What should I do for a workout?
I get this email at least once a day, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t have the perfect answer for everybody. Considering that a program should be developed around a person’s biology, age, goals, diet, free time, etc, there’s a lot of factors I can’t get in ten minutes through email.
I can certainly offer up suggestions, but there’s one person that knows what’s best for you: YOU. Developing a workout routine for yourself can be scary, but it’s really not too difficult and kind of fun once you understand the basics.
First of all, what are you doing now. Is it working? Are you safe and is it making you healthier? If so, keep doing it! However, if you’re JUST getting started, you want to mix things up, or you’re ready to start lifting weights (after reading thatweight training is the fat-burning prize fight victor), it’s good to understand what goes into a program so you can build one for yourself.
Let’s do this.
Determine Your Situation
How much time can you devote to exercise?
If you can do an hour a day, that’s awesome. If you have a wife, three kids, and two jobs, then maybe you can only do thirty minutes every other day. That’s fine too. Whatever your time commitment is, developing the most efficient workout is crucial. Why spend two hours in a gym when you can get just as much accomplished in 30 minutes?
Where will you work out? At a gym? Using some weights at home? Just body weight exercises?
What Exercises Should I Do?
Keep it simple, stupid.
Unless you’ve been lifting weights for years, I recommend doing a full body routine that you can do two or three times a week. You want a routine that has at least one exercise for your quads (front of your legs), butt and hamstrings (back of your legs), your push muscles, your pull muscles, and your core. Yes, this means you can develop a full body routine that uses only four or five exercises. Hows THAT for efficient?
Pick one exercise from each category above for a workout, and you’ll work almost every single muscle in your body. These are just a few examples for what you can do, but you really don’t need to make things more complicated than this.
Add some variety – If you do the same routine, three days a week, for months and months both you and your muscles will get bored. If you do bench presses on Monday, go with shoulder presses on Wednesday and dips on Friday. Squats on Monday? Try lunges on Wednesday and box jumps on Friday. Pick a different exercise each time and your muscles will stay excited (and so will you).
Lastly, your muscles don’t get built in the gym, they get built when you’re resting. Give your muscles 48-72 hours to recover between workouts. A Monday-Wednesday-Friday workout works well to ensure enough time to recover.
How Many Sets Should I Do?
Not including a warm-up set or two, I recommend doing between 3-5 sets per exercise.
Keep your total workout number of sets for all exercises is in the 15-25 set range (5 or 6 exercises of four sets is a good start). More than twenty five sets in a workout can either be overkill (doing more harm than good) or you’re not working yourself hard enough (boo inefficiency).
How Many Repetitions Should I Do?
If you’re looking to burn fat while building some muscle, keep your number of repetitions per set in the 8-15 range. If you can do more than 15 without much of a challenge, it’s not difficult enough for you. Add weight or change the exercise so that it’s tougher.
If you’re looking to build size and strength, you should vary your rep ranges depending on the workout. Although I’m currently following a variation of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength (2nd edition) routine (heavy weight at five reps per set), I’ll be switching to this type of routine in the next few weeks:
If you can keep your muscles guessing by constantly forcing them to adapt to different routines, they’re more likely to get harder, better, faster, stronger.
What’s the significance of the different number of repetitions?
By doing rep ranges at each of these different increments, you’re building well-rounded, balanced muscles – full of endurance, explosive power, and strength.
You can even mix up your amount of weight and reps within a single exercise. Here’s an example of what I’d do for a dumbbell chest press on a Friday:
Always try to keep your muscles guessing, and you’re less likely to plateau (get stuck lifting the same amount of weight).
How Long Should I Wait Between Sets?
There is a very basic formula for how long to wait between your sets based on how many reps you’re doing for the exercise:
Now, pair this time between sets with how many reps you are doing. If you mix up rep ranges on a daily basis, you need to mix up your rest time between sets too. This is how you build well-rounded muscles, and a well-balanced body. w00t.
How Much Should I Lift?
This one is easy: lift enough so that you can get through the set, but not too much that you have NO fuel left in the tank at the end. How do you determine how much that is? Trial and error. When just starting out, or if you’re doing a new exercise for the first time, always err on the side of caution.
Now, if you’re doing exercises with just your body weight, you need to find a way to make each exercise more difficult as you get in shape – once you get past 20 reps for a particular exercise and you’re not gassed, it’s time to mix things up.
How Long Should I Exercise?
45 minutes to an hour.
If you’re doing 15-25 sets of total exercise, you should be able to get everything done within that 45 minute block. Now, factor in a five or ten minute warm-up, and then stretching afterwards, and the workout can go a little bit longer. If you can go for over an hour and you’re not completely worn out, you’re simply not pushing yourself hard enough.
Less time, more intensity, better results.
What if you don’t have 45 minutes? Maybe you want to build some cardio into your weight training. That’s where these next two sections come in.