The Essential Guide To Creating Your Own Workout

The Essential Guide to Creating Your Own Workout.png

The Essential Guide to Creating Your Own Workout

Everything You Need To Know To Design A Workout Plan That Actually Works!


Contents Page

Click to navigate to any section directly.


Part One: Setting Your Goal

In This Section:
  • How To Decide If You Should Cut Or Bulk First
  • Determining What Your Single Biggest Factor Is
  • How To Set Goals You'll Actually Reach
  • My Recommendations - How To Bring It Together
  • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

What Do You Want To Achieve?

Before you decide how many days per week you want to or can train, you must first find out what your training goal is, as this will influence the rest of your training programme.

Training for fat loss and muscle retention is different to training for muscle gain. So you have to decide what your goal is. A common question at this point is…

Should You Cut Or Bulk First?

The answer to this question largely comes down to 2 factors;

  • Personal preferences
  • Body fat percentage

The general guidelines go as follows;

  • If you feel you're too small, then you need to work on building some muscle and 'bulking' first.
  • If you feel you're carrying too much extra weight then you need to work on fat loss aka 'cutting' first.

If you’re after more rigid guidelines;

  • You should lose fat until you're around 10% body fat
  • You should build muscle slowly until you're around 15% body fat

Then go back and forth between these 2 states until you're happy with how you look at approximately 10% body fat (or whatever body fat percentage you want to be).

Ultimately, there is no wrong or right answer and it will come down to what you want to achieve, in what time frame and where you're starting from.

Whilst this is useful advice, there is, in my opinion, there is something that overrides its.

The Single Biggest Factor

For me, the most useful tool for determining what your initial goal is, is asking yourself "what’s the single biggest factor that you’d like to change?"

  • Is it the amount of body fat you have?
  • Is it the amount of muscle mass you have?
  • Is it a muscular imbalance?
  • Is it a lack of flexibility?
  • Is it having poor cardiovascular fitness?
  • Do you want to look better naked?

It’s my opinion that this should be your initial guide when deciding on your goal.

Now in the context of the people that this article is written for, most of you will get your answer from the above guidelines on whether to ‘cut or bulk’ first. 

This is simply because most people with a higher body fat % will prefer to lose fat first even if they don’t have as much muscle mass as they would like purely because the unwanted body fat will be the single biggest factor they want to change.

However, in cases where the cut or bulk question doesn’t settle it for you, ask yourself what is the single biggest factor that you’d like to change and then go with that.

Goal Setting

Once you know what you want to achieve you then need to set your goal. Think of this as a guide to keep you on track towards your overall goal.

As you may have noticed your goal is most likely something big like lose 20lbs or build 10lbs of muscle and this may well be very daunting, possibly even overwhelming. 

To help you reach this seemingly out of reach goal you need to break it down into manageable chunks. You can do this by breaking your goal down into 3 sections;

A Long-Term Goal – The Big Picture

This is the bigger picture, this is what you’re always striving towards. It might be something like building 10lbs of muscle and then losing any excess fat.

For a goal like this, you might set a time frame for a year.

Medium-Term Goals – The Checkpoints

Now aiming directly for the big long-term goal is a fast-track route to failure. What you need to do is break your big goal into chunks, so it becomes more manageable and the path becomes clear. 

For example, you might plan to gain weight and build muscle at a rate of 2 lbs per month for 6 – 7 months. You could go as far as to set an actual goal weight to reach within that time frame.

Short-Term Goals – The Here & Now

Finally, you want to break your medium-term goals into tiny short-term goals that you can focus on day by day and week by week knowing that you’re making progress towards your medium and long-term goal/s by doing them. 

For example, your short-term goals might be eating in a calorie surplus of 300kcals daily and training 3 times a week with a focus on muscle building.

My Recommendations

My advice is to pick one goal and stick with it, if you chop and change your mind too much you’ll make minimal progress towards several goals in the time it would have taken you to make outstanding progress towards one goal, trust me I know.

Take the time you need to really focus on what it is you want to achieve and then take some more time to carefully plan out your goals based on realistic expectations and achievable timeframes.

If you do this work up front, then you’ll be safe in the knowledge that over time you’ll 100% reach your goal.

Rush through it on the other hand and you’ll struggle to ever get there. Remember to ask yourself, “what’s the single biggest factor I want to change?” and start there.

Craft a long-term goal around this factor before breaking it into increasingly more manageable and achievable steps with your medium and short-term goals.

Your Action Steps

  • Decide what your ‘single biggest factor’ is
  • Figure out what you need to do to solve this problem
  • Set a long-term goal based on the solution
  • Break your long-term goal into medium-term goals that show clear progression
  • Set short-term goals to help guide your day to day and week to week action

Up Next

Next, we dive into how many days per week you’ll train, based not only on your goals but also your lifestyle and commitments to other facets of your life.


Part Two: Training Frequency

In This Section:
  • How To Determine Your Training Frequency
  • My Recommendations - How To Bring It Together
  • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

How Many Days Per Week Will You Train?

The first thing you need to do after deciding on your training goal is to decide how many days per week you will train.

It’s important when doing this to really ask yourself “how many days can I regularly train?” If at this point you’re not sure you can stick to your training schedule, then how will it work out in reality?

Be aware that this step is a combination not only of how many days you need to train but how many days CAN you train based on your commitments to work and family, alongside the ability to still maintain a healthy social life whilst training.

If you can only do 3 days, then don’t plan for 5 it’s just not going to work, and you’ll be setting yourself up to fail from the get-go. It’s vital when deciding your training frequency, that you pick what you CAN DO not what you WANT TO DO.

Take the time to think about what will fit with your lifestyle and be maintainable in long-term.

  • Do you work long hours?
  • Will you train in the morning, afternoon or evening?
  • Are weekends going to be workout days or left free?
  • When will your rest days be?

Remember that you’re trying to build something sustainable.

My Recommendations

I personally only train 3 days a week most of the time (occasionally I bump it up to 4) as this not only provides ample stimulation for muscle maintenance or growth depending on my goal but it also allows me to have a day’s rest in between workouts and leave the weekends free.

This is what works for my lifestyle, it allows me to make consistent progress towards my goals without having a negative effect on my social life.

Your Action Steps

  • Grab a calendar and analyze your current commitments to work, friends, family, etc..
  • Based on the above see how many days per week you can train consistently
  • Think about whether you’ll train in the morning, afternoon or evening, or even a mix
  • Make a promise to yourself to stick to this training frequency

Up Next

Once you know how often you can train you then need to decide how you’ll split your training across these days, which brings us to choosing your training split.


Part Three: Training Split

In This Section:
  • What Are Training Splits
  • The Different Training Splits Explored
  • What About 2, 3, 4 & 5 Day Splits
  • Factors To Consider When Choosing Your Split
  • My Recommendations - How To Bring It Together
  • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

How To Divide Up Your Training Across The Week

Now you know your training goal and frequency you can update your training profile again and we’ll move on to training splits.

Your workout split, training split or routine split as it’s commonly known, is the way in which you will divide your workouts across the different parts of your body that you want to train.

