Create The Best Workout Plan Easy Step By Step Guide

A Step-By-Step Guide to Create The Workout Plan

How would you like to create the ultimate workoutplan… for free?

Below is a step-by-step guide to designing the weight training program that will work best for you, your body, your experience level, your schedule, your preferences, and your exact fitness goal.

So, if you’re ready to do this, the guide starts now…

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1.Things You MUST Know Before You Begin

How To Design An Effective Workout Routine

If you’re reading this, it means you want to design a workout routine for yourself. Awesome!

And we’re not talking about just any workout routine here. No, we’re talking about designing the most effective, most efficient, fastest working, maximum results producing workout routine possible.

You know, the one that will work best for you, your body, your experience level, your preferences, your schedule, and of course… your specific weight training goal.

To do this, we’re going to walk through all of the crucial steps and components of workout routine design and put every single aspect together as optimally as possible. Here’s how…

The 7 Steps of Workout Routine Design

To bring your ideal workout routine to life, we’re going to take the following steps:

  1. Figure out your goal and training status.
    Before you can do anything, you need to decide why you’re working out. Meaning, what’s your specific goal? Building muscle? Losing fat? Increasing strength? Getting “toned?” Whatever it is, you need to know it beforehand. You also need to know what your training status is… beginner, intermediate or advanced. Many aspects of your workout routine will need to be tailored to your exact goal and experience level in order to be as effective as possible.
  2. Figure out your ideal weight training frequency.
    Workout frequency refers not only to how often you’ll work out, but also how often you’ll work out each muscle group, body part and/or movement pattern over the course of a week.
  3. Choose a workout split that fits your ideal frequency AND schedule.
    Once you’ve figured out what the ideal workout frequency is for you, the next step is to pick a workout split that not only allows for that ideal workout frequency to be reached, but a workout split that will fit perfectly within your daily/weekly schedule and life.
  4. Figure out your ideal weight training intensity.
    Workout intensity basically refers to how hard you’re going to be working. Meaning, how much weight will you be lifting, how heavy or light is that weight for you, and how many reps will you be able to lift it for?
  5. Figure out your ideal weight training volume.
    Workout volume refers to the amount of work you’ll be doing. As in, how many exercises, sets and reps will you do per muscle group, per workout, and per week?
  6. Choose your exercises and properly implement them.
    Once you know how much volume you’ll be doing, the next step is to select the exercises that are most ideal for you and then properly implement those exercise into your workout routine.
  7. Make sure it works.
    This final step involves bringing the 6 previous steps together along with the remaining requirements that must be in place in order for it all to work. Specifically, some form of progression and a diet plan that supports your goals.

So, if you’re ready to design the workout routine that will produce the results you want as quickly and effectively as possible, it’s time to begin. The first step? Choosing your goal…

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Fitness Goals – What Is Your Workout & Exercise Goal?

When you decide to create the most effective workout routine possible to reach your specific fitness goal, there is an important question you need to ask yourself first.

That question is… just what the hell is your specific fitness goal?

If I had to guess, I’d say these are the most common answers you’d get to this question:

  • To build muscle.
  • To lose fat.
  • To gain weight.
  • To lose weight.
  • To get “toned.”
  • To increase strength.
  • To improve performance.
  • To get “in shape.”
  • To be healthier.
  • To look great naked.
  • Any combination of the items on this list.

And those are just the broad answers. Some people may have much more specific fitness goals in mind. For example, build X pounds of muscle, lose X of fat, get a 6 pack, deadlift 400lbs, fit into a certain piece of clothing, and so on and so on and so on.

Whatever your workout/exercise related goal may be, and no matter how broad or specific it may be, the first key step in creating the workout routine that will work best for you is figuring out what your overall fitness goal is right now.

So, what is your current fitness goal?

Based on your answer, certain aspects of your workout routine will need to be set up a certain way to best accommodate that goal.

Since there’s a million ways this can go and I’m a big fan of simplifying things as much as possible, we’re going to break up all of the possible fitness goals into just 2 groups:

  1. Team “Looks”
  2. Team “Performance”

Let me show you what they include…

Team “Looks”

The people in this group have the primary goal of improving the way their body looks.

They want to build muscle, lose fat, or do both. This group also includes more generic goals like getting “toned,” or getting a 6 pack, or losing weight/gaining weight, or really anything that basically translates into “I want to look better.”

Granted, there are various differences between the goals I just described, and there are some adjustments that should be made to your workout routine depending on EXACTLY which goal is yours (don’t worry, I’m going to explain all of them).

But, in the most basic sense, anyone whose primary goal is to somehow improve the way their body looks falls into this same top level category.

Team “Performance”

The people in this group have the primary goal of improving the way their body performs.

They want to get stronger, get faster, get better at a certain sport or activity, or really anything that basically translates into “I want to perform better.”

Granted, there are again various differences between the goals I just described, and there are some adjustments that should be made to your workout routine depending on EXACTLY what your goal is.

But, in the most basic sense, anyone whose primary goal is to somehow improve the way their body performs falls into this same top level category.

Team “Looks” vs Team “Performance”

So, did you figure out which group your fitness goal fits into best? Good.

Now is a good time to mention that there is a lot of overlap between the groups. Meaning, training for performance will ultimately lead to more muscle and/or less fat in most cases. And, training for looks will ultimately lead to increased strength and/or improved performance in most cases.

However, it will NOT be in a way that is most optimal for those goals. It would be more of a side effect.

That’s why the objective here is to set up a workout routine that is as optimal as possible for your primary fitness goal. That needs to be the sole focus even though it may lead to various secondary goals being reached as well.

Meaning, if your goal is “looks” related, you want to only do the things that will maximize those results. If your goal is “performance” related, you want to only do the things that will maximize those results.

As obvious as that seems, there are plenty of idiots out there on the internet trying to tell you that people on Team Looks should be doing things that work best for Team Performance, and vice-versa.

Why? Because they’re either really ignorant, just trying to sell you something, or plain old stupid.

We will avoid that here.

Do You Need A Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced Workout Routine?

Before you can get into the specifics of putting your workout routine together, you need to figure out what your weight training experience level is.

Meaning, would your level of weight training experience be considered:

  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

The reason this needs to be known beforehand is because there are many differences between the 3 experience levels in terms of what you are capable of doing AND what will work best for you.

What I’m saying is…

  • Beginners need to use a beginner workout routine in order to get their best results.
  • Intermediates need to use an intermediate workout routine in order to get their best results.
  • Advanced trainees need to use an advanced workout routine in order to get their best results.

So, I guess the next logical question is, what the hell are you? A beginner, intermediate or advanced trainee? Let’s find out…

Beginners

Beginners (aka newbies, newbs, noobs, etc.) are people who are either completely new or at least somewhat new to consistent intelligent weight training.

Exactly what that means will vary slightly depending on who you ask, but in my opinion, I’d consider a beginner to be anyone who has been weight training for LESS than 6 months.

And again, that is 6 consistent months of intelligent weight training.

Meaning, I don’t care if you’ve been weight training in some pointlessly inconsistent on-and-off format for the last 20 years. I also don’t care if you HAVE been weight training consistently for a long time but you’ve been doing it in some incorrect and/or absolutely horrible way that caused your results to be nearly or completely nonexistent.

If you haven’t been following some kind of intelligently designed weight training workout routine (that actually produced some amount of positive results) for at least the last 6 months consistently, you are most likely a beginner, at least for a short amount of time.

The same goes for anyone who actually did weight train consistently and intelligently at some point in their lives, but have since stopped for a significant period of time. In most cases, you are considered a beginner all over again.

Intermediates

Intermediates are the next level up from beginners. If you HAVE been weight training consistently and intelligently for the last 6 months or more, then you most likely qualify as (at least) an intermediate trainee.

At this point, intermediates would have at the very least already used some type of beginner program that allowed them to build up at least some base level of strength and muscle, improved your work capacity and volume tolerance to some degree, and learned (and damn near masteredperfect form on every exercise you’ve done thus far.

This is the category the majority of the population falls into.

Advanced

Advanced trainees are the next level up from intermediates, and would be considered the highest weight training experience level there is.

While beginners and intermediates were classified by a combination of how long they’ve been weight training and what type of results they’ve gotten, I classify advanced trainees solely by the results they’ve gotten.

What I mean is, I’d consider an advanced trainee anyone who has already gotten the majority of the results they wanted to get and are extremely close to reaching their natural genetic potential.

For some people that can take 3 years, or 5 years, or 8 years, or 10 years. There is really no duration of time that matters here. Whenever your body has improved almost as much as it can possibly improve, you are considered advanced.

This is the category the least number of people fall into.

I know this is the category everyone likes to think they are in (which is why many people stupidly go straight to the “advanced workout routines”), but in all honesty, if you’re reading this, I’d say there is a 95% chance that you are NOT advanced.

Beginner vs Intermediate vs Advanced vs Dumbass

Now comes the point where I’m going to beg you to please be realistic about what your weight training experience level is.

Like I mentioned a second ago, everyone likes to think they are more advanced than they truly are. That’s just a recipe for disaster 100% of the time.

Why? Because advanced programs only work well for people who truly are advanced. You wouldn’t see an advanced person using a beginner program (for the same reason: beginner programs only work best for beginners), so you shouldn’t see it the other way around either.

The truth is, workout routines are designed for specific experience levels for a reason. They take into account everything that does and does not work at that point so that you end up doing everything in the way that is going to work best for you at that exact point in your training experience.

So, if you want results that are worse than they should be for you or just pure crap altogether, feel free to be a dumbass and use a workout routine that you aren’t ready to use yet.

But if you want the best results possible, use a workout routine that is tailor made for your exact training experience level.

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2.Weight Training Frequency

Exercise Frequency – How often should you workout per week?

When putting together your workout routine, the first major component you need to figure out is your exercise frequency. As in, how often and how many times should you workout per week?

Now, I’ll admit… that’s a pretty broad question. After all, terms like “exercise frequency” and “workout frequency” can have a ton of different meanings.

But for us though, here’s the 3 specific exercise frequencies that we need to care about most:

  • Overall Exercise Frequency:How often and how many times will we do any form of exercise (weight training, cardio, etc.) per week?
  • Weight Training Frequency:How often and how many times will we weight train per week?
  • Muscle Group/Body Part Frequency:How often and how many times will we train each muscle group or body part per week?

The main exercise frequency missing from that list is cardio frequency, but seeing as this is a guide to putting together the best weight training workout routine possible, cardio is a topic we’ll get to in depth at some other time (don’t worry, a cardio-specific guide is already on my to-do list).

For now, let’s focus on those 3 extremely important frequencies.

Overall Exercise Frequency

So, the first thing we need to decide on is how many times we will workout per week total. This would include weight training workouts, cardio workouts, whatever. It’s our overall exercise frequency.

Now, this is the one that can vary the most because it depends on many factors specific to you and your goal (example: a fat person with the primary goal of losing fat may have 4 cardio workouts per week, while a skinny person with the primary goal of building muscle may do no cardio whatsoever).

Because of this, it’s impossible to say exactly how often/how many times everyone should be working out per week total.

However, there is 1 general rule I can pretty much definitively set in terms of everyone’s overall exercise frequency.

And that rule is: take at least 1 full day off per week from all forms of exercise.

That means, AT THE VERY MOST, you should be exercising 6 times per week total (and again, this includes weight training, cardio, and any other form of exercise).

