Harder, Better, Stronger, Faster

For the longest time I have set myself challenges. These challenges have primarily evolved around exercise and nutrition. In this article I outline some of my approaches to exercise and include a diary of my exercise routine at the end of the article for reference. While a lot of the examples I give are for strength and weight training, the approaches can be applied to other forms of exercise. If you are looking to kickstart your exercise routine or improve it I hope you will learn something new in this article.

In a future article I will cover nutrition, as exercise is just one part of the equation — nutrition is equally important.

Establish an exercise cadence

One of the hardest parts of exercise is finding the time. You have to make time. I set aside 60–90 minutes in the morning before work and 30–60 minutes in the evening after work. It might sound simple, but whether it is a few days a week or multiple times throughout the day, it is good practice to block off time to exercise.

Create an exercise program

Another challenge with exercising is knowing what to do. You need to have a plan. I focus on strength training in the morning; and cardio and recreational exercise in the evening. For my strength training I rotate through muscle groups — chest and arms; legs; posterior chain; and, shoulders and back. Over the years I have identified a number of exercises that target muscles in the respective muscle groups and learned how to put them together— see my exercise program at the end of the article for examples.

I have found working with a personal trainer is a great way to establish an exercise program. There are also a number of helpful apps you can download, such as Fitocracy and lots of programs you can find online (e.g. the Wolverine Workout).

For cardio I take group fitness classes or tabatas*; and for recreational exercise I boulder, row and run. Think about what you are going to do ahead of time.

*Eight rounds of high-intensity exercises for 20-seconds and 10-seconds rest

Focus on muscle groups

Alternating between muscle groups allows for recovery time. For example, if you do a workout targeting muscles in your legs one day, these muscles can recover if you focus on another muscle group, such as your chest the next day. This is why an exercise program is important — you need to allow for recovery time, regardless of how often you workout.

Know thyself

Specifically for weight training, you need to know your one-rep max to determine your working weight. To calculate your one-rep max for an exercise you warm-up adequately then start at a weight you know you can comfortably do for reps (e.g. 5 reps) with good form. At this point you can increase the weight to the heaviest weight you can do for reps while keeping good form and then use an online calculator to determine your one-rep max. Alternatively, reduce the number of reps to one, lifting the heaviest possible weight with good form. Your working weight is typically 60–80% of your one-rep max. For example, if your one-rep max for a back squat is 315lbs, 80% of this one-rep max would be 255lbs per set — it is actually 252lbs, but we are rounding up. Periodically recalculate your one-rep max to see if you should be making any adjustments to your workout.

While the above is specific to weight training this technique can be applied to other forms for exercise. For example, for bodyweight exercises you can calculate the max number of repetitions you can perform with good form and then have 60–80% of that be your working reps. For example, if you can do 25 push-ups, 80% of this would be 20 push-ups per set.

Write down your workouts

It is important to write down your workouts as a record of what you have done so you can refer back and adapt your workouts. Note down the exercise, the weight, the number of sets and reps. Also make necessary annotations in your notes. For example, if a particular exercise is difficult, tag it ‘hard’; if your grip weakened during a particular exercise, tag it ‘grip’; if you don’t complete the set, write the number of incremental repetitions it took to complete the set, such as ‘7–3’ if you completed 10 reps in 7 reps and then 3 reps. Before starting a workout look back at your notes to see how you performed during previous workouts. This allows you to identify things to look out for and reflect on how to progress.

Aim higher

If you can complete an exercise at a certain weight for at a given number of sets and reps you should increase either the weight, number of sets or reps. For example, for a dumbbell benchpress let’s say you can lift 50lbs for 5 sets at 10 reps. The next time you do a dumbbell bench press you should increase the weight to 55lbs — the next available dumbbell weight — and reduce the number of reps to 8. If you can complete this, increase the number of reps the next time you perform the exercise. If you can’t complete the exercise, repeat it at the same weight, number of sets and reps. If you continue to fail to complete an exercise, decrease either the weight, number of set or reps. This is why it is so important to write down your workouts.

Be OK with failure

If you are increasing the weight, number of sets or reps you are going to reach a point where you can’t complete the number of reps you are attempting. Let’s say you aim to do 10 reps, but only do 7. Take a 10 second rest and then finish the set. It is important to not give up and complete the set in order to keep progressing.

