When I first started training several years ago, I did the same thing most other trainers did. I did exercises in a straight set format. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means means you perform a certain number of reps for an exercise and then rest. We would then repeat this sequence for a certain number of sets. Depending on the clients goals would determine how long their rest periods would be. Considering the format, my clients still made some remarkable progress. Fast forward to 2008 and it amazes me that some people are still training the same way I did four years ago.
So, what’s the problem with this format? For starters, it’s a very time consuming format and in today’s busy society, people just don’t have a lot of time. In most commercial gyms you’ll typically see someone perform three sets of 10 reps on almost every exercise. They pump out those 10 reps, rest, and then do it again. Usually the guys take a very long rest between sets. I’m talking as much as 3-5 minutes between sets. For example, if a male did three sets of 10 on the bench that means it would take up to 15 minutes to complete only one exercise. That meant you’d need at least an hour to perform four different exercises! Talk about a poor use of time.
So what would be a more time effective approach? Alternating sets. Any halfway descent personal trainer currently uses this model (if not buyer beware). This is a much more time efficient approach to ordering your exercises. Here you’ll perform one exercise, rest for a short period of time, then perform another exercise, rest for a short period of time, and so forth. Alternating sets allows you to work different movements in your body when you would otherwise be resting with the straight set format. This allows you to have longer recovery in between sets which means we can go heavy(sorry, no more pink dumbbells ladies). The result is higher intensity and more work density which means more work accomplished in less time. This is the backbone to any effective fat loss program. There are several ways to perform alternating sets outlined below:
1.) Supersets: Alternate between two different non-competing movement patterns (e.g. push-ups and squats)
2.) Tri-sets: Alternate between three different movement patterns (e.g. push-ups, lunges, and pull-ups)
3.) Circuits: Alternate between four or more different movement patterns
Though supersets and tri-sets are excellent alternating set options for beginners, I believe circuit training is by the far the best option time and time again for most others. Let’s take at look at some of my favorite circuits.
The 50-10 Five Exercise Circuit: You will alternate between 50 seconds of work and 10seconds of rest for all five exercises in the following 5-minute circuit:
Exercise#3- Reverse Lunges
Exercise#5- Plank (Bridge)
Perform this circuit up to four times to really expedite your fat loss. Feel free to rest up to 1 minute between rounds depending on your conditioning level.
In the above example, the same 15 minutes that it took to complete three sets of 10 reps on the bench you could have gotten in three sets of five different exercises if you used the alternating set model. Plus, the intensity on each exercise will be just as high as in the straight set format because in this five exercise circuit you will have full recovery with over four minutes before you return to any given exercise (just as you did with the straight set format described earlier). Why doesn’t everyone train this way?
To recap, the key to creating optimal fat loss is to perform each exercise with maximal intensity separated by brief rest periods. You want to maximize work density by doing as much work as you can in the time allotted. We’re not looking to work any longer here, just harder. Circuit training provides you the best of both worlds and is thus simply unmatched for simultaneously maximizing fat loss and lean muscle gain. The following is a template I use with my many boot camp clients for some killer, yet simple fat loss circuits:
Exercise#1- Quad Dominant/Hip Dominant
Exercise#2- Horizontal/Vertical Push
Exercise#3- Hip Dominant /Quad Dominant Single-Leg
Exercise#4- Horizontal/Vertical Pull
Give the 50/10 curcuit training workout a try the next time you go to the gym.