This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
Infusing your workout program with variety and variation isn’t just optional if you want to reach your fitness goals—it’s an absolute necessity. Trainers have a bag of tricks they use to achieve those ends, but it can be tough for the average guy who doesn’t have the same years of training and practical experience. That’s why methods like “deck of cards” workouts can be so valuable.
You’ve likely heard the format batted around the weight rack or happened upon it while surfing your favorite fitness influencers. The concept is simple: every suit (clubs, diamonds, spades, hearts) is assigned an exercise, and the number on each card represents the reps you perform if you draw it. (Count up from 11 for face cards—jacks are 11, queens are 12, kings are 13, and aces are 14.)
Let’s say that hearts are pushups, spades are pullups, diamonds are squats, and clubs are hip thrusts, for example. If you draw the jack of diamonds, you’ll do 11 squats. If the next card you draw is the nine of hearts, you’ll do nine pushups—and you’ll continue to draw cards and perform the indicated number of reps until you run out of cards, time, strength, or endurance.
If you’re able to make it through the entire deck (minus the jokers), you’ll have performed 416 total reps. That makes deck-of-cards workouts an excellent way to increase training volume in addition to training variety. Plus, they’re fun, challenging, and lend themselves to partnered training sessions in which each person takes turns drawing a card (trust me—unless you’re an athlete, averaging 208 total reps per person in quick succession will leave your muscles and lungs burning).
Your move: Keep a deck of cards in your gym bag for those times when your scheduled workout feels uninspiring or you don’t have access to your usual weightlifting equipment.
That’s another advantage to this kind of workout. The structure lends itself to bodyweight exercises due to the high number of reps that you’ll perform. You can also tailor your workout to your training goals and preferences through exercise selection and rest period customization.
If you want to focus on cardio and muscular endurance, for instance, stack the deck with exercises such as the mountain climber or burpee, and keep your rest periods short (e.g., less than 30 seconds). If you want to emphasize strength and power, skew your exercise selection towards squats, split jumps, and pushups, and keep your rest periods slightly longer (e.g., 30 to 45 seconds).
Also, focus on exercises that work better with rep-based rather than timed sets (in other words, save the plank for other workouts). But no matter how you play it, a deck of cards workout will help you torch calories, challenge your muscular endurance, avoid plateaus, and fast track your gains.
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