An effective workout is more than a sum of its parts. Its ability to build muscleOpens a New Window. burn fatOpens a New Window., and improve performance depends upon everything from its set and rep schemeOpens a New Window. (spoiler: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach), how you order your exercises, and, ultimately, how it challenges you week-to-week and month-to-month. So before you wing another workout, read on and follow these seven steps to design your ideal workout routine.
Work a specific muscle, body part, or skill, and that’s what’s going to improve. Called “the principle of training specificity,” it might seem pretty basic, but it’s foundational to effective exercise training. Your goal ultimately determines the exercises that need to be part of your workout routine, explains Nick Tumminello, C.P.T., owner of Performance University in Fort Lauderdale and author of Strength Training for Fat Loss. “If the goal is to become more explosive, do explosive exercisesOpens a New Window.. If the goal is to become strongerOpens a New Window., lift heavy weights for fewer reps. If the goal is fat loss, you want to increase intensity to maximize your EPOC or ‘afterburn’ effect,” he says.
Divide your days
Before you can craft the ideal workout sessions, you need to determine how often you can (realistically) hit the gym. That’s because, if you are going to perform three or fewer workouts per week, it’s most effective to make every workout a total-body oneOpens a New Window., Tumminello says. However, if you want to work out four or more times per week, you’ll need to break things up to prevent overtraining. Rather than splitting workouts based on body parts, exercise physiologist Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., recommends dividing them according to movement type. For instance, you might schedule an upper-body pull day (rows, pullups), an upper-body push day (pushups, skull crushers), a hip-dominant day (squats, hip thrusters), and a rotational day (cable wood chops, bicycle crunches) into the mix. Whatever your schedule, make sure that you get enough rest by scheduling at least one full day of rest each week, and making sure no two high-intensity workouts fall back-to-back, he says.
Inventory your gym
If your gym doesn’t have tires lying around, tire flips probably aren’t going to be part of your workout. But a lot of guys don’t think about their gym’s layout and overall environment when selecting exercises as well as protocols. After all, if your gym is typically busy, you’ll probably want to stick with one piece of equipment at a time rather than rotating through circuits and ticking off your fellow gym-goers, Tumminello says. If weights are in short supply, it might be more efficient to perform as many exercises with one set of weights, as opposed to trying unsuccessfully to switch equipment five or 10 times during a given workout.
Decide on a set-rep-rest scheme
To decide how many sets and reps you’ll perform of each exercise, think back to your fitness goal. If strengthOpens a New Window. is what you want, you should focus on low-rep, high-set schemes such as six sets of three to five reps. Meanwhile, three sets of eight to 12 reps is more effective for putting on muscle sizeOpens a New Window.. If fat-lossOpens a New Window. is your main goal, high-rep schemes like three sets of 15 to 20 reps work well, as do circuits, Tumminello says. Overall, keep in mind that when you decrease the number of reps per set, you need to increase the load you’re lifting. When it comes to rest, you’ll generally need more depending upon how much you’re lifting, McCall says. Guys performing max or near-max lifts, performing just one or two reps per set, will often need two to three minutes to sufficiently rest up between sets. Meanwhile, 45 to 60 seconds rest is best for elevating heart rate, calorie burn, as well as muscle growth, he says.