Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at CFUNITED 2010 (Landsdown, VA) with: Joshua Cyr

Project HUGE: Trying Out A 4-Exercise Limit

By Ben Nadel on

When I was younger, the amount of time I spent in the gym was something like a badge of honor. If I told a fellow lifter that I just had a two hour workout blasting out 8 exercises, it was a statement met with a look of appreciation and the obligatory, "gym nod." But that was years ago when my body was a seething pot of testosterone fueled by longs nights of deep sleep and many well rounded meals. I could afford to lift like that with no negative side effects.

But, I simply can't do that any more. And frankly, I don't want to do that any more. I work hard all day, heavily taxing my brain. I don't get enough sleep. I don't eat that well. I do very little to enforce an aggressive lifting life style. On top of that, my life simply has more stuff in it now; friends, family, movies, work, romance (when possible) - I don't have time to just be lifting.

All this is just a lead up to my new gym rule: 4 Exercise max per workout. Going forward, I am not going to do more than 4 exercises per workout, and possibly only three depending on how I feel. I think this will have several benefits:

  • The most obvious is that I won't be breaking down my body as much. This decreased level of tissue damage will be more aligned with the amount of rest and recovery that I currently get throughout the week.
  • The workouts will not feel rushed - I won't be worrying about fitting so many exercises into a given time period. This will create a more relaxed, and ultimately more enjoyable atmosphere. The trick to long term dedication is keeping it fun, so really, this is an investment in my long term commitment.
  • The workouts will be more intense. Whether I am aware of it or not, the more exercises that I know I have to get through, the less intensity I can probably muster up for any given exercise. If I know that I only have to get through three, maybe four exercises, I am sure that my mind will subconsciously allow my body to perform better on the selected exercises - the "go out with a Bang, not a whimper" mentality.
  • My exercise selection will have a higher threshold of quality. When I can't do too many exercises, I will have to concentrate mostly on large, compound movements; I'll have to cut out many of the "pretty boy" exercises that we all love to do so much; I could do arm exercises till the cows come home, but I just don't have the time or the energy for it.
  • I suspect that my workouts will become more balanced. By limiting the number of exercises that I do, I limit my own ability to do too much in any one plain of movement.

I decided this yesterday. We'll see how it goes. I think this is really going to be a good move.

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Reader Comments

Good idea. Because I workout in the mornings and like to be at work by 7 or so, I have a 45 minute limit on my gym time. I find that I can pack 6-8 exercises in that time depending on how much super-setting I do. I really like where it's taken me.

I'll usually work two muscle groups each day (bis/tris, shoulders/back, chest/legs). I'll do a set of each with little or no break, then break for 30 secs to a minute. Rinse, repeat until the 45 minutes is up. Doing that, I can get in 3 exercises of each muscle group (4 sets in each exercise) and sometimes 4 exercises.

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I think that this is a great idea. I want to shed some body fat as well so this will work out great. I would be interested in finding out what your schedule for the week looks like.

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@Rob,

That sounds pretty good. I used to try working out in the morning, but found that it built up a large amount of pressure in my head, especially on any exercise that required straining.

I like the idea of super setting. It's actually supposed to be really good for your recovery. In my outlook, I would classify two super-setted exercises as a "single" exercise. So, for example, let's say I had already done three exercises, and had one more, I would definitely be fine super setting, say, bicep curls with tricep extensions.

I would be more likely to do that with the last exercise rather than with the first 2 or 3, just cause muscular recovery / ATP regeneration aside, there's a nervous system tax that builds up (I feel).

@Dan,

Not sure what the schedule is just yet. Here's my week so far:

Monday
DB Chest Press
Smith Machine Shoulder Press
Body weight dips
Barbell curls

Tuesday
Pull ups (at least trying)
Dead lifts
Low Narrow Pulley Row
Seated Calves

Wednesday
Off

Today
*My knee feels a bit funny today, so I'll see what I can do with my leg day.
Squats
Walking Lunges
Natural hamstring raises
Super set: hip adduction / abduction

.... we'll see what I do after that.

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Stronglifts.com is all about the simple workout trying to put all the commercial mumbo jumbo hitting us daily to rest. You're definitely past the beginner program of getting your squat up to 1.5x your body weight I'd assume.

The thing we didn't realize when we were younger is that the extra time in the gym and the millions of sets paid off so little in comparison to the first 40 minutes or first 5 sets. However, our testosterone was raging and it made us think it was necessary. Oh, so many isometric exercises all for not.

I was big gym dude in college and a couple of years later. However, after 4 years away due to work and the very motivating factor, a woman, I was away.