I’m setting this rule because I am pretty confident that there is no one reading this that needs to be or would benefit from working out 7 days a week.

In fact, I’d say that there are many people reading this who should set their maximum total exercise frequency at between 3-5 times per week depending on their goal.

Why? Because it’s not only NOT necessary for reaching your goal… it’s almost always counterproductive.

Weight Training Frequency

While too many individual factors come into play for me to get super specific about overall exercise frequency, weight training frequency is the opposite. I can get pretty damn specific here.

If it isn’t obvious enough, weight training frequency in this case will refer to how often and how many times we weight train per week.

My recommendation is: the majority of the population should weight train 3-4 times per week, and never more than 2 consecutive days in a row.

Some people can get away with 5 (although few truly need it), and some people can get by with 2. However, for most of the people, most of the time, you’ll get your best results with either 3 or 4 total weight training workouts per week.

This is based on the fact that the majority of the most highly proven and intelligently designed workout programs in existence are all built around doing 3 or 4 weight training workouts per week.

The same goes for having no more than 2 weight training workouts on back-to-back days.

These recommendations appear to create the sweet spot in terms of allowing for optimal recovery, and when recovery is at its best, your results will be at their best too.

Muscle Group/Body Part Frequency

And last but definitely not least, we have muscle group/body part frequency.

Out of all the different exercise frequencies, how often and how many times you should train each muscle group or body part per week is by FAR the most discussed, argued, thought about, screwed up, and potentially confusing one of them all.

That’s why I think the best way to fully explain it all is by taking a look at the pros and cons of each of the 3 most common muscle group/body part frequencies.

Those 3 frequencies are:

  1. Training each muscle group/body part once per week.
  2. Training each muscle group/body part twice per week.
  3. Training each muscle group/body part three times per week.

Now let’s break them down one-by-one and see exactly which frequency will work best for you. First up…

 Training Each Muscle Group With A Once Per Week Workout Frequency

One of the three most common weight training frequencies is one in which each muscle group or body part is trained just once per week.

For anyone who has spent any time trying to find a workout split and schedule before, this is probably the frequency you are most familiar with seeing.

Whether or not that means a once-per-week frequency is actually what’s best for you is something we’re going to figure out right now.

First, let’s take a look at a few common examples of this type of frequency…

Example Split #1

  1. Monday:Chest & Triceps
  2. Tuesday:Back & Biceps
  3. Wednesday:off
  4. Thursday:Shoulders & Abs
  5. Friday:Legs
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Example Split #2

  1. Monday:Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Legs & Abs
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Back & Biceps
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

As you can see, the example workout splits above (of which there are dozens more) show each muscle group and body part being trained with a frequency of only once per week.

This means that each muscle group gets trained just once every 7th day, which makes this a pretty low frequency form of weight training.

How To Make A Once-Per-Week Training Frequency Work

The key to making a once-per-week training frequency work is ensuring that you provide enough of the right training stimulus during that one weekly workout to actually warrant not training that muscle group again for an entire week.

You see, one of the many pitfalls of training each muscle group just once per week is that you are not training it again for another 7 days. And, it’s very easy for your body to de-train during this time and lose whatever progress you made during that previous workout.

Think about it. What happens if you stop working out for a while?

You regress, results gradually disappear, and you slowly lose whatever muscle, strength or performance related improvements you’ve made.

To a lesser degree, that’s exactly what can (and often does) happen when you wait a full week before training each muscle group again.

You may end up doing enough to stimulate progress and new adaptations during your workout, but then by the time a full week passes, you’ve already lost those new adaptations and you end up getting nowhere.

So, to make this frequency work, volume (exercises, sets, reps) per muscle group would need to be high enough to allow you to maintain the progress made from workout to workout (which in this case is a full week to week) without actually exceeding your capacity to recover. (More about that here: The Optimal Workout Volume)

The Other Problem With This Frequency

The other big issue with training each muscle group just once per week is that, even if you did do everything perfectly (provided enough of the right training stimulus, maintained all of the new adaptations made over that 7 day break, etc.), it’s still a full week of time being wasted.

Think about it. Training each muscle group once per week means you’ll have 52 potential progress stimulating workouts per year, per muscle group.

In comparison, if you trained with a twice-per-week frequency (more about that soon), you’d have 104 potential progress stimulating workouts per year, per muscle.

Now, with all else being equal, which do you think has the potential to produce better/faster results over the same period of time?

Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

The point I’m getting at here is that even if you do everything right with a once-per-week training frequency, it’s still pretty tough to look at that week off between training sessions for each muscle group as anything but an unnecessary waste of time.

You could have been back in the gym stimulating progress again instead of sitting around waiting for a week to pass.

Not to mention, there’s absolutely nothing special or magical about training each muscle group once every 7th day.

It’s a totally arbitrary amount of time based on nothing but that fact that we happen to have 7 days in a week. Seriously. It’s NOT that it works better or has some kind of benefit, it’s just that that’s how many days we have in a week, and it’s convenient to schedule stuff in this manner.

So, Is A Once-Per-Week Training Frequency Optimal?

Based on everything I just told you, I think you already know the answer. I’ll say it anyway…

Training each muscle group once-per-week is the LEAST EFFECTIVE weight training frequency.

There… I said it. And no, it’s not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of every single qualified expert, trainer and strength coach with half a brain.

Oh, and guess what else? It’s not just an opinion… it’s a fact backed by science and real world results.

Literally all research and scientific studies looking at weight training frequency conclusively show that training each muscle just once per week is the least effective way to train regardless of your goal or experience level.

Can it work? Sure. Does it work? Sure.

Honestly, as long as you do everything else correctly, ANY weight training frequency can work to some degree, including this one.

HOWEVER, this isn’t about what works and what doesn’t work. This is about what works best and what works worst.

And, all research, expert opinions and my own firsthand experience shows that training each muscle group just one time per week is just NOT optimal for the majority of the population.

Who Is A Once-Per-Week Frequency BEST Suited For?

Training each muscle group once per week tends to work best for the following people:

  • People using steroids/drugs.
  • People with above average genetics.
  • People whose primary goal at the time is to justmaintain their current level of muscle and strength rather than improve it any further. In that case, training each muscle group once per week should be perfectly sufficient.
  • Advanced trainees looking to specialize certain body parts or muscle groups. They’d train those “specialized” muscle groups with a better, higher frequency, and train everything else once per week for maintenance purposes only.

I’d personally only recommend this workout frequency to the last 2 groups on that list. The first 2 would likely get better results with an improved frequency, just like the rest of us.

Who Is A Once-Per-Week Frequency LEAST Suited For?

Like I said before, a once-per-week training frequency is NOT ideal for the majority of the population.

Chances are that includes you.

For starters, anyone with a strength/performance type goal should almost always avoid this type of training frequency like the plague. It’s typically seen as being borderline useless in that area, especially in comparison to other better training frequencies.

And, while it can work to some degree (assuming everything else is done right) for those of us trying to build muscle, get “toned,” or improve the way our bodies look in any capacity, it’s just clearly NOT what works best.

I don’t recommend it at all.

Training Each Muscle Group With A 3 Times Per Week Workout Frequency

Training each muscle group once per week is considered the most common form of low frequency training.

On the other end of that spectrum, we have the concept of training each muscle group 3 times per week. This is what is typically considered to be the most common form of high frequency training.

The question is… is this the workout frequency that will work best for you? Let’s find out.

To start, let’s take a look at the most common example of this weight training frequency…

Example Split

  1. Monday:Full Body
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Full Body
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Full Body
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Above is an example of the classic 3 day full body split, which is the split most commonly used with this frequency. As you can see, each muscle group and body part is trained 3 times per week.

This means that each muscle group gets trained once every 2nd or 3rd day, which makes this a pretty high frequency form of weight training.

This is especially true when compared to the previously mentioned once per week frequency where each muscle group gets trained only once every 7th day.

How To Make A 3-Times-Per-Week Training Frequency Work

The key to making a 3-times-per-week training frequency work is pretty much the opposite of what it takes to make a once-per-week frequency work.

Instead of ensuring that you provide enough of a training stimulus to warrant that full week of rest between training sessions of the same muscle group, your goal here is to provide just enough of the right training stimulus during each workout WITHOUT exceeding that ideal amount.

If the training stimulus is too high, you won’t be able to recover in time for the next workout (which is just 2 or 3 days later with a higher frequency like this).

So, while you must still do enough to provide an effective training stimulus that will cause positive results, you must keep it low enough to avoid impacting your body’s ability to recover in time for these more frequent workouts.

Here’s How People Screw It Up

And that brings us to one of the common pitfalls of training each muscle group 3 times per week (or really using any frequency greater than once-per-week).

People incorrectly think they need to take the same amount of volume (exercises, sets, reps) that they were doing or would do once per week, and now start doing it three times per week.

Due to the higher frequency, that’s not only NOT going to work… that’s just plain stupid.

The trick here is to take that total weekly amount of volume and divide it up somewhat evenly over three workouts; not do the same amount of total weekly volume three times per week like an idiot.

The human body (muscles, nervous system, etc.) just can’t recover fast enough to make that work.

But, as long as the volume done per workout is low enough to allow for quick recovery yet still high enough to be effective, a weight training frequency like this can (and does) work for many people.

So, Is A 3-Times-Per-Week Training Frequency Optimal?

For certain people… hell yes. For others, not so much. Specifically…

If you are a beginner with any goal, a 3-times-per-week training frequency is the MOST EFFECTIVE way to train.

And by beginner, I mean anyone who has been weight training for LESS than 6 months consistently and intelligently. (My full definition of what I consider a “beginner” to be is here: Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced.)

And as usual, this is not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of every single qualified expert, trainer and strength coach with half a brain.

In fact, it’s actually a fact backed by science and real world results.

Literally all research and scientific studies looking at the effects of different weight training frequencies in beginners came to the same conclusion: training each muscle three times per week is the most effective way for a beginner to train, regardless of their specific goal.

So, if you’re a beginner with any goal (build muscle, lose fat, increase strength, or improve your body in any way), a 3-times-per-week workout frequency is indeed optimal for you.

As for everyone else, let’s break it down…

Who Is A 3-Times-Per-Week Frequency BEST Suited For?

Training each muscle group 3 times per week tends to work best for the following people:

  • Beginners with any goal.
  • Anyone with the primary goal of increasing strength.

It’s not a coincidence that every single intelligently designed beginner’s program tends to be some version of the classic 3 day full body split that I showed earlier. This is what has been proven to work best for beginners.

The higher frequency allows them to improve motor learning at a much quicker rate. It’s kind of like a baby learning something for the first time. How would they learn faster… doing something once a week, or doing it three times a week?

And, for all intents and purposes, a beginner is basically a weight training “baby.” It’s all brand new to their body, and that means they will be able to soak it all up and progress at a faster rate than non-beginners.

It just so happens that a 3-times-per-week training frequency is the most conducive to allowing this to occur.

In fact, this reason is also a big part of why this frequency is extremely effective for non-beginners whose primary goal is strength related.

Meaning, if you’re past the beginner’s stage and your main goal is getting stronger, a 3-times-per-week frequency is a very proven option for you, too.

This is why many of the most popular strength oriented programs around use this same frequency (along with that same 3 day full body split from before).

Being able to train each important movement as frequently as 3 times per week is a very good environment for consistent strength gains to be made. So if that’s your goal, this frequency can definitely be effective.

