Trivial Training – The 3 things you don’t need to obsess over in the weights room

Many people will end up spinning their wheels in the gym for years and years, for one simple reason.  They obsess and spend all their time on the training minutia. By this I mean that they spend far too much time focusing on the training variables that in the grand scheme of things will not make a huge amount of difference to your overall progress.

I was exactly one of those individual years ago, I spent far too much of my time and effort focusing on all the minutia of training, forgetting the most important principles of building muscle and strength. I completely get it though, these bits of trivial training sound new, sexy and fun so therefore they should give us better gainz right?

But this is not the case, you spend a lot of time and energy reading and implementing these things in the gym and before you know it years have passed and you haven’t really made much significant progress.

I get it that was me in my early 20s, I followed all the fads and gimmicks, the stuff that sounded sexy. It led me down a path of frustration, wasted time, money and energy and a lack of gainz.

In this blog I will highlight the 3 main areas where you do not need to obsess about in the weights room, so you can spend your time more productively on the stuff that matters.

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Now on with the blog

  1. Lifting Tempo

Classic TUT, that is short for Time Under Tension basically the amount of time your muscles are under tension. This method of training has received far more attention than it deserves. It was hailed as the savior of hypertrophy training.

I remember vividly spending a whole month of training timing my sets, making sure that each one of my sets lasted 40 seconds and that was a complete pain in the arse. All I got was an ache in my neck from watching my stopwatch so much.

First of all let’s briefly touch on what tempo is and how it is programmed into training. In any sort of exercise, you will have a concentric portion of a lift and an eccentric portion of a lift. For example on the bench press, the eccentric movement is lowering the bar to the chest, the concentric movement is pushing the bar back up to your starting position. We are actually stronger in the eccentric portion of the lift. If you think about it the majority of people will fail a lift on the concentric part of it, think of the squat and bench press, people will fail trying to come out the bottom of a squat.

You may see numbers like this in training programs:

2-0-3

2-2-4

This refers to the tempo of a lift. The 1st number is the concentric, the 2nd number is if you pause at the bottom of a lift, the 3rd number is the eccentric. Now in all tempo training they will over exaggerate the eccentric portion, have you tried lowering a 100kg squat with a 4 seconds eccentric it is not nice, try and do that for 10 reps and your dead after 1 set!

That leads us nicely to the main, paramount reason why you don’t need to obsess over lifting tempo. If you’re constantly trying to slow lifts down to the point where you actually have to reduce the load, well then you are sacrificing your overall training volume which is a far far more important principle for muscle hypertrophy.

Let me explain in more detail. Let’s say you are doing bench press with 80kg, you’re doing 4 sets of 10 reps.

Now if you try and do this with an exaggerated eccentric movement like 4 seconds on the way down, I guarantee you, you will not hit all 10 reps every set. You may get 10 on the first set, then 8 on the second, then 6 on the third and finally 4 on the 4th. So that would be 28 total reps on that lift with that tempo.

Now if you were to lift with a relatively normal tempo say 2 second eccentric on the way down, you may well hit 10 reps on all 4 sets which is 40 total reps in total, which means you will be lifting more total weight.

By trying to over exaggerate the eccentric part of a lift, you’re seriously affecting your overall training volume in a negative way, which is far more important for muscle hypertrophy.

Yes you still want to lift with good form and control the weight to ensure you are working the correct muscles, but you do not need to over exaggerated your lifting tempo, this will end up affecting your overall training volume in a negative way which is what we don’t want!

2. Rest Periods

Rest periods and how long they should be have been a topic for discussion for years and years. It was always preached that if you wanted to optimize muscle growth that you had to restrict rest periods between sets.

Everyone used to bang on that in order to build muscle and lose fat your rest periods had to be between 30-90 seconds. If you were resting more than 90 seconds then you might aswell give up bro!

Guess what?

I used to do this all the time, instead of carrying a log book around with me which I should have been doing, I was carrying a bloody stopwatch everywhere I went. As soon as a set ended the stopwatch was on and my rest periods would be no longer than 60 seconds, basically had time to swig some water and back to the bar.