I kept trying to get back into it, to include the complexities that I used to belabor over. It failed every time. Yeah, I just spent the day in analytical mode, now I need to spend 90 minutes analyzing my workout.

Stronglifts was the only program that was so simple that I actually was able to keep up my workouts. Simple, planned, short, no brainer.

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@Justin,

I am completely on board with that mentality, and that experience. I am really looking forward to seeing how my body / mind jive with this new program style.

In college, I lifted with this big, strong guy - one of the top wrestlers in the country. I remember when we worked out, he only took note of the weights he did on the first exercise. I asked him why. He said, "The first exercise is really the only one that counts - the rest are just for general conditioning. The only performance I truly care about is the first exercise." .... he was insanely strong, so I don't down his theory.

Not quite there at 1.5x my body weight on squats. I'm kind of heavy for my height (~220lbs). On Saturday, I sqauted 275 for a few reps. Hoping that get stronger faster :)

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Had some funny right-knee pain all day :( Not a good thing to have on leg day. I took a wider stance on my squats to lessen the tension of my IT Band and did plenty of warm up. Ended up doing 45, 135, 135, 185, 225 for warm up before I did my first work set. Then did 245x5, 265x5, 285x8. My quads felt really funny today, but I was pleased to get 8 on my last set. It seems weird that I did more reps on my last set than my first three work sets, but I was just being very cautious of my knee. I wasn't sure how heavy I wanted to go.

Then, did some natural ham-raises, super setted hip ad/abduction. Then closed it off with some forearm curls. They weren't on the menu, but I wanted to take it easy on my legs. I didn't think my knee would hold up well on the walking squats.

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I find any lunges too much for my right knee which has some missing fluid sacks from surgery.

Are you using a hard sole shoe like chuck taylors for squatting? I found that it really helped me with balance. That "waver" about halfway up is always hell on my knee. The less balancing the better.

I also have to check myself for pressing from the heel. When I go towards my top weight sets, which are about the same as yours, I tend to start pressing further towards my toes in addition to the heel, which is supposedly bad for the knees at it starts to over use that area.

It's unfortunate that the absolute best complex exercise in the gym requires so much attention to form. It's so easy to get it wrong. I looked straight up in the air once a few months ago instead of straight forward. I don't know what I was thinking. I had severe neck pain for two weeks and was out of commission.

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@Justin,

Yeah, lunges can be a killer. I can handle walking lunges OK because the movement keeps going forward. But, I can't do much with standard lunges - the change in direction kills my knee.

I just use my standard sneakers when squatting. I might try some chucks. I have flat feet, though, and I am always afraid that the chucks will give some serious alignment issues in my ankle/knee/hip since they have no protective arch stuff.

Great exercise, but complicated. I always have to remind myself to drive through the heels. My whole pre-squat routine goes something like:

"Dig deep lad! Drive through them heels! Business as usual!"

I try to get myself psyched up :)

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Its very necessary that the exercise should be well balanced with the proper diet, personal strength and stamina. If any thing gets off balanced may result into collapse, delay in result and and get into muscle injuries.

I do follow different program depending on my supplement and daily schedule. Nowadays i am taking Creatine with cabs thatswhy going through heavy workout training. One body part once in a week is main focus of my workout. I do seven exercises each of 3 sets starting first exercise with 5 sets including some warm up sets. I am having too much strain on my muscle, indicates me that won't keep this continuing for long.

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@Justin, I hate the lunges too!
@Ben, so walking is the best alternative to the lunges?

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I also was wondering why you keep on deletig my comments when they are obviously not spam, they are very related and there arent any codes... are you keeping something? oh well, i bet you'd be deleting this too.

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@Gary,

I am sorry if I deleted your comments before; I get a lot of spam and it's not always easy to tell which comments are and are not spam.

Typically, I'll assume that a comment is spam if:

- The author name contains any mention of product.
- The author links to a sub-section of a site in their URL.

Seeing as you seem to do neither of these, I am not sure why I would have deleted your comment. Sorry if it was done by mistake.

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It's okay, I get it. Now back to my question, is walking still the best alternative to lunges?

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@Gary,

I can't do standard lunges as I find they put too much pressure on my knee (I have a lot of tightness in my knee and anything that puts too much stress on the toe-end of my foot tends to hurt my knee a lot). I find walking lunges, on the other hand, to be awesome! They work slightly differently, though. I find walking lunges are really hitting the glutes hard where as I find standard lunges seem to stress the quads more.

As far as Steroids, I have never tried them. But, strictly for legal reasons - I have zero moral dilemma about them. Although... I also don't think I could inject myself. I like watching my blood being drawn, but I don't think I have the courage to inject myself.

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