See Better Results, in Half the time at the Gym: Part Two

On Tuesday, we talked about ways to change up our workouts to see better results.

But the other piece of this puzzle that many people lose is that the key in any fitness program is to use the mechanics to your advantage!

Let me explain. 

Our bodies work as any other machine does, and we have hinges and levers. The longer the lever, the more work to a muscle. So if you choose an exercise with an effective lever, you can use less weight to get a lot of work. 

Let’s say you’re holding an egg with a spoon. Your hand and wrist have to work harder when you are holding the end of the spoon, whereas it gets easier to hold if you are holding closer to the egg. These are the levers at play - which can (and should) be applied to exercise. 

In fact, choosing a bodyweight exercise can sometimes be more effective at targeting a muscle group than another exercise that doesn’t use the body’s ideal levers. 

Breaking it down

Let’s compare a Barbell Upright Row for targeting the deltoids and a Side-Lying Lateral raise for targeting the deltoids. 

A side-lying lateral raise is one of my favorite ways to target the deltoids. It effectively loads the deltoids with less load to the upper traps and rotator cuff muscles. Since the lever here is so effective, you can use very light weights.

So if I put on my physicist hat, and calculate the mechanics of these two exercises, you can get 125lb of work to the middle deltoids in a side-lying raise when you’re only holding 5lb (A note that I calculated this using the length of my arm, so your values might be slightly different). 

However, if you wanted to get the same amount of work to the deltoids in a barbell upright row, you’d have to hold 81lb!

This is because the moment arm, or the lever, to the deltoid in an upright row is much shorter than in a side-lying lateral raise, making it less effective. 

Although it might make you feel good to be able to lift 81lb easily, unfortunately, in this instance, it isn’t because you are stronger than the person doing the side-lying lateral raise, it’s actually because the levers are shorter and you’ve given yourself the mechanical advantage. 

Although it may feel more satisfying, lifting the extra weight comes at a price. With the 81lb, you’re unnecessarily compressing the spine. Whereas, you could choose the side-lying raise and get the same amount of work done with nearly zero spinal compression. This is where it comes down to exercise selection and having an understanding of body mechanics and physics.

So don’t be fooled that heavier weight automatically equals more work. It’s so much more about mechanics and levers than it is about how much weight you’re holding. 

Cut down the Time

All that’s to say, is that the ultimate way to cut down on your time spent in the gym is to fatigue muscles properly. 

Within the fitness industry, there is much debate about how heavy you should go, and how many reps you should complete to see the best results.

But, the volume doesn’t matter as much as people think. You just have to get to a certain threshold of stimulus in the gym. And that part’s up to you. You can get it through low volume, high weight or high volume, low weight.

When the signal to the muscle is maximized, that’s all you need. 

Personally, I tend to think anywhere in the 8-20 rep range, using moderate resistance, for 1-4 sets is best. This avoids the risk of using unnecessarily heavy weight for low sets and injuring yourself but also reduces the risk of overuse injuries from high repetition.  

Again - you don’t need to be afraid of low or high rep, both have their place. I just prefer to land somewhere in the middle for the most part. 

The key is, after your set, you want to make sure you’re pretty fatigued. Research shows that ending the set when you have maybe 3-4 reps left in reserve is suitable for creating the muscular stimulus needed for hypertrophy. 

Finding the Right Fit

So now, you’re fatigued after your set, but how do you know if you’ve done too much? How do you know what is the right workout dosage for you?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer for you - it does take a bit of trial and error. But there are some good ways to figure this out.

You should monitor if you’re feeling completely depleted after every workout (an indication you’re over-stressing your system), or if you’re constantly sore/have tender spots (a sign of overuse), or if you’re starting to develop constant aches and pains. 

One great tool to test this is to check your range of motion. (A sneak peek: lookout for my interview next week with Justin Prier!)

Our bodies respond with tightness when the nervous system senses a threat, such as overdoing it in a gym session or cramming our joints in an exercise.

This is a beautiful protective mechanism that indicates you may have done something that your body didn’t like. And a great indicator to choose a different exercise next time. 

Conversely, if you give your nervous system "good" signals, such as a clean muscular output or a balanced workout, your range of motion will increase as your body senses a level of safety. 

Levels of tightness can be changed in an instant, and your nervous system is extremely effective at improving or reducing your mobility instantaneously if it senses danger or safety. 

A check is to pick any range of motion and do that before and after your workout. For example, you could test hamstring length before you start your workout by lying on your back and bringing a straight leg towards your chest without using your hands. Measure how “free” it feels, and how high it goes without you pulling on your leg. 

Do the same test immediately after your workout. If it feels looser, that was a great workout! If it feels tighter, it isn’t the end of the world, but may suggest you should take a closer look at the mechanics of your workout. Next time, change up some of your exercises or weights to see if your range of motion test before and after changes. 

You repeat this process until you feel like you get a good hold on exactly what exercises and what dosage your body loves. 

The Final Piece 

My last tip to cut down your time in the gym is to begin implementing workout splits. 

Since we know muscles need about 36 hours, sometimes longer, to fully recover, we can switch up which muscles we are working on each day to keep the workouts shorter, and allow our bodies to heal. 

When you are only focusing on 1-3 muscle groups per workout, and you choose exercises that effectively utilize levers to add substantial stimulus to the muscles without overloading the joints, you truly only need about 30 minutes to get a great workout that will drive results. 

For instance, in our Evlo membership program on Monday we did all glutes in our lower body workout. We alternated between the left and the right glute, and the entire workout, including warm-up and cool-down, only took 30 minutes. 

Yesterday, we did upper body; worked biceps, triceps, and back, also only taking 30 minutes total. 

Today we did core, again only taking 30 minutes. Friday we will do full-body, circling back to glutes, quads, chest, shoulders, and abs. 

So this is my magic formula for how you can workout 4-5 times/week for short periods of time, and still see results:

  1. Worry more about using effective levers and less about how much weight you’re holding.
  2. Find the right workout dosage for your body, and fatigue yourself at the end of every set while keeping about 3-4 reps in your reserve.
  3. Implement workout splits so your muscles have time to recover in between workouts.   

If you’re repeating this process week after week, fueling with enough protein, you will begin to see your body change. I’ve worked out for less time than I ever have, and I see better results because I implement this process. Give it a go and see how you feel, and let me know!

And as always, if you want to join Evlo for a structured program of home workout classes, we’d love to have you join our crew: www.evlofitness.com

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