Common splits include:

  • The Full Body Workout
  • The Upper Body & Lower Body
  • The Bodybuilder
  • Push, Pull, Legs
  • 2, 3 or 4 Day Split

Let’s look more closely at each one.

The Full Body Workout Split

The full body workout is exactly as it sounds, a workout that trains the whole body in each session. It usually consists of 3 workouts a week with a day’s rest in between each training session.

A popular example of a full body workout is Strong Lifts by Mehdi.

Full body workouts are a great starting point for a beginner and allow for progress to be made with less exercise variation that other training splits.

Monday - Whole Body Workout

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Whole Body Workout

Thursday - Rest

Friday - Whole Body Workout

Saturday - Rest

Sunday - Rest

Pros:

  • Good for those short on time but still looking to make good progress in the gym
  • Focuses on the core compound movements that give the most bang for their buck
  • This type of training suits a lot of goals and can be tailored to fat loss, strength building and muscle gain

Cons:

  • Training any body part 3 times a week, particularly the legs may be difficult to recover from
  • Doesn’t allow for as much exercise variation per body part as other training splits

The Upper & Lower Body Split

This split sees you split your workouts between the upper and lower body. Using this split you would generally perform 4 workouts a week. Workouts can be structured to either focus on a particular movement i.e. pushing movements on Monday and pulling movements on Thursday or to hit the entirety of the body part on both days i.e. a combination of pushing and pulling on both Monday and Thursday. For example;

Monday - Upper Body Workout (Push Focused)

Tuesday - Lower Body Workout (Squat Focused)

Wednesday - Rest

Thursday - Upper Body Workout (Pull Focused)

Friday - Lower Body Workout (Deadlift Focused)

Saturday- Rest

Sunday - Rest

Pros:

  • Mid-week rest day makes it easier to maintain performance through the week
  • Training frequency allows you to hit each body part twice per week, making this split a good choice for building muscle and strength
  • Good for those who have the time to train 4 times a week, sometimes for more than an hour at a time

Cons:

  • Training sessions usually become unbalanced as upper body workouts take much longer than lower body workouts
  • Training both the upper and lower body twice per week can be tough for some people
  • Not good for those who are short on time

The Bodybuilder Split

The bodybuilder split generally sees you training a single body part each day over 5 or 6 days of the week. It allows for you to apply a greater focus and level of volume to each body part as you’re only training one per session. For example, a typical split would look something like this;

Monday - Chest

Tuesday - Back

Wednesday - Legs

Thursday - Shoulders

Friday - Arms & Abs

Saturday - Rest

Sunday - Rest

Pros:

  • You can target your muscles with a greater number of exercise variations and overall volume that other splits allow
  • Good for those who can dedicate 5 days per week to training

Cons:

  • It’s likely that your performance will deteriorate as you progress through the week and fatigue builds up
  • Only resting at the weekend can make it tough to maintain a good level of performance throughout all workouts over both the short-term (see above) and long-term
  • Not good for those who can only train a few times a week

Push, Pull, Legs Split

This split breaks up your training into workout sessions based on movement pattern with the addition of legs. You usually train 3 times a week, with one workout focused on the front of the upper body by using pushing movements, another focused on the rear of the upper body by using pulling movements and the last working the lower body.

Monday - Push

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Pull

Thursday - Rest

Friday - Legs

Saturday - Rest

Sunday - Rest

Pros:

  • This split allows you to really focus on each body part intensely

Cons:

  • You only train each body part once per week
  • You can never train both your chest and shoulders from fresh as they are both trained on the same day

You can also work the push, pull, legs as a 5-day split which would look something like this;

Week One

Monday - Push

Tuesday - Pull

Wednesday - Rest

Thursday - Legs

Friday - Rest

Saturday - Push

Sunday - Pull

Week Two

Monday - Rest

Tuesday - Legs

Wednesday - Rest

Thursday - Push

Friday - Pull

Saturday - Rest

Sunday - Legs

Essential you keep rotating the days by having a rest day either side of any leg workout with the push and pull workouts being done consecutively.

Pros:

  • This split allows you to really focus on each body part intensely
  • The 5-day split allows you to work each body part more frequently

Cons:

  • You can never train both your chest and shoulders from fresh as they are both trained on the same day
  • The days you train on consistently shift making it difficult to adhere to the programme at times

The A, B Workout Split

The A, B workout split has you using 2 main workouts, split across 3 days non-consecutive days where you alternate between the 2. For example, one week you would do workout A, B, A then the next week you would switch it and do B, A, B before switching back again, and so on.

The A, B split gives you some freedom on how you structure your training because you have that full days rest between workouts. Common setups are chest and legs for one workout and back and shoulders for the other OR upper body push and then back and legs.

Week One

Monday - Workout A

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Workout B

Thursday - Rest

Friday - Workout A

Saturday - Rest

Sunday - Rest

Week Two

Monday - Workout B

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Workout A

Thursday - Rest

Friday - Workout B

Saturday - Rest

Sunday - Rest

Pros:

  • Training only 3 days a week makes this split lifestyle friendly
  • This split provides sufficient stimulus for muscle growth or retention based on your goal

Cons:

  • Doesn’t allow as much room for exercise variation and overall volume as other splits
  • The setup means on alternating weeks some exercises will be trained using a reduced volume i.e. only 1 day a week

What About 2, 3, 4 or 5 Day Splits

Terms like 2, 3, 4 or 5 day split refer to the number of days you are training per week as opposed to a particular workout. For example;

  • You could do a full body workout using a 2 or 3-day split
  • Push, pull, legs would usually be performed as a 3 or perhaps 4-day split
  • A, B workouts would also be a 2, 3 or 4-day split but is generally a 3-day split
  • The bodybuilder workout would be a 5-day split

Generally, choosing the type of workout split you want to do will determine the number of days you’ll train or vice versa. If you can only train 3 days a week then there is no point considering a bodybuilder split.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Your Workout Split

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding which workout split works best for you.

Your Age

Generally speaking the younger you are the better your ability to recover will be, along with your overall performance and capacity for training. This means the younger you are the more training you'll be able to handle without detrimental effects on your progress.

On the other side, the older you are the less you’ll be able to handle as your recovery need increase as you age. A good rule of thumb is to stick to 3 - 4 days of training per week if you’re over 40.

Training Experience

How long have you been training for? Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced weightlifter? If you’ve been training for a long time and are close to your genetic potential, then your training needs will be vastly different from that over a lifter still in their first year of training.

Recovery Rate

This is a question of how your body responds to training i.e. what level of training will maximise your ability to progress towards your goal the faster without causing you to struggle with recovery between workouts? Finding this sweet spot between optimal frequency and optimal recovery is where you’ll see the most progress whilst also feeling the best.

Overall Goal

Are you training for aesthetics, pure strength, sporting ability or general health? Depending on your goal some training splits will be more or less effective. When choosing yours you need to first know what you want to achieve.

Current Lifestyle

You must consider how busy you are when picking your workout split. Are having to work late most nights? Can you get to the gym in the morning? How many days can you really carve out 45 – 60mins to train?

The answer to these questions will guide you in choosing your workout split.

