As you have hopefully passed beyond the need to throw obscene amounts of weight around, it's important to realize that not only will you get better results from training by feel, but you will also tend to put less pressure on your joints. Don't get me wrong, it's still crucial to train to failure in the six to eight rep range using compound lifts. Those types of lifts are important, but they are not the focal point of every routine. Use intensity-building techniques such as rest pauses or dropsets, to recruit more muscle fibers.
Put simply, "strength training means using resistance to create work for your muscles," says Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S. and author of Operation Bikini Body. So even if your mind jumps straight to those hardcore machines and massive weights, there are a lot of ways to create this resistance that require minimal equipment (or none at all). Bodyweight workouts can be an incredibly effective way to strength train. Squats and push-ups FTW. You can also use tools like dumbbells, medicine balls, TRX bands, resistance bands, kettlebells, and slider disks, to help get the job done, explains Davis. But if that sounds like gibberish don't worry about it. Keep it simple and focus on equipment-free routines first. No matter what you do, the most important thing is to find something that challenges you, says Davis.
Transformations have both physique and performance dimensions, so it's OK to have goals in both areas. Losing weight, gaining muscle, and looking good in the mirror are examples of the former; squatting 10 more pounds, running a mile in under 10 miles, or finally getting your toes up to that bar are examples of the latter. Having both types of goals will help keep you motivated even if one goal starts to slow in progress.
If you're 12 weeks out from a competition, you want to maintain as much muscle as possible while torching fat from every angle. This means low-intensity cardio – high intensity cardio speeds up your metabolism and burns fat very quickly, so you run the risk of burning muscle too, Terry says – either first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, or immediately after your weights session, once you’ve depleted those glycogen levels.
A muscle has 3 levels of strength: positive (raising the weight), static (holding the weight), and negative (lowering the weight). All 3 of these aspects of any exercise must be focused on in order to stimulate maximum muscle growth. In other words, don’t throw weight through a range of motion just to get the weight from point A to point B. If you throw, you won’t grow!