The old rules of lifting no longer apply. Fitness, muscle-building or whatever you want to call it has changed. Years ago every facet of training was separated into categories such as bodybuilding, endurance athletics, sports-specific, etc. just to name a few.
These days the public’s perception of fitness has evolved to encompass not only all of the aforementioned categories, but also newly adopted terms such as mobility and functional training. The old rules of training focused upon performing a few sets of bench press or squats with a barbell. Who needed anything more?
The 10 Commandments of Modern Training is simply a synopsis of new (and needed) protocols designed to not only build muscle and burn fat but also increase mobility, improve overall health and sustain motivation for your lifelong journey in health and fitness.
Sure, the big, multi-joint lifts will always be king – but you knew that. What you may miss is the fact that over time your strength becomes unbalanced. You become stronger, bigger and more functional on one side of your body. One arm is stronger, one leg is bigger. Over time this can develop into a problem regarding injury. If one shoulder, for example, is functionally stronger than the other, bench pressing, rowing and other pulling or pressing movements will eventually impose injury due to the lack of balanced strength.
Follow this commandment: Be sure to include at least one unilateral exercise to any body part you are training each session. Bulgarian split squats, lunges, one arm rows, dumbbell pressing moves, dumbbell and kettlebell shoulder work and single leg calf raises just to name a few. Over time you will have shored up the weak side and, in turn, will actually start to gain new strength and muscle.
It’s no surprise that functional would be on this list. Once thought of as a trend, functional exercise has proven its worth over time. Lifting uneven loads from the ground as well as overhead while adapting to real-world scenarios not only has said practical application, but it also injects some fun into your otherwise monotonous workouts – a set of curls anyone?
Follow this commandment: Don’t be the guy who can bench press a ton of weight but is unable to crank out a set of 20 push-ups. No, this doesn’t mean you have to scrap your whole workout in place of bodyweight stuff. Try incorporating some more functional exercises into your current routine – replace a few moves with feet-elevated push-ups, inverted rows, Turkish get-ups, one-arm snatches, farmer’s walks, suitcase carries, ball slams, box jumps and crawls.
3. Symmetrical (strength)
What muscles do you see in the mirror? Chest, biceps, quadriceps, abs? The average gym-goer tends to focus on what they can see so they proceed to train these same muscle groups with tenacity – performing set after set. Stretching, flexing, contracting and admiring this short list of muscle groups. What about the back, triceps, rear deltoids, glutes, hamstrings and lumbar? The posterior muscles, when neglected, become weak compared to their anterior partners. This applies to both lower and upper body work as well.
Follow this commandment: If you are guilty of giving your full attention to your mirror muscles then you have your work cut out for you. Double up. For every set of chest do two sets for back. Double up for rear delts, hamstrings and any other area that needs to play catch up. Another strategy to consider is to cut down on the sets for mirror muscles until the other, weaker areas are balanced.
When was the last time you performed a lateral or reverse lunge? What about Russian twists? How about a side plank? Lifting forward and back so to speak is great for strength, power and muscle-building, but you will also need to incorporate a few things to develop all angles. Much like the bench press/push-up example earlier, you want to be strong from all sides. This helps not only with functionality but will also assist other weak point areas which will ultimately create a balanced, strong foundation and help with the big lifts.
Follow this commandment: At one time you may have found some exercises a bit crazy or absurd, but they could be the key to better balance and control making you better at, well, everything. Perform a few reverse lunges, one-arm cleans with a kettlebell, twisted ab moves and spider push-ups. Seek out new angles and new ways to perform old exercises. You will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
This area could have easily been referred to as cardio or aerobic exercise, but conditioning encompasses more of a holistic approach including steady state aerobic (long duration, low intensity), high intensity interval training (short bouts of high intensity) and also anaerobic capacity (muscular endurance). It’s easy to see how a long walk on the treadmill doesn’t really say much about true conditioning.
Follow this commandment: Plug in some fun and exciting conditioning routines. You can still perform good ole fashioned long, low intensity steady-state cardio but be sure to include a few things such as kettlebell conditioning circuits, bodyweight complexes, sled pushes and pulls, battle rope work, sprints, box jumps, hill sprints, and higher rep endurance work.
Of any of these rules of training, mobility has to be one of, if not the most important one of all in regard to your longevity with training. As your training progresses, you develop larger and stronger muscles. These muscle tend to tighten and get stiffer over time if no care is given to increasing mobility. This isn’t entirely related to general stretching – but they are similar in many respects. Here, I am talking about joint mobility and range or motion around those joints. You may have flexible hamstrings but not have great hip mobility.
Follow this commandment: Dynamic warm-ups/stretching and mobility drills should be an active part of your program. Also, be sure you are performing all exercises with the fullest range of motion within. For example, lowering the weight down on a leg press to a point where your glutes lift off the pad and you begin to round your pelvis or lower back is bad news. Additionally, you don’t want to over stretch or over extend any joint beyond its natural plane of movement.