Change up your workouts

I mentioned above that it is good to have an exercise program and target different muscle groups. It is also good practice to change the exercises that target those muscle groups every 4–6 weeks. The reason for this is to prevent your body from becoming accustomed to your workouts and work a muscle in a different way. For example, for leg workouts you could spend 4–6 weeks squatting and then 4–6 weeks lunging. There are also different variations of exercises, such as pause squats — squats with a pause at the bottom — and lunges with your back leg raised.

Another way to change up your workouts is to alternate between low-repetition (4–8 repetitions per set) and high-repetition (8–12 repetitions per set) exercises. Low-repetition exercises build neuromuscular and central nervous system efficiency. High-repetition exercises build muscle and connective tissue strength.

Have fun

Sports can be a workout too! Do these activities for 30–90 minutes in order to get a good aerobic workout.

Consider taking supplements

Supplements can make it easier to get the necessary nutrients to gain muscle, lose fat, and support overall health, as well as enhance performance. Three supplements I take are:

  1. Caffeine before a workout to increase energy, focus, and endurance.
  2. Yohimbine before a workout to support fat loss.
  3. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) after a workout to support faster recovery.

Note that supplements are not a replacement for a balanced and healthy diet.

Listen to your body

The most important lesson though is to listen to your body. If a weight feels too heavy, decrease the weight; if your body feels tired, take a rest day.

In conclusion these are some of my approaches to exercise. I hope you learned something new that you can apply to your workouts.

Thank you to Hazel Jennings and Jamie Nguyen for providing feedback on this article.

If you enjoyed this article please press the 💚 below!

Exercise Program

Below is my exercise program for the week of Monday, August 22nd to Sunday, August 28th.

Monday, August 22nd

Morning
Dumbbell bench press, 70lbs (each arm), 10 reps
Push-ups, 10 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Single arm dumbbell row, 85lbs, 8 reps (each arm)
TRX row, 10 reps
60 seconds rest
4 sets

Dumbbell bicep curl, 30lbs (each arm), 10 reps
Single arm dumbbell tricep extension, 30lbs, 10 reps
60 seconds rest
3 sets

Afternoon
15 minutes jump rope
25 minutes core class

Tuesday, August 23rd

Morning
Dumbbell overhead strict press, 45lbs (each arm), 8 reps
Wide grip pull-ups, 8 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Lat pull-down, 160lbs, 8 reps
Lat rows, 140lbs, 8 reps
Stiff arm lat pull-down, 80lbs, 8 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Dumbbell lat raise, 22.5lbs (each arm), 8 reps
Dumbbell reverse fly, 30lbs (each arm), 8 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Afternoon
Tabata: push-ups, crunches, goblet squats with a 35lb kettlebell, bicycle crunches, leg raises and active planks

Wednesday, August 24th

Morning
Barbell deadlift, 295lbs, 8 reps
Kettlebell swings, 70lbs, 10 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Hyperextension, 25lbs, 10 reps
Reverse Hyperextension, 10 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Reverse crunch, 80lbs, 20 reps
60 seconds rest
3 sets

Afternoon
60 minutes bouldering

Thursday, August 25th

Morning
Barbell lunges, 95lbs, 40m
Barbell strict overhead press, 95lbs, 10 reps
Barbell row, 95lbs, 10 reps
60 seconds rest
3 sets

Kettlebell clean and goblet squat, 80lbs, 15 reps
Sled pull, 135lbs + weight of the sled, 40m
Sled push, 135lbs + weight of the sled, 40m
60 seconds rest
2 sets

Afternoon
25 minutes core class
25 minutes jump rope

Friday, August 26th

Morning
Barbell bench press, 185lbs, 7 reps
Chin-ups, 45lbs, 7 reps
60 seconds rest
4 sets

Incline dumbbell bench press, 60lbs (each arm), 7 reps
Wide push-ups, 20 reps
60 seconds rest
4 sets

Decline barbell bench press, 135lbs, 8 reps
Narrow push-ups, 10 reps
60 seconds rest
4 sets

Afternoon

5K Rowing
15 minutes jump rope

Saturday, August 27th

Morning
4 mile run

Afternoon
120 minutes bouldering

Sunday, August 28th

Morning
Barbell pause back squat, 245lbs, 6 reps
Box jump, 6 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Barbell pause front squat, 205lbs, 6 reps
Goblet squat, 60lbs, 6 reps
60 seconds rest
5 sets

Leg press, 270lbs, 20 reps
60 seconds rest
3 sets

Afternoon
Tabata: push-ups, crunches, jumping lunges, single arm kettlebell rows with a 35lb kettlebell, leg raises with a hip lift and single leg lunges with a 35lb kettlebell