I highly recommend it in both of these cases.

Who Is A 3-Times-Per-Week Frequency LEAST Suited For?

Honestly, probably everyone not mentioned above.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here. Training each muscle group 3 times per week CAN in fact work for pretty much everyone with any goal and at every experience level.

No doubt about it.

However, what we’re talking about now is what works best and what doesn’t. For the people I mentioned above (beginners with any goal and anyone mostly interested in strength), this frequency fits the “what works best” description.

For the rest of the population at other experience levels and/or with other goals, it fits the “what doesn’t” description.

Yes, it can (and does) work, it’s just usually not what works best in these cases.

Well Then, What Workout Frequency Is Best In Those Cases?

Damn good question. Let’s get straight to the answer…

Training Each Muscle Group With A Twice Per Week Workout Frequency

Weight training frequency can typically be divided up into 3 groups.

First, there’s low frequency, which would most often mean training each muscle group just once per week. On the opposite end, we have high frequency training, which most commonly refers to training each muscle group 3 times per week.

The final workout frequency is the one that lies right in the middle of those two extremes: training each muscle group twice per week.

The question is… is this the frequency that will work best for you?

To answer that, let’s first look at the most common example of this frequency in action:

Example Split

  1. Monday:Upper Body
  2. Tuesday:Lower Body
  3. Wednesday:off
  4. Thursday:Upper Body
  5. Friday:Lower Body
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Above is an example of the classic 4 day upper/lower split, which is the split most commonly used with this frequency. As you can see, each muscle group and body part is trained 2 times per week.

This means that each muscle group gets trained once every 3rd or 4th day, which makes this a moderate frequency form of weight training.

This is especially true when compared to the previously mentioned once per week frequency where each muscle group gets trained only once every 7th day, and the previously mentioned 3 times per week frequency where each muscle group gets trained every 2nd or 3rd day.

But Wait, There’s More!

Before we can continue, there’s a very important point that needs to be made first.

You see, because this frequency is in the middle of the other two, there’s actually another way it can be set up where the frequency STILL remains higher than the first and lower than the second.

It’s a frequency where you end up training each muscle group about two times per week rather than exactly two times per week like in the example split shown above.

Training Each Muscle Group About Twice Per Week

Here’s some examples of exactly what I mean when I say “about” twice per week…

Example Split #1

Week 1

  1. Monday:Upper Body
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Lower Body
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Upper Body
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Week 2

  1. Monday:Lower Body
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Upper Body
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Lower Body
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Example Split #2

Week 1

  1. Monday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
  2. Tuesday:Back & Biceps
  3. Wednesday:off
  4. Thursday:Legs & Abs
  5. Friday:off
  6. Saturday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
  7. Sunday:Back & Biceps

Week 2

  1. Monday:off
  2. Tuesday:Legs & Abs
  3. Wednesday:off
  4. Thursday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
  5. Friday:Back & Biceps
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:Legs & Abs

Split #1 is the classic alternating 3 day upper/lower split, and split #2 is a rotating push/pull/legs split done over a 5 day span.

Both splits provide an example of each muscle group being trained about twice per week, meaning each muscle group is trained 3 times in 2 weeks.

This means that each muscle group gets trained once every 4th or 5th day.

While this is slightly less frequent than the exact twice per week frequency I showed you first (where each muscle group is trained every 3rd or 4th day), this is still right smack in the middle of high frequency (once every 2nd or 3rd day) and low frequency (once every 7th day).

For this reason, I (and many others) like to consider any workout frequency where each muscle group is trained somewhere between once every 3rd day (like the original twice-per-week example) and once every 5th day (like the two twice-per-week examples above) a part of the same “moderate frequency” group.

Meaning, if each muscle group is trained between once every 3rd and 5th day, I’m classifying it all in this same twice-per-week category from this point on.

Got it? Good.

How To Make A Twice-Per-Week Training Frequency Work

The key to making a training frequency of twice (or about twice) per week work is really a combination of what it takes to make the other two frequencies work.

And that is, ensure you provide enough of a training stimulus to be effective, but not enough to cut into recovery.

For that same reason, the pitfalls of this training frequency are a combination of the pitfalls of the other two as well, albeit to a lesser degree. HOWEVER…

Those “CONS” Are Actually A “PRO”

The thing is, because this is a moderate frequency (neither too high nor too low) and because it falls in the middle of the other two extremes, it really kinda cancels out the biggest problems the other two frequencies faced.

Think about it.

With a once-per-week frequency, the main problem is de-training and losing the progress you made during that full week when you’re waiting to train each muscle group again (not to mention the time being wasted by waiting that long in the first place).

With a three-times-per-week frequency, the main problem is ensuring you do just enough to stimulate progress WITHOUT exceeding that ideal amount and negatively impacting your ability to recover.

But, with a frequency of about twice-per-week, you sort of get the best of both worlds while at the same time lessening their biggest drawbacks.

It’s frequent without being TOO frequent, yet just infrequent enough to not be TOO infrequent.

So really, it’s not too high and it’s not too low. It could be just right. Let’s see if it is…

So, Is A Twice-Per-Week Training Frequency Optimal?

For most of the people, most of the times… YES! Specifically…

If you are an intermediate or advanced trainee with any goal, a training frequency of twice (or about twice) per week is the MOST EFFECTIVE way to train.

I consider an intermediate or advanced trainee to be anyone who is past the beginner’s stage (more about that here: Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced).

As always, this is not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of every single qualified expert, trainer and strength coach with half a brain.

And once again, it’s actually fully backed by science and real world results.

Literally all research and scientific studies looking at weight training frequency have come to the same conclusion: training each muscle group about twice per week (between once every 3rd and 5th day) is the most effective way for an intermediate or advanced person to train.

That means, with the exception of beginners (who will do best with a 3-times-per-week frequency), the majority of the population will get their best results training each muscle group about twice per week.

And yes, that applies to all goals. Let me make that even clearer…

Who Is A Twice-Per-Week Frequency BEST Suited For?

Training each muscle group twice (or about twice) per week tends to work best for the following people:

  • Most of the population, most of the time.
  • Intermediate and advanced trainees who want to build muscle, increase strength, get “toned,” lose fat, improve athletic performance, or really do anything that involves improving the way their body looks or performs in virtually any capacity.

It’s not a coincidence that the majority of the most proven and intelligently designed weight training programs in existence happen to be built around this training frequency.

It’s just what flat out works better than everything else the majority of the time, regardless of goal.

Sure, other frequencies can work if everything else is done right. That’s a fact. But again, this is not about what works… this is about what works best.

And, scientific research, real world results, most expert recommendations and my own firsthand experience all show that a training frequency where each muscle group gets trained somewhere between once every 3rd day and once every 5th day is what works best most of the time.

Who Is A Twice-Per-Week Frequency LEAST Suited For?

Pretty much just beginners.

Is it possible this frequency could work for beginners? Yup, for sure. However, it’s just not what will work BEST for them.

Instead, beginners will get their best results with a 3-times-per-week frequency.

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3.Weight Training Schedules & Splits

Workout Schedule – The Best Weekly Weight Training Schedules & Splits

Choosing your overall weekly workout schedule is one of the key aspects of creating the weight training routine that is best for you.

What makes it a little tricky is the fact that there’s a lot of ways it can go. The amount of potential workout schedules, splits, and plans to choose from is enough to make your head explode.

However, you can greatly narrow them down to just the handful that are best for you by factoring in 3 key workout schedule requirements. They are:

  1. Your workout schedule must fit your ideal training frequency.
    The workout split you choose must allow you to reach the weight training frequency that is BEST for your specific goal and experience level. Meaning, do you need a split that allows you to train each muscle group once per week, twice per week, or 3 times per week?
  2. Your workout schedule must fit your personal weekly schedule.
    How many days can you actually manage to work out per week? 3 times? 4 times? More? Less? Are there specific days you can work out on and specific days you absolutely can’t? Do you need to take the weekends off, or are the weekends the days you need to train on?
  3. Your workout schedule must fit your training preferences and needs.
    Fitting your ideal frequency and personal schedule is what’s most important, but at the same time you should also actually enjoy what you’re doing and make sure the smaller details suit you and your goal.

Once those 3 factors are taken into account (and the crappier choices have been eliminated), we’re only left with a few to choose from.

So, I figure the best thing to do now is go through those few and list what I (and many others) consider to be the best weekly weight training schedules and splits for various goals and experience levels.

You can then pick the one that seems best for you. Sound good? Here we go…

The 3 Day Full Body Split

  1. Monday:Full Body Workout
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Full Body Workout
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Full Body Workout
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Weekly Schedule: It’s 3 total weight training workouts per week (all of which are full body) done in an every-other-day format with 2 consecutive days off at the end.

Weight Training Frequency: Each muscle group/body part is trained to some degree once every 2nd or 3rd day, making this a high frequency split.

Best Suited For: Beginner’s with any goal, and intermediate or advanced trainees with the primary goal of increasing strength or improving performance.

Additional Details: I discuss this split in detail right here: 3 Day Full Body Split

The 2 Day Full Body Split

  1. Monday:Full Body Workout
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:off
  4. Thursday:Full Body Workout
  5. Friday:off
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Weekly Schedule: It’s 2 total weight training workouts per week (both of which are full body) ideally done with 2-4 days off in between each workout.

Weight Training Frequency: Each muscle group/body part is trained to some degree once every 3rd to 5th day depending on your specific set up, which makes this a moderate frequency split.

Best Suited For: Anyone who can only manage to fit in 2 weight training workouts per week.

Additional Details: I discuss this split in detail right here: 2 Day Full Body Split

The 4 Day Upper/Lower Split

  1. Monday:Upper Body Workout
  2. Tuesday:Lower Body Workout
  3. Wednesday:off
  4. Thursday:Upper Body Workout
  5. Friday:Lower Body Workout
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Weekly Schedule: It’s 4 total weight training workouts per week (2 upper body and 2 lower body) done with a 2 on/1 off/2 on/2 off format.

Weight Training Frequency: Each muscle group/body part is trained to some degree once every 3rd or 4th day, making this a moderate frequency split.

Best Suited For: Most of the population, most of the time. Specifically, intermediate or advanced trainees with virtually any goal (building muscle, getting “toned,” increasing strength, improving performance, etc.).

Additional Details: I discuss this split in detail right here: 4 Day Upper and Lower Body Split

The 3 Day Upper/Lower Split

Week 1

  1. Monday:Upper Body Workout
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday: Lower Body Workout
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Upper Body Workout
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Week 2

  1. Monday:Lower Body Workout
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday: Upper Body Workout
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Lower Body Workout
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Weekly Schedule: It’s 3 total weight training workouts per week done in an every-other-day format with 2 consecutive days off at the end. The workouts alternate between upper and lower body so that you do Upper, Lower, Upper one week, and then Lower, Upper, Lower the next.

Weight Training Frequency: Each muscle group/body part is trained to some degree once every 4th or 5th day, making this a moderate frequency split.

Best Suited For: Most of the population, most of the time. Specifically, intermediate or advanced trainees with virtually any goal (building muscle, getting “toned,” increasing strength, improving performance, etc.).

This is just a slightly less frequent 3 day version of the 4 day upper/lower split mentioned earlier, so it’s still best suited for the same people. The only difference is that this version is more ideal for people who can only train 3 days per week (or would just prefer to) as well as people who prefer the slightly reduced frequency.

