If you flip through any fitness or muscle/bodybuilding magazine you will invariably find lots of different workout routines.
They range from just one ‘super exercise’ that work the entire body, to 90 day plans that work individual muscle groups on different days.
All these workout routines have their place and I love adapting them to suit my particular needs and what I have available at home and at my local gym.
However, for a lot of people, especially those of you starting a weight training program for the very first time, it can all be a little confusing trying to decide on what program to follow.
- 1 There Is No ‘Best’ Workout
- 2 Your Very Own, ‘Best’ Personal Workout
- 3 Lift Heavy Weights Three Times a Week
- 4 Keep it Short and Intense
- 5 The Bodybuilding Plan
- 6 The Exercises
- 7 How Many Reps?
- 8 Burn Body Fat
- 9 Build Muscle
- 10 How Many Sets?
- 11 How Long to Rest Between Sets?
- 12 Alternating Sets
- 13 Circuits
- 14 Keep Track of You Progress
- 15 What Should You Be Doing On The Days You Aren’t Lifting Weights?
- 16 Raise Your Heart Rate Once a Week
- 17 Build Muscle and Lose Fat in Your Sleep
- 18 Your Diet – The Most Important Part
- 19 Summary
There Is No ‘Best’ Workout
Despite the myriad of claims and promises that one particular workout routine is the best, the truth of the matter is, there simply isn’t a ‘best’ routine.
As you become more experienced with lifting weights, you will discover what your muscles and physique respond to.
It is only through trying different exercises and varying the amount of weight you lift, the number of sets you perform, how long you rest between sets etc. will you actually notice changes.
There are other factors that also play a huge part in determining a good workout for you.
These will include; how old you are, what equipment you have access to, how long you can commit to working out, your individual training goals, your diet and your biology.
How could a workout routine possibly claim to be ‘the best’ when the author has no idea what your situation is?
Your Very Own, ‘Best’ Personal Workout
Huh? You just said there wasn’t a ‘best’ workout!
Although there isn’t a magic workout designed for everyone, there are certain exercises you can perform that meet the full requirements for building lean muscle and shredding body fat.
Here’s how it goes..
Lift Heavy Weights Three Times a Week
The basic concept of this plan is to lift heavy weights, every other day, 3 times a week.
- Three times a week is manageable, even for very busy people.
- Working out every other day is the optimal time-frame for your muscles to get enough rest in order to repair and build.
Scientists and medical experts far more knowledgeable than me, mostly agree your muscles need 48 hours to recover from an intensive workout.
This is the optimal time for recovery and growth before you should work them again.
Keep it Short and Intense
Spending 2 hours in the gym is not only unnecessary, but will almost certainly lead to boredom and burn-out.
You can achieve a great workout and perform the required number of exercises in less than 45 minutes.
That means you can be in and out of the gym during a lunch break.
Our plan can be even shorter if necessary, as you’ll discover below.
The Bodybuilding Plan
This simple yet effective workout routine is designed to increase muscle mass and/or lose body fat.
It is not ideal if your goal is to run a marathon or complete a triathlon.
It is not an endurance based program.
The plan is to complete a full body workout, three times a week, performing just 4 or 5 exercises per workout.
Each workout will incorporate multiple muscle groups.
This will stimulate your growth hormones and burn body fat like you’ve never seen!
The idea comes from Marks Daily Apple, a website I totally respect and follow very closely, in which the author advocates a primal fitness routine involving just a few exercises that man has relied upon since we were hunter gatherers – squatting, pushing and pulling.
Your core muscles are also essential for keeping a strong lower back and preventing injuries.
You should work your core at every workout.
The exercises you will perform should involve the following:
- Quads – Barbell squat, single-leg squat, barbell split squat, barbell lunge
- Glutes and Hamstrings – Straight-leg deadlift, single-leg straight-leg deadlift, barbell step-up, weighted hip raise with feet elevated, single-leg weighted hip raise with feet elevated.
- Push muscles – chest, shoulders and triceps (bench press, push-ups, dips)
- Pull muscles – back, biceps and forearms (pull ups, chin ups, inverted row).
- Core muscles – abs and lower back (plank – front, side and other variations of the plank).
All the exercises using a barbell can also be performed using dumbbells.
Nothing complicated there, right? Simply choose an exercise from each of the 5 categories above and you will have a workout that involves almost every muscle in your body!
Note: If you are short of time, want to condense your workouts, or when you want to mix up your routine, I suggest you perform the barbell deadlift in place of two separate leg exercises.