The goal of going to the gym and putting on muscle has taken a beating lately in a lot of fitness circles. Strength, function and other attributes have taken over as the primary concerns. Gaining muscle mass (hypertrophy) is still and always will be an important factor if you want to stay in the iron game for the long haul. Muscle mass provides a foundation of structure, strength and the tools to get things done. You don’t have to decide between strength and muscle mass – you can go after both.
Follow this commandment: Training for strength will provide muscle mass and training for muscle mass will provide strength – they aren’t mutually exclusive. Even with functional and unilateral exercises you will gain muscle. The differences lie in the rep ranges and rest periods. Hypertrophy is generally achieved through reps of 8 to 15 with relatively brief rest periods of 45 to 90 seconds. Be sure to include either a phase of hypertrophy training or incorporate it in a few of your workouts per week.
As mentioned above, stretching is mobility’s roommate; they go hand-in-hand. But here I am referring to the actual relaxation and temporary lengthening of a muscle. Stretching has a host of benefits including helping flush out lactic acid, creating space by stretching the fascia around the muscle area and improved blood flow so nutrients can do their job for recovery. Stretching can also improve long term recovery and prevent the body from getting too rigid and tight from those tough workouts. Have you ever felt extremely tight after a hard leg training day only to find you can barely get out of bed?
Follow this commandment: Be sure that when you stretch it’s after your training session. Again, I am talking about a lengthy, thorough stretching session. Prior to training it’s fine to do a dynamic warm-up/stretching session to get mobile and limber. After training is when the muscle is warm, full of blood and more pliable. Read: safer. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and go for 2 or 3 bouts per muscle group.
An often overlooked but all-too important point is the necessity to be progressive with your workouts. To see any change whether it’s fat-loss, muscle gain, strength increases or performing better you must have a plan of progression in place. This doesn’t mean you have to set new personal records each and every time you hit the gym. You just need an overall path to progress so you aren’t repeating the same workout year after year without anything to show for it.
Follow this commandment: Are you squatting, bench pressing and repping-out on pull-ups the same as this time last year? How are you keeping track? What is your goal anyway? Progress in reps, weight, speed, time or any other way to track what you are doing and how you are progressing. Keep a log and write down reps, sets, exercises, diet notes, mood, stress level and whatever else you think you need to reach the next best level of you.
Look at your workout program. Is it easy? Could you run through it with a blindfold on? Are you really just going through the motions? Comfort zones are just that – comfortable. And when you feel comfortable you tend to get a little lazy. And when you’re lazy nothing really gets done. It’s time to rise above, get over yourself and try something new. Comfort zones were meant to be expanded, stretched and challenged – and it’s time to get uncomfortable.
Follow this commandment: Write a list of things you want to get better at. Next, write out what it will take to get there. Let your mind wander. Is it to try something new like an overhead squat? How about improving your conditioning with some high intensity complexes? Or do you need a whole new set of challenging ab moves to knock you on your butt? Whatever it is, make sure it’s challenging if you only do the things you’re good at, you’ll never improve and grow.
Sample full-body program
Below is a sample full-body program utilizing the above commandments. Give it a try.
You can perform it either twice or three times per week on nonconsecutive days such as Monday and Thursday or Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, respectively.
- Supersets are done back-to-back without rest.
- Rest 45 to 60 seconds between sets and supersets.
- Perform prior to training: Use a foam roller for all major areas for 5 minutes.
- Also, perform a dynamic warm-up of push-ups, bodyweight squats, burpees and lunges for 2 rounds of 10 reps each.
|Box Depth Jumps||4||10|
|A1. Single Arm DB Bench Press||3||12/Arm|
|A2. DB Romanian Deadlift||4||8|
|B1. Reverse Grip Chin-Up||3||Failure|
|B2. One Arm DB Row||3||6/Arm|
|Split Squat Jumps||3||12/Leg|
|C1. Single Arm KB Clean and Press||3||6/Arm|
|C2. Front Plank||3||10 Seconds|
|C3. Side Plank||3||10 Seconds/Side|
|D1. Rope Facepull||3||15|
|E1. Hanging Straight Leg Raise||3||10|
|E2. Russian Twist||3||10-16|
- Sled push pull or wind sprints
- 6 to 10 rounds of predetermined length
- 2 to 3 minute rest between each round
Once your workout is completed, cool down and make sure to thoroughly static stretch all major areas.
Thou Shalt Not Break These Commandments
Making gains is only as tough as you make it. If you want to ensure you stay in the lifting game for as long as possible and make continual progress then it's time to give your programming a second look, break away from traditional, and keep longevity on the forefront.