Additional Details: I discuss this split in detail right here: 3 Day Upper and Lower Body Split

The Rotating Push/Pull/Legs Split

Week 1

  1. Monday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
  2. Tuesday:Back & Biceps
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday:Legs & Abs
  5. Friday:off
  6. Saturday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
  7. Sunday:Back & Biceps

Week 2

  1. Monday:off
  2. Tuesday:Legs & Abs
  3. Wednesday: off
  4. Thursday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
  5. Friday:Back & Biceps
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:Legs & Abs

Weekly Schedule: It’s either 4 or 5 total weight training workouts per week (it changes from week to week) done with a 2 on/1 off/1 on/1 off format that repeats every 6th day.

This means the days you work out on will change from week to week unlike the previous schedules shown where the workout days always remain fixed and constant. This could be a big problem for many people from a scheduling standpoint.

Weight Training Frequency: Each muscle group/body part is trained once every 5th day, making this a moderate frequency split.

Best Suited For: Intermediate or advanced trainees whose primary goal is “looks” related (building muscle, getting “toned,” etc.) AND who also have a very flexible schedule.

Additional Details: I discuss this split in detail right herePush/Pull/Legs Split

The Push/Pull Split

Week 1

  1. Monday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps + Quads & Calves
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday: Back & Biceps + Hamstrings & Abs
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Chest, Shoulders & Triceps + Quads & Calves
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Week 2

  1. Monday:Back & Biceps + Hamstrings & Abs
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps + Quads & Calves
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Back & Biceps + Hamstrings & Abs
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Weekly Schedule: It’s 3 total weight training workouts per week done in an every-other-day format with 2 consecutive days off at the end. The workouts alternate between “pushing” muscles and “pulling” muscles so that you do Push, Pull, Push one week, and then Pull, Push, Pull the next.

It’s basically a 3 day version of the previously mentioned Push/Pull/Legs split, only here the “legs” workout is eliminated. Instead, leg training is also divided up in terms of “push” (quads/calves) and “pull” (hamstrings and usually abs) and then included along with the upper body push and pull workouts.

The only potential issue with this schedule is the overlap between quad and hamstring exercises. Meaning, training hamstrings and then quads with just 1 day in between could potentially be problematic for some people from a recovery standpoint.

Weight Training Frequency: Each muscle group/body part is trained once every 4th or 5th day, making this a moderate frequency split.

Best Suited For: Intermediate or advanced trainees whose primary goal is “looks” related (building muscle, getting “toned,” etc.).

My Recommendations

In all honesty, all of the weight training schedules and splits shown above can work to some degree for virtually every goal and experience level assuming everything else is done properly.

However, the goal here isn’t to just choose one that works. It’s to choose the one that will work BEST for you and your exact schedule, preferences, needs, experience level and goal.

So, here are my personal recommendations for which workout schedule I feel would be best for you:

  • For beginners with any goal, the answer is extremely simple: the 3 day full body split. It is the most proven and recommended workout schedule for beginners, period.
  • For intermediate or advanced trainees whose primary goal is increasing strength or improving performance, the 4 day upper/lower split or the 3 day full body split are my top choices.
  • For intermediate or advanced trainees whose primary goal is “looks” related (building muscle, getting “toned,” etc.), the 3 or 4 day upper/lower split is probably my #1 choice most of the time, although the push/pull/legs split is an equally perfect choice if you have a schedule flexible enough to make it work.

Sure, there are various other workout schedules and splits out there that can work for you (some I like, most I hate), but more often than not, these are the ones that have been proven to work best.

Once you’ve selected a weight training split and set up your overall weekly workout schedule, it’s time to actually plan out what you’re going to be doing during those workouts.

First up is figuring out what your ideal intensity level is and answering the old “how many reps per set” question. Let’s do that…

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4.Weight Training Intensity & Rep Ranges

Weight Training Intensity – How Many Reps Per Set Of An Exercise?

Weight training intensity basically refers to how much weight you will be lifting and how heavy or light that weight is for you on a given exercise.

The lighter the weight/easier it is for you, the lower the intensity. The heavier the weight/harder it is for you, the higher the intensity.

And, all of this intensity stuff is usually predicted by one thing: how many reps you’re doing per set.

Reps (short for “repetitions”) are the number of times you move a weight from point A to point B during a set of an exercise. The lighter the weight, the more reps you will be able to lift it for. The heavier the weight, the fewer reps you’ll be able to lift it for.

Obvious, I know. But, as you can see, reps and intensity go hand in hand most of the time. Meaning…

  • The more reps you can lift a weight for = the lower your training intensity is.
  • The fewer reps you can lift a weight for = the higher your training intensity is.

The reason this is important to us is because certain levels of intensity are more ideal for certain goals than others (due to factors like time under tension, muscle fiber recruitment, etc.).

And this leads to an important question: what weight training intensity is best for your goal?

Or, to put it another way, how many reps should you do per set of an exercise? Let’s find out…

The Ideal Rep Range For Various Weight Training Goals

Here now are the most commonly used rep ranges along with their primary training effect:

  • 1-5 Reps Per Set = Mostly Strength
  • 5-8 Reps Per Set = Strength AND Muscle Equally
  • 8-10 Reps Per Set = Muscle With Some Strength
  • 10-12 Reps Per Set = Muscle With Some Endurance
  • 12-15 Reps Per Set = Endurance With Some Muscle
  • 15-20 Reps Per Set = Mostly Endurance

So, as you can see:

  • Lower reps(high intensity) is most ideal for increasing strength.
  • Higher reps(low intensity) is most ideal for improving muscle endurance.
  • Moderate repsin the middle of the two (moderate intensity) is most ideal for building muscle and really anything related to improving the way your body looks (rather than performs).

Now, the key word I’m using here is “ideal.” Just because I didn’t put “strength” next to the 10-12 rep range doesn’t mean you will never be able to increase strength when doing 10-12 reps of an exercise. That’s not true at all.

In fact, each rep range shown is capable of producing some amount of strength, muscle, and endurance results. However, the objective here is to choose the rep range that is most ideal for your specific goal, because that’s the one that will work best for the results you want.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why there is no rep range that is ideal for “tone” or “definition” or “fat loss” or anything similar, it’s because, metabolic training aside (a topic for another day), there really is no such thing.

The whole “high reps makes you toned/defined/ripped/lean/etc.” concept is pure bullshit.

The take home message is that, from a training intensity standpoint, these goals all fall into the same category as “muscle” on the chart shown above. The same rep ranges are ideal.

Weight Training Intensity Recommendations

So, when it comes to intensity and figuring out how many reps you should do per set, here are the most widely accepted recommendations based on science and real world results…

  • If your primary goal is increasing strength, then you should mostly train in the lower rep ranges (between 1-8 reps per set) and therefore at a higher intensity.
  • If your primary goal is building muscle(or anything related to improving the way your body looks), then you should mostly train in the moderate rep ranges (between 5-12 reps per set) and therefore at a moderate intensity.
  • If your primary goal is improving muscle endurance, then you should mostly train in the higher rep ranges (between 12-20 reps per set) and therefore at a lower intensity.

Two Other Intensity Related Factors

Before leaving the subject of weight training intensity, there’s actually two other subjects/questions that are directly influenced by what rep range you end up using. They are:

  • Determining How Much Weight To Lift
    Once you know how many reps you’ll be doing per set of an exercise, the next thing you need to determine is how much weight you need to lift for each exercise to end up in that ideal rep range. I explain how to do that here: How Much Weight Should You Lift For Each Exercise?
  • Training To Failure
    Another topic directly related to training intensity is training to failure (the point where you can’t complete another rep). The question is, should you train to that point, or should you end a set before reaching that point?

My Recommendation

Now, based on science, real world results, various expert recommendations, and of course my own first hand experience, my opinion is that purposely training to failure does more harm than good.

I (and most experts) most often feel that purposely setting out to reach failure on a set (or every set) is the wrong idea. In most cases, you should try to stop about 1 (or 2) reps short of failure.

So, if you are trying for 10 reps but felt your 9th rep was definitely going to be the last one you were going to be able to do, stop there and don’t purposely go and fail on the 10th. Leave that rep in the tank and try for it next time.

In both the short term (the rest of that workout) and the long term (future workouts), this definitely appears to be more beneficial decision.

Now that you know how many reps per set is most ideal for your goal, the next thing you need to figure out is how many TOTAL reps, sets and exercises you should do per workout, per week and per muscle group. Let’s find out…

5.Weight Training Volume

Weight Training Volume – How Many Sets, Reps & Exercises?

In weight training, volume refers to the amount of work being done.

The “work” will of course come in the form of the exercises you do and how many sets and reps you do for each.

That means volume can be measured in a lot of different ways, the most important of which are:

  • How much volume is being done per muscle group/body part both per workout AND per week.
  • How much volume is being done per exercise.
  • How much total volume is being done per workout.
  • How much total volume is being done per week.

The reason this information is so important is because volume is one of the key factors influencing the effectiveness of your workout routine.

What I mean is…

  • If you dotoo much volume, you run the risk of hindering (or completely destroying) your body’s ability to repair and recover at an ideal rate. And if the repair/recovery process isn’t happening at the ideal rate, the results you want probably won’t be happening at all.
  • If you dotoo little volume, you run the risk of not providing enough of the training stimulus required to signal your body to actually make the changes/improvements you want it to make.

As you can clearly see, the goal here is to find the amount of volume that is high enough to provide the training stimulus needed to get the results you want, yet low enough to avoid negatively affecting your ability to recover.

For the best results possible, we need that optimal middle ground.

So, How Much Volume Is Best For Me?

Now, when trying to figure out how much volume is best for you, some people think “just tell me how many exercises I should do per muscle group/workout/week” and taaadaaa, there’s your workout volume.

The thing is, it’s a little more complicated than that. Here’s why…

Exercises Don’t Accurately Measure Volume

You see, even if there is an exact number of exercises recommended, the total amount of volume being done can still vary GREATLY.

For example, let’s say I just said the best volume is 3 exercises per muscle group, and three different people take my advice.

  • Person A might do 2 sets for each exercise, for a total of6 sets altogether.
  • Person B might do 3 sets for each exercise, for a total of9 sets altogether.
  • Person C might do 4 sets for each exercise, for a total of12 sets altogether.

So right there you have three clear examples of how doing the same number of exercises per muscle group can still lead to very different amounts of volume being done.

For this reason, trying to measure or prescribe volume using exercises is a pretty horrible idea.

Sets Don’t Accurately Measure Volume, Either

The next thought then is that sets should be used to measure and prescribe volume. Then I could just say to do 6 sets for each muscle group per workout, and you could divide those sets up over however many exercises you want.

Using 6 sets as the example, you could do 3 exercises for 2 sets each, 2 exercises for 3 sets each, 1 exercise for 4 sets and 1 exercise for 2 sets, and so on and so on.

Unlike before, the number of sets being done remains the same either way, which makes sets a MUCH better way to measure/prescribe volume than exercises were before.

However, a very similar problem still exists: how many reps are you doing per set?

Granted, I’ve laid out the ideal number of reps you should do per set for your goal, but the total volume being done can still vary by quite a bit.

For example, I said the 5-12 rep range is best for people looking to build muscle/get toned/look good, which is probably most of the people reading this.

