How to Structure Your Training

You Need to Workout Every Single Day

When it comes to training, the tendency is to think that more is better, that we should train every single day.  While that might be a great sentiment, it is a 100% unrealistic schedule to adhere to.  What you should do is figure how many days you can, with 100% confidence, dedicate to training.  This means taking an honest look at what your life is like, what your schedule can allow, and what you can keep up with.

This is where many people make mistakes, thinking that they want to or should train 4-5 days a week.  But their life is a stressful mess, and when they say 4-5 days, its really more like 2-3.  This can set someone up for failure.  Think about it.  If you told yourself you were going to go to the gym to train 4-5 days a week, then you wind up only going twice, how would you feel?  You’d likely feel like a failure, that you didn’t live up to expectations of yourself.

So instead of shooting for this lofty, unrealistic schedule, make a realistic one.  A schedule you can adhere to with 100% confidence.

How To Structure

Depending on how many days you decided you could confidently get to train, there are multiple ways to structure your program.  Side note: I’d recommend at least 3 days of strength training per week, but if that’s not your ideal fit, then no worries.  I would add that no more than five is a good max, as recovery time is an important part of making progress and gains.  Remember it’s not about how much you can exercise, it’s about how well you can recover from your workout and get to the next one.

Here’s your breakdown:

  • Body Part Split
  • Push/Pull
  • Upper/Lower
  • Full Body

Each one has its strengths and its drawbacks.  Some will be better suited for whichever amount of time you’re committing to.

 

Body Part Split

Back in my younger days when I first started lifting, this was the routine I went for.  Mostly because I had the time to do such workouts.  What a body part split essentially is, is breaking you into parts, and solely focusing on that one group for that day. There was a day for chest, back, legs (sometimes), a day for shoulders and a day for just arms.  Cause you gotta get swole!

This ended up creating a high amount of volume for each body part, and it does produce results.  The one drawback is that it’s incredibly inefficient and time consuming as you wouldn’t get back to that muscle group until a week later.  Plus it required at least 4-5 days of training hard and that limits recovery ability as well.  So if that doesn’t fit your scheduling availability, then you’re probably going to have to move on to a different style of programming.

Upper/Lower

With this style of programming, two days per week are devoted to lower body lifts and two days for upper body lifts.  Makes sense?  Your lower body days will consist of squatting, hinging, and some single leg exercises.  You could break this down further into a squat focused lower body day and a hinge focused day.

As far as the upper body day, you could look at doing vertical movements one day, say pull-ups and overhead press for example.  Then on the second upper body day, perform horizontal movements like the bench and row.  The choice is yours.  Ideally this works when you have 4 days to train, but you can get away with 3 if you’re creative with your exercise choices.

Push/Pull

Setting up your program in a push/pull fashion takes attention away from body parts and focuses more on the body’s movement patterns. Two days are devoted to pulling movements, meaning you may see exercises like deadlifts or RDL’s but also pull-ups, and different row variations.

The other days will see pushing movements like bench, overhead press, squats, and maybe even some step-ups for fun.  This type of set up typically works when you have 4 days to train, and can promote balance between training the front and back sides of the body.

Full Body

Short on time or days in which you can train?  This may be the perfect way to schedule your weight training. With this comes the important need to employ solid recovery strategies after each workout and in between each session.  Because you’re using and taxing every muscle in the body on any given day, recovery is vital so you can have your muscles firing on all cylinders.

This style trains the body as a whole which can be more efficient if you don’t have many days in which to lift.  It can be altered to fit 2, 3, or 4 days a week, plus its a great way for beginners to get familiar with the gym and with certain exercises.

Upper/Lower/Full

One last option is going with a schedule where you will do an upper/lower split with a third day being a full body workout.  This actually is successful with many of my clients that train three times a week.  What ends up happening is devoting two days towards strength workouts and then a third day that is more of a full body conditioning/strength session.  This allows them to utilize the strength that they are building from the first two days.

 

Takeaway

Your weight lifting schedule is largely going to depend on two things.  What your goal is and how much time you can commit to your training.  You have to have a clear definition of your goal in order to see what schedule may work best for you, but ultimately time is going to be your biggest factor as well.

 

Remember, the best weight training schedule is the one you can stick to with and consistently see results.

 


Creating a Training Program for Goals

 

We’re all a little different.  From our anatomy to our goals to things we like to do.  ow we utilize them is completely different.  Just go to the gym and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Some people are hitting the treadmill; some are in the corner only doing crunches, while others are lifting some weight.

