When I first started going to the gym, the first thing I did was hit my shoulders. What better way to start a workout than an arm pump, right?
From then on, it was every workout I found in a muscle magazine or on the Internet that day. There was no rhyme or reason to it and it didn’t matter … I was practicing and it was only a matter of time before I got caught. Until there was.
I wasn’t getting stronger. I wasn’t gaining muscle mass. I still felt like that weak, insecure little kid.
I was spinning the wheels like this for years before figuring out how to program the right training. Fortunately, I’ve refined my approach which is based on actual science, not just something I accidentally punch. Once I figured it out, it all went up. More muscle. More strength. More self-confidence.
So instead of spinning the wheels like I do, here’s how to program the right workout.
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Choose your split
The first thing you need to do is ask yourself how many days you can consistently work out in the gym each week.
This is no time for a cake in the sky as long as it all goes to its usual texture. This happens every week, no matter what happens, how many days can you go to the gym?
The most optimal workout means nothing if you can’t do it consistently. Don’t go too far and think more is better. Better is better. Consistency is what will drive results, so aim for it.
Once you’ve figured out how many days you can train consistently, here are the most effective breakdowns you can make:
- 2 days: Whole body
- Three days: Whole body or whole body / upper / lower
- 4 days: Upper Lower
- 5 days: Up / Down / Push / Pull / Legs or Up / Down / Vanity <- Basically a bro training where you concentrate on the pump. Good grip.
- 6-7 days: Go with a 4-day split and do a hobby outside of the gym
How to organize exercises in training
When I started with a gun, everything I did afterwards suffered as my arms were fried. If there was a sillier way to start training, I can’t think of one writing this.
You should structure your training based on your neural needs. Basically, you want to do heavy complex or highly coordinated exercises at first (think Olympic pickups) and end up with more muscle-demanding isolation exercises.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Warming up – Warm, supple muscles work better. Light circuits of 2-4 exercises of 10-20 repetitions here.
- Explosive movements – Jumping, sprints, plyometry, Olympic lifts. The technique and reaction of the nervous system are crucial here, you don’t want to get tired while doing these activities. You can also combine jumping and plyometric exercises for warming up. Keeps sets and reps low. 3×3 will work.
- Heavy strength exercises – Heavy deadlift, bench press, overhead press and squats. To get the most out of these opportunities, your muscles and nervous system need to be warmed up and primed, which we did in the previous two. As above, I like to do 3-4 sets of heavy reps of 3-8. 1 exercise here.
After big movements, you will have 2-4 exercises that focus on what you are trying to develop. That way, you can make progress wherever you want without getting too distracted by doing everything.
- Hypertrophic polyarticular exercises – Barbell tilted over rows, pull-ups and other multi-joint exercises. I like to keep them in 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions. 1-3 exercises here.
- Isolation hypertrophy exercises – Biceps curl, exercises for the muscles of the spine, fly on ropes and sideways lifting. These go a little higher in 3-4 sets of 12-25 repetitions. 1-3 exercises.
- ** Optional ** Cardio / Finishers – Choose your poison as far as HIIT or steady state. I peak in 5-10 minutes of HIIT or 20 minutes of steady state. At this point, I would also add loaded cranes or farmer walks.
Once you’ve got that structure in place, it all comes down to using split-up to find out what exercises are going and where they are leading.
Sample upper body training
If you want to do an upper body workout using this template, it might look something like this:
The benefits of this training structure
As I mentioned earlier, this structure is based on fatigue and neural demand. This is how your body warms up and then you are able to be the strongest (or most technical) with big movements, and when your muscles start to tire you hit them with more repetitions and bring home some cardio. .
From a muscle building point of view, this prepares the nervous system to recruit more muscles at the start of training (increasing muscle tone), so you can better recruit muscles (increase muscle tone and damage) towards the end of your training. For example, if your goal is to build your chest, start with a barbell bench press for 4-6 repetitions (muscular tension), then later in your workout, do a dumbbell or fly press for 8-20 repetitions (muscle strain and injury).
How to make progress
After you’ve finished your training, the next step is to make sure you have a path to progress. There is nothing more frustrating than looking back at the previous 6 months of training, only to see that you are neither stronger nor bewildered. To build muscle, you need to increase volume and weight. Personally, I like to use the triple progression method. In this method, you first increase the sets (from 3 to 4) by working on increasing the number of repetitions with the weight, and finally load when you reach the top of the rep range.
Here’s what it would look like if the rep range was 8-10:
- Week 1: 225 for 3 sets of 8 reps
- Week 2: 225 for 3 sets of 9 reps
- Week 3: 225 for 4 sets of 8-9 repetitions
- Week 4: 225 for 4 sets of 10 reps
- Week 5: 235 for 3 sets of 8 reps
- Week 6: 235 for 3 sets of 9 reps
Each week, the number of repetitions, sets (volumes), or weight increases. This way you always do more and force your muscles to grow.
Related: Strategic Change for Maximum Muscle Growth
Does it work for fat loss?
Yes. Fat loss and strength / muscle building training aren’t that different from each other. The main ingredient in training is gaining or maintaining strength whatever your goal is. Strength is the genesis of everything you want to do.
Fat Loss? Strength allows you to lift heavier and heavier weights, which burns more calories than lighter weight.
Muscle gain? Strength allows you to lift more and more loads, which puts more pressure on the muscles and makes them grow.
Losing fat occurs through your diet. No training can replace a calorie deficit. So there is no need for every workout to be a cardio session. You’re not doing yourself any favors. Concentrate on your strength in the gym and leave your fat loss for the remaining 23 hours of the day. The training structure I outlined will work for both as it focuses on strength.