I get it. No pain, no gain! That is true, to a certain extent. But, the body can only take so much. It doesn't have to be complicated.
Why not? I want to get the best out of every single workout!
That's great, and I commend your motivation. Let's pump the brakes a little bit though. There's a few reasons as to why I suggest this.
The body doesn't build muscle in the gym. It builds it during recovery. When can it recover if you are constantly working out at 100%?
If it's not recovering properly, an injury could be just around the corner. An injury is going to massively reduce your workout intensity, and may even stop you working out altogether, which will have negative effects on your gains.
You can still workout! Just lightly hitting the brakes will give your mind and body the satisfaction of a workout, but not get in the way of your recovery and supercompensation (adaptation to higher intensities than your body could previously cope with).
I'm listening; how do we go about this then?
There are a million and one ways to approach this. However, as I mentioned, we don't have to do anything too complicated here.
Training splits are how you workout over the course of a week. Most gym-goers are aware that they shouldn't work out the same body parts consecutively, at least not for too many days in a row anyway. This is why you often see people training different body parts on different days. My favourite split to give people is an upper/lower split, as you could argue that for the most part, the opposing muscle groups will be getting a rest, as it's easy to distinguish the upper body from the lower body in a workout. There might be a little cross-over, but nothing major. This is a reason why I am not such a fan of the frankenstein split (chest/legs/back/shoulders/arms/core). It's hard to truly rest all the other body parts, and you could argue the shoulders get hit 4 times in that particular example! You also don't get enough volume for the major muscle parts across such a split.
One week you could go heavy with low reps. The following you could go light with high reps.
However, consider the intensity, you could still work close to failure in both those weeks no matter if the weight is heavy or light. So, perhaps a better example could be using an rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale to make note of the effort/intensity involved. RPE can be measured in many different ways. I tend to use 2 different methods here.
One of the methods I use is simply numeric from 1 to 10. 10 is maximum effort, 1 is no effort. You could, for example, have a week where most exercises go to the upper third from around 7-10, followed by a week in the middle third around 3-6, whether that is with heavy weights and low reps, or light weights and high reps, is up to you and could be argued that it would be goal dependent.
The other method of RPE I like to use, and probably my favourite of the two, is reps in reserve (RIR). This is where you estimate how many reps after a set you reckon you could manage with pretty decent form. If someone thinks they could complete another 1 or 2, you could argue they are working pretty near their maximum. 2 or 4 would be working hard, but fairly comfortably. 5 or more and that is an easy set right there.
You could alternate days instead of weeks.
You could plan a few weeks. Start with light weight and high reps, with an RPE somewhere in the middle ground, or RIR of around 2-3 reps. Finish the plan off with high weight and low reps, with an RPE closer to 10 and a RIR of around 1-2 reps. A very basic way of mitigating the effects of working out at too high of an intensity for too long.
Too many times are people going in and working too hard for too long. Even if an injury isn't round the corner, you won't be getting much in the ways of gains out of this if you carry it on indefinitely. Programming is certainly advanced, but it doesn't have to be over the top advanced for your average gym-goer. If you have specific goals in mind, or are working out to compete in something, then the complexity of your programme might increase to meet that goal.
Thanks for reading!