Ahoy! Hopefully you enjoyed the swashbuckling festivities of Talk Like A Pirate Day, and your eye patches held up through the day. If you’re a fan of holidays, you get one today as well! Moe’s is having their Free Queso Day, so find the closest Southwest Grill and #ShareTheCheese. I fully plan on celebrating Free Queso Day, and I’ll probably grab a big ol’ salad after I train today. Part of my plan is getting in loads of chin-ups and some quality reps of overhead presses. And then go to Moe’s; Moe’s is part of my plan today. What’s in your plan?
Having a plan is important, as it helps you focus on your goals and make steady progress. Sure, sometimes we can get away with wingin’ it, but it seldom works in the long run. When it comes to training, think about your plan. Do you have one?
Today I’d like to go over a plan for hitting the gym, addressing the organization side of training. There are loads of great exercises out there, how the hell can you put them together into a comprehensive program?! It can definitely get confusing, but I’d like to help. Here is Mike’s question:
I need your help again. I will admit that I was one of those guys that had “days” in the gym, like chest and triceps day or leg day or whatever. Only because I didn’t really know any better, and I thought that was what you were supposed to do. I read a lot of your stuff, and I’m quickly realizing that I shouldn’t do that. I like the idea of doing things that involve a lot of muscles like dead lifts and whatnot.
The thing is, the old way was a lot easier because I could walk into the gym and know exactly what I was going to do that day. Like a on a “chest day” I knew to walk right over to the bench after I weigh myself. Now, I find myself walking into the gym and kind of thinking, “Oh shit.” I get those thoughts because I’m never sure what is too much or not enough. Like if I do squats today, should I do them tomorrow too? That type of thing.
Here’s where I was hoping you could help. I go to the gym 3 to 4 times a week. Now, I know everybody is different and what you do should be tailored to the specific person. But I was wondering if you could just give me a sample week. Like what you might do in a given 3 to 4 trips to the gym. I don’t need number of reps or sets or weight. Just the specific exercises you or someone like you would do.
This is just so I can walk into the gym everyday and have a plan. I have much more confidence when I have a plan.
I love getting questions like this! Mike’s dedicated to working hard, and he wants to make the best possible use of his time. He gets it, and I’m excited about that. Having a plan is important, but once you begin to consider the nuances of putting together any set of exercises, it can become pretty difficult to put the specifics together. Rather than think about specifics, let’s think about broader ideas. Instead of thinking about having ‘days’ for specific muscle groups, which isn’t necessarily bad, let’s focus on movement patterns that will offer you the best results. I should note, that there are variables such as variations, loading schemes, and caloric intake and composition that greatly contribute to your goals as well.
When it comes to movement patterns, it’s important to include as many as possible in a given workout. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to complete a full body workout; there are time restrictions, and you’d rather watch a football game with the guys, or get your nails done with the girls. Maybe you even have a date coming up! It’ll be hard to get all of that in if you’re spending two and a half hours trying to throw weights around. Here’s a basic list of movement patterns:
- Hip Dominant – Bilateral and unilateral
- Knee Dominant – Bilateral and unilateral
- Horizontal pulling – Bilateral and unilateral
- Horizontal pushing – Bilateral and unilateral
- Vertical pulling – Bilateral and unilateral
- Vertical pushing – Bilateral and unilateral
- Core Stability – Anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation
Including each of those movements, along with any requisite warm-ups, pre-/rehab drills can become tricky, so you need to determine your schedule. First, let’s determine how frequently you’re going to train. Perhaps you only have time to hit the weights twice a week, and we’ll have to include the stalwarts of success. Maybe you can add a third day, or have time to train four or even 5 days a week. Scheduling is important! Here’s what I’d typically recommend based on your training frequency:
- Twice per week – Two full body workouts
- Three times per week – Three full b0dy workouts
- Four times per week – Two lower body, two upper body workouts
- Five times per week – Two lower body, two upper body, one conditioning workout
- Six times per week – Lol, No. That’s silly.
As you determine what works for you, remember that the more you train, the more complex the intricacies get, and focusing on recovery is increasingly important. Determine what works best for your schedule. Unless I’m programming for a specific client after an assessment, I prefer recommending a general template, so that you can have some freedom in your programming. Using myself as an example, I typically will lift 4 days per week, have a stand alone sprinting session, and go for a walk or include some stretching/yoga-y type activities on my off days. Regardless of how frequently you’re training, I’d still recommend going for regular walks and including mobility work throughout your day. It’s very easy to do, and will help you feel better. Pause for a quick 30 second stretch, then let’s continue.
