An imperfect world
In a perfect world, guys wouldn’t be curling in the squat rack, you would have the gym to yourself.
Your wife wouldn’t phone you to tell you to hurry home because the baby is sick.
You wouldn’t be so tired that every time you lay down on the bench you fall asleep.
You wouldn’t have binged-watched Orange is The New Black/Game of Thrones/The Walking Dead (delete as appropriate) and ended up getting 3 hours sleep.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, so all of the above and more will happen, and should be expected.
So, with this in mind, I’m going to outline an approach for time management as an issue both as a singular event and as an ongoing issue.
Main movement only – The “I’m not doing jack shit” approach by Jim Wendler, in its basic form it entails warming up, smashing your working sets, cooling down and going home.
This approach isn’t ideal as it lacks the balance of a well-rounded program but it is perfect for when time frames are heavily stretched. No matter how tired or stressed I am I feel that I can always manage a couple of hard sets of the main movement.
Main movement and one accessory – Got a bit more time? Complete your main movement then hammer 3-4 sets of a related accessory, keep the accessory the same for 4-6 weeks before switching it out to prevent staleness and boredom and let’s see the weight and reps get crushed for a bit before moving on. Try and pick an accessory you’re weak on or one that will help drive the main movement.
Accessory could also mean Jim Wendler’s “Boring but Big”, around 50% for 5×10 for the main movement or how about an AMRAP set of the main movement again with around 50%?
It’s two exercises: work the main movement hard and the accessory harder.
For me I plan this work, plan the workouts I’m supposed to do and I also plan for changes that might need to happen due to time constraints, stress, feeling a bit under the weather etcetera.
What I Will Do
This way there is no what shall I do, it’s this is what I WILL do. I provide an example below:
- Back Squat
- Leg Press
- Pistols to bench
- Back Squat only
- Back Squat
- Back Squat 5×10
- Back Squat
- Accessory – Pistols to Bench
So, at a glance, I can clearly identify solutions where I can’t commit to fulfilling the prescribed workout, if it’s going to be an ongoing issue, I’ll move to the main movement and one accessory. If it’s a one-off, I’ll move to the first two alternatives and get back to the prescribed workout as soon as possible.
The above will be applied to every prescribed workout.
An alternative approach
So, what if you have the opposite problem and you feel you could add in extra work but you don’t want to add in loads of exercises? I’ll outline my approach to this below.
You should see a similarity between the time constraint approach and the time aplenty – a focus on big movements and an approach to help drive them forward.
Perform back off sets for the main movement, try to make the movement look easy and crisp. Work on those form issues you have identified. Could your upper back be tighter in the squat? Do you forget to pull the slack out of the deadlift? Does your bench bar bath need work? You get the idea.
It’s hard sometimes to address form with working weights sometimes so this gives you a chance to go back and do things right.
Pretty similar to option one and that is to work on sticking points. I believe you have to have some experience under your belt to understand any sticking points you may have, so if you have the time under the bar, crack on.
For novice lifters, I would prefer they just do the back off sets and work on form. I believe a novice lifter will encounter many sticking points that can be addressed with technique work, whereas a more experienced lifter has probably nailed the form down and now can hunt for those areas such as sticking point work that can drive their main movement up.
So, while I’m a big main movement fan sometimes it can be boring as hell to do, so I often find myself adding on an exercise as a finisher to my workout if time allows.
These can be done for a multitude of reasons: preventing boredom, injury prevention and a personal challenge being just some of them.
I’ll detail these below. Again, I would rather you nail the main movements with extra work but if you just want to get a pump I won’t chase you at the gym shouting “All you need is squats!”
Sometimes we all need a little pump therapy.
Now I haven’t gone over the form for the exercises below but any Google/YouTube search will yield those exercise instructions. Pick one movement from below:
High rep goblet squats
These are a new thing I heard about from Jim Wendler. These are a ball-buster and give you that “jelly leg” syndrome as you leave the gym. I’m looking at 50 reps working up to 25-35kg dumbbell to start with, 100 reps with a similar weight would be the end goal. I use dumbbells for these but if you have kettlebells, use them instead.
I like 5×20 here. I say I like. I mean I get through and want to die at the end! After every set of swings add in a minute plank and smoke legs and abs at the same time. Single or double hand, timed, not timed. Whatever you want to do is fine, get plenty of reps in and explode from the hips. Dan John has probably the best instructions in the swing I have found.
Pushups to failure
A couple of sets at the minimum to really exhaust the muscles.
A couple of ideas here: Mick Coup of C2 Core Combatives has a variation of using a med ball with both hands on it, like squeezing someone’s head (I believe he calls it the headbanger?) This totally fries the triceps and pecs. Or how about push-ups on two dumbbells standing on their ends?
Pushups with a plate on your back? My favourite? Decline to standard to knee push-ups. Prepare for pain!
De Franco’s shoulder shocker
A combination exercise including a plate front raise, a lateral raise and a clean and press. You really need to see the video for this and it can be found on YouTube. This is a great little combo and it really taxes the shoulders.
Curl and Press
I first heard about this from Mick Coup who picked it up from Dragan Radovic. Dragan is famous for taking on all-comers, even teams of people, and beating them all doing this exercise. Competition weights are 20kg dumbbells and Dragan seems to go on forever.
Either use lighter weights for more reps or go heavy for less and these are done in alternating fashion. Pick a weight that will challenge you. No pink one kg dumbbells here, please.
Mick has an even harder version where one dumbbell is held aloft until all the reps are completed with the other arm. This. Is. Brutal.
I personally like higher reps here and treat it more like a finisher, maybe 100 total reps and then up the weight in the next workout and work back up to 100 again.
High rep barbell curls – I heard about these from Paul Carter of Lift Run Bang who took them from strongman Derek Poundstone. These are referred to as Poundstone curls and are a great pump exercise. The extra blood flow seems to clear up nagging elbow pain and they also blow up the lower arms. 100 reps here just with the straight bar and then add weight, slowly.
Coach Christopher Sommers of Gymnastic Bodies has stated that the biceps is an endurance muscle and he has his guys rope climb to death. The high rep curl seems to be the gym equivalent.
Dead kettlebell snatches
Another one I picked up from Mick Coup. This is basically hovering a kettlebell a couple of inches from the ground and in one straight path snatch it overhead. I drop it to a clean and then back to the starting position.
This differs in comparison to the standard snatch where the kettlebell is swung out. I believe the dead stop variation is a great power exercise and teaches you to explode from nothing. Reps here can be whatever you want, I’m currently experimenting with a timed 5×5 set.
If I was just wanting a quick pump and to drive some blood into a muscle I would just pull out some bands, bicep curls, tricep pushdown and banded good mornings all to failure would be my go to exercises.
Machine work is also an option here. I like it, especially for the upper body.
There you have it – options for when you’re struggling to get a workout in and options when you feel like you need or want the extra work.
Plan your work, work your plan.
Aaron ‘Buster’ Graham is 36 and a very busy dad of four holding down 2 jobs. He holds an HNC in Complementary Therapies and an HND in Sports Therapy. Aaron was one of the country’s first Cross Fit certified Level One coaches.
He has now transitioned to a powerlifting based approach in his training and can be found on YouTube