My Recommendations

I personally use and recommend the A, B workout split spread across 3 days for the vast majority of intermediate (most people with over 12 months of consistent weight lifting) lifters.

Not only is it lifestyle friendly, allowing you to train across the work week but it is also structured to allow sufficient rest between workouts whilst providing enough stimulus to build or maintain muscle mass depending on your goal.

I’ve personally seen a lot of progress across the board using this split.

However, as we discussed above the split that is right for you largely depends on your goals, experience, and needs.

The full body workout is good for beginners who need to get to grips with the basic compound movements before moving onto more advanced workouts and push, pull, legs is also a popular choice of intermediate lifters who want to focus more closely on the individual parts of the body whilst keeping overall training frequency manageable.

Your Action Steps

  • Carefully examine the factors that influence your split choice
  • Take the time to read through each split and see which will be the best fit for your goal
  • Use the above information along with your chosen training frequency to choose a training split

Up Next

Having decided on how many days a week you can train and how you’ll split your body parts across these days, you’ll then need to choose how you’ll train.

Will you use free weights, bodyweight exercises, machine weights or a combination of some or all of them? We look at this next.


Part Four: Training Equipment

In This Section:
  • Free Weights Explained
  • Resistance Machines Explained
  • Bodyweight Training Explained
  • My Recommendations - How To Bring It Together
  • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

Free Weights, Bodyweight or Resistance Machines

Now you should know how many days per week you’re going to be training and how you will structure your workouts across your body parts on those days. It’s time to look at where and with what equipment you’ll do this training.

You have 3 main options when deciding what equipment you’ll use to train your body. Each has its own inherent advantages and disadvantages. To help you decide let’s take a look at each.

What Are Free Weights?

Free weights are the umbrella term for common pieces of weight lifting equipment. The reason they are called ‘free’ weights is because they don't limit your range of motion or fix you to a specific movement path.

Free weights are perhaps the most common method of weight training amongst gym goers and include;

  • Barbells
  • Dumbbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Medicine balls
  • Sandbags

Advantages

  • Due to the freedom of movement with free weight exercises you will recruit more muscle as you work to simultaneously train the muscle and stabilise the body during movement
  • Allows you to train the body in both a unilateral and bilateral fashion
  • You can use a full range of motion
  • More big compound movements i.e. deadlift, squat, bench press
  • You can train functional movement patterns i.e. things that resemble movements in your everyday life

Disadvantages

  • Free weight exercises have you working against gravity and therefore the resistance placed on your muscles can vary through the range of motion of a lift
  • You may need a spotter to lift heavy
  • Increased risk of injury when used with bad form
  • Can take time to learn proper lifting technique

What Are Resistance Machines?

Resistance machines is the name given to assisted weight training equipment that usually only allows you to train in a fixed movement pattern.

They are common in gyms all over the world and can offer a good entry point for those looking to workout but without the necessary skill to perform free weight movements.

Common equipment includes;

  • Cable machines
  • Smith machine
  • Assisted resistance machines i.e. lat pull down or the leg press

Advantages

  • Easier to learn that bodyweight or free weight exercises
  • Allows you to train with heavier weights without assistance
  • Reduced risk of injury (mostly due to above point)
  • May be more useful for people recovering from injury i.e. rehab
  • Good for the elderly population
  • Can be good for isolating muscle groups i.e. leg extension

Disadvantages

  • Does not work stabiliser muscles like free weights and bodyweight exercises do
  • Still present a risk of injury from using heavy loads with bad form
  • Fixed movement path
  • Only target specific muscle groups and not the whole body
  • Often do not train functional movement patterns

What Is Bodyweight Training?

Body weight training is exactly what it sounds like, training performed using only your body weight.

Whilst it has advantages and disadvantages it can be used effectively to build muscle, you see your body doesn’t know the difference between lifting a barbell and lifting yourself, in both cases, you are creating resistance against gravity to increase strength and build muscle.

There are a few inherent benefits of bodyweight training that you do not get with free weights or resistance machines.

Advantages

  • Can be performed anywhere, anytime often with zero equipment
  • Allows you to perform functional movements that mimic everyday activities
  • Easy to adjust exercises to varying ability levels
  • You can perform most big compound movements using just your bodyweight
  • Trains stabiliser muscles
  • Can be used to build a base level of strength

Disadvantages

  • Can be difficult to effectively train the back with equipment i.e. a bar
  • Can take a long time to master the advanced techniques
  • Difficult to overload the legs and posterior chain
  • Sometimes difficult to measure progressive overload
  • Hard to isolate some muscle groups
  • Risk of injury from training with bad technique

Summing Up

The key when deciding what equipment or combination of equipment you’ll use is to look at what you have consistent access to.

Obviously, if you’re not a member of a gym then free weights and resistance machines are out, and you’ll have to use body weight movements until your situation changes.

It’s important to know there are no wrong answers, each has its advantages and disadvantages, in general you will be better off using either free weights or body weight exercises because of the functional component and the additional work used to stabilise your body but, as you’ll see in my recommendations it’s often a mix that works best.

My Recommendations

In my own training and that of most of my clients, I mostly use free weights exercises with some bodyweight or weighted bodyweight exercises to help compliment their routine. Occasionally, depending on access I’ll also use cable machines for a few specific exercises.

Often with beginners, I’ll start them out on a basic bodyweight routine to build up a good base of strength before slowly introducing free weight exercises.

The secret is to choose what you want to/can do and then stick with it long enough to make progress. This is not to say you cannot change from one to another based on your circumstances but if you change too often you’ll struggle to apply progressive overload and make meaningful progress.

Your Action Steps

  • Think about what you have access too
  • Think about what will be easiest for you to adhere too regularly
  • Use the available information to choose your preferred equipment for training

Up Next

Now you know what equipment you’ll be using it’s time to explore which exercises you want in your training programme to help you reach your goal.



Part Five: Compound & Isloation Movements

In This Section:
  • What Are Compound Movements?
  • What Are Isolation Movements?
  • My Recommendations - How To Bring It Together
  • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

What Exercises Are You Going To Use?

It’s time to start getting down to details, now that you know how often you’re going to train, what split you’re going to use and what equipment it’s time to look at the exercises you’re going to use.

When deciding what exercises to use in your training programme you have 2 types of movement to choose from; compound and isolation.

What Are Compound Movements?

A compound movement is any movement that works multiple muscle groups through multiple joint actions. For example, the bench press works the chest, shoulders and triceps and requires movement at both the shoulder and elbow joints.

Compound movements allow you to lift more weight and in turn build more strength and muscle because more muscle groups are working towards the singular goal of movement a weight from point A to point B.

These movements allow for a quicker rate of progression that isolation movements and provide more overall benefit for the same amount of work.

