In this new series, I wanted to create a way for readers to be able to have a resource then can go to if they have specific questions with regards to certain topics. While I do find it enjoyable to write about ninjas and cheesecake, I also think that people need access to fitness information that they can trust! So, in this series, I'll be addressing reader questions to help get you actionable information you can use immediately Here we go!
#1. I want to start leaning out a little bit and focusing more on overall fitness instead of strength, doing things like more reps with less weight, but my question is, should I still be maxing out periodically on things like bench and squat if my goal is to build up more endurance and tone than strength?
This is a great question. There are a lot of parts to it, but the main thing to remember is choosing a workout program that supports your number one goal. The big things that are mentioned is that they want to get leaner and improve their overall fitness while keeping their strength. You can do all of this many different ways.
So, how do we get leaner, more athletic, and maintain strength?
Nutrition isn’t the key to everything, but if this is part of your goal, then it has to be addressed. Take a look at where you can improve. Sometimes small tweaks that keep your body consistent can make a huge impact on how you look and feel. If we want those abs to go BANG BANG, then we’re going to need to make some changes on this front. Start with looking at empty calories (calories that add no nutrient density- soda, beer, processed sugars) in your diet, and figure out how you can limit them to a small amount. Then simply try to incorporate some higher quality foods on a regular basis (greens, lean protein, etc.) Keep is simple, to start.
Get in Shape
So from this reader, I think what we’re getting at here is being more athletic. Traditional bodybuilding workouts have the tendency to get you larger and more muscular, but you don’t necessarily feel anything other than stiff and bulky (there are certainly excellent programs out there, but what I see most of the time doesn't fall in that category). Getting away from the more split routine approach (Back/Bis, Chest/Tris, Leg Day, Shoulders), I would start by utilizing total body workouts and using compound movements as the primary focus. If you aren’t already, start doing a dynamic warm up to start the session. This will help get your heart rate up, work out some of the kinks, and prime the nervous system for action (More HERE).
The other part of the equation, is adding a higher volume based approach on some of the days. I would recommend doing 4-5 exercise circuits to ensure that the whole body is working, burning calories, and you are panting like a fish out of water. You can do this by timing your exercises or setting rep counts on particular days. This helps build overall work capacity (endurance). Again, we're thinking big movements here. Squats, swings, presses, rows, jumps- exercises that require action from multiple muscle groups.
The last part, is the question of maintaining strength. To me, this is a simple answer. Keep your big exercises in there! Certain exercises do require skill to complete, so I wouldn’t remove them completely. You don't need to "max out" for strength maintenance, but if you want to continue to get stronger, you'll need to progress in the lower rep ranges for your primary lifts (3-6 reps) every 4 weeks or so.
You can figure out how you’d like to do it based on how you body is responding to the rest of your workouts. Here are a few suggestions:
Strength Day/Timed Circuits
Monday: Dedicated Strength Day (Lower Rep Schemes (3-8))
Tuesday: Cardio or OFF
Wednesday: Circuit Training (4-5 exercises, 30 seconds per exercise, 4-5 Rounds)
Thursday: Cardio or OFF
Friday: Dedicated Strength Day (Higher Rep Schemes (6-12))
Saturday: Circuit Training
Primary Lifts + Circuit Training
Here you would have a strength exercise designated for a certain day, and then a longer circuit afterward.
Monday: Trap Bar Deadlift, Bent Over Row + a 5 exercise circuit, performed for 4 rounds of 30 seconds per exercise.
Wednesday: Barbell Bench Press, Barbell Reverse Lunge + a 4 exercise circuit, performed for 4 rounds of 40 seconds per exercise.
Friday: Barbell Squat, Barbell Overhead Press + a 5 exercise circuit, performed for 4 rounds of 30 seconds per exercise.
Just a few ideas there, but in a nutshell- no- you don’t need to be maxing out to maintain strength. However, you definitely would want to cycle through rep ranges that you work in for your primary lifts, hitting some heavier sets every once in while. As long as you stay consistent and push your body, you'll be surprised at the results you can get.
As always, if you have questions like this, don’t hesitate to ask. Maybe your question will be featured in an article like this! You can use the contact form on the website and fire away.