The Seven Commandments: How to design your own workout plan
Personal trainers command anywhere from $40-$150 per session to design and guide their clients through a workout program. And, in my biased opinion, a good trainer is worth their weight (in kilograms) in dollars (though no personal trainer on the planet is worth $150/hour, but that’s another topic for another day). However, if you are like 90% of exercisers who workout to “be healthy” and “look fit”, and you have no limiting injuries or conditions, there is a simple formula for creating your program that will save you literally hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and get you the results you want. Whether or not you are motivated enough to drive yourself through the program is another story.
1. Thou shalt warm-up and stretch
Any decent trainer knows that a) for clients to get the most out of their session, and b) so their client doesn’t get injured, they need to start off with a warm-up. A good warm-up achieves two things: it promotes blood flow to your muscles and fluid to your joints, and it guides muscles through their range of motion (ROM) in a controlled manner. Dynamic warm-ups are consensus ‘best-practice’. To promote muscular flexibility (which can prevent injury as well as assist in gaining more muscle and therefore losing more fat), all workouts should end with a full body stretch. Static stretching after the workout satisfies this requirement, however, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) has been shown to provide optimal benefits.
2. Thou shalt schedule whole body workouts
Unless you are a body-builder, giving each muscle group its own day is a waste of your time (ie. legs on Monday, back on Tuesday, chest on Wednesday, etc). If you are looking to drop fat, build your cardiovascular system and add muscle tone, full body workouts are your best bet. Additionally, to employ the one-muscle-group-per-day method, you have to have 5 or 6 days per week to commit to the cause. If you do full body workouts, you can do it in three.
3. Thou shalt superset or circuit for time efficiency
By round of applause, who here has time in their day for a two hour gym visit? Crickets? That’s what I thought. Really, if your program is designed properly and you are working at your peak effort level, you can complete an entire session, all in, in under an hour. To do this, trainers employ the use of techniques such as super-setting and circuit-training. These two techniques are based on the premise that while one muscle group is recovering, an opposing, or different muscle group is working.
*Quick Cheat Workout Formula:
Warmup – 6 exercises (3 pairs, 3 sets of 12 reps) – Stretch
4. Thou shalt pair opposing muscle groups
If you are going to superset (and you are), you need to pair exercises that oppose one another so that one muscle group can recover while the other is active. For instance, if you are doing a chest exercise (push), you should pair it with a back exercise (pull). Here are the pairings (Back/Chest, Legs/Shoulders, Abdominals/Anything – I like to do a second leg exercise).
5. Thou shalt not waste time on small muscle groups
If a client comes to me and says their goal is to lose weight, I would qualify as the worst trainer on the planet if I gave them isolation bicep curls. Why? Because biceps are a tiny muscle group, and therefore require little energy to fuel and repair. Even for those exercisers that are training for aesthetics but are not competitive body builders, I don’t recommend doing arm specific exercises. They are a waste of time, and quite honestly you will still get sufficient arm work doing large muscle exercises like pull-ups (biceps are secondary drivers) or dumbbell chest press (triceps are secondary drivers). Instead focus on the big exercises or variation thereof for maximum results.
6. Thou shalt not perform multiple abdominal specific exercises
If you want to do a set of crunches to target your abs, hey, that’s fine. But if you are one of those people who does 20 different abdominal specific exercises, you are doing a disservice to your 6-pack. Fact: everyone has abdominals that look roughly similar, the only thing differentiating Jane 6-pack from Joe Beer-keg is the amount of fat both within and on top of the muscle (that’s right, fat actually accumulates IN your muscles). Instead burn the fat and work your entire core with stability exercises and focus on actively engaging your core throughout your entire workout.
7. Thou shalt employ compound exercises
Exercises that recruit two or more muscle groups at once are called “compound exercises”. Clearly, they are preferential to exercises that recruit only one muscle group, because the more muscles you can work at one time not only burns more calories and is better for your efficiency, but they tend to be more functional in nature. *On a note of annoyance, an elephant is grey, but not everything grey is an elephant. By this I mean, just because an exercise is compound, doesn’t mean it is functional. I only state this because “functional training” has become such a buzzword in fitness, and it is abused by lesser professionals.