Compound movements include but are not limited to;

Pressing Movements
  • Bench Presses - Incline, Flat, Decline, Barbell, Dumbbell, Floor
  • Press Ups - One-arm, Standard, Close Grip, Box, Knees, Clap
  • Shoulder Presses - Standing, Seated, Barbell, Dumbbell, One-arm
  • Dips - Weighted, Unweighted, Straight Bar, Bench
  • Pulling Movements
  • Pulls - Chin Ups, Pull Ups, One-arm, Muscle Ups, Pull Downs
  • Rows - Bent Over, Single Arm, Inverted, T-bar, Low Row
  • Squatting Movements
  • Squats - Barbell, Dumbbell, Front, Back, High/Low Bar, Pistols, Box, Jump
  • Lunges - Barbell, Dumbbell, Split Stance, Jump, Single Leg
  • Hip Hinge / Deadlift Movements
  • Deadlifts - Conventional, Trap Bar, Sumo, Romanian, Single Leg
  • Goodmornings - Barbell, Band Assisted, Machine
  • What Are Isolation Movements?

    An isolation movement is any movement that works a single muscle/muscle group through a single joint action. For example, the bicep curl works just the bicep with movement only at the elbow joint.

    Isolation movements cannot produce as much force as compound movements and therefore require lower loading and build less strength. However, because they isolate a single muscle/muscle group they allow you to directly work and overload that muscle/s.

    These movements allow you to specifically target a muscle/muscle group for more target work and are often to use to help bring up lagging and/or stubborn muscles.

    Isolation movements include but are not limited to;

    Biceps
  • Barbell, Dumbbell, Incline, Hammer, EZ Bar, Cables, Machine
  • Shoulders
  • Lateral Raises, Front Raises, Rear Delt Flyes, Arnold Press
  • Triceps
  • Shull Crushers, Overhead Extensions, Kick Backs, Tricep Dips, Pull Downs
  • Legs
  • Calve Raises, Leg Extentions, Hamstring Curls
  • My Recommendations

    Without a doubt, the best thing you can do is structure your workout around the big compound movements as this is where the vast majority of your progress is going to come from.

    Strength across the rep ranges (more on this next) is going to be your driver for muscle growth and the best way to consistently get strong is to apply progressive overload on your compound movements. This should be your number one aim.

    When applying progressive overload with your compound movements I recommend you mostly aim to continue increasing the weight you lift every time you hit your set and rep goals.

    Get strong and the rest will follow.

    Once you have the foundation of your training plan made up of compound movements you can then add in a selection of isolation movements to help build muscle in the stubborn or lagging muscles in order to round out your physique and improve your aesthetics.

    With your isolation exercises you still want to apply progressive overload but you’ll find it a lot more beneficial to aim for gradual progression through a mix of increasing the number of reps you do and the weight you lift in an alternating fashion.

    The number of compound and isolation exercises you choose will vary depending on your chosen workout split but good rules of thumb are:

    • 2 – 3 compound movements per body part per session
    • 1 – 2 isolation movements per body per session

    Obviously, this will vary in setup depending on your split. For example, if you’re using the push, pull, legs split, and it’s pull day then your workout might look like this;

    Compound movements:

    • Deadlifts
    • Chin Ups
    • Bent Over Rows

    Isolation movements:

    • Barbell Bicep Curls
    • Rear Delt Flyes

    Your Action Steps

    • Based on your over goal, training frequency and split begin to select exercise appropriate for your goal
    • Build the bulk of your routine using compound movements
    • Add in isolation movements to help round-out your routine and fill in any gaps

    Up Next

    You’ve got your exercises sorted now it’s time to look at how you’ll order your exercises in your workout.


    Part Six: Exercise Order

    In This Section:
    • Exercise Order Guidelines
    • Exceptions To The Order
    • My Recommendations - How To Bring It Together
    • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

    How Will You Structure the Exercises in Your Workout?

    Now you know what exercises you’re going to use it’s time to look at what order you should perform these exercises in and how much intensity to use.

    Exercise Order Guidelines

    A good rule of thumb is to always train the bigger muscle groups before the smaller muscle groups, this is because fatigue the smaller support and stabiliser muscles before you train the bigger ones will reduce your performance.

    For example, if you train triceps before chest you’ll find it more difficult to lift as much weight as you usually do because your triceps will already be fatigued.

    It’s for this reason that you should prioritise compound movements and the bigger muscle groups over isolation movements and the smaller muscle groups;

    • Chest before shoulders and triceps
    • Shoulders before triceps
    • Legs before glutes, hams or quads
    • Back before biceps

    If you’re doing a combination of free weight and body weight exercises with resistance machines, then you want to give priority to the free weight and body weight exercises before switching to machine weights.

    This is because free / body weight exercises require more stabilisation and therefore more overall work to perform in comparison to resistance machines. For this reason, it’s a good idea to do the free/ bodyweight exercises when you’re at your freshest.

    Exceptions To The Order

    If you’re training multiple big muscle groups using a few different compound movements then you want to prioritise the body parts that you want to focus on.

    For example, if you can choose between training squats or bench press first, you would choose the body part you want to focus on the most as although they train completely different body parts, your performance will gradually decline as you fatigue, particularly if you’re training with heavy loads.

    My Recommendations

    I recommend you structure your workout in a way that prioritises the big compound movements that give you the most bang for your buck. Following up with the smaller isolation exercises.

    You could also do all compound movements before moving to isolation exercises or you could group your exercises by body part i.e.;

    • Bench press, dips, skull crushers, squats, Romanian deadlifts, calve raises

    OR

    • Bench press, squats, dips, Romanian deadlifts, skull crushers, calve raises

    If you’re training multiple big muscle groups in the same session, then organise your exercises to focus on the body part you want to train with the most intensity.

    Action Steps

    • Begin to structure your workout by using the guidelines above to decide on your exercise order

    Up Next

    You’ve got your exercises chosen but what about sets, reps and rest times? This is exactly what we will explore in the next section.


    Part Seven: Reps, Sets & Rest Times

    In This Section:
    • What Are Reps?
    • How Many Reps Should You Do?
    • What Are Sets?
    • How Many Sets Should You Do?
    • The Different Types Of Sets
    • Additional Set Types
    • What Is Rest Time?
    • How Long Should You Rest For?
    • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

    What Will You Do In Your Workouts?

    It’s time to look at what you’ll do in your workouts, you should have a good idea of the exercises you’ll be using but now we need to get into the details and look at how reps and sets you’ll do and how long you’ll rest in between.

    What Are Reps?

    A rep or reps is the number of times you perform one repetition of any given exercise. For example, 10 reps of squats would see you complete 10 consecutive squats with stopping.

    How Many Reps Should You Do?

    A research study exploring data on training frequency, volume and intensity found that an overall volume of 30 – 60 reps per session appears to show the best results in trainees.

    The same study also showed that the biggest improvement in the cross-sectional area of muscle came from training with 70 – 80% of your 1RM.

    Based on the results of this study we can draw some general guidelines for repetitions;

    • When using compound movements aim for 4 – 10 reps per set on average
    • When using isolation movements aim for 6 – 15 reps per set on average

    As you’ll see when we discuss sets, these guidelines will not only allow you to maintain optimal intensity (particularly for compound movements) but it will also allow you to hit your rep goal without needing to perform a huge number of sets and unnecessarily increasing the total duration of your workout.

    What Are Sets?

    A set or sets are a group of repetitions. For example, 3 sets of 10 reps of squats would see you complete 10 consecutive repetitions of squats without stopping, 3 times with rest time in between each grouping of 10.

