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Cut your strength training time by 1/3 rd using alternating sets


For those of us who love strength training, a workout lasting an hour is something that we love and enjoy! However, just because we train for longer does not mean that the results will also be necessarily better. Infact, if you can do the same amount of work with the same weight in a shorter time, then you can actually get better results. The concern however is that trying to cut down on your workout time would mean cutting down on the rest time between sets, and thus possibly also on the weight that you can lift. But what if I told you that it does not have to be so. What if I told you that you could build more muscle, get better conditioning, and spend less time while doing so? Yes, it can be done! Let me explain how you can cut down your workout time by about 1/3 rd, without compromising on the results.

Before I proceed I would like to say that I am talking about training with heavy weights where you take about 2 1/2 minutes rest between sets. I am not referring to the "pump" style training where you take about 30 seconds between sets to maximize the pump. When you train with heavy weights in the 5-12 reps range you would usually take about 2 to 3 minutes between sets to recover.

The method that I will suggest to save time is not a new one. You might have come across it earlier. I would however like to help you understand it a little better so that you can implement it with your choice of exercises. The method that I suggest involves doing two different strength training exercises in an alternating sets fashion. For eg. lets say you are to do 3 sets of rows and bench presses. Now normally you would do 3 sets of one exercise followed by the other, and you would take about 25 seconds to complete a set and rest 2 1/2 (150 seconds) minutes between each set. This would mean that to do 3 sets of bench presses and rows, you would take 6x (25+150)=1050 seconds= 17 and a half minutes to do the 6 sets.

Now using the alternating sets principle, I am asking you to do the 3 sets in this manner:

1st sets of presses
90 seconds rest

1st set of rows
90 seconds rest

2nd set of presses
90 seconds rest

2nd set of rows
90 seconds of rest

3rd set of presses
90 seconds rest

3rd set of rows
90 seconds rest

You can clearly see that the rest between sets has been been cut down to 90 seconds from 150 seconds.  You will now finish the 6 sets taking 25 seconds of work in 6x (25+90)= 690 seconds= 11 and a half minutes. There you have it 17 and a half minutes cut down to 11 and a half minutes, which is saving about 1/3 rd of the time without cutting out any exercise, set or rep. 

The one thing that you may wonder about at this point is intensity. You might wonder that if you cut down the rest time then would you still be able to lift heavy weights? The answer to your question would be YES! However for that to be possible you must mix and match the exercises wisely. You will need to use two exercises that are either opposite in action or are upper-lower body exercises. For eg. opposing actions would mean doing a pressing exercise with a pulling exercise like say presses with row. Doing an upper- lower body combination might include doing squats with push ups. Do not try to mix two exercises of similar type or else you will not be able to train heavy. For example after doing a set of heavy bench presses you will certainly not be able to go heavy on military presses with a 90 seconds rest. Same goes for lunges followed by squats.

One problem that you might face while doing alternating sets in a commercial gym is that you may not be allowed to hold 2 different pieces of equipment at the same time. For example using the pulldown machine while using the bench might not go too well with the gym authorities, especially during the busy hours. In this case you can solve the problem by pairing a weighted barbell/machine exercise with a bodyweight exercise that may or may not be weighted. For eg. you can do heavy squats, rest 90 seconds then use 1 or 2 plates from the bar to put on your back to do push ups. You can also use a single bar and do two different exercises. For eg you can use the same bar to do military presses and barbell rows. 

So using the above mentioned method to cut down time without cutting the intensity of your valuable workouts, here are two sample full body workouts that you can do:

Workout 1:

A1) Squats- 3 sets of 6 reps
A2) Weighted push ups- 3 sets of 8-10 reps

B1) Dumbbell overhead presses- 3 sets of 5 reps
B2) Dumbbell rows- 3 sets of 6 reps

C1) Weighted hyperextensions- 3 sets of 10 reps
C2) Seated calf raises- 3 sets of 15 reps

Workout 2)

A1) Military press- 3  sets of 5 reps
A2) Barbell rows- 3 sets of 6 reps

B1) Romanian deadlifts- 3 sets of 6 reps
B2) Weighted parallel bar dips- 3 sets of 8-10 reps

C1) Barbell lunges- 3 sets of 8 reps, each side
C2) Pull ups- 3 sets 8-10 reps

Rest 90 seconds after doing the first exercise of the alternating set and then do the second exercise of the alternating set. Then rest 90 seconds and go back to the first exercise. Repeat in this order till all the 3 sets of both the exercises are complete. 

The only exception to this type of training in my opinion will be beginners and those who do not have much training experience. In the the beginning it is better that you stick to the straight sets system where you do one exercise all by itself without pairing it with any other exercise. At this stage the newcomer does not have the strength nor the conditioning to lift heavy weights with just 90 seconds rest between exercises, even if a different muscle group or movement is to be trained in the following set.

So there you have it, two workouts that would have taken you more than 50 minutes, cut down to about 35 minutes without any decrease in the work performed. Go on and try this style of training and see how you can still continue to progress even if you have lesser time to workout.

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