Create Your Own Workout - Part 2: Goal Setting & "Toning"

An inquisitive man once said, "To bicep curl, or not to bicep curl... That is the question."  If you've been paying attention (and really, even if you haven't been), you'd know that this man could have spent his time asking much better questions.

A Common Mistake
As Ronnie Coleman once proclaimed, "Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but ain't nobody wanna lift no heavy-ass weight."  This quote is especially true for the high school boy that dreams of a 6-pack and 16-inch watermelons for biceps.

The average high school male skips over the heavy, compound lifts that should make up the majority of their workout, and heads right to the machines and dumbbell rack. Instead of squatting, these ill-informed individuals head to the leg press.  Instead of deadlifting, these misguided males sit in a chair and rep out hamstring curls.  Instead of performing heavy rows and pull-ups, these blunderous blokes spend the majority of their workout performing bicep curls and shrugs.

They're caught up lifting with egos and not with their heads.  It takes time to master the heavy compound lifts, and so, you get a kid who is busy training his muscles when he really should be training movements. Maybe you can relate.  Maybe you're still stuck working out with the machines at your local gym, intimidated by the monstrous metal cage that is the squat rack. Let this series help you change your ways...

Goal Setting
Everyone has a different reason for hitting the gym.  Whether it's to run a faster 10K, maintain your health for as long as possible, or achieve a nice set of legs, chances are high that you'll reach your goal faster (and more effectively) utilizing free weights and training compound movements. Exercises like the squat and the deadlift simply give you the most bang-for-your-buck. They allow for more load and therefore greater muscle activation, and provide benefits far beyond simply improved strength gains.  Check out this article to find out why compound movements give benefits that machine and isolation-type exercises simply can't.

This isn't to say that everyone should perform the same lifts, for the same amount of repetitions, at the same intensity.  This is where the repetition maximum continuum comes into play.  Since you're a reader of mine, you know that you can train to improve a variety of muscular adaptations.  These include strength, endurance, power, and size --- although each attribute will play a part in the development of another.

The continuum gives us the knowledge we need to structure a plan to hit our specific needs.  It lets us know that when training strength, we should spend most of our time working in the 2-5 rep range.  When training for endurance, we'll need to lighten the load considerably, and lift the weight for more repetitions.  That's not to say that training for endurance is easy, but the absolute intensity is lower and the addition of reps will allow us to maintain the relative intensity (or exertion) needed to still elicit a training effect.

"What if my goal is to tone?"
A common mistake that most recreational lifters make is attempting to tone their muscles with light weights and aerobic-style workouts.  Now, while this is certainly a viable option to be included in their long-term plan, oftentimes it's much more effective to train for strength and muscular size.  With muscle mass, comes muscle definition.  After you've spent enough time applying a stimulus that will cause muscular growth, you can then switch gears, and apply more fat-loss style training that will help bring that definition to the surface.

If you missed part 1, we discussed an incredibly common mistake that beginner lifters make when first venturing into the iron jungle.  Today we touched on how goal affect our training, and, as we dive deeper and deeper into this series, I'll help you identify your goals, and structure a program that will allow you to reach and surpass them.  I've already put together a thorough series on structuring a weight lifting regimen for a triathlete.  Post a comment with another scenario you'd like worked through and I'll include it in this series.  See you next time!