    How Many Sets Should You Do?

    Based on the above research we can build some general guidelines based a rep goal of 30 – 60 reps per body part per session;

    • 1 – 4 sets per compound movement
    • 1 – 3 sets per isolation movement

    To show you how this works let’s continue using the push day example from the previous section;

    Compound movements:

    • Deadlifts = 3 sets of 4 reps
    • Chin Ups = 3 sets of 6 reps
    • Bent Over Rows = 3 sets of 8 reps

    Total Reps = 54 reps

    Isolation movements:

    • Barbell Bicep Curls = 3 sets of 12 reps

    Total Reps = 36 reps

    • Rear Delt Flyes = 3 sets of 15 reps

    Total Reps = 45 reps

    Keep in mind when calculating reps for isolation exercises that you’ll often also be getting direct rep work from your compound exercises. For example, the biceps are also worked in chin ups and bent over rows.

    But Aren’t There Different Types Of Sets?

    Yes, there are. There are in fact lots of different types of sets, however, a lot of them won’t offer you any extra benefit above and beyond what you can get from the following sets. In fact, untold numbers of people, myself included have made fantastic progress using only a handful of set types.

    When it comes to sets there a number of different ways you can do them depending on your training experience, overall goal, time and equipment available. Below are a few examples;

    Straight Sets

    Also known as traditional or simple sets, straight sets are the most commonly used set type in weight lifting. You will most likely be familiar with this type of set and chances are it will form the base of your workout.

    Straight Sets Example:

    3 sets of 10 reps performed consecutively with a rest between each set i.e.;

    1 set x 10 reps

    1 min rest

    1 set x 10 reps

    1 min rest

    1 set x 10 reps

    Supersets

    Supersets involve doing 2 exercises back to back with no rest in between and can be a very useful tool if you are short for time or can regularly only fit in short workouts.

    There are a few different types of supersets:

    • Same Part – Doing 2 exercises that work the same body part i.e. incline bench then flat bench
    • Antagonistic – Doing 1 exercises for one body part then working the antagonistic pair i.e. barbell curls then skull crushers
    • Agonist/Compound – Doing 1 exercises for one body part followed by another for the same body part i.e. bent over rows then chin ups
    • Upper / lower – Doing 1 exercise for the upper body followed by one for the lower body i.e. shoulder press then lunges

    Tri Sets & Giant Sets

    A tri set is a group of 3 exercises before one after the other with no rest in between. Instead of doing your normal straight sets on each exercise one at a time you would group the 3 exercises together and do 1 set on each before resting and repeating for the desired number of sets.

    A giant set is very similar to a tri set but is done with a group of 4 exercises or more instead of just 3.

    Tri Sets Example:

    1 set of 6 reps on Shoulder Press

    1 set of 8 reps on Front Raises

    1 set of 10 reps on Lateral Raises

    Rest

    1 set of 6 reps on Shoulder Press

    1 set of 8 reps on Front Raises

    1 set of 10 reps on Lateral Raises

    Rest

    1 set of 6 reps on Shoulder Press

    1 set of 8 reps on Front Raises

    1 set of 10 reps on Lateral Raises

    Rest

    Pyramids

    Pyramid sets involve working on a sliding scale where your reps either increase or decrease with each set, sometimes the weight you lift will also change as your reps either increase or decrease.

    There are 2 main types of pyramid sets:

    Traditional Pyramid

    This is where you start at a higher rep number with a lighter weight and then increase the weight and decrease the reps with each subsequent set. Anywhere between 3 – 6 sets is common for a traditional pyramid and it might look something like this:

    Set 1 - 15 reps with 70kg

    Rest

    Set 2 - 12 reps with 65kg

    Rest

    Set 3 - 10 reps with 60kg

    Rest

    Set 4 - 8 reps with 55kg

    Rest

    Set 5 - 6 reps with 50kg

    Rest

    Set 6 - 4 reps with 45kg

    Rest

    Reverse Pyramid

    Reverse pyramids are the opposite of your traditional variation and work by having you start with lower reps and a heavier weight before gradually increasing the reps and decreasing the weight. This way you are lifting your heaviest weight first and not last which personally makes a lot more sense than traditional pyramids. Reverse pyramids will look a little something like this;

    Set 1 - 4 reps with 70kg

    Rest

    Set 2 - 6 reps with 65kg

    Rest

    Set 3 - 8 reps with 60kg

    Rest

    Set 4 - 10 reps with 55kg

    Rest

    Rest Pause Sets

    Rest pause training takes one set and breaks it down into several mini sets with a brief rest in between each mini set.

    1 set x 15 reps using a weight that only allows you to do approximately 15 reps

    Rest 10 - 20 secs

    1 set x 5 reps or failure (which ever comes first)

    Rest 10 - 20 secs

    1 set x 5 reps or failure (which ever comes first)

    Rest 10 - 20 secs

    1 set x 5 reps or failure (which ever comes first)

    Aside from the hypertrophy setup above, which is great for some of the smaller muscles, you can also use rest pause sets with lower reps (think 8 – 10 instead of 15 and 2 – 3 instead of 5) for strength purposes and breaking through plateaus.

    When doing rest pause sets it’s best to avoid doing it with complicated movements due to the fatigue nature of the setup. For the same reason it’s also not advisable to do it all of the time, if you’re already feeling fatigue then it may be best to skip rest pause sets in that session and stick with something else.

    What About Those Other Sets You Mentioned?

    As I already said there are other set types not mentioned above but not only are they more advanced, but they also won’t give you anything extra you cannot get from the ones mentioned above. However, if you’re interested in what they might be, here they are:

    • Drop Sets – perform several consecutive sets with minimal rest in between but lowering either the reps or weight lifted on each set
    • Negatives – using a weight 10% (ish) above your 1RM and using a spotter to lower the weight slowly over 6 – 10 secs
    • Partials – performing partial movement sets to strengthen a particular section of the range of motion of an exercise
    • Pre / Post Exhaust – performing several sets using isolation exercises to fatigue a muscle before or after you do your main compound movement for that same muscle

    Note – the above sets can be very demanding and technically complicated and as such can be dangerous when performed without proper knowledge and/or supervision. The above is also not an exhaustive list.

    What Is Rest Time?

    Rest time is the amount of time you rest both between sets and different exercises. Using the above workout as an example, if you are doing 3 sets of 6 repetitions of chin ups you might rest 3 minutes between each set and then 3 minutes before moving to another leg exercise.

    Goal = 3 sets of 6 reps of chin ups

    Warm Up & Then

    Set 1 = 6 reps of chin ups

    Rest Time = 3 minutes

    Set 2 = 6 reps of chin ups

    Rest Time = 3 minutes

    Set 3 = 6 reps of chin ups

    Rest Time = 3 minutes

    Finish & move to bent over rows

    How Long Should You Rest For?

    The amount you rest between your sets and different exercises will vary depending on your goals, but a good rule of thumb is to rest longer (up to 3 – 5 minutes) between heavier sets, with lower reps particularly when using compound movements. This boosts performance by allowing sufficient recovery between sets.