The deadlift still strongly activates your quads, as well as your back, shoulder and core muscles.
It is one of the best (if not the best) total-body exercises you can do.
How Many Reps?
The amount of reps you perform during each set will largely depend on what your goals are.
It might be that losing body fat is your primary motivation, or you may want to build more muscle.
The number of reps you perform will be dictated by your answer.
Burn Body Fat
Any type of resistance training will help you lose body fat, but it is universally accepted that the more reps you perform, the more fat-burning hormones you will stimulate.
According to Men’s Health advisor Adam Campbell and author of the Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises, the ideal range for fat loss should be between 8 and 15 reps.
Less than 8 will be moving you into more muscle building territory, whereas more than 15 reps will be too easy and not exert enough energy to stimulate your fat-burning hormones.
However, the rep range between 8 and 15 is quite a large gap, so the best thing to do is split your reps into a more narrow range.
Here’s an example of what your fat burning workout may look like:
12 to 15 reps
10 to 12 reps
8 to 10 reps
The amount of weight or particular exercise you perform will determine how many reps you can do, but try sticking to the same rep range for all the exercises.
Varying the number of reps you perform will keep your muscles and your body’s fat burning efficiency from hitting a plateau.
By mixing up the reps, you will keep your muscles and mind stimulated and constantly developing to accommodate the new routine. You could change the rep range every week, every 2 weeks, or even every workout.
To build more muscle it would seem logical that you will need to decrease the number of reps and lift heavier weights.
This is only part correct.
To build more strength and muscle, you should still vary the rep range in order to stimulate growth hormones.
According to a study by Arizona State University, people who performed a variety of low, medium and high rep ranges gained twice as much strength compared to those that performed the same number of reps every workout.
I prefer to change the number of reps I perform every week.
However, you could change them for every workout. For building muscle I wouldn’t recommend performing more than 10 reps of an exercise.
Anywhere between 5 and 10 reps is ideal.
The idea is to keep your muscles guessing and forcing them to adapt to new routines.
This is more likely to result in bigger and faster gains.
How Many Sets?
For growth and/or fat burning hormones to be properly stimulated, you need to keep your muscles under tension for a certain length of time.
You should therefore aim to perform between 3 and 5 sets and approximately 25 to 30 reps per exercise.
If you are going ‘heavy’ to build muscle, then 5 sets of 5 reps is a good routine for muscle growth.
For a fat burning workout, you may only need to perform 2 sets if you are performing 15 reps per exercise.
More reps = fewer sets, and vice versa.
More than 50 reps and you are either pushing yourself too hard, or finding it too easy!
How Long to Rest Between Sets?
The rule of thumb is the heavier you lift, the longer your rest period between sets will be.
That’s not to say you can swan-off and have a 5 minute chat and then return to the exercise!
When you lift heavier weights, you engage fast twitch muscle fibers.
These fibers generate the most force but also fatigue quicker and for longer.
So you’ll need to rest them for longer.
Lifting less weight will engage slow twitch muscle fibers, which are more resistant to fatigue and can recover faster.
Campbell recommends the following rest period guidelines:
1 to 3 Reps: Rest 3 to 5 minutes
4 to 7 Reps: Rest 2 to 3 minutes
8 to 12 Reps: Rest 1 to 2 minutes
13 Reps+: Rest 1 minute or less1
The above rest period guidelines refer to resting a muscle group.
There’s no reason why you can’t move from one muscle group to another without having to wait around for up to 5 minutes.
For example, if you perform 10 weighted squats which takes you 45 seconds, you may only need to rest for 15 seconds before moving on to a push or pull exercise.
By alternating between muscle groups you can shorten your workout.
Just as alternating sets allows you to minimize the time you wait to perform the next exercise, a circuit goes one step further.
With a circuit you simply move from one exercise to another without resting until all 5 exercises are complete.
Do anywhere between 3 and 10 circuits depending on the number of reps per exercise.
This is a great way to maximize your time and get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible.
Be warned, these types of circuits will hurt!
Keep Track of You Progress
Keeping a work-out journal will enable you to track your progress. It also saves time in the gym if you know exactly what weight to start with.
Recording the amount of weight you lift and for how many reps and sets will enable you to vary your routine better.
At the start of each week or fortnightly, you simply amend the variables in order to keep your muscles guessing.
Your aim is to steadily become stronger and fitter over the coming weeks and months.
You won’t fully appreciate the extent of your progress unless you write it down.