Each person is going to have his or her own workout that they love to do, but what they do may not work for you.  You’re different.  In order to get a training program that works for you, you need to decide on a goal. And not something that’s generic like lose weight or tone up.  Get down to specifics, and preferably something tangible and measurable.  Then its time for some soul searching.

  • Why do you want that goal?
  • What will attaining that goal look like?
  • How will your life be different once you achieve it?

Up next…how much time do you have to dedicate to that goal and to your training program?  There is no right or wrong answer here, but its more of an honest assessment of what you can 100% without a doubt dedicate.  It could be 30 minutes, 4 days a week and that’s ok.  It is what you can REALISTICALLY accomplish.  Consistency is the name of the game here, so if you say 5 days a week and you skip days, you missed the point.

Next up is picking out how much time you have to dedicate to your workout routine.  Some people only have 30 minutes while others have a lot more time to put into their training.  Neither is wrong or bad, it’s just a fact of life.  Some people have more time.  In addition to the amount of time spent per day on training, it’s important to narrow down how often you want to train per week.

Take an honest assessment of how your body moves and how it feels.  Take a look at what you do on a daily basis in terms of positions you are in the most, how much sitting you do, how your body feels throughout the day.  This can go a long way towards determining what movements will work best for you, what movements you should avoid for now and where you should start.

Corrective Exercise:

This can include exercises to activate certain muscles, exercises that can fix a weakness, or exercises that can help bring more mobility to a certain movement.   These are going to be up to you based on where you think your body’s weaknesses are.  Mobility, not to be confused with flexibility, which is largely neurological, is being able to move while keeping stability.  Most people can use some mobility work in certain areas, while others don’t need much at all.  This can be solved with some gentle stretching, foam rolling and other SMR techniques to help you move better.

Strength/Main Lift

Now in my opinion, everyone should start with a routine that emphasized learning proper mechanics followed by strength training once those mechanics are nailed down.

Building strength is a matter of intensity in terms of weight lifted and staying within a rep scheme of 1-6 reps.  Go too light with the intensity of your lift and you risk blending into our next adaptation of hypertrophy.  Now in the beginning, strength gains are going to be a neurological adaptation as your body adapts to a new stimulus.  However once that beginner period ends, your muscles will start to get stronger.

You’re going to want to place your strength based exercises at the beginning of your program because they are going to require the most attention, both muscularly and neurologically.  You’ll want to avoid putting them later as you want to be fresh for them.

Assistance Exercises

Assistance exercises are those that are meant to enhance your main lift, but they can also touch on other areas of the body in order to get a full body workout.  These assistance exercises can be programmed in different ways depending on what the goal of the program is.  They can be used for hypertrophy, muscular endurance, and as conditioning using something like density sets.

Hypertrophy:

Building muscle requires a specific stimulus in order for them to grow.  Much like using a low rep range for building strength, hypertrophy will use a more moderate rep range of 6-12 or 15 depending on who you ask.  The key is using a load that challenges that rep range.  Picking up a 5lb dumbbell and doing 12 reps of bicep curls isn’t going to do anything if your bicep can handle 20lbs at 12 reps.  Be smart with your choice of exercise but also your choice of intensity.

Additionally, this is the range you’ll want to challenge yourself in, if you want to properly develop your muscles as well.  What’s even better is that the strength you built from the above section can later translate into a greater load you can use during your muscle building or hypertrophy exercises.  Talk about gains!

Muscular Endurance

As you’ve seen, strength and hypertrophy training requires keeping intensity at specific rep ranges.  Endurance on the other hand will be anything over 15 reps.  This can include the corrective exercises we discussed earlier.

Metabolic Conditioning:

Because we all want to believe we worked hard, so we do things that will make us sweat or breathe heavy, conditioning exercises are a great way to wrap up your workout routine.  Conditioning circuits or even individual exercises like sprints can burn fat and increase work capacity in short, intense bursts.  Just make sure you pick exercises that you can do safely at a high intensity.

Exercise Choice:

What exercises should you use?  Well, there are countless exercises you can use to accomplish your goals.  However it comes down to a few specific movement patterns, seven to be exact.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, otherwise this article will never end, but pick exercises that belong to these movement patterns and you can’t go wrong.