    As you move to training smaller muscles, using isolation exercises with higher reps and less weight you will reduce the amount of time you rest between sets as your recovery needs will also reduce (1 – 2 mins).

    My Recommendations

    Personally, I do a lot of my lifting within the 4 – 10 rep range and more specifically in the 6 – 8 rep range, this is where I’ve seen a lot of progress. However, as with most things in fitness, it will depend on your goal.

    A good rule of thumb is to try and incorporate a little of all rep ranges between 3 reps and 15 reps in your training to get the maximum benefit.

    When performing compound movements, I’d advise you to keep reps to the lower end of the scale and focus on building strength through progressive overload and then with some of the smaller, more stubborn muscle you can incorporate some higher rep work with light to moderate weight.

    As far as the type of set/s you should use, I almost exclusively use straight and reverse pyramid sets, sometimes with the inclusion of supersets and rest-pause sets depending on my training goal and time available to me.

    Remember, in order to grow you need to continually increase the stimulus you put your body under so that it continues to adapt.

    However, this comes with a word of warning…

    As a natural lifter, you need to be aware of your limits. Don’t aim to go to failure all the time, try and leave a rep or 2 in the tank. If you constantly push yourself to failure, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to recover and will stop seeing progress.

    As the old saying goes, “stimulate don’t annihilate.”

    Your Action Steps

    • Using the recommended rep goal calculate how many sets and reps you’d need each session to hit that goal
    • Remember that for optimal intensity you want to stick to 4 – 10 reps per set for compound movements and 6 – 15 reps for isolation movements
    • Working from the above guidelines you’ll soon be able to tell if you need to add or remove any exercises

    Up Next

    To help you create your own workout plan the next session is a recap of the most important information along with a sample profile and workout created by using the guide.


    Part Eight: Progressive Overload & Consistency

    In This Section:
    • What Is Progressive Overload?
    • When & How To Progress
    • What Is Consistency?
    • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

    The Driving Forces Behind Progress

    Whether you’re new to the fitness game or seasoned vet there are 2 key principles that drive your progress.

    The 2 key principles are progressive overload and consistency and they’ll determine your success above and beyond anything else you do. Without these two key principles you’ll struggle to make meaningful progress towards your goal and I’ll show you why.

    Let’s take a look at each in turn.

    Progressive Overload

    Progressive overload is best described as;

    Progressive overload is the act of increasing volume, intensity, frequency or time to put the body under tension above and beyond what it has previously experienced so that it adapts by becoming bigger, stronger, faster, etc.

    And there are number of ways it can be applied;

    • Increase the weight lifted
    • Decrease your rest periods
    • Increase your sets
    • Increase your reps
    • Train more often

    Each method of progressive overload can work perhaps the most effective are intensity or the amount of weight you lift.

    We’ve seen time and time again that muscle is a by-product of getting strong because your body must continue adapting (by getting bigger) to allow you to get stronger.

    By manipulating intensity, you get all the benefits of progressive overload without needing to increase volume or frequency, which means you can keep your workouts from becoming too long or too frequent.

    When & How to Progress?

    Knowing when to progress can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Sure, you want to be applying progressive overload in your workouts, but what does this mean and when do you need to take action?

    Let’s say you need to do 3 sets of 8 reps with 70kg on flat bench press and your work out goes like this:

    • Set 1 8 reps
    • Set 2 – 8 reps
    • Set 3 – 8 reps

    In this case, because you’ve hit your set and rep goal you would increase the weight lifted in the next session.

    This means you’d do 3 sets of 8 reps with 72.5kg on the flat bench press and because of the weight increase the chances are you won’t be able to get 3 sets of 8 again and will need to build your way back up to 8 reps before increasing the weight again.

    However, what happens if you do the same workout and it looks like this:

    • Set 1 8 reps
    • Set 2 – 6 reps
    • Set 3 – 5 reps

    In this example, you wouldn’t need to do change anything, but you do need to try and improve in your next workout. As if you get even one rep more in your next workout you will have applied progressive overload. For example, your next workout might look like this:

    • Set 1 8 reps
    • Set 2 – 7 reps
    • Set 3 – 6 reps

    You would continue trying to hit your set and rep goal and increasing the weight lifted every time you do.

    Consistency

    Then there’s consistency. The Cambridge English Dictionary describes consistency as;

    “The quality of always behaving or performing in a similar way, or of [something] always happening in a similar way.”

    Consistency sounds like a simple concept and to be honest it really is, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who fail to apply it. Not only do they fail to apply it but they then wonder why they’re not seeing any progress or at least not the progress they would like.

    If you’re asking yourself why, it’s for this reason…if you don’t hit your calorie and macro goals or workout consistently, you can’t expect to make regular progress. You have to train as many time as set out by your training programme and eat as many calories as your diet dictates.

    It’s that simple.

    If you can’t do that, then get a new training plan and diet to follow.

    Jumping from one training plan to another will see you stagnate and make limited progress at best. Equally, missing workouts on a regular basis is a quick-fire way to prevent you from being able to apply progressive overload and will also lead to minimal progress at best.

    If you take anything from this section, make it this - progressive overload is the one thing, above all else, that you need to make progress.

    My Recommendations

    I learnt the hard way that doing the exact same thing over and over again is a sure-fire route to no progress. I eventually learnt that progressive overload, even if it was just one more rep than the last session was the key to making continual progress.

    Interlinked with this is the need to train consistently as without one, you’ll struggle to have the other. There is no way you can make consistent progress with training regularly and giving your body a reason to adapt.

    I personally prefer to increase the weight lifted as my primary form of progression, often coupled with manipulating my rep ranges too. I find this gives me the largest scope for continual progression.

    Action Steps

    • Get familiar with the concept of progressive overload - what it is and how to apply it
    • If you're already working out regularly, evaluate your current programme to ensure you're applying progressive overload
    • Keep a training diary so you can see how you're performing session to session
    • Add your workouts to a calendar to help with adherance - allocate specific time for working out and stick to it

    Up Next

    Now we know the 2 keys to creating progress, next up we look at what to do when your progress stops, why it happens and how to fix it.


    Part Nine: Workout Plateaus

    In This Section:
    • What Are Workout Plateaus?
    • False Indicators Of A Workout Plateau
    • Strategies To Overcome A Workout Plateau
    • My Recommendations - How To Bring It Together
    • Your Action Steps - Putting It Into Practice

    What to Do When the Progress Stops

    Sometimes you’ll be applying progressive overload and working hard but for some reason your progress will begin to stall, your strength stops, and things start feeling hard.

    What’s going on?

    Chances are you’ve hit what’s called a workout plateau.

    A workout plateau is just the technical way of saying that your body has adapted to the current stimulus and stress you’ve put it under and needs exposure to something different in order to kickstart your strength gains again.

    It’s a normal part of working out and you can expect to encounter them along the way.

    However, at this point, it’s important to know that there are also several signs that can give the false impression of a workout plateau. It’s always best to address these issues first to make sure that you have indeed hit a plateau.

    Remember, if it’s not broken you don’t need to fix it.

