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How NOT to get bored in the gym – Part 1

May 27, 2010

 Eventually, you may get to a point where just the thought of going to the gym drives you to tears. Even doing your taxes seems a more pleasant task.

It doesn’t need to be that way.

Variety is what keeps your workouts fresh. Since working out is a “lifestyle” thing–that is, you’re in it for the long haul–it pays to find ways to work out that keep things fresh!

How the “big guys” do it

Advanced bodybuilders change things all the time. They HAVE to, otherwise they’d soon take up tennis, or volleyball.

One way they avoid staleness is by changing their workout split–that is, training different body parts on different days. For example, back with biceps (a smaller body part), back with chest (another large body part), or back with abs (where the mindset is almost that you’re training only one body part that day–back).

During other periods, they may ease up and train their upper body, or even their entire body, on one day, using lighter weight and moving more briskly from exercise to exercise.

Of course, they may have heavy weeks or lighter weeks. In which case, the number of reps they get change. OR, they may intersperse light, higher-rep exercises with heavier exercises within the same workout.

Additionally, when training any body part, they can break down their workout by:

  • Training apparatus – eg, barbells, dumbbells, cables, machines
  • Area worked – eg, for back, upper lats, lower lats, inner lats (rhomboids), outer lats
  • Their goal – eg, developing thickness vs. width in the back, OR striations/cuts vs. pure muscle growth
  • Grip – eg, for back, a close grip, medium grip, wide grip, underhand grip

But what can YOU do?

I mean, you just want to keep things fun, right?

Well, as with anything–say gardening–the more you know, the more interesting it gets. The more you know, the more resources you have. So it pays to keep learning.

Here are some methods I use when I hit the gym:

 CHEST: I usually pick two presses and a flye movement.

Presses: I make sure to get one flat and one incline movement.

So…you could do one flat DB press and one incline DB press. NOTE: Bench presses (using a BB) tend to be rough on your rotator cuff muscles (roughly at the front of your shoulders). For longevity, I do them infrequently. When I do perform them, I don’t go heavy, and I don’t come all the way down to my chest with the BB, which keeps excess stress off of that area.

Now, you could also add in machines. Hammerstrength or Cybex flat and incline press machines work well.

Flyes: Incline DB flyes are a “standard.” (Flat DB flyes are also tougher on your rotator cuff. If you do them, go lighter.) You could try the chest flye machines OR do cable flyes, where you stand in between the two ends of a cable crossover machine. 

The “functional” training machines you find in some gyms these days also offer great ways to do chest presses and flyes using cables. 

 BACK: I tend to go for 2 rows and 2 pulldown movements. Usually, not always.

I might have a day where I do 3 rows and one pulldown, but 2 and 2 is a good mix. I also like to throw in a back extension exercise at the end of my workout to stretch and strengthen my lower back.

Rows: Cable rows, BB rows, DB rows, Smith machine rows, machine rows. (On BB rows, I might do a wider, overhand-grip row OR an underhand grip, placing my hands a little closer in on the bar. On DB rows, I might take a palms facing the body stance, OR a palms facing rear stance.)

Pulldowns: Pulldowns to the front are safest. When you do a pulldown to the rear (behind your head), you are hyperextending at the shoulder and, again, causing a little extra stress to that vulnerable joint. You are safest avoiding these altogether, BUT, if you choose to do rear pulldowns, do them infrequently and go lighter!

In general with pulldowns, vary your grips: close grip, wide grip (outside of your shoulders), underhand grip (hands further in on the bar). Or try stiff-arm pulldowns at the cable crossover machine.

 SHOULDERS: (Yes, that is Marilyn Monroe doing BB shoulder presses, photographed by Philippe Halsman, I believe, in 1952. And you thought weight training would make you look like a guy!)

Your deltoid muscles have 3 areas to keep in mind while training: anterior (front) portion, medial (middle) portion, and posterior (rear) portion. A thorough shoulder workout targets all 3 parts of the muscle.

If you are doing a shorter shoulder workout, try to get in

  1. a basic shoulder press–you can use DBs (my fave), a fixed bar or BB (like Marilyn here), a machine press, even cable presses–and then,
  2. a side lateral, which you can perform using one arm at a time or both arms simultaneously. For example, try a one-arm cable side lateral or use both arms when doing seated or standing DB side laterals. 

 If you want to be super thorough and also target front and rear delts during your shoulder workout, add in:

  • Front raises to work the anterior portion of your shoulders (using BB, DBs or holding a plate with both hands). OR, use the crossover cable machine. Face away from the cable stack, with the rope coming up between your legs. Use a long, straight bar. 
  • Rear delt flyes, using DBs or cables or even your gym’s chest flye machine. Many of these gym machines are engineered so you can comfortably perform BOTH chest flyes and rear delt flyes.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with possibilities…so stay tuned. I’ll be back tomorrow with options for biceps, triceps, abs, legs and calves.

This is just to show you–there’s no reason to EVER get bored in the gym.

And there’s also no reason to stand around waiting while someone else hogs the equipment or bench that you want to use!

Flickr photos, top to bottom, babykailan,  paulmhooper, PocketSandNinja, and alizinha/CrossFitNYC

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