Twice Per Week
If you’re training twice per week, every moment of time needs to be properly utilized; bang-for-your-buck is essential. I’d recommend starting any of your workouts with either the chin-up or a deadlift variation, and I’d prefer both of them to be loaded comfortably but heavy. You’ll have the biggest metabolic stimulus this way. You’d also want to include single leg variations, and additional upper body pushing and pulling. Perhaps each of your days includes these two groups of exercises, and one day you’ll start with the first set, while the second day you’ll utilize the other one.
- Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Single Arm Dumbbell Bench
- Inverted Row
- High-Box Step Up
- Half-Kneeling Overhead Press
Something that helps most people is to focus on a specific movement or lift to start each workout, instead of rotating through movements. Variety is an important factor, but it’s important to be brilliant at the basics. If you’re relatively unacquainted with the ‘big’ lifts, I’d suggest practicing them for a while before swapping several variations.
Thrice Per Week
If you’re lifting three times in a week, you can include three ‘main’ lifts at the start of each workout, then fill in your other movement patterns and accessory work around them. Perhaps you’re hitting the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and you select the following ‘main lifts’ based on your schedule:
- Monday – Front Squats or Chin-Ups
- Wednesday – Deadlift or Bench Press
- Friday – Back Squat or Military Press
Each of these days, you’re focusing on a ‘classic’ movement to practice a pattern, and gain strength. If we consider Monday, perhaps you perform some heavy chin-ups, maybe sets of 3 (with external load). After you do a set of chin-ups, you might do a dumbbell bench press, then a goblet position reverse lunge. At that point, you’d be ready to return to the chin-up for some more latissimus lovin’. Packing more quality work into less time, so you’re not wandering around in between sets taking mirror shots and misusing Instagram. Come on, cut that out.
Four Times Per Week
If you’re training four times per week, you’ll have at least one back-to-back training session, so you may need to split your training into a lower body day and an upper body day. I usually prefer a lower body day after an off day, as you’ll be the freshest and won’t have any residual soreness from the previous workout. It could also be due to my devotion to deadlifts; I’m not sure.
You could use the same two training sessions twice in a week, or you could perform completely different different workouts. For example:
- Monday – Lower Body Day – Front Squat (main lift), hip thrust, reverse lunge, farmers walk, etc.
- Tuesday – Upper Body Day – Chin-Ups (main lift), Dumbbell Bench Press, Single Arm Cable Rows, etc
- Thursday -Lower Body – Trap Bar Deadlift (main lift), RFESS, SLDL, SHELC, etc, or make up your own acronym.*
- Friday – Upper Body – Military Press (main lift), Inverted Rows, Push-Ups, etc
* The first person to comment and name all of those exercise will get something awesome. It might be a high five, or sweet programming.
Five Times Per Week
If you’re training 5 days per week, scheduling becomes tricky. It’s difficult to include everything and avoid conflicts in programming; you’ll likely have something that’s sore or achey from a previous workout. If I include a template with an extra sprint day, I’d recommend including it after your last upper body day, so that you have time to recover before your next lower body workout. Let me switch up up that four day template and include sprints:
- Monday – Lower Body Day – Sumo Deadlift (main lift), Skater Squat, Step-Up, KB Swing
- Tuesday – Upper Body Day – Bench Press (main lift), Chin-Up, Single Arm Cable Rows, Push-Up, etc
- Thursday -Lower Body – Back Squat (main lift), Turkish Get Up, Romanian Deadlift, Suitcase Carry, etc
- Friday – Upper Body – Military Press (main lift), Inverted Rows, Push-Ups, etc
- Saturday – Sprints – Sprint… Yay!
I’m not a big fan of training more than this in a week. Physical activity? Yes, but training? No. What’s the cut off? There isn’t one written in stone, but I’m thinking of exercise with the goal of improving a physical quality. Maybe you want to get stronger, or leaner, or faster. Go you! But training too much can take away from your results, so on your off days, do off day activities.
This might include going for a walk or a light jog, riding your bike around the ‘hood, or doing some yoga. The intensity should be low enough that in contributes to the recovery process, but doesn’t require recovery on its own. Capiche?
In the long run, you’ll see the best results not from a specific program, but from consistent effort and strategic variation. Having a plan most definitely allows you to track progress, enter the gym like a (wo)man with a plan. Depending on your schedule, choose one or two ‘main lifts’ for the workout, then fill in other movement patterns and accessory work from there.
Yes, some workouts are better than others, but it’s important to optimize your routine for your schedule and personality. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.