You should also record and track other measurements such as your body fat percentage, your weight, waist size, chest and arms size and any other aspect you would like to monitor.
These types of measurements can be recorded once a month and will aid you significantly towards your goals.
What Should You Be Doing On The Days You Aren’t Lifting Weights?
During your rest days you should be doing just that – resting! If you are lifting heavy weights, you need to give your muscles time to rest.
However, there’s no reason why you can’t still be active and do the activities you enjoy, such as swimming, jogging, walking, playing your favorite sport etc.
Just don’t exhaust yourself doing so.
Even if your goal is to burn body fat, you will do so more efficiently by building muscle – which means getting adequate rest.
Raise Your Heart Rate Once a Week
Once a week you should participate in an activity for around 10 to 15 minutes that really gets your heart pumping such as sprinting (outdoors or on a treadmill), swimming as fast as you can (easier on your joints, if that’s a problem), cycling (outdoors or indoors), cross trainer, etc.
Research has shown that this type of intensive workout is more beneficial to your health than hours of moderate jogging.
Just 10 minutes or so of explosive ‘interval training’ can improve your speed, strength, bone density, muscle mass, cardiovascular strength, carbohydrate metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and aerobic capacity.
Don’t run flat-out until you become totally exhausted.
Just maintain a pace of around 85 – 90% of your maximum effort for as long as you can.
As soon as you start to drop off the pace you should stop. Give yourself time to recover and go again.
Each burst may only last 10 to 15 seconds at first until you become stronger.
The point is to maintain the high intensity. After a few weeks you will start to increase the length of your sprints.
This mini workout has profound health benefits and current research is really picking up on how effective it is.
As with any form of exercise you participate in, make sure you spend 6 to 8 minutes warming up and cooling down.
Build Muscle and Lose Fat in Your Sleep
Making sure you get enough quality sleep cannot be underestimated and could easily decide the success or failure of your fitness goals.
The physical changes to your body don’t occur in the gym.
Your muscles grow when you are asleep and your fat burning hormones will also kick in.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to a number of health problems such as fatigue, over-eating, loss of focus, loss of motivation, weak immune system and more.
Too much sleep can also be just as damaging and can result in over-eating and type 2 diabetes.
So try to aim for a 7 hours a night.
I try to get to bed for 10.45pm which gives me 15 minutes to relax before nodding off, and then up at 6am the following morning.
Your Diet – The Most Important Part
This article is not intended to cover all the aspects of a healthy diet, as it would take far too long, and detract from the actual workout.
However, what you eat is by far the most important part of any of your health or fitness goals – bar none!
It makes not a jot what you do in the gym or at home if you don’t eat a nutritious, balanced diet.
I would say that approx 80% of your results depend on what you eat!
Stick to the basics –
- Eat vegetables (as much as you like). Vegetables contain all the nutrients you need, have lots of free radical fighting antioxidants, and are low in carbohydrates.
- Eat fruit sparingly as it contains fructose, a natural sugar. Perhaps just one piece of whole fruit a day.
- Eat nuts for a snack. Nuts contain healthy fats your body needs. But just a handful every day or every other day.
- Drink plenty of water. Not fruit juices or flavored water – just pure (filtered) water!
- Eat plenty of meat (including the fat). Grass fed, free range animals whenever possible.
- Eat eggs. Just 1 free range eggs contain around 6 grams of muscle building protein and your RDA of omega-3.
- Stop eating processed food.
- Eat less or zero grains/wheat.
- Drink less, or eliminate pasteurized cow’s milk from your diet.
O.k. this food article could go on and I’m sure it will prompt a lot of questions.
So that’s basically your individual, ‘best ever’, ‘designed specifically for you’, workout routine!
Let’s summarize the steps here:
- Decide on your fitness goals. Do you want to build muscle?, lose body fat?, or both?
- Design a workout routine based on your goals and pick one exercise from each of the 5 basic categories.
- Workout three times a week, every other day.
- Mix up the number of reps and sets you perform as well as the time you rest between sets.
- Keep active as much as possible when you aren’t lifting weights. Walking, swimming, playing etc.
- Spend 10 to 15 minutes once a week doing an activity that significantly raises your heart beat.
- Keep a journal of your progress, including body measurements.
- Aim for 7 hours uninterrupted sleep a night.
- Eat healthier food and spend more time planning your meals.
So what are your thoughts on this workout? Is it too simplistic or too confusing?
I would really welcome your comments below.