This carries the same problem as with extremely slow lifting tempo.

It is now well established that very short rest intervals will lead to less reps be completed over the course of a training session. For example if you started off performing 10 reps on any given exercises and you were following short rest periods, there is a very good chance that you would not be completing 10 reps in the following sets.

So again it is the same principle as with lifting tempo, by actively trying to reduce your rest periods between each set. You are sacrificing your training volume, you are missing the forest for the trees.

The takeaway from this point would be to ditch the stopwatch and swap it for a log book, stop timing your rest periods to the absolute tee and put that focus into actively logging and tracking your training, to make small improvements week to week.

As for actual rest periods, I would not put a label on them. Rest as long as you need to in order to complete the next set with the same weight as the previous set. You may need more rest for the big compound movement as you will be lifting heavier loads. The last thing you want to be doing is taking 30 second rest periods in between 100kg squats.

3.  Training to failure

It has always been a common thought, that every time you set foot, in the gym that you have to push yourself to the about limit. I’m talking about throwing up in the gym toilets 60 seconds after your session has ended otherwise the whole session was a waste of time.

The gym lingo for it is “engage beast mode” I think I may of even purchased a beast mode t-shirt, what a moron. To this day, I believe and know that this was the biggest mistake I made with my training for years and still suffering from it to this day (cue the violins).

Years and years of taking every single exercise, set and session to failure will eventually catch up with you.

Training to failure can come in two main forms:

  1. Form failure, this is where form breaks down so much towards the end of set, that you can hardly complete the last rep. Think about that time when it took you a good 60 seconds to grind out that last rep of barbell bench press where your whole body is trembling out of control and you burst every blood vessel in your head. That is form failure.

  2. Mechanical failure, this is where the weight cannot be physically moved any more. So when you get to the bottom of that squat and for no money in the world can you move it back up. So you end up crumbling into a ball on the floor! That is mechanical failure.

Now we never really want to go mechanical failure as the risk for injury, just sky rockets especially if you are using the big compound lifts and if you always lift with form failure you get into bad habits, which is exactly what I did.

If you want to take certain exercises to failure, because you’re just that sort of trainee, you’re much safer off taking isolation exercises to failure like bicep curls, machine row and maybe even the leg press.

But if every single session, you’re taking the deadlift, the bench press and the overhead press to failure you are asking for trouble.

We also come back to our old friend training volume, sorry to keep banging on about it but it is important. But if you’re in that habit of taking every set to failure, it will affect your training volume in a negative way.

For example if you hit the gym like a madman after downing your favorite pre workout. You do a few warm up sets and then you take your very first set to absolute failure, the chances are your reps will go down and down as the sets go on. It is not just that exercise you have to think aboutyou need to think of the bigger picture.

If your go in like a bull in a china shop, the likelihood is the rest of your session will suffer and you will not be able to lift as much weight. Have you ever gone into the gym took all 4 sets of squats to failure in the very first exercise, your basically done after that and the rest of your session is a grind. You also need to think about your sessions for the rest of the week, if you’re taking every set to failure in all your sessions, then your sessions later in the week will probably suffer as a result.

Now I am not saying never to use training to failure as a tool. But it needs to be used intelligently and for a reason. For example if you’re a powerlifter and you’re doing 1RM testing for a week, then that serves a clear purpose and gives you an indication of progress. But if you’re just hitting the gym every session and training to failure because that is what you think you need to do in order to progress then that is when you may and probably will run into issues further down the line.

 

So there you have it 3 things that you DO NOT need to obsess about in the weights room. I cannot tell you how many years of progress I wasted, by becoming fixated on the things above. It did me more harm than good especially the training to failure one.

Spend your time more productively in the gym on the training principles that actually matter and that will actually give you the gainz you want. Don’t worry we have a blog planned that will tell you those principles and how to use them.

But until then if you want to learn more about training and how to focus on the things that actually matter and forget about the things that don’t.

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Thanks for Reading

Joe