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Hinge
  • Squat
  • Rotation or Anti-Rotation
  • Single Leg/Gait
  • Lunge

 

Takeaway

Strength exercises can be hypertrophy exercises which can also be muscular endurance exercises.  It really depends on the intensity at which you work.

Another important thing to note when setting up your workout routine is to find exercises you enjoy.  Simply because if you don’t enjoy doing them, you’re likely to stop exercising all together and give up.  Now this doesn’t mean pick easy exercises, you need to challenge yourself; it just means pick ones that will keep you compliant with the routine.  Hating exercises and struggling with exercises are two different things.  If you struggle with an exercise, it means you have to work a little harder at it. Try to avoid giving up on it because it’s hard.  If you hate it because it causes pain etc, that’s a different story.

Remember there isn’t one best workout routine.  There are only guidelines on how to create a routine.  The best routine is the one you will do.


Mindset Matters

Mindset matters most when it comes to making a change in your life.  When you starting doing something new, the important question that will shape your thinking is “why.”

  • Why do you exercise?
  • Why do you go to the gym?
  • Why do you do the things you do for your health and fitness?

Take a second to think about why you do all these things.  Why is it that you go to the gym to train, lift some weights, maybe do some cardio and break a sweat.

Is it because of that piece of cake you ate last night?

Or is it because you just love the feeling of your body moving?

There is confusion as to why we actually exercise, or why we should exercise.  If you take a peek into most gyms on any given day, you’ll see people punishing their bodies because they hate how they look or hate how they feel, or they feel they need to make up for what they ate the previous day(s).

The Negative Mindset

Mindset matters.  The prevalence is that we, as a society, have a mindset that Exercise = Punishment.  And it sets us up for negative results.  It’s born out of the need to better ourselves and the only way to better ourselves is to deprive ourselves of things we love (food) and punish ourselves with exercise.

If you polled a bunch of people and asked why they started a healthier lifestyle or exercise program, what percentage would say its because they love movement or they love exercise.  I’d be willing to bet most say they start because exercise is a necessary “evil” in the battle against the scale.  Essentially starting something positive for negative reasons.

This cycle of self-punishment should be avoided at all costs.  It will not set you up for success.  The more you look at it like punishment, the more you put a negative connotation on it, the more and more you are going to hate exercise.  When you hate something, you’re not going to do it, you’re not going to see the benefits from it, and in the end, you might as well not do it.

The Positive Mindset

Change the mindset to Exercise = Movement.

Make the switch from “I HAVE to work out,” to “I GET to work out or “I WANT to work out.”  “Have” implies that you have zero choice in the matter, that it’s forced upon you.  “Get” or “want” is associated with choice.

See that positive spin right there!

Don’t take for granted that you have the ability to move, as some people would kill to be able to move.  Avoid looking at exercise as a means to burn calories, or lose weight.  That is completely secondary to the real reason we exercise.  Exercise because you love moving, because you love the feeling of being able to move your body through space, because you love that feeling of lifting something off the ground with no effort, because you love the feeling of being strong.

I want to leave this with a quote:

“Most people are focused on the result, I look at the results as a bonus.  Sure I have specific goals that I’m working towards but I think the process of getting there is much more important than the end result.  It’s the work that transcends, the work builds character and sharpens you.  The work teaches you humility & aggression.  The work strengthens you physically and mentally.  The process is really what it is all about.  The results…they will take care of themselves.”
-Adam DiBella


We Lose Motivation Too

“Cause sometimes you just feel tired, feel weak
And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up
But you gotta search within you
And gotta find that inner strength
And just pull that shit out of you
And get that motivation to not give up
And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face, and collapse”
Eminem “Till I Collapse”

That song was always the last thing I listened to before my races when I used to compete in track.  It always seemed to provide that little boost in motivation, that little kick in the butt before I hit the starting line.  But motivation is a funny thing.  It can start out like an intense fire blazing, and then all of the sudden it’s gone.  It’s one of those finite resources that we try to rely on too much.  In the case of my race, it worked as my events were no more than 55 seconds, 60 if I was really slow that day.  Motivation for a goal that is more long term is trickier.

When we start doing something, when we are striving for a particular goal, our enthusiasm and optimism are really high.  But eventually there are hardships, bumps in the road, and one day, you just wake up completely unmotivated.  Has this happened to you?  I know it’s happened to me.

Sometimes its related to not seeing the results you want, or the fruits of your labor.  Other times it just fizzles out for no rhyme or reason.  You would think that as a trainer, I’d be motivated for my workouts all the time.  But I am human, and motivation does fizzle out when it comes to doing my own workouts.