    These factors are;

    Sleep

    Studies shows that participants who were sleep deprived and restricted to 3 hours of sleep a night saw a significant impact on their performance in the bench press, leg press and deadlift.  Sure, it’s a pretty extreme but it shows the power sleep can have on your performance in the gym.

    Another study found that even a small amount of sleep restriction can negatively affect performance.

    Diet

    You’re diet directly influences your performance in the gym and skimping on carbs or undereating can both negatively affect your workouts. Additionally, when training in a calorie deficit you can expect your strength to stall after maintaining a deficit for a prolonged period of time.

    Training

    You already know that as you get further through your workout journey you’re not going to progress on all your exercises all the time, you’ll reach a point where even adding a single rep on one exercise with everything else staying the same is still progress.

    If this is still happening, you haven’t hit a workout plateau.

    Technique

    Bad technique leads to sub-optimal movement patterns and sub-optimal performance, which results in you lifting less weight than perhaps you can.

    Before you declare yourself in a workout plateau it pays to spend some time working on your mobility and technique to ensure that it’s not your lifting form that’s holding you back.

    If you’ve addressed all the above issues and still find yourself stuck in a workout plateau, then it’s time to act. What follows are 3 tried and tested methods for overcoming your plateau and getting your progress back on track.

    #1 - Exercise Rotation

    Exercise rotation is as exactly as it sounds, switching out one exercise for another that works the same body part.

    For example, if you’ve plateaued on your flat barbell bench press you might switch it for any of the following;

    • Incline barbell bench press
    • Incline dumbbell bench press
    • Flat dumbbell bench press
    • Weighted dips

    All you really need to do is provide enough of a change for your body to realise it needs to continue adapting by getting bigger, stronger, etc. Most people will find that they’ll need to switch out an exercise every 6 – 8 weeks.

    Suitable substitutions are;

    • Pull ups <---> chin ups, neutral grip chin ups, lat pulldowns
    • Squats <---> front squats, lunges, weighted step ups, pistols, leg press
    • Bent over rows <---> single arm rows, t-bar rows, seated row
    • Deadlifts <---> sumo deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts
    • Barbell shoulder press  <---> seated barbell press, seated dumbbell press, standing barbell press

    #2 – Manipulate Your Load & Rep Range

    You know to apply progressive overload and drive continual strength gains you have to manipulate one aspect of your workout to continue increasing the stimulus on your body and force it to adapt.

    One way to do that is to manipulate your rep ranges.

    Depending on whether you are using a fixed rep range i.e. 3 sets of 8 reps or a mixed rep range i.e. 1 set of 4 reps, 1 set of 6 reps and 1 set of 8 reps the method of progressive will vary a little.

    Fixed Rep Range

    When it comes to using a fixed rep scheme you won’t always be able to increase the weight in every session. 

    For example, if you were doing 4 sets of 12 reps for bicep curls starting with 5 kg dumbbells you might be able to progress steadily up to using 8 kg dumbbells but at some point, it will too difficult to keep increasing the weight. 

    At this point, you want to manipulate or stretch your rep ranges to allow you to continue progressing and increase the weight lifted. You can do this by creating brackets for your rep ranges. For example, instead of being 4 sets of 12 reps, you would open the rep range to 4 sets of 10 – 12 reps or even 4 sets of 8 – 12 reps.

    This not only encourages you to use good form throughout as you know you don’t have to get 12 reps if you can’t, but it also allows for continual, steady progression. 

    In addition, the stretched rep range also works as a buffer whilst you adjust to the new load before hitting the required sets and reps to progress again.

    Fixed Rep Range Example*

    Session 1

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 10 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 9 reps

    Session 2

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 11 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 10 reps

    Session 3

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 8kg - you get 12 reps

    Session 4

    In this session, because you hit your set and rep goal in session 3 you would increase the weight lifted and start the process again

    Session 4 would consist of 4 sets of 12 reps using 9kg

    *Your speed of progression mat vary, this is just an example to illustrate the system of progression to you.

    Mixed Rep Range

    When it comes to using a mixed rep range the best way to increase the load lifted is to do it one set at a time starting from the bottom up. The reason this works so well is that you are increasing from the bottom up which means your top set will not be affected by the increase in weight.

    It also means by the time you’re ready to increase your top set you will have adjusted to the new weight for the bottom and middle set. Essentially, you are building strength from the bottom up and only increasing the weight once you’ve have completed 3 sessions at that weight successfully. 

    This method works particularly well with reverse pyramid training where the top set is the most challenging and each subsequent set gets easier.

    Mixed Rep Range Example*

    Session 1

    1 set of 6 reps using 24kg - you get 6 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 20kg - you get 8 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 16kg - you get 10 reps

    Session 2

    1 set of 12 reps using 24kg - you get 6 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 20kg - you get 8 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 16kg - you get 10 reps

    Including the previous session you've hit your set and rep goal on all rep ranges twice

    Session 3

    1 set of 12 reps using 24kg - you get 6 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 20kg - you get 8 reps

    1 set of 12 reps using 16kg - you get 10 reps

    Including the previous sessions you've hit your set and rep goal on all rep ranges three times

    Session 4

    1 set of 6 reps using 24kg - you get 6 reps

    1 set of 8 reps using 20kg - you get 8 reps

    1 set of 10 reps using 18kg

    *Your speed of progression mat vary, this is just an example to illustrate the system of progression to you.

    If things continued to progress this way session 5 would see you increase the weight in your middle set and session 6 your top set. By session 7 you’ll be ready to increase your bottom set again.

    Continue in this fashion until you stop hitting your set and rep goal, at which point you’ll using the straight sets strategy to slowly build your strength in order to continue increasing the load lifted.

    #3 - Start Micro Loading

    One of the most common methods of building strength and applying progressive overload is by increasing the weight lifted over time and to begin with you’ll find you can do this in most of your training sessions, comfortably increasing the weight by 2.5 kg (5 lbs) each time.

    However, there will come a point where an increase of 2.5 kg is just too much to handle and will result in missed reps, bad form and a stall in strength.

    It’s at this point you would start using micro-loading for continued strength gains. 

    Micro-loading works on the same basis as when you were adding 2.5 kg to the bar, except you’ll be using smaller weight increments. For example, instead of adding 2.5 kg each time you might add 1kg, 0.75kg or even 0.5kg to the bar. 

    Doing this allows for a much smoother level of progression as the change is not so drastic that you cannot deal with it but is still enough to apply progressive overload and stimulate strength and muscle gains.

    My Recommendations

    Any of these methods can and will work if used properly but I find the best way to apply them is to work with open rep ranges from the beginning to allow for the greatest period of training with having to change things up.

    Instead of only opening your rep range up when you hit a sticking point you’d use them right away. For example, if you were planning on doing squats for 3 sets of 8 reps you would do 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps to allow some room for progression over time.

    Additionally, you’ll most likely find that you’ll begin applying micro-loading naturally as when things begin to get difficult you’ll need to lower the amount of weight you add to the bar each session.

    By using the strategies above you’ll find you can train for much longer without hitting a plateau but, as and when your strength stalls on particular exercises you can use exercise rotation to substitute them for a similar exercise that can provide a new stimulus.

