2. FACT: Functional exercises are the ideal way to get strong.
Pushups, pullups, squats, dead lifts. These classics are the foolproof way to build strength, and are a helluva lot more useful to get you through everyday life than muscle-isolating curls or leg raises on machines. The common mistake: doing the exact same functional workout over and over and over again. The human body is remarkably good at adjusting to new demands, and even within a month, muscles can become accustomed to doing the same routine and your strength gains plateau. But the solution is not to randomly vary the exercises every time you work out. According to Mark Rippetoe, reigning American barbell guru and author of Starting Strength, “the variable that you tweak should never be exercise selection. It has to be load or none of your muscles have a chance to adapt.”
Yes, constantly doing a different mix of exercises may stave off boredom and certainly burns calories, but it creates a kind of muscle confusion that you don’t want if you’re trying to get strong. Your neuromuscular system — the communication center between your brain and muscles — never has a chance to learn the movements and then cue your muscle fibers to grow bigger and stronger after you break them down. Instead, stick with a set group of functional strength exercises, but force growth by making small progressions each time you work out. Increase the number of reps, the total number of sets, or the amount of weight, or decrease the amount of rest you take. (For example, for lower-body movements like back squats and dead lifts, add five pounds to the bar every time you train. For upper body exercises, like overhead presses or rows, go up two or three pounds. For body weight exercises, like pullups and pushups, add extra reps to what you normally do or give yourself less rest between sets.) Only when you get to a point where you can’t add more reps or weight without failing should you consider doing new exercises. And even then, employ standard variations on your go-tos, like front squats instead of back squats or a narrow-grip bench press instead of a wide-grip. That way, you keep targeting the same fundamental movement patterns while also changing things up enough that you stay mentally invested.
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