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Simplify Your Workouts And Maximize Results By Avoiding DTMS

An old friend of mine from college recently emailed me and asked me if I’d take a look at his workout routine. He was frustrated with being stuck in a rut and not seeing much in the way of gains from his weight training workouts.

I told him I’d be happy to help and requested that he forward me whatever he’d been doing in his workouts. As soon as I took a look at the routines I spotted one of the biggest problems. It’s something that I’ve seen quite frequently over the years and to be completely honest have made the same mistake myself.

I called my friend and told him that his biggest problem was DTMS. There was a brief moment of silence on the other end followed by “Huh?” What in the world is DTMS?

I told him to relax as there was a simple fix and no this wasn’t some weird hormonal imbalance or anything like that.

I explained that DTMS was an acronym for “Doing-To-Much-*!%#.” Let’s just call it “stuff” instead of the other four letter word that starts with “S” that I used.

More after the jump…

He let out a laugh and a sigh of relief. “Ok, I get it he replied, I was wondering if that was part of the problem.”

You see my friend had been doing these long, tedious workouts that were loaded with variety and included lots of “stuff.” But the routines lacked one of the most basic principals of physiological change.

Progressive Overload

Legendary strength training guru Charles Staley refers to progressive overload as being the “mother” principle of weight training, the bedrock upon which all other principals rest.

Have you ever heard the story of Milo of Crotona?

The entire idea of what makes resistance training effective is summed up by this story.

Milo of Crotona

Basically the story goes like this. Milo was a legendary strong man in ancient Greece who dedicated his life to becoming as strong as he could be. As a young man he took a calf and lifted it onto his shoulders once a day, every day. As the calf grew, Milo found himself gradually lifting a heavier load every day, until eventually he could lift the full grown steer. As you can imagine he became much more muscular and stronger himself in the process.

Milo’s unorthodox training method (yes, as legend goes he really did this) exemplified the fact that the human body is adaptable. This means it can change in order to deal with external stressors.

Pick up bales of hay every day on the farm and eventually your hands will become callused. It’s called the body adapting. Likewise, if you frequently contract your muscles against a greater resistance than they’re accustomed to, you’ll get stronger and develop more muscle.

That’s basically the principal of progressive overload in a nutshell.

Introduce your body to progressively greater and greater challenges and it will adapt accordingly. Don’t apply progressive overload and it’ll stay the same.

Read that last statement again and let it sink in. It’s the main reason why some individuals don’t see much of a change in their physique even though they frequent the gym regularly.

With resistance training there are a number of ways in which one can apply the overload principal. All of them can and do work for periods of time. They include lifting a heavier load, lifting the same load but doing more of it (increased volume), lifting the weight faster or slower, etc.

The point is there needs to be a “reason” for strength and muscular development and that reason is progressive overload on the body. Doesn’t matter how you go about, it just needs to be there.

Here was one of the example workouts that my friend sent me. He told me that he got it from one of the personal trainers at his gym. Sadly enough I see a lot of trainers prescribing similar workouts.

Day One – Chest, Hamstrings, Calves, Triceps

DB Flat Bench Chest Press: 3 x 10
Cable Fly’s: 3 x 10
Seated Pec Dec: 3 x 10
Lying Leg Curls: 3 x 10
Seated Calf Raises: 3 x 20
Cable Rope Triceps Pressdown: 3 x 10
Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 3 x 10
DB Triceps Kickbacks: 3 x 10

Ab Board Reverse Crunches: 3 x 15
Seated Ab Crunch: 3 x 20

See what I mean with doing lots of “stuff.” Not only that but he was doing this same workout, week in and week out, without ever changing the rep schemes.

There are ten, count them ten exercises in this workout!

I can imagine this workout would have to take 60 minutes at minimum and the intensity certainly couldn’t be all that high considering all the exercises being done.

Simply put, there’s too much “stuff” and not enough emphasis on applying progressive overload with the movements that matter.

What do I mean with “movements that matter?” Well since my friend is looking to increase strength and lean muscle, the exercises would ideally cover one or more of the following bases with each workout.

Pressing something overhead
Pressing something horizontally (bench press, push-up, etc)
Pulling something from the floor (hip hinge, deadlift variation)
Pulling something vertically (inverted row, pull-up’s, lat pulldown, shrugs, etc)
Squats, Lunges, 1 Leg Work
Loaded carries (farmer’s walks, suitcase carries, etc)

Everything else is window dressing. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not against isolation and muscle specific work, but from a movement perspective this is the foundation.

There’s also good cause for mobility work, corrective exercise and the such which can come during the dynamic warm-up period or incorporated as active recovery.

I’ve just found that traditional body-building routines like this with lots of exercises that are muscle specific aren’t nearly as effective as sticking with a few basic compound movements which are done with some form of progressive overload.

I learned this years ago when I worked out with a guy in his forties who was a seasoned veteran in the iron game. He would have us do 4-5 main compound movements at most followed up by a few core/abdominal exercises. The thing is though, each set of barbell squats, bench presses, or whatever was done with very high intensity, regardless of the rep scheme.

I was used to doing a ton of exercises for each body part (much like the workout above) so needless to say I was a little suspect at first that so few exercises could be effective. The workouts were short and sweet but man were they ever intense. I saw better gains in strength and lean muscle than any other time prior. Simply put, it worked!

I learned a very valuable lesson and it’s stuck with me over the years.

Master the basics, work really hard with a few movements while applying progressive overload, then get out of the gym and go rest.

Another legendary strength coach, Dan John, preaches the same concept and I’ve learned a great deal from his teachings. Workouts don’t need to be long and arduous with tons of exercises. Heck, they might only be a couple of main movements total for the workout.

Think this couldn’t be effective?

Next time you head to the gym pick a challenging weight for a barbell squat and a heavy kettlebell for swings and work back and forth seeing how many repetitions you can complete in 20 minutes.

Make sure someone is there to scrape you off the floor when the time is up.

My point is not that you have to kill yourself with every workout or only do two exercises, quite the contrary, but rather it’s that more is not always better when it comes to the number of exercises and sets that you do.

Remember, everything goes back to progressive overload. If you’re doing so much “stuff” that you find yourself just going through the motions, scale it down and work at a higher intensity with a few exercises.

If time is an issue, this makes your exercise selection even that much more important. Do enough heavy pressing and you won’t need to do much triceps isolation work. They’re already getting a ton of work with the presses. Same thing goes with muscle specific exercises for the legs. Do enough squats, lunges, or deadlifts, and you won’t ever need sit on another leg extension or curl machine again.

If you really want to get an education on this go ready some early writings of men like Perry Rader, JC Hise, Mark Berry, Arthur Saxon, or more recently something from say Brooks Kubik, just to name a few. These will be much better resources than the latest edition of some bodybuilding magazine.

Those of you who are fitness trainers reading this, stop throwing a bunch exercises at your clients with each workout just to keep them entertained or to make things more “fun.” What they really want is to see results so go back to the basics and apply some progressive overload!

Sure there’s nothing wrong with introducing new movements (with smart progression) or doing different core/abdominal exercises, but just make sure you’re not having your clients do a bunch of “stuff.”

DTMS is a common problem with the typical health club member and fitness trainers alike. Workouts don’t need to be overly complicated or have lots of exercise variations. In order for the individual to see results, they just need to trigger an adaptation response.

When done properly, fewer exercises can accomplish that goal better than a whole arsenal.

Tis my two cents for what it’s worth. As always feel free to leave any questions or comments below.

Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults. Sign up today for a no obligations consultation.

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