Using the same 6-sets-per-muscle example from before…

  • Person A might do 6 sets of 6 reps for a total of36 reps per muscle group, per workout.
  • Person B might do 6 sets of 10 reps for a total of60 reps per muscle group, per workout.

As you can see, that’s still a pretty significant difference even with the same ideal rep range (5-12) being used.

For this reason, measuring or prescribing volume in terms sets is still not the best idea. It’s a million times better than exercises, but it’s still pretty flawed.

So then, what’s left? Reps!

Reps Are The Most Accurate Measurement Of Volume

If you recommend a certain amount of reps to do per muscle group or per workout or per week, it can be divided up into 1000 different combinations of exercises and sets.

But, in the end… the number of reps being done always remains the same.

For this reason, the best way to measure and prescribe weight training volume is by the total amount of reps being done per muscle group, per workout, and per week.

So, What Total Amount Of Reps Is Best For Me?

Now that’s the question we’re looking for. Let’s get down to the specifics and answer it…

The Optimal Volume Per Muscle Group, Body Part, Workout & Week

As I’ve previously explained, weight training volume (the amount of exercisessets and reps you do) is a key factor influencing the effectiveness of your workout routine.

Meaning, if you want to get the best results possible, your goal is to use an optimal amount of volume for each body part and muscle group per workout and per week total.

The thing is, there is no exact amount of weight training volume that is absolutely perfect for everyone.

Due to individual differences like specific goals, training experience, genetics, volume tolerance, work capacity, recovery capabilities, and more, it’s impossible to make one recommendation that suits everyone.

However, there is some good news.

There Is A Volume Range That Is Best For Most People

After 10+ years of obsessive research, firsthand experience and observing a ton of real world results, you start to notice that the most successful workout programs tend to have certain things in common.

In this case, I’m talking about volume. More specifically, the total amount of sets and reps being prescribed per muscle group and body part per workout and per week.

While the workout routines may be very different, the volume recommendations are always surprisingly close and within a certain “range.”

As it turns out, science appears to agree with this “range” too.

The majority of the studies I’ve seen over the years that have looked at workout volume (most notably one by Wernbom et al.) show that there is in fact an amount of sets and reps per body part/muscle group that tends to work better than everything else.

Combine all of that with various other expert recommendations, and you get what I like to call The Optimal Volume Range.

The Optimal Volume Range

In the most simple and basic of terms, the optimal volume range for most people is:

  • For each bigger muscle group: about60-120 total reps PER WEEK.
  • For each smaller muscle group: about30-60 total reps PER WEEK.

In more specific terms, this breaks down like this:

  • Chest: 60-120 reps per week.
  • Back: 60-120 reps per week.
  • Quadriceps: 60-120 reps per week.
  • Hamstrings: 60-120 reps per week.
  • Shoulders: 30-60 reps per week.
  • Biceps: 30-60 reps per week.
  • Triceps: 30-60 reps per week.
  • Calves: 30-60 reps per week.
  • Abs: 30-60 reps per week.

And there it is… my recommendations for the optimal volume range.

Can more or less volume also work? Yeah, it’s certainly possible. However, this is once again NOT about what can work. This is all about what works best.

And, based on scientific research, real world results, 10+ years of firsthand experience, expert recommendations and the most successful weight training programs in existence, this appears to be the amount of volume that works best for most people.

Applying The Optimal Volume Range To Your Training Frequency

Now, looking at these recommendations, the first question you probably have is:

Why is it “per week” instead of “per workout?”

Basically, this is the optimal total weekly amount of volume you should use for each muscle group and body part.

In order to break it down in terms of what you need to do each workout, you must apply this optimal volume range to your chosen weight training frequency.

Meaning, the exact amount of sets and reps you should do each workout depends on whether you will be training each muscle group/body part once, twice or 3 times per week.

Here’s how that would break down…

Training each muscle group once per week.

If you are training each muscle group/body part once-per-week, you would do:

  • 60-120reps for each big muscle group per workout, with just 1 workout for each muscle group per week.
  • 30-60reps for each small muscle group per workout, with just 1 workout for each muscle group per week.

With a workout schedule that only trains each muscle group once per week, you would need to get that entire weekly volume range in during your 1 weekly workout for each muscle group.

(Note, this is the frequency I least often recommend.)

Training each muscle group twice per week.

If you are training each muscle group/body part (about) twice-per-week, you would do:

  • 30-60reps for each big muscle group per workout, with about 2 workouts for each muscle group per week.
  • 15-30reps for each small muscle group per workout, with about 2 workouts for each muscle group per week.

With a workout schedule that trains each muscle group about twice per week, you would need to divide that weekly volume range by about 2 and split it up evenly over your 2 (or so) weekly workouts for each muscle group.

(Note, this is the frequency I recommend to most intermediate/advanced trainees.)

Training each muscle group 3 times per week.

If you are training each muscle group three-times-per-week, you would do:

  • 20-40reps for each big muscle group per workout, with 3 workouts for each muscle group per week.
  • 10-20reps for each small muscle group per workout, with 3 workouts for each muscle group per week.

With a workout schedule that trains each muscle group three times per week, you would need to divide that weekly volume range by 3 and split it up evenly over your 3 weekly workouts for each muscle group.

(Note, this is the frequency I recommend to all beginners.)

Should You Use The Low, Middle Or High End Of The Volume Range?

The second question you probably have about the optimal volume range is whether you should use the low, middle or high end of it.

This question goes back to what I mentioned earlier about there being no EXACT amount of volume that is perfect for everyone because of various individual differences.

Well, it’s those individual differences that will answer this question.

In general and in most cases, this is how it breaks down…

  • If you are a beginner with ANY goal (building muscle, increasing strength, losing fat, etc.), then you will do best staying in the lowest end of the volume range.
  • If you are an intermediate or advanced trainee with the primary goal of building muscle (or anything “looks” related), you should most often stick to the middle-higher end of the volume range. If you happen to have below average genetics and/or a below average ability to recover, then you’d be best served to stay in the lower end of optimal volume range.
  • If you are an intermediate or advanced trainee with the primary goal of increasing strength, you should most often stick to low-middle end of the volume range.
  • If you are a beginnerintermediate or advanced trainee with the primary goal of losing fat and maintaining muscle (and possibly building some) while you lose that fat, then you would do best sticking to the lower end of the volume range.

Why Is There Less Volume For Smaller Muscle Groups?

A third question you might have about the optimal volume range is why there is less recommended for smaller muscle groups than there is for bigger muscle groups.

This is partly due to the fact that they are smaller and just don’t need/benefit from as much volume as larger muscle groups.

However, it’s mostly due to the fact that those smaller muscle groups already get used pretty hard secondarily while training the bigger muscle groups. Meaning, they already get a ton of indirect volume.

For example, most chest exercises also hit the shoulders and triceps quite well, most shoulder exercises also hit the triceps quite well, and most back exercises also hit the biceps quite well.

There is a very significant amount of overlap there, and it definitely needs to be accounted for when planning your workout volume.

The optimal volume recommendations already factor this in.

Now that you know what the optimal volume range is for each muscle group and body part on a per workout and per week basis, you’re probably also wondering how to break this down into sets and reps per exercise. Well, let’s find out…

How Many Sets & Reps Should You Do Per Exercise Each Workout?

At this point you should have a pretty good understanding of why properly planning your weight training volume (the amount of sets, reps and exercises you do) is so important.

And, you should also be familiar with what I consider to be the optimal volume range for most people, which is the total amount of reps you should do for each muscle group per workout and per week.

From here, the next logical step is to break this optimal amount of volume down in terms of how many sets and reps you should do per exercise each workout.

So, let’s do just that.

How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do Per Exercise?

Simple. You should do exactly enough to allow you to fall within the optimal volume range for each muscle group.

Honestly, as long as that happens, then exactly how you divide your volume up among exercises becomes a little less important.

Of course, that’s just the quick and simple answer. You’re probably going to want to know the most common and all around proven ways of doing it. So, here we go…

The Most Common Set And Rep Combinations For An Exercise

Below are the most commonly used and prescribed combinations of sets and reps you could do per exercise along with the total amount of volume each one produces.

Also included is the level of intensity each rep range falls into as well as what fitness goal that combination of sets/reps/volume is most ideal for.

  • 8 sets x 3 reps = 24 reps
    High intensity.
    Most ideal for strength related goals.
  • 6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps
    High intensity.
    Most ideal for strength related goals.
  • 3 sets x 5 reps = 15 reps
    High intensity.
    Most ideal for strength related goals.
  • 5 sets x 5 reps =  25 reps
    High to moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for strength goals, but also suited for building muscle.
  • 4 sets x 6 reps = 24 reps
    High to moderate intensity.
    Equally ideal for increasing strength and building muscle.
  • 3 sets x 8 reps = 24 reps
    Moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.
  • 4 sets x 8 reps = 32 reps
    Moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.
  • 3 sets x 10 reps = 30 reps
    Moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for muscular endurance.
  • 4 sets x 10 reps = 40 reps
    Moderate to low intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.
  • 2 sets x 12 reps = 24 reps
    Moderate to low intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.
  • 3 sets x 12 reps = 36 reps
    Moderate to low intensity.
    Equally ideal for building muscle and improving muscle endurance.
  • 2 sets x 15 reps = 30 reps
    Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance, but also suited for building muscle.
  • 2 sets x 20 reps = 40 reps
    Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance.

As you can see, based on your specific goal and what rep range is most ideal for it, you have quite a few set/rep combinations to choose from for each exercise you do.

As you can also probably tell, there are a few principles these very different combinations have in common. The 2 most worth noting are:

  • The fewer reps you are doing per set, the more sets you do. And, the more reps you do per set, the fewer sets you do. While this isn’t an absolute rule, it is what should be happening the majority of the time.
  • The total volume being done per exercise is pretty similar despite the different amount of sets/reps being used. For example, 10 of the 13 popular combinations shown above produce between 20-36 reps total. The take home message?Most of the time, that’s probably how much volume you should end up doing per exercise.

How To Put This Information Into Action

Alright, so you now know the most popular and proven combinations of sets and reps that can be used for an exercise.

In order to put this information into action, you need to apply it to your optimal training intensity, volume and frequency.

A Practical Example

Let’s take an example person named PersonA.

Let’s pretend PersonA is an intermediate or advanced trainee whose primary goal is building muscle (or really anything related to improving the way their body looks rather than performs).

Based on PersonA’s experience level and goal, they previously learned:

  • Their ideal frequency is to train each muscle group about twice per week.
  • Their ideal rep range is 5-12 reps per set.
  • Their ideal volume is 30-60 reps per big muscle group per workout (half that for smaller muscle groups), with about 2 workouts per week for each muscle group (since that’s their optimal frequency).

Now, based on this, a chest workout for Person A could potentially break down like this:

  • Bench Press: 4 sets of 6 reps (24 total reps)
  • Dumbbell Flyes: 2 sets of 12 reps (24 total reps)
  • Total Volume Done For Chest During This Workout: 48 reps

In this example, Person A chose to do 2 exercises. For both exercises, the set/rep combination they picked has them working in their optimal intensity range (which is 5-12 reps per set for this example person).

And, these 2 set/rep combinations also combined to put them right in the middle of their optimal volume range per workout (which in this example was 30-60 reps for bigger muscle groups).

This amount of volume (or whatever amount of volume is optimal for you, your goal, your experience level, and your training frequency) could have been reached just the same using various other set/rep combinations from that list above as well as a different amount of exercises.