The question on your mind right now is “How do I get motivated again?”

What you need to realize is motivation is a finite resource, one that will always run out eventually. So it’s futile to rely on that all the time. What you need to practice is persistence and find that inner drive to do the things you want to do and achieve what you want to achieve.

Fitspiration

Social media is filled with so much fitspiration that it can make you sick.  They make you think everyone but you is constantly motivated to workout and eat right.  That’s just not the case.  When you start to lose that motivation to exercise, each meme can make you feel like a lazy shit.  There was a solid month where I barely worked out at all.  I did the minimum amount of work possible.  That could have meant just laying on the ground with a foam roller, doing some mobility work, or just taking what my body gave me that day.  Some days it was 100% nothing.

What I didn’t worry about was how much I wasn’t doing, or how lazy I was being, or how out of shape I’d get.  I just let the moment be, realizing that this lack of motivation happens from time to time, and sometimes your body and mind need a rest.

Take what your body gives you and roll with it.  Go ham when you feel awesome and 100%.  Back off when you feel like crap.


So You’re Saying You Want to Squat

The squat is one of our fundamental movement patterns that we incorporate into not only our workouts, but every day life as well.  However, there is this preconceived notion that performing squats are bad for the knees, especially if it happens to go beyond 90 degrees or past parallel.  Then faces melt and minds get blown.

How many times do you squat in a given day?  In and out of chairs, on and off the toilet, maybe sitting to pick something off the floor.  And not once was the thought: “oh I shouldn’t do this, it’s gonna hurt my knees.”  Countless times I’ve heard the following phrase: “I can’t squat because of my knees.”  And then I die a little inside because I just don’t believe that to be true.  It’s just a matter of finding the positioning and the right variation that will make you successful.

There are numerous factors that can go into squatting, from tense muscles, to structural issues, to just not having the necessary motor plan to actually do it.  Some people have no idea how to actually do the movement, so learning the how could be the very first step. In that case the videos and exercises that follow will provide tremendous benefit.

Squat

Regress to Progress

Mastering these regressions in order to progress can develop the movement pattern so that we can move onto different loading strategies in the future.  If your squat looks like one of those wacky inflatable guys outside car dealerships, or a new born giraffe walking for the first time, then you’re going to see benefits to these.

*Fair warning, the videos ahead provide a lot of man legging action*

**Disclaimer: There is NO perfect form.  From narrow to wide stance, to feet turned out or straight.  We are all built differently, so find what works for you.**

Quadruped Rocking

A good looking squat requires a good deal of mobility at the ankle, so by setting ourselves up in a quadruped position we already place the ankle in an optimal position at the ankle.  The rock-back allows us to see if there are any major breakdowns in the movement, from the ankles, on up through the core.

In the video, you can see that I keep a neutral spine throughout the rocking.  If something went a little wonky there, we might work on say our core stability.  But this is a safe place to start building your squat up as you avoid some of the hip & knee issues when vertically loaded. The quadruped position also allows you to get an idea of how deep into a squat you’ll actually be able to go.

Once you control the rockback, try elevating the knees and repeat the drill.  All of the sudden you find yourself squatting, without ya know, squatting.

Assisted Squat

After learning our pattern without having to deal with the likes of gravity (freakin Newton), we can move towards a supported squat.  Using a bar or a TRX, we can support some of our bodyweight and make it easier to get into the squat position.  This solves a few issues that we may see in the squat.  By holding onto the bar, there is a reduction in the amount of load the body needs to support, which can be great for those coming off a lower body injury so it can be a great exercise to reintroduce the squat pattern.

Additionally, the assisted squat can manage the control issues many have with the squat, specifically in that decent portion.  Once you’re able to find the stability at the bottom, you can let go and stand up.

Counterbalance Squat

Our last regression actually puts some weight in our hands, however not necessarily equal to a loaded squat, but getting closer.  One common fault that can happen during the squat is the knees lead the movement.  By adding in the plate, we’re provided with a counterbalance. which encourages us to push our hips/butt back.  The plate can also help create a little core tension which will allow us to maintain a more upright position, rather than folding like a beach chair.

 

Squatting doesn’t have to be with a barbell as most typically imagine.  There are exercises that can help you build a stronger, pain free squat pattern.  You just have to practice them.

Try ’em out.