    Action Steps

    • If everything is progressing as planned then don't change anything yet
    • Bookmark this page to refer back to as and when you hit a workout plateau
    • If you've hit a plateau then begin using the strategies to help you overcome it

    Up Next

    Moving into the final part of this guide we do a quick recap and roundup of the most important takeaways next.


    Part Ten: The Recap

    In This Section:
    • Goal Setting
    • Training Frequency
    • Training Split
    • Equipment Type
    • Exercise Selection
    • Exercise Order
    • Reps, Sets & Rest Times
    • Progressive Overload & Consistency
    • Overcoming Workout Plateaus

    The Most Important Takeaways

    To help you get the most from this guide I’ve distilled the most important parts of each section into short, easy to absorb snippets.

    Goal Setting

    With goal setting, it’s important to ask yourself what the ‘biggest single issue’ you want to change is, as it’s this that will be the driving force behind the rest of your programme. You need to determine what makes you the unhappiest, i.e.

    • Is it the amount of body fat you have?
    • Is it the amount of muscle mass you have?

    Once you’ve done this you will have your overall goal, now you need to verbalise it and break it into manageable chunks. The best way to do this is to set long, medium and short-term goals for you to follow.

    Training Frequency

    Training frequency refers to the number of days per week you’ll be training. When deciding this it’s important that you take the time to think about what will fit with your lifestyle and be maintainable in long-term along with what you want to achieve.

    • Do you work long hours?
    • Will you train in the morning, afternoon or evening?
    • Are weekends going to be workout days or left free?
    • When will your rest days be?

    Remember that you’re trying to build something sustainable.

    Training Split

    Your workout split, training split or routine split as it’s commonly known, is the way in which you will divide your workouts across the different parts of your body that you want to train.

    Common splits include:

    • The Full Body Workout
    • The Upper Body & Lower Body
    • The Bodybuilder
    • Push, Pull, Legs
    • 2, 3 or 4 Day Split

    Several factors (overall goal, age, experience, time available and more) will influence what split you choose. Take the time to evaluate your options carefully when deciding what will work best for you.

    Equipment Type

    When it comes to the equipment you use, you have 3 main options;

    Free weights –  the umbrella term for common pieces of weight lifting equipment i.e. barbells & dumbbells. The reason they are called ‘free’ weights is because they don't limit your range of motion or fix you to a specific movement path.

    Resistance machines – the name given to assisted weight training equipment that usually only allows you to train in a fixed movement pattern. They are common in gyms all over the world and can offer a good entry point for those looking to workout but without the necessary skill to perform free weight movements.

    Bodyweight training – training performed using only your bodyweight. It can be used to build muscle or lose fat. You see your body doesn’t know the difference between lifting a barbell and lifting yourself, in both cases you are creating resistance against gravity to increase strength and build muscle.

    Remember you want to choose something you have regular access to, if you’re constantly changing equipment you’ll struggle to build any momentum or make any progress.

    Exercise Selection

    Your workout routine will be made up of 2 main movements;

    Compound Movements - Any movement that works multiple muscle groups through multiple joint actions. For example, the bench press works the chest, shoulders, and triceps and requires movement at both the shoulder and elbow joints.

    These movements will make up the bulk of your workout routine and will be the main drivers of strength and muscle growth.

    Isolation Movement - Any movement that works a single muscle/muscle group through a single joint action. For example, the bicep curl works just the bicep with movement only at the elbow joint.

    Isolation movements will be used to help bring up lagging body parts, work smaller more stubborn muscles and general round out your physique.

    Exercise Order

    The order you perform your exercises can and will affect your performance and the overall quality of your workouts.

    When it comes to exercise order there are a few rules to follow;

    • Prioritise compound movements over isolation movements
    • Perform exercises that involve big muscle groups before small muscle groups
    • Do free / body weight exercises before using resistance machines

    If you’re training multiple big muscle groups using a few different compound movements then you want to prioritise the body parts that you want to focus on.

    Reps, Sets & Rest Times

    Sets, reps and rest times make up the details of your training programme and are the last step in bringing it all together.

    Remember that reps are the number of times you perform one repetition of any given exercise. For example, 10 reps of squats would see you complete 10 consecutive squats with stopping.

    And that sets are a group of repetitions. For example, 3 sets of 10 reps of squats would see you complete 10 consecutive repetitions of squats without stopping, 3 times with rest time in between each grouping of 10.

    Recommendations are:

    • Compound Movements = Aim for 1 - 4 sets of 4 – 10 reps per on average 
    • Isolation movements = Aim for 1 - 3 sets of 6 – 15 reps per set on average

    As for rest times, the amount you rest between your sets and different exercises will vary depending on your goals, but a good rule of thumb is to rest longer (up to 3 – 5 minutes) between heavier sets, with lower reps particularly when using compound movements. This boosts performance by allowing sufficient recovery between sets.

    As you move to training smaller muscles, using isolation exercises with higher reps and less weight you will reduce the amount of time you rest between sets as your recovery needs will also reduce (1 – 2mins).

    Progressive Overload & Consistency

    The 2 key principles are progressive overload and consistency and they’ll determine your success above and beyond anything else you do. Without these two key principles, you’ll struggle to make meaningful progress towards your goal and I’ll show you why.

    Progressive Overload

    Progressive overload is best described as;

    Progressive overload is the act of increasing volume, intensity, frequency or time to put the body under tension above and beyond what it has previously experienced so that it adapts by becoming bigger, stronger, faster, etc.

    And there are number of ways it can be applied;

    • Increase the weight lifted
    • Decrease your rest periods
    • Increase your sets
    • Increase your reps
    • Train more often

    Then there’s consistency. The Cambridge English Dictionary describes consistency as;

    “The quality of always behaving or performing in a similar way, or of [something] always happening in a similar way.”

    Consistency sounds like a simple concept and to be honest it really is, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who fail to apply it. Not only do they fail to apply it but they then wonder why they’re not seeing any progress or at least not the progress they would like.

    If you’re asking yourself why it’s for this reason…if you don’t hit your calorie and macro goals or workout consistently, you can’t expect to make regular progress. You have to train as many time as set out by your training programme and eat as many calories as your diet dictates.

    It’s that simple.

    Overcoming Workout Plateaus

    A workout plateau is when your progress stalls because your body has adapted to the stress and stimulus you’ve put it under.

    There are several factors which can give the impression of a workout plateau;

    • Sleep
    • Diet
    • Training
    • Technique

    Once you’ve determined that you have in fact hit a workout plateau there are 3 tried and test methods for overcoming it;

    • Exercise rotation
    • Manipulation of your rep ranges and load
    • Micro loading

    That's It, Folks!

    The first thing I want to say is, thanks so much for reading this guide. I appreciate that your time in short supply and the fact you chose to spend some of it with me is amazing. I'm truly grateful. 

    If you liked this guide then please take a minute to leave a comment and give it a share with your friends, family and a bunch of strangers on the internet. It's hugely helpful and much appreciated.

    Lastly, if you have any questions at all, feel free to hit me up at theo@liftlearngrow.com or through the contact page.


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