This was just one example of how to do it.

(If this was at all confusing, don’t worry. It will make perfect sense when you see the sample workout routines later on.)

Now that you know how to apply your optimal amount of volume to the exercises you do, it’s time to actually figure out what exercises you’re going to be doing. Let’s get to it…

Back To Table of Content

6.Exercise Selection & Organization

Selecting Weight Training Exercises For Your Workout Routine

At this point you should know what weight training frequency is most ideal for you and have selected a workout schedule that suits that frequency.

You should have also figured out how many reps to do per set for your goal, and planned how much volume (total amount of sets, reps and exercises) you’re going to do each workout for each muscle group.

With all of that out of the way, the last big step in creating your weight training routine is exercise selection.

So, here’s a question. Which weight training exercises should you use in your workout routine?

It’s really not that complicated of a question, but it’s one a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to answer. There’s just so many different exercises to choose from, it can make things a little confusing if you don’t fully understand what you’re looking for.

So, let’s clear up all of that confusion right now.

The 4 Different Ways To Categorize Weight Training Exercises

The way I see it, there are 4 different ways weight training exercises can be categorized. And, each different way brings up a whole new set of important details that you will need to know to ensure your workout routine has the best exercise selection possible.

Let’s now go through those categories one-by-one and see how each will affect your selection process.

1. Free Weight Exercises, Body Weight Exercises, and Machines

One of the simplest ways to categorize an exercise is by the type of equipment it requires.

Meaning, is it done using free weights, your own body weight, or some type of machine. Depending on your exact goal and weight training experience level, one may be more ideal for you than the other.

2. Compound Exercises and Isolation Exercises

Another simple way to categorize weight training exercises is by how it trains your body.

Specifically, does it target more than 1 major muscle group at a time (compound), or does it target just one muscle group by itself (isolation)?

Once again, depending on your exact goal, one type of exercise is definitely more ideal for you than the other. Plus, the more muscle groups an exercise targets, the more attention you need to pay to how it affects your planned amount of volume/frequency for those additional muscle groups.

3. The Different Movement Patterns

Now here’s something a lot of people are going to be unfamiliar with, and it’s a big part of the reason why injuries occur so frequently among people who workout regularly.

Selecting weight training exercises based on their specific movement pattern (horizontal push or pull, vertical push or pull, etc.) isn’t just useful for the effectiveness of your workout routine, it’s a flat out requirement if you want to avoid imbalances and injuries.

4. Body Parts and Muscle Groups

And last but not least, we have the most common way of categorizing weight training exercises, which is simply by which muscle group/body part that exercise targets.

This is unfortunately the only category most people pay any significant attention to (it is useful for obvious reasons), but for the best results possible, it really needs to be used in conjunction with the other 3 I just mentioned.

Let’s Begin The Exercise Selection Process…

So, without further ado, let’s go through each category in detail and figure out exactly which weight training exercises are best for you, your body, your experience level, and your goal. Let’s start here…

Free Weight Exercises vs Body Weight Exercises vs Machines

In the most basic and obvious sense, weight training exercises can fall into 3 different groups based on how they are preformed and what type of equipment is used.

They are:

  1. Free Weight Exercises
  2. Body Weight Exercises
  3. Machines

Despite what anyone else tells you, each type of exercise can serve a useful purpose in literally every workout routine regardless of what your goal is.

However, certain types of exercises are definitely more ideal for certain people based on factors like experience level, training preferences, body type/genetics, and of course, your specific fitness goal.

So, let’s go through free weight exercises, body weight exercises and machines and look at some examples of each, find out what their pros and cons are, and see how they compare with each other.

You’ll then be able to easily determine which is best (and worst) for you.

Free Weight Exercises

free weight exercise is any exercise where the resistance is provided by a barbell, dumbbells, or any other free moving object. Some common examples include any type of barbell or dumbbell press, row, curl, extension, or deadlift.

Basically, if you’re moving some sort of weight (like a barbell or dumbbell) from point A to point B, and that weight isn’t supported by or attached to anything other than you, it’s most likely a free weight exercise.

PROS

  • Completely natural movement.Allows you to move through a range of motion that is completely natural for your specific body. Nothing is restricted or put into any sort of fixed position that may not be perfect for you body.
  • Uses additional muscles.Since you are in full control of the weight and stabilizing the entire movement itself, you are therefore recruiting the use of various stabilizer muscles that tend to go unused with machines.
  • Extremely functional.Free weight exercises allow you to mimic actual movements that you actually do in real life, and in the exact manner you’d actually do them.
  • Ideal for home use.If you happen to do your weight training at home, a barbell (or dumbbells), some weight and a bench is all you need to be able to perform dozens of different exercises in your house.

CONS

  • Usually harder to learn at first.Especially when compared to machines (and to a lesser extent, body weight exercises), it’s usually a little harder to learn proper technique as a beginner.
  • Higherpotential risk of injury. There is a risk of injury with EVERY type of exercise, but the potential may be a little bit higher with free weights than others.

Body Weight Exercises

body weight exercise is any exercise where the resistance is provided by your own body weight.

Instead of moving a barbell or dumbbell from point A to point B like you would with a free weight exercise, a body weight exercise requires moving your own body from point A to point B. Some common examples include push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips.

PROS

  • Completely natural movement.Allows you to move through a range of motion that is completely natural for your specific body. Nothing is restricted or put into any sort of fixed position that may not be perfect for you body.
  • Uses additional muscles.Since you are in full control of of the weight (which is your body) and stabilizing the entire movement itself, you are therefore recruiting the use of various stabilizer muscles that tend to go unused with machines.
  • Extremely functional.Body weight exercises allow you to mimic actual movements that you actually do in real life, and in the exact manner you’d actually do them.

CONS

  • Sometimes too hard/impossible.For certain people (especially beginners and people who are overweight), body weight exercises like pull-ups and dips are extremely hard and in some cases just impossible to do. With free weights or machines, if it’s too heavy, you can just use less weight. With a body weight exercise, you’re kinda stuck with your own body weight. (I will mention however that there are ways around this issue to some degree, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Machines

machine exercise is any exercise that works on a fixed path with the weight (and usually the entire movement itself) stabilized for you by a machine.

Rather than holding the actual weight that is providing the resistance and moving it from point A to point B (like you are with free weight exercises), you are instead holding handles that are in some way attached to some form of weight, and you’re moving that from point A to point B.

Some common examples include any type of machine press, row, curl, extension, leg extension/curl, and leg press.

PROS

  • Usually easier to learn and do. Using a machine is usually as simple as sit down, grab the handles and move them in the only direction they are capable of moving. Especially in the case of beginners, this is the easiest form of exercise to learn.
  • Can sometimes be safer. While you can definitely still get injured using a machine, there is usually less risk of injury when compared to free weight or body weight exercises.

CONS

  • Unnatural movement path. A fixed, unnatural movement path forces you into positions that in many cases are not right for many people. At best this can be uncomfortable and make it hard to progress and properly train the target muscle. At worst, it will eventually cause an injury.
  • Least functional type of exercise. The carryover between machines and movements you actually do in real life is lesser than it is with either free weight or body weight exercises.
  • Does part of the work for you. While you are definitely still working the target muscle and moving the weight (or in this case, the handles) from point A to point B, the entire movement is being stabilized by the machine itself and therefore preventing you from using various stabilizer muscles.
  • Not ideal for home use. Machines are the most expensive (by far), take up the most space (by far), and are the least usable (one machine is typically only capable of one exercise, whereas a barbell or dumbbells can be used for dozens).

So, Which Type Of Exercise Is Best For You AND Your Goal?

In most cases, most of the time, this is how it breaks down based on your specific goal:

Performance Related Goals

If your primary goal is performance related (increasing strength, improving performance, etc.), then the majority of your workout routine should be comprised of free weight and body weight exercises. Machines should usually be kept to a minimum, or possibly none whatsoever.

Looks Related Goals

If your primary goal is looks related (building muscle, losing fat, getting “toned,” etc.), then really all 3 types of exercises can serve as suitable choices for your workout routine. In general however, free weight and body weight exercises are the ideal first choice, with certain machines being a perfectly fine secondary option.

Silly Myths

Oh, and before ending this, I figure I should quickly mention the extremely idiotic myth that “free weights are for adding bulk” and “machines are for toning up.” That’s complete and utter bullshit.

My post about muscle tone explains this in more detail, but the big point is that free weight exercises, body weight exercises and machines are all 100% equal in terms of being for “bulk” or “tone.” There is no difference whatsoever.

The next part of the exercise selection process is learning the difference between compound and isolation exercises and determining which is best for you and your goal. Let’s go…

Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises: Which is best?

A common way of classifying weight training exercises is in terms of how the exercise trains your body and what/how many muscle groups are being used significantly when it’s performed.

In this case, there’s 2 groups an exercise can fall into:

  • Compound Exercises
  • Isolation Exercises

Now, a lot of silly (or stupid) people like to make general definitive statements such as “compound exercises rule!” and “isolation exercises suck!”

Unfortunately for them (and the people who listen to them), it’s not quite that simple.

The truth is, both compound and isolation exercises can serve a ton of different purposes in a ton of different workout routines based on your goal and your body, and that means the only way to know for sure which type of exercise is best for you is by getting down to the specifics of each.

So, let’s do that.

Compound Exercises

compound exercise is any exercise that involves the use of more than one major muscle group at a time. Typically, there is one larger muscle group that ends up doing the majority of the work, and then one or more smaller muscle groups that are recruited secondarily.

Here’s a list of the most common compound exercises along with the primary and secondary muscle groups each one targets:

  • Flat, Incline or Decline Bench Press(barbell, dumbbell or machine)
    Primary Muscle Group: Chest
    Secondary Muscle Groups: Shoulders, Triceps
  • Overhead Shoulder Press(barbell, dumbbell or machine)
    Primary Muscle Group: Shoulders
    Secondary Muscle Group: Triceps
  • Dips(on parallel bars with slight forward lean)
    Primary Muscle Group: Chest
    Secondary Muscle Groups: Triceps, Shoulders
  • Dips(on parallel bars with no forward lean)
    Primary Muscle Group: Triceps
    Secondary Muscle Groups: Shoulders, Chest
  • Rows(barbell, dumbbell, or machine)
    Primary Muscle Group: Back
    Secondary Muscle Group: Biceps
  • Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Lat Pull-Downs(any type of grip)
    Primary Muscle Group: Back
    Secondary Muscle Group: Biceps
  • Deadlifts(many variations)
    Primary Muscle Group: Posterior Chain (Hamstrings, Glutes, Back, etc.)
    Secondary Muscle Groups: Much Of Lower Body, Much Of Upper Body
  • Squats(many variations)
    Primary Muscle Group: Quads
    Secondary Muscle Groups: Most Of Lower Body (Glutes/Hamstrings), Lower Back

Basically, if an exercise involves pushing, pulling, squatting or deadlifting, it’s usually training more than one major muscle group, and that makes it a compound exercise.

And, as you can see from the list above:

  • All chest pushing/pressing exercises also use the shoulders and triceps.
  • All shoulder pushing/pressing exercises also use the triceps.
  • All back pulling/rowing exercises also use the biceps.
  • Deadlifts and squats (and split squats, lunges, step ups, leg presses) also use a variety of lower body muscles and, in some cases, the lower and/or upper back.

