There are four key areas to focus on when training - I like to use a little acronym to remember them FFTR (form, frequency, tempo and rest) if you can remember these four principles when training you are well on your way to a better way of training.
Lifting heavy weights and working out on a daily basis are not necessary to achieve a healthy body (far from it) but when you do train it is important to do it properly. I have seen so many people spend hours in the gym each week doing ineffective workouts as they seem to neglect the things that are most important to stimulating the mind and body…..
Form - Doing exercise in good form is essential, but at the same time it is important not to get obsessive with good form as this can slow down and hinder workouts. Movements should be smooth and fluid with a regular tempo. It is also important to feel the target muscle when working – after a few sets of press ups you should feel your chest and triceps have a good pump. If the target muscles don’t feel worked after a few sets of an exercise it probably means you are doing things too quickly without a conscious effort to squeeze/contract the muscle.
These principles are also important when doing other exercises whether its Yoga or Running. Keep your back upright and move with a fluid and strong stance. Feel the whole body work – better do less in better form than more with poor form.
Frequency - Two or Three workouts a week are optimal and the most anyone should do. More than this and you are looking for burnout and or injuries – especially when working out with a good intensity and causing adaptation. For the rest of the time move, play and stay active. If a muscle is sore it is a good sign to take a few days off and definitely avoid training the sore muscles.
Even after soreness has dissipated your body is most likely still repairing and rebuilding for a couple of days. For me a good sign of when to workout is when I start feeling restless and really want to run or lift some weights – sometimes it can take weeks of doing next to nothing to get to this state.
Tempo - When doing resistance exercise the tempo I have found most useful for general adaptation is 3-1 as in three-seconds down or negative and one-second up. Of course these are rough and a better principle to keep in mind is to lower slowly to the count of three and do the push/pull part of the work as quick as you can whilst maintaining good form and resistance on the muscle.
Really slow negatives can also be a good way to mixup workouts – try jumping unto a bar for a pull-up and lowering yourself over 10-15 seconds, repeat 5-8 times. It is the negative part of the exercises which breaks down and triggers repair of the muscles after all.
Rest - I am not a big fan of clock watching between sets when doing resistance exercise – it seems to make more sense to just wait until you feel ready, heart rate lowers and your muscles feel strong again. This is normally around 1-2 minutes but can also be as short as 30 seconds…
In terms of rest between sessions you will find that each person is different. You may take 3 days to feel fresh after a workout, whereas another person can be ready to go within 24 hours. This not only depends on each persons unique recovery ability but also their level of fitness and amount of time training.
A general rule when working out though is ‘less is more’ if you are unsure about working out again that is probably a good sign to take it easy – also watch out for signs of overtraining….
Use these four principles wisely - print them out, or make a little note of them somewhere and you will find that your workouts improve in terms of effectiveness and I have no doubt you will feel better by following them.