Sunday, June 19, 2022

Piecing Your Workout Together - By RJ Hicks, MS, CSCS

There are many unaccounted variables that are not laid out when a beginner is presented the basics of training. It is easy to say, train the whole body twice every seven to ten days, progressively, with the basic compound exercises, but it can be challenging to write out. You may not know what exercises are best to use to cover the basic planes of motion or which method of progression is best. It is tough to create a routine without specific training goals. 

Your specific training goals are the most important question to creating the best training routine for you. General goals of increasing size and strength are good, but the more specific you can get the more likely your program is to be successful for you. The specific goals of your training help determine the best exercises and equipment to use, the priority of exercises they should be completed in and the best methods of progression to implement. 

Exercise Selection

When designing your own routine, you want to first ask yourself what exercises do I want to improve on? The exercises you decide to perform are the specific exercises you are going to increase your strength with. If you train progressively with the barbell bench you can expect your barbell bench pressing numbers to go up. If you train progressively on the Hammer Strength Chest Press you can expect the same for your numbers on the Hammer Strength Chest Press. Both horizontal pushing movements will increase the size and strength of the same muscle groups, but will not guarantee an increase in strength between the two. 

There is no direct correlation between free weights and machines. You cannot compare them because they are completely different exercises. Just like if you were trying to compare a barbell bench press and a dip. The muscles used are similar, but the movements are different. The barbell bench press and Hammer strength Chest Press have their own specific motor learning patterns. Your nervous system looks at each exercise as an individual skill. A skill that takes several weeks of practice to enhance performance. Motor learning experts suggest that practice must be exact, not similar, for there positive transfer in skills. 

It is inefficient to train with a barbell in hopes to increase your strength on a specific machine and vice versa. What determines which exercises are better are your training goals. If your goal is to increase your barbell bench press then you will include the barbell bench press in your routine. If your goal is to increase the amount you can perform on the Hammer Strength Deadlift, then you will have to include the Hammer Strength Deadlift. You can perform the Hammer Strength Chest Press and a barbell deadlift to assist some with both of the aforementioned exercise, but the most effective way to improve your performance on a specific lift is to train that specific lift.

Pick a specific compound exercise or two for the horizontal/vertical pushing and pulling for the upper body. Then do the same for a lower body push and pull movement. There is no answer on what you should pick, other than which ones are safe for you to perform and that you have interest in improving on. If you chose an additional compound lift you can alternate between two workouts for the added variety. These exercises can change overtime, but it is wise to give them at least four to five months of consistency to give your training enough time to work.

Sequencing your Exercises

When it comes to sequencing your exercises, you want to ask yourself two things. What are my priority exercises and how can I maximize by performance on my selected exercises? There is no one best method for sequencing your exercises. It doesn’t matter if you start with lower body first or upper body first. It doesn’t matter if you start with a pulling exercise first or with a pushing exercise instead. It doesn’t matter if you perform your vertical pushing and pulling movements before you perform the horizontal pushing and pulling movements or vice versa. What matters is that you sequence your exercises based off of your specific goals.

The most important exercises should always be sequenced at the start of the routine. This is when you have most energy and will most likely do the best at the exercise you do first. If your main priority is to increase your performance on the chin-up then chin-ups should be the first exercise you perform. You want to perform the chin-ups when you have the most amount of strength, performing any other exercise that may take away from the chin-up’s performance. From there you would be able to sequence the rest of the workout picking either the next priority exercise if you had one or by strategically sequencing your exercise for optimal performance. 

The goal of sequencing exercises should always be on how to maximize your individual performance on each movement. You selected each exercise for a purpose so you should order them in a way that benefits you the most. Do you do best training legs first? Or are you physically drained after performing heavy squats, deadlifts and or leg presses? Can you do back-to-back compound exercises for the upper body or do you need more built-in rest? Obviously if you are competing in a specific strength sport there is a set sequence you must follow, but outside of that you need to sequence your exercises to optimize your performance. 

There are many different tactics you can use to strategically sequence your workouts for optimal results. Most good routines follow an upper body pushing movement with an upper body pulling movement to allow more rest for the primary muscles involved. A common example of this is performing the seated row followed by the military press. If more than one set is desired you would continue to alternate between the two exercises until all sets were complete. A second tactic for more rest is to sprinkle in the tinkering exercises, as Bob refers to them, (abs, grip, neck, calves) periodically into the routine to act as additional built-in rest. Sticking with the first example you could follow the first set up seated row and military press with neck flexion and neck extension prior to performing a second round of the seated row and military press. A more extreme example would be placing an easy exercise between each compound movement. You could perform the seated row, neck flexion/neck extension, military press, abdominal flexion then repeat the cycle or move on to another compound exercise. A third tactic is to save your hardest compound exercises for the end of the workout. You can place the leg press after the two cycles of seated row and military press so there is no concern of the leg press negatively affecting the amount of weight you can lift on the seated row and military press. It is all specific to your individual goal. You can decide what order is best as long as you end up getting all the exercises done and stay consistent with the order you perform them. 

Number of Repetitions

As a beginner it is important to understand that all reasonable sets and reps’ schemes work If done in a progressive manner. You can get stronger utilizing low reps or high reps, as long as the weight is heavy relative to the number of repetitions being performed and that the set number of reps falls within the anaerobic energy system timeframe. The key however, is that each set needs to have a repetition goal. The repetition goal is a guide for adding weight. That being said your set/rep goals are specific in nature just as the exercises you choose and the order of exercises you perform. 

Progress in a specific repetition range is specific to the number of repetitions you actually perform. You will always improve the most on the repetition ranges you consistently perform for a given exercise. If the goal is 8 repetitions you will be improving your ability to lift heavier weights for around 8 repetitions. The further away your goal becomes from the actual number of repetitions you perform the least effect your training becomes. This is common sense, but many exercise programs will have you train with moderate to high repetitions for several weeks then have you attempt a one repetition maximum.  

Your goal determines how many repetitions you should utilize not the recommendation of an on-line authority in the field. If you are competing in a strength sport you will program low repetitions a majority of the time in the competition lifts. If you are an athlete looking to compete in a non-strength sport, your goal will be a repetition range that utilizes primarily the same energy system as does your sport. If your goal is to improve your 20-rep squat then you must squat for 20 repetitions. If you are consistent in a specific repetition range your weight you can handle for that repetition range will significantly increase.

Putting it all Together

Spend sometime and determine your specific personal strength training goals. Most people who lift weights want to increase muscular size and strength, but the more specific you can be the more effective your training will be. Spend some time and determine your specific personal strength training goals for right now. Find the exercises you want to improve on the most, determine how you want to measure the performance and the most effective way for you to complete all of the exercises and stick with it for four to five months. Your specific goals will (and should) always change down the road, but you must give the current routines enough time to work. 


Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com
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