How Compound Exercises Can Affect Your Planned Frequency, Recovery & Volume

Now, you may be wondering why you should care about what secondary muscle groups get trained during compound exercises. Here’s why.

You’re using a workout schedule that will allow you to train each muscle group with an optimal frequency, right?

Well, based on the information I just told you, can you see how easy it would be to unknowingly train certain muscle groups more often than you’re aiming to as a result of their secondary use during exercises that primarily target other muscles?

Plus, there’s also the issue of recovery. For example, you might train chest one day and triceps the next. In reality, you’ve trained triceps 2 days in a row (because of their secondary usage during chest exercises).

A similar issue can easily arise with pretty much every muscle group there is if you don’t plan carefully enough. This is another reason why I consider these the best workout schedules. Each one pairs muscle groups up in a way that avoids any potential problems with frequency/recovery as a result of secondary usage during compound exercises.

The same potential problem can exist for your planned volume per muscle group too. This goes back to what I’ve mentioned before about smaller muscle groups (like biceps and triceps) needing less direct volume due to how much indirect volume they get during compound exercises.

This is all stuff that needs to be taken into account when creating your workout routine. Luckily, if you’ve been following along from the beginning, it’s all stuff that has already been taken into account.

Isolation Exercises

An isolation exercise is any exercise in which only one major muscle group is trained by itself. Typically, the movement is done in such a way where usage of all other muscle groups is avoided, which leaves one muscle group isolated and able to do all of the work.

Here’s a list of the most common isolation exercises along with the muscle it isolates/trains:

  • Flat, Incline or Decline Flyes(dumbbell, cable or machine)
    Muscle Group Trained: Chest
  • Lateral Raises or Front Raises(dumbbell, cable or machine)
    Muscle Group Trained: Shoulders
  • Biceps Curls(barbell, dumbbell, cable or machine)
    Muscle Group Trained: Biceps
  • Triceps Extensions(barbell, dumbbell, cable or machine)
    Muscle Group Trained: Triceps
  • Leg Extensions
    Muscle Group Trained: Quads
  • Leg Curls
    Muscle Group Trained
    : Hamstrings
  • Calf Raises
    Muscle Group Trained: Calves

Basically, if an exercise involves raising, curling or extending, it’s usually training just one major muscle group, and that makes it an isolation exercise.

Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises

Now that you have a damn good understanding of both types of exercises, it’s time to compare them and figure out which is best for you. Here we go…

Round 1: Generally

Compound exercises allow you to engage more muscle groups, which in turn allows you to lift more weight, which in turn allows for faster and more consistent progression, which in turns causes a lot of good stuff to happen that all leads to the results you want to get.

Isolation exercises isolate muscle groups so they are trained by themselves. This means you’ll typically be using MUCH lower amounts of weight, which in turn means there won’t be anywhere near as much consistent progression, which in turn means the potential for results won’t be nearly as high as with compound exercises.

Let me explain that another way. Which do you think has more potential to improve the way your body looks or performs… adding 100lbs to your bench press, or adding 10lbs to your dumbbell flyes??

Obvious, isn’t it?

In general, compound exercises allow you to create MUCH more of the right type of training stimulus than isolation exercises can. And for this reason (and many other less important ones), compound exercises beat isolation exercises by a fairly large margin for most people, most of the time.

Round 2: Specifically

But wait, this battle isn’t over just yet.

You see, there are plenty of specific situations when isolation exercises can definitely be of use and serve an important purpose in your workout routine.

For example, let’s say you’ve already done some bench pressing but still need to get some additional chest volume in. However, at the same time, you don’t want (or need) any additional volume for your shoulders and triceps.

Since every compound chest exercise uses the shoulders and triceps secondarily, your best option in this scenario is to do a chest isolation exercise like dumbbell flyes (rather than another type of press).

In this case the isolation exercise allows you to do a second exercise for a muscle group to reach the optimal amount of volume, and it does it in a way that isolates that muscle so that no other secondary muscles are being trained with unwanted volume.

Another similar example is in the case of people who are training primarily for building muscle and have a hard time actually using their chest when bench pressing. This is somewhat common, and it means your triceps and shoulders are taking over and doing most of the work.

Aside from trying to correct this issue as much as they can, how else is this person supposed to properly train their chest? That’s right… with an isolation exercise like flyes.

And here’s yet another example. Let’s say you are doing chest and shoulders in the same workout. You’ve already done some flat bench pressing and some incline bench pressing, and your triceps (which are used secondarily in both) are pretty much dead at this point.

Does it make sense to do some kind of overhead press for shoulders and therefore use your already very fatigued triceps? In this case, a shoulder isolation exercise like lateral raises might be a better choice for some people.

And let’s not forget that isolation exercises are really the only way we can directly train smaller muscle groups like the biceps, triceps and calves without adding additional unnecessary volume to the larger muscle groups.

So really, while compound exercises are the winner of this battle in terms of what tends to be best in general, isolation exercises definitely have a time and place in the workout routines of many people.

Silly Myths

Before ending this with my recommendations, I figured I should probably mention the silly myth that “isolation exercises are for getting toned, lean and defined” and “compound exercises are for building lots of muscle and bulk.” Um, no. That’s 100% bullshit.

This is explained in detail in my muscle tone post, but the big point is that compound and isolation exercises are complete equals in terms of being for “tone” or “bulk” or whatever dumb words are associated with this idiotic myth. It’s all nonsense. Ignore it.

My Recommendations

So, what’s best for you? Here’s what I recommend…

  • If your primary goal is performance related (increasing strength, improving performance, etc.), then compound exercises should comprise the majority of your workout routine. Isolation exercises should be greatly limited or possibly avoided completely.
  • If your primary goal is looks related (building muscle, losing fat, getting “toned,” etc.), then compound exercises should comprise the majority of your workout routine and get your primary focus. However, a secondary focus on isolation exercises is fine and in some cases, maybe even ideal.
  • If you are a beginner with ANY goal, then compound exercises should comprise the majority of your workout routine. Isolation exercises should be kept to a minimum or possibly avoided completely.

The next part of the exercise selection process is learning the major weight training movement patterns, the exercises that go along with each, and how to properly implement them. Let’s go…

Movement Patterns: Exercises For Horizontal & Vertical Push & Pull, Quad & Hip Dominant, And More

Another one of the many ways of categorizing weight training exercises is in terms of their movement pattern.

You see, while there might be hundreds of different exercises in existence, there’s really only a few basic movements the human body is capable of doing during an exercise.

For the most part, these movement patterns are:

  • Horizontal Push
  • Horizontal Pull
  • Vertical Push
  • Vertical Pull
  • Quad Dominant
  • Hip/Hamstring Dominant
  • Elbow Flexion
  • Elbow Extension
  • Accessory Movements

Now let’s take a look at each and see which exercises fit which movement pattern, how it should affect your exercise selection, and why it all plays a key role in preventing injuries and imbalances.

Horizontal Pushing Exercises

A horizontal pushing exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight straight out in front of you so that it’s going away from your torso horizontally (think bench press).

Specifically, the most common examples of horizontal pushing movements are:

  • Bench Press
  • Low Incline Bench Press
  • Decline Bench Press
  • Flat/Incline/Decline Chest Press Machine
  • Flat/Incline/Decline Flyes

Horizontal Pulling Exercises

A horizontal pulling exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight in towards your torso horizontally from straight out in front of you (think rows).

Specifically, the most common examples of horizontal pulling movements are:

  • Bent Over Rows
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • T-Bar Rows
  • Chest Supported Machine Rows

Vertical Pushing Exercises

A vertical pushing exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight up vertically in relation to your torso so that it goes straight over head or at least in that direction (think shoulder press).

Specifically, the most common examples of vertical pushing movements are:

  • Standing Overhead Shoulder Press
  • Seated Overhead Shoulder Press
  • Lateral Raises
  • Front Raises
  • High Incline Bench Press

Vertical Pulling Exercises

A vertical pulling exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight down vertically in relation to your torso so that you are pulling down from over head (think lat pull-downs).

Specifically, the most common examples of vertical pulling movements are:

  • Pull-Ups
  • Chin-Ups
  • Lat Pull-Downs

Quad Dominant Exercises

A quad dominant exercise is any exercise where the primary mover is your quadriceps (think squats).

Specifically, the most common examples of quad dominant movements are:

  • Squats
  • Front Squats
  • Split Squats
  • Lunges
  • Leg Press

Hip/Hamstring Dominant Exercises

A hip/hamstring dominant exercise is any exercise where the primary mover is your hamstrings, glutes, or posterior chain as a whole (think deadlifts).

Specifically, the most common examples of hip/hamstring dominant movements are:

  • Deadlifts (all variations)
  • Glute-Ham Raises
  • Hyperextensions
  • Pull-Throughs
  • Good-Mornings
  • Leg Curls

Elbow Flexion Exercises

An elbow flexion exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight towards you by flexing at the elbow (think bicep curls).

Specifically, the most common examples of elbow flexion movements are:

  • Standing Biceps Curl
  • Seated Biceps Curl
  • Preacher Curls
  • Cable Curls

Elbow Extension Exercises

An elbow extension exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight away from you by extending at the elbow (think triceps extension).

Specifically, the most common examples of elbow extension movements are:

  • Laying Triceps Extension (Skull-Crushers)
  • Triceps Cable Press-Downs
  • Overhead Triceps Extension

Accessory Movements

The 8 types of exercises described above (especially the first 6) are considered the major movement patterns and the ones that should get the most attention. However, there are other minor movement patterns that I like to lump into one general “accessory” type category.

This mostly includes the leftover isolation exercises that don’t fit into any of the other categories. For example, calf raises, ab exercises, rotator cuff work, shrugs and things like that.

But Why Should I Care About Movement Patterns?

Now, you may be wondering why the hell anything I just told you is of any importance to you or your workout routine’s exercise selection. I have 3 reasons.

For starters, your overall weight training program should be comprised of exercises from EVERY movement pattern. If it isn’t, it means you’re missing something and failing to properly train your entire body.

Second, certain workout schedules and programs are designed in a way where the movement patterns play the largest role in how you select exercises for each workout.

For example, the most generic way of setting up an upper body workout (as part of an upper/lower split) is by combining 1 horizontal push, 1 horizontal pull, 1 vertical push, 1 vertical pull, 1 elbow flexion and 1 elbow extension exercise. And just like that, your upper body workout is good to go.

In the case of a full body split, you might take 1 exercise from every movement pattern category for each workout.

See what I mean? Depending on the exact routine you use, movement patterns could be a key part of the exercise selection process.

Even still, it’s the third reason that may be most important of all.

Balancing Opposing Movement Patterns To Prevent Injuries

The third reason you should care about movement patterns is for the purpose of preventing common weight training injuries and imbalances caused by typical crappy exercise selection. Let me explain.

If you “push” more than you “pull,” something will almost always eventually go screwy with one (or both) of your shoulders. This is extremely common, as most people (hi guys!) are much more interested with getting a big chest and huge shoulders than they are with getting a big back.

This means there tends to be more of a focus on pushing exercises (chest/shoulders) than there is on pulling exercises (back). And this lack of balance around the shoulder girdle is an extremely common cause of shoulder related injuries.

I’ve personally been there and done that myself, so I know exactly how common (and not fun) it is.

