What gyms do isn't based on what is right for the customer; the systems are set up to make money. The last thing that the gyms want is people to get in shape.
I'm sorry, is that harsh. Go to a gym and look around. Again...another day.
So why teach all the new members the same tired circuit with 8-12 reps and 3 sets? This is so easy and duplicate-able. We show a member once, write down the weights and the machine sets and they are off to get healthy. Yay.
The reality is that those that enjoy the social atmosphere of the gym hang around while the vast majority doesn't see results in a month or two and, since they assume it's their fault, keep paying the gym membership for months or years yet do not come. Yawn.
Trust me. This is what is behind the 8-12 reps deal. The health and fitness industry won't tell you this but here is the truth.
So, why is it wrong?
Truth is that your body responds best to confusion and stress. You do the same thing all the time and you get used to it. It is no longer hard. You adapt; there is no stress. That is the way that our body works. We need to confuse the body each and every day to continue to get good results.
Weight and number of reps is a fine way to confuse your body but not the best ways and certainly not the ways that matter.
So what should you do?
I guess before I answer that question I should make something clear that I'm not sure I have done yet.
Is it wrong to do 8-12 reps and 3 sets. No. Certainly not. But is this the way to reach your goals long term? Never.
To get results with your fitness you need to confuse your body and you need to do it on a consistent basis.
If you run 5 miles each day in 45 minutes are you getting a good workout? Yes. Will you get fit and healthy? to a degree, yes. Will you get used to this and start to lose fitness? YES YOU WILL!
So what would this person do? I would run 5 miles per day in 9 minutes per mile 3 days per week, run 3 miles in 8 minutes per mile 3 days per week and run 10 miles in 10 minutes per mile one day per week.
Same mileage but different results.
How can you vary your workouts.
Here is a list variables that you can use to add variety to your workouts:
- Speed. Slow reps vs. fast reps
- Reps. 5 reps one day 100 reps the next.
- Weight. Less or more.
- Types of weights. Dumbbells, kettlebells, bar bells or weird things like tires or sand bags.
- Time of day.
- Temperature. Outside vs. inside.
- Order of exercise.
- Mix "cardio" (a term that I HATE!) with weights.
- Surface. Grass or concrete or gym floor.
- Music. None vs loud.
- Time vs. number. Most reps in a minute vs. a set number.
- Countdown and count-ups with 2, 3 or 4 different exercise.
- Isometric vs. concentric/eccentric.
- One leg / one arm exercises.
- Duration of routine. 12 minute workouts are awesome and so are 45 minute or 60 minute workouts.
You get the point. An experienced and qualified fitness coach has an unlimited supply of routines that they can set up for you.
Here is the workout that my class did at 6am:
Warm-up - 15 burpees
Work-out FOR TIME:
- 5 Goblet squats
- Across/back (basketball court)
- 25 chair dips
- 5 burpees
- 25 sit-ups
- 5 squat to press
Variety and movement. THAT is what it is all about. It's all functional fitness.
So I hope you understand where I am coming from in this article. Seek out a trainer or a program that is going to surprise you every-time that you workout. You should not know what to expect when you walk in the door. If you know what to expect then so will your body and THAT is NOT how to get results.
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