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A More Efficient, Effective Workout

December 15, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

Many people go to the gym, pick their exercises of the day, and perform them one after the other for a certain amount of sets.  For example, someone will begin with the bench press and perform 3 sets in a row with a certain amount of rest between each set.  Then they will move onto the seated row and perform 3 sets in a row with a certain amount of rest between each set.

Based on this format and these two exercises the training program would look like this:

Order        Exercise                  Sets                  Reps                  Tempo         Rest

A                  Bench Press                 4                           10                         402                  120s

B                  Seated Row                  4                           10                         402                  120s

Rest between sets of the same exercise                :120s

Total Workout Time                                                 :24 min

Begin the second exercise at                                   :12 min mark

We can improve this training program on several levels by simply using an alternating set system.  Rather than performing all the bench press exercises in a row followed by all the seated row exercises, alternate between the bench press and the seated row.  Now the program looks like this:

Order          Exercise                  Sets           Reps           Tempo         Rest

A1                  Bench Press                  4                  10                  402                  90s

A2                  Seated Row                  4                  10                  402                  90s

Rest between sets of the same exercise                 :240s

Total Workout Time                                                  :20 min

Begin the second exercise at                                    :2 1/2 min mark

In this second program, by using alternating sets we actually create longer rests between sets of the same exercise but shorter rests overall.  This allows us to use heavier loads than we could in the first program, which is a benefit. Shorter rests overall allow us to improve our anaerobic capacity and make the workout more efficient.  We are also able to reduce the total workout time for these two exercises by 4 minutes.  Therefore, we are doing the same workout in less time with more rest, which is another benefit. Freeing up time gives us more time to do more sets and more exercises in the same amount of time.

Furthermore, we begin the second exercise almost ten minutes earlier.  As a general rule, everyone fatigues as the workout continues, and what is done first in the workout generally gets the best training effect.  So by allowing us to start the second exercise earlier without sacrificing rest time, we have upgraded our workout and improved the training stimulus on the second exercise.

Finally, due to the principle of reciprocal inhibition, (which states that in order for an agonist – the working muscle – to contract, the antagonist – the opposing muscle – must relax), we will actually see increased loading for both the bench press and seated row when performed as alternating sets as opposed to straight sets.  This is because the chest and back muscles are opposing muscle groups and when the chest is worked and fatigued it will relax better during the back exercise – hence the principle of reciprocal inhibition.

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