Looking to write your own fitness program? Keep these essential rules in mind.
I remember those bygone days before I knew anything about fitness… it was called “college.”
Just looking back on what I did as a freshman makes me shake my head in disgust. I mean, four kinds of curls? Using machines for almost every exercise? Going to failure with everything?
Guys, please don’t make the same mistakes I did — you’ll waste your time, frustrate yourself, and develop crappy movement patterns. Instead, follow the workout programs that are actually based on science, not bro-science like “muscle confusion.” They understand how the body responds and adapts to various stimuli, what you need for significant improvements, the ingredients to an awesome, comprehensive program, and how to get real results safely.
I’m going to show you the rules to follow if you want to build your own awesome workout (and avoid the stupidity of my younger days). And despite the fact I frequently break rules like speed limits and jaywalking, when it comes to transforming your body, don’t break these ones.
1. The Goal Comes First
What do you want to do? Lose fat, build muscle, get strong, improve your athleticism, etc.?
Here’s the truth: your program must fit that goal. It seems simple, but all too often I see someone doing a workout that doesn’t match their target. For example, someone who wants to lose 20 pounds of fat (no small feat, by the way) will do a bodybuilding split where they isolate different muscles and, hell, use four different exercises for their chest.
That, however, is a crappy way to burn fat. They would be better off building some real work capacity and adding intense full-body circuits to melt the fat away and blast their entire body at once.
I also see people who want to add muscle with CrossFit. Look, if you’re skinny and weak, you need to focus on getting stronger. Sure, CrossFit has its benefits in general conditioning, but if you’re doing 30 cleans in a row and you can’t squat 225 pounds, skip the WOD and lift heavy first.
2. “Where You At?!”
Are you a complete novice? Are you a semi-professional rugby player? Do you have a bad knee injury? Do you run cross-country?
Where you are determines what you should focus on. If you’re a complete newbie, build basic aerobic conditioning and strength because those are the essentials of every fitness change you make. Choose simple full-body exercises to groove great technique so that, down the road, you can layer on top of your foundations. Also, avoid cool-looking stuff like advanced plyometrics, which is utterly useless for your level.
If you’re a higher-level athlete, you can focus on different things like explosiveness, endurance of your Type-II muscle fibers, advanced exercises to build specific adaptations, etc.
Finally, let’s address injuries. If you have pain in your shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, etc., choose the appropriate level of intensity and movement for yourself and never push through pain. For example, if you have knee pain, I’m not going to ask you to do box jumps. Instead, pick exercises like hip thrusts and deadlifts, which use minimal knee movement.
3. Rep Ranges Come Next
Your repetitions are the most important part of your actual workout program: they control everything from your strength and size gains to how your muscles develop and look.
Here is a general guideline of what each rep range does:
- 1 – 3 reps: Maximal Strength
- 4 – 6 reps: Strength
- 8 – 12 reps: Size Gains (Hypertrophy)
- 15+ reps: Endurance
Remember: your rep ranges must match your goal.
4. Hit All Your Movement Patterns
There are seven movement patterns that all workouts must hit:
- Goblet Squat
- Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Hip Bridge
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Horizontal Push
- Bench Press
- Horizontal Pull
- Inverted Row
- 3pt Row
- Vertical Push
- Overhead Press
- Vertical Pull
- Lat Pulldowns
- Reverse Lunges
- Walking Lunges
If your workout routine includes all of these, I’d say you have a pretty damn good workout program.
5. Always Do The Most Important Exercises First
Exercises that blast every muscle in your body and demand tremendous strength and focus always come first. Heavy squats, deadlifts, and power moves demand the most energy, strength, and concentration — if you wait until you’re tired, you’ll shortchange your results and risk an injury.
After your big, heavy lifts, do the exercises that target two or more muscles at the same time like overhead presses, bench presses, rows, pullups, and glute-ham raises. Finally, add the exercises that focus on individual muscles: this is when you’ll hammer your biceps, pump your delts, and blast your calves.
6. Keep Adjusting
You can’t do the same workout forever. Eventually, you’ll plateau and need something different to continue giving you the stimulus for results. There will also be times you’ll ramp up the intensity and volume while, other times, you’ll dial down the program to give yourself a much-needed break.
Every four to six weeks, look at your program and see what should be changed. If you’re getting stronger and more fit, amp up the volume and intensity; if you’re losing fat, add more conditioning work to your routine.
Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a regular contributor featured in Golf Digest and Men’s Fitness and the founder of GroomBuilder, the 8-week fitness program to transform the way you look for your wedding.
This article originally appeared on Ask Men
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