This month, I have been focusing on combining light and heavy weight sets for each exercise – to focus on form, endurance, toning, and muscle building all in one workout. These workouts are definitely challenging – both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers get engaged, and your muscles have to recover quickly and adapt to the change in weight/reps.
After getting a few of these under my belt, here are a few tips:
(1) Use a slower cadence and really focus on form for the set of 15 reps with a lighter weight. Don’t go heavier than 60% of your max even if you think you could add weight, because the goal is to move to the set of 5 reps with a heavier weight (80-90% max) with only 10-15 sec rest.
(2) Rest at least 1 min in between the 3 rounds of 15-5 combo sets. If you are fully recovered before 1-2 minutes, your weights are too light.
(3) Drop weight if your form suffers on the first 3-4 reps of the 5 rep set. I sometimes have to “cheat” a little on the last rep of the 5 rep set with a heavier weight, but this type of one rep cheat can actually help build muscle and increase your strength.
For arms, I superset biceps and triceps:
(1) Wide Barbell Curl + Narrow Tricep Row
For wide barbell curls, hold the bar about 1-2 inches wider than shoulder width on each side. Curl the bar up, keeping the elbows steady. Make sure to bring the bar all the way down to your thighs at the bottom of the movement. First, perform 15 reps with a lighter weight, rest about 10-15 sec, then perform 5 curls with a heavier weight. I did curls with the 40 and 60 lb bar.
Take 10-15 sec rest before moving into the tricep row. Bend at the waist, keeping your back flat. Hold the bar in the center, with about 1 inch between your hands. Keeping your elbows close to your body, bring the bar up and back. First, perform 15 reps with a lighter weight, rest about 10-15 sec, then perform 5 curls with a heavier weight. I did rows with the 50 and 70 lb bar.
Rest for 1-2 minutes (you may need extra rest since you are supersetting 2 moves), and then repeat both exercises for 15+5 reps for two more rounds. When you’ve done three rounds (for a total of 60 curls and 60 rows), move onto the next superset of exercises.
(2) V-curls and Overhead Tricep Extension
My favorite variation of the bicep curl is what I call the v-curl. It is similar to a basic dumbbell curl, but you turn your palms facing out and bring the weight up to the sides of your body, instead of in front of your body. At the bottom of the movement, the weights will rest on your outer hips/upper thighs. This variation hits the inner part of the bicep, which isn’t always targeted in other curl variations. Again, perform 15 reps with a lighter set of dumbbells (I used 15s), rest 10-15 sec, and then perform 5 reps with a heavier weight (I used 25s).
Rest 10-15 sec, then start on overhead tricep extensions. Keep your elbows as close as possible to the sides of your head. Raise the weight directly overhead, then lower the weight to the base of your neck. The tighter you keep you arms in near your face, the harder you will work your triceps. If you have to flare the elbows out to use a particular weight, you should drop weight. I used a 27.5 lb dumbbell for 15 reps, then used a 40 lb dumbbell for 5 reps.
Rest 1-2 min, then repeat both exercises for 15-5 reps for two more rounds.
(3) Hammer Curls + Kickbacks
I actually find that I can do more weight with hammer curls than other curl variations, so I stick this exercise in the middle of my workout once my arms are already feeling fatigued. For a hammer curl, turn your palms in facing each other, and lift the weight from the front of your thighs to your shoulders. I did 15 reps with 15lb dumbbells, rested for 10 sec, then did 5 reps with 20 lb dumbbells.
Rest 10-15 sec, then do tricep kickbacks. Bend at the waist. Keep your back flat, and neck in line with the spine, and start with the weights from your shoulders. Kick the weights behind you with straight arms. I did 15 reps with 15 lbs, and 5 reps with 20 lbs.
Rest 1-2 minutes, and repeat twice.
(4) Skull Crusher + Concentration Curl
For skull crushers, hold the weight slightly back behind your head at the start of the movement for an extra challenge. Hold your arms straight, keeping your elbows as narrow as possible. Bend at the elbows and lower the weight toward the back of your head. Press up to the top of the movement and repeat. I used the 40lb bar for 15 reps, and the 60 lb bar for sets of 5.
Rest 10-15 sec before beginning concentration curls. For concentration curls, place your elbow on your inner thigh and curl up to your shoulder. Perform 15 reps on each side with your lighter weight, then switch to your heavier weight for 5 reps. I used 15lbs and 22.5 lbs.
Rest 1-2 minutes, then repeat for 2 more rounds.
(5) Tricep Kickouts + Rope Curls
For the 5th superset, I like to use cables. Use a rope attachment, set high enough that you are pulling down and away from the cable machine for the exercise. Lean forward, and bend one knee, putting most of your weight on that leg. Bend at the waist, keeping your back flat, and start with the weight behind your head. Your elbows should be bent and held close into your face. Push the weight forward and out. Perform 15 reps at a light weight (I used 20lbs), then add weight and perform 5 more reps (I used 30lbs).
Drop the cable down to a low setting, and curl upward (still using the rope attachment). I used 20lb for 15 reps and 30 lbs for 5 reps.
We finished with one long set of 20 with preacher curls and tricep straight arm raises. You can add any two moves as a “kill-it” move to finish off this workout.