One thing that I notice at the gym is the apparent lack of focus on people's workouts. I see people do something different every single day and week. Sadly, this is not the best way to get results. "Shocking" your muscles is not the answer, and randomly working out is just a "guess" on your results. Don't leave your results to chance...
The key to getting great results is to have a program. A program is a specific workout plan that is set up for a period of time to get maximum progress. See, progress drives change. If you want your body to change, you must increase the weight, reps, sets, etc. on any given exercise.
One of the most common questions I get from women is, "What should I do at the gym?" They do not know what exercises to do, how many reps they should be doing, or how often they should exercise. So, below I will layout a three-day routine, and then I will go over the fine details.
*As with any exercise, check with your doctor first before starting anything new.
Classifications and Substitutions
As you can see, for each exercise, I have it's classification listed. The classifications used in this program are squat, hinge, single-leg stance, push, pull, elbow flexion, elbow extension, core, and lateral glute work.
If you don't have the equipment or you have some sort of injury, find a suitable replacement. Outside of that, try to stick to the program!
Below is a list of substitutions you can use for each category.
Squat: Bodyweight squat, Goblet squat, Zercher Squat, Front Squat, Back squat, Leg press, Machine squat, Smith squat, etc.
Hinge: Traditional deadlift, sumo deadlift, elevated deadlift, Trap Bar deadlift, romanian deadlift, hip thrust, cable pullthrough, etc.
Single-Leg Knee Flexion: Supported split squat, split squat, bulgarian split squat, reverse lunge, walking lunge, side lunge, single leg-leg press, etc.
Pull-Horizontal: Dumbbell row, single-arm dumbbell row, cable row, single-arm cable row, machine row, barbell row, t-bar row, etc.
Pull-Vertical: Latpulldown variations, Half kneeling single arm pulldown, pullup, chin up, assisted pull up, assisted chin up, etc.
Push-Horizontal: Bench press, dumbbell bench press, machine press, pushups, cable chest press, etc.
Push-Vertical: Dumbbell shoulder press, barbell shoulder press, machine shoulder press, landmine press, landmine chest press, single-arm dumbbell shoulder press, etc.
Elbow Flexion: Dumbbell bicep curl, cable curls with rope or bar, barbell curl, hammer dumbbell curl, etc.
Elbow Extension: Rope cable tricep press down, barbell cable tricep press down, dumbbell skull crusher, barbell skull crusher, Overhead Dumbbell tricep extensions, etc.
Core: Deadbug variations, pallof press, cable chops, planks, reverse crunch, etc.
Lateral Glute Work: Side-lying leg raises, clamshells, standing cable hip abduction, seated hip abduction, etc.
Sets, reps, and rest
You will see that each exercise name has their sets and reps listed below. Sets are how many full "rounds" you will do of the exercise, and reps are the individual movements of the round. So, if an exercise is three sets of 6-10, it might look like this.
Set 1: 10
Set 2: 9
Set 3: 9
With a rep range of 6-10, the goal is to find a weight that allows you to get all three sets within 6-10 reps. The example above(10,9,9) would be completely okay, but your goal will be to work towards getting all three sets of 10 with that given weight.
With this setup, you will finish all three sets of the first exercise before moving onto the next. We want to avoid turning your workout into cardio, as that will impede performance with lifting. So, no need to treat it like a circuit.
You will want to make sure you are getting enough rest in between sets because our goal is to perform at a high level. Generally, 1-3 minutes is going to be sufficient. If on set 2, you have a significant drop off on reps, you likely took too little rest. 10% is an excellent rule of thumb. If I drop more than 10% in reps, I rest longer.
See, your goal is not to "fatigue" yourself. Instead, you want to focus on progress. If you focus on progress, fatigue will come.
One of the most important factors with weight lifting is progressive overload. To get progress, you must continually increase the demand on the body. Progressive overload can be done by increasing resistance, reps, volume(setxreps), working out more often, and decreasing rest.
However, you MUST have good form before you think about increasing your intensity. It is pretty obvious, but many people put little thought into their form, and this can lead to injury. At least 90% of your reps should be good on form as it is normal to struggle on the last rep or so.
Once form is in check, then you can start increasing reps and weight. If the exercise says 6-10 reps, then your goal is to hit all three sets of 10 reps. Once you do that, you can increase in weight the next time you do that exercise. With the heavier weight, you might only get 10, 9, 8. Not getting all of the reps is fine, but stick with that weight until you can get three sets of 10.
How much should you increase in weight? Play the long game. Generally speaking, you should go up the minimum amount of weight available. Now, if the max reps were easy, then you might be able to increase a little more. Generally speaking, 2.5-10 lbs will be the max you increase by.
If you can't increase, that is okay. However, if you cannot hit all three sets after 2-3 weeks, it is a good idea to reduce weight by 5-10%. This reduction will give you a "reset" if you will, which will help with progress and form.
When should you change the program?
Most people jump from program to program too soon. I would recommend sticking with this program for at least 8-12 weeks without changing anything. To get progress, you need to have consistency. Change up the workout too often, and you undermine your results.
Now, there will be a point where you need to switch things up, and that is precisely why I included a substitution list in this article. In 8-12 weeks, feel free to go back and swap some of the exercises out. This will give you some variety and will also help with your progress.
There you have it. This program will help you get stronger and leaner without spending a ton of time in the gym. The key takeaways are to stick to the plan and make sure you are progressing on the exercises each week.
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