With there being so many workout plans out there which one should you use? In the article, Want to Know Why You Can’t Lose Weight [This Might Surprise You] we discussed the importance of building muscle mass as a way to improve metabolism and maintain body weight. There are plenty of strength and resistance programs out there so which workout plan should you choose?
The Basics of Workout Plans
First, all resistance training workout plans are based on the overload principle. Simply stated that means that in order to increase muscle strength, size, or endurance you must exercise against a load or resistance that is greater than normal. If you lift the same weight over and over again, initially you will get stronger, but you will eventually hit a plateau in strength unless you lift a heavier weight. So your program has to be progressive, too, and we hear this referred to has as progressive overload training.
Your body will adapt to the stresses applied to it during strength training, but it needs time to recuperate after a workout session. As you get stronger and stronger by lifting progressively heavier loads your ability to recuperate takes more and more time. Recognizing this is important because you will have to change workouts when that time comes which we will soon discuss.
Adequate rest between workouts is essential for the body to adapt to ever increasing loads.
Secondly, your goals determine how many repetitions you do. A rep is moving a load one time. The load can be a weight, a resistance band, or your body weight. With resistance training you can focus on improving muscle endurance, muscle strength, or muscle size. In reality you are improving each quality with resistance training but depending on the number of reps and the resistance you can emphasize development of one of those three qualities .
As a rule of thumb to build:
- muscle endurance perform 12 to 20 reps of a given exercise with 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
- muscle size (hypertrophy) perform 8 to 12 reps of a given exercise with one to two minutes rest between sets.
- muscle strength perform 4 to 6 reps of a given exercise with two to three minutes between sets.
What this means is that ideally the last rep should be the last rep you can do. You will build limited endurance lifting a weight that you can do 50 times and stopping at 20. Or, you will build limited strength stopping at 6 reps when you can physically lift the weight 12 times. Gauging how much you can lift on a given exercise is trial and error. If you are trying to build strength and lift a weight 8 times than the weight was too light. So next set pick a heavier weight. Does all of that make sense?
Thirdly, the body is generally broken down into body parts when discussing exercise routines. The major body parts include:
Most workout programs focus on exercising the abs, back, biceps, chest, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, and triceps as the forearms and calves are indirectly trained in the course of training the other groups.
Now you have a choice. You can try to exercise the entire body in a single day or what is known as full body training. Or, you can train two or three muscle groups in a day and then another two or three another day and another two or three on another day so that during the course of the week you train each muscle group. There are advantages to both approaches.
Workout Plan for Beginners
Full body workouts are ideal for beginners. Also, using exercise machines is convenient to start with if you are a beginner, too, as opposed to free weights. There’s a couple options. You can do two sets of the same exercise for each muscle group. Or, do one set but pick two exercises for each muscle group. So for the quads you might pick leg press and squats. Either way you will do 12 to 20 sets depending how many body parts you exercise.
Perform full body workouts once a week to start and then increase it to twice a week with 3-4 days in between. You can try to do full body workouts three times a week depending on your goal but you may find that you are sore and are getting diminishing returns. That’s when targeting only certain muscle groups is a session or what is known as a split routine comes into play. When you reach that point you are no longer a beginner.
Intermediate to Advance Workout Plan
As your body adapts to increasing loads it requires more time between workouts to recover. This is when you should graduate to a split program. And, there any number of ways to do split the body parts. Most programs are designed so that you are exercising each body part every 5th, 6th, or 7th day.
A 2-day split is when you exercise half the muscle groups one day and the other half a second day of the week. You might train the upper body one day and the lower body the second. Or, you might exercise muscles that involving pushing a weight one day and pulling the weight the second day.
A 3-day split is when you take 3 days to train the major muscle groups. A 4-day split is when you take 4 days to exercise all the muscle groups. A 4-day split is popular among competitive body builders. They focus on 2 or 3 muscle groups each session using 2, 3 or more exercises to train each muscle from different angles doing multiple sets to maximize development of the entire muscle.
It is possible to strength or resistance train too frequently. How do you know if you are overtraining. You may feel tired and slow to recover than previously. You will probably still feel sore in a particular muscle group when it’s time to train it again. You will notice an inability to lift heavier loads and actually may find yourself having to use lighter loads than previously to complete the workout. So adequate rest is essential. Not too little, not too much, but just enough. And, that varies from person to person.
Think of resistance training as an earthquake damaging a building. When you engage in resistance training you are causing micro damage (earthquakes) to the muscle and the body needs time to repair that damage making the muscle stronger in the process before you can subject the muscle to another “earthquake”. If a building is damaged by an earthquake and during the repair process the building gets hit with another earthquake the repair work done at the time goes for naught and the building is no stronger. Same is true for the human body.
Back to the splits.
You can break the splits any number of ways. For example, a 4-day split can be done as follows:
- Four days of exercise, one day of rest, and repeat. Each muscle group is being exercise every 5th day.
- Two days of exercise, one day of rest, two days of exercise, one day of rest, and repeat. In that scenario each muscle group is exercised every 6th day.
- Two days of exercise, one day of rest, one day of exercise, one day of rest, one day of exercise, one day of rest, and repeat. In this scenario each muscle group is being trained every 7 days.
How to Split Your Workouts
When you perform a full body workout you typically perform two sets. When you split the routine you can devote more time to more sets (typically 3 or 4 not including warm up sets) performing two or three exercises on each body part.
We talked a little bit about how you can split exercises in a 2-day split. A 3-day split can be performed the following way:
- Monday: Chest, biceps, and abs
- Wednesday: Shoulders, hamstrings, and quads
- Friday: Back and triceps
A traditional 4-day split looks like the following:
- Monday: Chest, biceps, and abs
- Tuesday: Back, calves, forearms
- Thursday: Shoulders and triceps
- Saturday: Quads and hamstrings
Regardless of your routine every 4 to 6 weeks you should change up your program mainly by changing the exercises you perform. If you do the same exercises you will hit a plateau. Other ways to change the program include changing position of your hands to lift a weight and the speed at which you raise and lower a weight. See the article on busting through workout plateaus.
If you have not done resistance training then start slow and easy. By adding muscle mass you will better be able to perform your daily activities and maintain your metabolism and weight.