How To Train Smart

“Hey bro, I found this sick Dwayne Johnson workout on the internet and I’m about to try it out today, I’m so pumped!”

If you’ve heard this in the gym, odds are you’ve stumbled upon someone who does not really know what to do with their training plan and is, well, experimenting.

Which is not bad, really!

However, much like anything, training is precise mathematics and you need to understand each variable and factor affecting the end result and create your plan based on that.

And so, if you are over those celebrity workouts and are ready to get in the best shape of your life, keep reading!

Training Fundamentals

To find out what the best training regimen for you is, you have to first and foremost understand the backend of your workouts.

A workout can be measured using 3 main variables:

  1. Intensity
  2. Volume
  3. Density

Essentially, intensity shows how close you are to your maximum strength capabilities – The heavier the weight, the higher the intensity.

Volume measures the total amount of weight lifted in kilograms or pounds – To calculate volume, you take the working weight and multiply it by the number of sets and reps (100 kg x 10 reps x 2 sets = 2000 kg total volume)

Density measures your volume, relative to the total time needed for its completion including rest times, and is measured in kilograms per minute (i.e 2000 kg volume completed for 2 minutes would be a density of 1000 kg/minute)

Ok I’m Confused, Why Do I Need This?

Understanding the different training variables presented above is essential for being able to create the correct training stimulus.

Let’s have a look at the variables and how you can set them up for certain results.

Intensity

The level of intensity, or in other words, how close you get to your maximum strength capabilities, will determine the recruitment of muscle fibers, as well as the stimulus for certain adaptations. (i.e strength gains, bulk muscle growth)

Intensity (%)Description
0-35%This is the warm-up zone, you don’t want to be here for too long if you’re trying to grow muscle!
40-60%On here, more and more muscle fibers get recruited – This is a good zone to go through before your heavier working sets
65-80%This is the intensity zone where you can do moderate to heavy weight sets for 6-15 repetitions, until failure.
Focus on this zone if you want bodybuilder-like muscle growth!
85-100%In this intensity zone, you can do 1-5 repetitions with a really heavy weight.
This is known as the powerlifting zone and mainly results in maximum strength gains.
If you are training in the bodybuilder intensity zone, do include this powerlifting one every now and then.

Volume

One of the interesting things is that in terms of muscle growth, it doesn’t really matter if you will train in the 65-80% intensity range or the 85-100%, as long as the volume is equated.

However, the 65-80% range allows for greater volume to be put out, more easily, due to its less strenuous nature.


Below is a volume cheat sheet, which can help you determine the number of sets depending on your training experience.

Training experienceVolume (per muscle group, per week)
Beginner/novice~5 Challenging Working Sets
Intermediate~10 Challenging Working Sets
Advanced15-20+ Challenging Working Sets

Note that a “challenging working set” implies a working set that is taken close to failure (1-4 reps in reserve).

What About Density?

Though many people pay attention to the weight (intensity) and the number of sets and reps (volume), no one really cares about density.

And let us tell you this – Density is important when you are trying to achieve the highest volume of greatest quality possible in your workout because density is dictated by rest times.

For instance, if you do a set of 5 reps using 100 kg and only rest 1 minute, odds are that you will only get 3-4 reps on the next set.

On the other hand, if you take 2-3 minutes of rest between each set, you will be able to sustain sets of 5 and thus, your quality volume will be greater.

Spread that density, both in your workouts and in your entire training plan!

Here’s a rest times cheat sheet:

IntensityRest Times
0-50%1 minute
60-80%2-3 minutes
85-100%4-15 minutes

Understanding Your Goals & Setting The Plan

If you have no formal education on fitness and nutrition, odds are that you are just testing around to see what works for you.

However, if you have a goal in mind, you should take specific actions towards that goal because training results are predictable!

So let’s have a look at how you can define your goal with training and more importantly, what things you need to do to set the plan right.

Common Training Goals

Group of people training in the gym. Lifting weight and doing exercise.

Going into the gym, there are a couple of types of people:

  1. Really skinny people, trying to grow
  2. People with excess weight, trying to shed it off
  3. Individuals with a normal body composition looking to improve

So let’s have a look at each one of those and some actions you can take towards setting your plan in place.

The Hardgainer

As we mentioned, many people are really skinny and try to gain weight by training. If that’s the case for you, take the following guidelines:

  1. Start training at moderate intensity (6-10 reps with a weight that leaves plenty of repetitions in reserve)
  2. Focus on learning the correct exercise form
  3. Rest at least 2 minutes between sets
  4. Start off with ~5 working sets per muscle group, per week
  5. Increase the number of sets progressively
  6. Allow each muscle group to recover for at least 72 hrs before training it again
  7. Eat, eat, eat, eat, eat!

Doing all of this over at least a year will likely lead you to be, well, not so skinny anymore!

Furthermore, this will set the fundament for more growth, which you can build upon.

The Overweight

Hey, listen, if you’ve been inactive for some time and have enjoyed your favorite foods in big amounts, that’s alright, you’ve just relaxed for a little bit.

Getting back on track and losing the excess weight will be fulfilling and with a bit of training and nutrition, you can do wonders.

Follow these tips!

  1. Train at moderate levels of intensity (a couple of reps shy from failure)
  2. Rest ~2-3 minutes between sets
  3. Do ~10 challenging working sets per muscle group, per week
  4. Allow each muscle group to recover 72-96 hours
  5. Eat in a caloric deficit (most important part)
  6. Consume plenty of protein (~1g per lb of body weight, per day)
  7. Consume plenty of natural fats (~0.45g per lb of body weight, per day)
  8. Consume some carbs to fuel training

Doing this will allow the body to tap into its fat reserves to compensate for the deficit of energy, and you will also create sufficient stimulus for muscle mass retention.

Normal Body Composition

How to train smart:Fitness sport gym group of training

If you’re someone who has an average body composition and is neither overweight nor skinny and sustains healthy eating habits, well, you have a good foundation!

In case your primary form of training involves weights, define your goal and train accordingly to the guidelines below:

  1. Use the powerlifting rep range mentioned in table 1, for the goal of increasing maximum strength
  2. Use the bodybuilding rep range also suggested in table 1, for the goal of bulk muscle growth
  3. If you want to be more functional and not just strong and big, combine weight training with activities like climbing, running, hiking, swimming, etc.
  4. Maintain your regular eating habits, but add more food as you become more active!

Generally, people with normal body composition are well-tuned to their hunger and satiety signals, so no specific dietary changes are required.

Final Thoughts

Training smart is about recognizing your goal and setting the correct training stimulus in place.

Most hardgainers should focus on moderate and high-intensity training that progressively increases in time.

People who lose weight on the other hand are also prone to eventually losing muscle mass, so training at a moderate level of exertion and intensity will create sufficient stimulus for the retention of that muscle mass, thus helping the person look more toned through their journey.

Whatever your goal may be, do analyze the backend of your workouts and take actions accordingly, if any change is needed!

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