I also now know that the way to prevent it is by balancing the opposing movement patterns. How so? Like this…

  • For every horizontal push, you should have a horizontal pull(and vice-versa).
    (Example: For every bench press, you should have a row.)
  • For every vertical push, you should have a vertical pull (and vice-versa).
    (Example: For every shoulder press, you should have a pull-up or lat pull-down.)
  • For every elbow flexion, you should have an elbow extension (and vice-versa).
    (Example: For every biceps curl, you should have a triceps extension.)

It gets a little trickier with the lower body as there is a lot of overlap between quad dominant and hamstring dominant movements. But, generally speaking, for each quad dominant movement there should usually be a hip/ham dominant movement too.

And not only should the amount of exercises for each opposing movement pattern be equal, but the amount of volume (sets/reps) done should be pretty close (if not exactly) the same as well.

This doesn’t necessarily always have to balance out during each individual workout if that’s not how your program is set up.

For example, if your workout routine is designed in a way where you ARE training opposing movement patterns in the same workout, then the amount of volume and exercises for each should indeed be pretty equal and balanced in that specific workout.

But if your workout routine is designed in a way where you are NOT training opposing movement patterns in the same workout, then the goal is to ensure that the amount of exercises/volume for each ends up being pretty equal and balanced over the course of the week.

Meaning, if you have X sets of bench presses at the end of the week, you should usually have X sets of rows too. Y sets of overhead presses? Then there should be Y sets of pull-ups/pull downs. You get the picture.

There are some rare exceptions to all of the above recommendations, but for most people, most of the time, here’s the moral of this story:

Setting up your weight training routine in a way that ensures there is balance around the joints (shoulder, knee, elbow) and balance between the different movement patterns (horizontal push/pull, vertical push/pull, etc.) is KEY to injury prevention and building a balanced body.

Don’t ignore that.

At this point there’s really only one remaining way of categorizing weight training exercises, and that’s in terms of the muscle groups/body parts they target. So, let’s get to it…

 

A List Of The Best Weight Training Exercises For Each Muscle Group

The most common and straight forward way of categorizing weight training exercises is simply in terms what muscle group or body part an exercise targets.

While some explaining was necessary to properly show the difference between free weight exercises, body weight exercises and machines, and compound exercises and isolation exercises, and of course the different weight training movement patterns, very little explaining is needed here.

In fact, all this is going to be is just a big list of exercises for each muscle group with virtually no explanation whatsoever.

So, let’s get to it.

In no specific order, here’s a list of what are considered to be the best and most often used exercises for each major muscle group…

A List Of The Best Chest Exercises

  • Flat Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Incline Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Decline Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Flat Chest Press Machine
  • Incline Chest Press Machine
  • Decline Chest Press Machine
  • Dips (on parallel bars with slight forward lean)
  • Push-Ups
  • Flat Dumbbell Flyes
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes
  • Decline Dumbbell Flyes
  • Pec Deck Machine
  • Cable Crossovers/Cable Flyes

(Compound chest exercises also target the triceps and shoulders secondarily.)

A List Of The Best Back Exercises

  • Pull-Ups
  • Chin-Ups
  • Lat Pull-Downs
  • Bent Over Barbell or Dumbbell Rows
  • T-Bar Rows
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Chest Supported Barbell or Dumbbell Rows
  • Chest Supported Machine Rows
  • Inverted Rows
  • Barbell, Dumbbell or Machine Shrugs

(Compound back exercises also target the biceps secondarily.)

A List Of The Best Shoulder Exercises

  • Seated Overhead Barbell or Dumbbell Press
  • Standing Overhead Barbell or Dumbbell Press
  • Overhead Machine Press
  • Arnold Press
  • Barbell, Dumbbell or Machine Upright Rows
  • Dumbbell, Cable or Machine Lateral Raises
  • Dumbbell, Cable or Machine Front Raises
  • Barbell, Dumbbell, or Machine Rear Delt Rows, Raises or Flyes

(Compound shoulder exercises also target the triceps secondarily.)

A List Of The Best Quadriceps Exercises

  • Barbell or Dumbbell Squats
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Front Squats
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Split Squats
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Lunges
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Step-Ups
  • Leg Press
  • Machine Squat/Hack Squat
  • Leg Extensions

(Compound quad exercises also target a significant portion of the lower body/posterior chain.)

A List Of The Best Hamstring Exercises

  • Barbell or Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Straight Leg Deadlifts
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts
  • Glute-Ham Raises
  • Hyperextensions
  • Cable Pull-Throughs
  • Good-Mornings
  • Leg Curls

(Compound hamstring exercises also target a significant portion of the lower body/posterior chain.)

A List Of The Best Biceps Exercises

  • Standing Barbell or Dumbbell Curls
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Preacher Curls
  • Seated Dumbbell Curls
  • Incline Dumbbell Curls
  • Hammer Curls
  • Concentration Curls
  • Cable Curls
  • Biceps Curl Machine

A List Of The Best Triceps Exercises

  • Dips (on parallel bars, elbows close to body, without forward lean)
  • Flat Close Grip Bench Press
  • Decline Close Grip Bench Press
  • Close Grip Push-Ups
  • Laying Barbell or Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
  • Skull Crushers
  • Overhead Barbell or Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
  • Cable Press-Downs
  • Bench Dips

Additional Notes

So, there you go, a big list of exercises for each muscle group. I eventually plan on writing descriptions of each along with pictures and videos showing proper form at some point in the future, but for now it’s just a big list.

And this is in no way meant to be the definitive list of EVERY exercise in existence, by the way. While it is pretty damn comprehensive (especially in terms of what is considered best and most popular), some stuff has been left out.

I mean, for a majority of the exercises mentioned, I could have listed various minor variations of each based on the type of grip (pronated, supinated, neutral), how wide or narrow the grip or stance is, the specific placement of the bench/seat height, and on and on and on.

However, to avoid being unnecessarily repetitive, I decided not to get THAT specific. So, if you’re looking for additional exercises beyond what’s on this list, just know that minor variations (like the ones I just mentioned) can be made to many of them if desired.

Also keep in mind that, in the case of all compound exercises listed above, additional muscle groups are targeted secondarily.

Now that we’ve gone through the major aspects of the exercise selection process, it’s time to go over one last important aspect of determining exactly what exercises are best for you. Here we go…

What Are The Best Exercises For My Workout Routine?

When it comes to diet and fitness, people are always obsessed with finding out what works best. You know, like…

  • What is thebest workout routine?
  • What is thebest workout schedule?
  • What is thebest diet plan?
  • What are the best exercises?

These questions are all extremely common, and for good reason. If you do what works best, you’ll get the best results. Simple as that.

The problem however is that truly answering those questions is never quite as simple. I mean, I could give you the stereotypical answers that people like to throw around as though they are always right, but… they just aren’t always right.

Due to a ton of individual differences, what’s best for one person is not always best for another. And in the case of figuring out what the best exercises are for you… this couldn’t be more true.

Let me show you what I mean.

Typical Stupid Blanket Statements About Exercises

As I said before, there are certain stereotypical answers you’ll almost always get if you asked someone about what exercises are best for you.

The problem is, in almost every case, they are just stupid blanket statements that may be true a lot of the time, but are definitely not true 100% of the time.

Here’s the most common examples that come to mind…

“Compound exercises are better than isolation exercises.”

Now, in general, I definitely agree with this statement the majority of the time.

However, as I’ve already explained in Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises, there are plenty of situations when an isolation exercise is better than a compound exercise.

“Free weight and body weight exercises are better than machines.”

Once again, a lot of the time, I fully agree with this statement. But once again, there are plenty of situations when a machine is equally as good (or maybe even better) than free weight and body weight exercises.

It all depends on factors that are specific to you and your goal.

“Squats are better than leg presses.” “Squats are the best quad exercise.” “You must do squats.”

Listen, I love squats and am fully aware of how effective they are, how often recommended they are, and how they are single-handedly responsible for building some of the biggest, strongest, most impressive looking legs in the world.

HOWEVER, just because that is the case for many people doesn’t make it the case for everyone.

Want an example? How about… me.

You see, due to certain factors specific to my body, squats have never been that great of a quad exercise for me. I don’t know if it’s bone structure, height or leg length, naturally (or just overly) strong hamstrings and glutes, or some issue with flexibility or mobility, but whatever it is… squats have always felt like more of an awkward posterior chain exercise for me rather than the supposed king of the best quad exercises.

In my specific case, squats were never that great at building me big/nice looking legs. And since that is my primary goal, why on earth should I keep squatting when leg presses (along with split squats and lunges), are, for me, much more effective for what I need?

You see, in reality, no one truly NEEDS to squat except people who are involved in competitive powerlifting or some other similar sport where squatting is a requirement.

And with me just being a guy looking to build some nice looking quads, that doesn’t apply. For me, leg presses ARE better than squats at doing what I need them to do.

And guess what? There are a ton of people just like me. And while I will continue to recommend squats in the programs I create and always consider them one of the “in general/most of the time” best exercises, I will always take into account the fact that that’s not the case 100% of the time.

You should too.

“Exercise A is the best exercise for Muscle Group A.”

And this is basically what I just described with squats being the best leg exercise, only with some other exercise and muscle group in their place.

For every exercise that someone thinks is the best (or may actually be the best in most cases), there is almost always someone out there who could prove them wrong.

Here’s an example. Most people consider parallel bar dips to be one of the best triceps exercises. I fully agree. The problem is, dips are an exercise that often bothers people’s shoulders, especially those who have had shoulder issues in the past.

I know this first hand, because I am one of those people. For whatever reason, dips annoy my shoulders. I love them, and really really want to do them, but if I do, I end up with a shoulder problem every single time.

So, are dips the best triceps exercise for me or the thousands of other people who have the same issue? Nope, they aren’t. It’s just another stupid blanket statement.

Want another example? A lot of people consider bent over barbell rows one of the best back exercises.

I agree, unless of course you’ve deadlifted the day before or plan on deadlifting the day after. In that case, the additional stress bent over rows place on your lower back make them a pretty poor choice for a back exercise. In this case, some type of chest supported machine row would be better.

And speaking of back exercises, here’s another example. There are a ton of people who complain about being unable to actually use and “feel” their back working during certain types of rows.

In many cases, the person will come across a certain type of row that they ARE able to “feel” their back working on, in which case that specific exercise is the one that’s best for them above all the others.

And these are just a few examples of MANY.

You could name any of the supposed best exercises for any muscle group, and I can give you a reason why it may not be the best for someone based on their specific goal, body, experience level or preferences.

What’s best in general is only best in general. You need to care about what’s best specifically for you. The better you do that, the better your results will be.

The Best Exercises For YOU

Well, at this point I’ve already shown you:

  • How to determine if free weight, body weight or machines exercises are more ideal for you.
  • How to determine if compound or isolation exercises are more ideal for you.
  • The different exercise movement patterns and how to properly implement them with ideal balance.
  • A list of exercises for each muscle group that are most often considered the “best.”

In addition to that, the best exercise selection really comes down to 3 simple rules.

  1. Choose exercises that you can do safely and correctly.
  2. Choose exercises that allow you to properly train the target muscle group and/or allow you to achieve your desired training effect.
  3. Choose exercises that you can progress at consistently.

When you’ve done all that, you will have selected the best exercises for your workout routine.

Feel free to use the stereotypical blanket statements and generalities as a starting point, but use all of the factors specific to you as the end point. That’s how you’ll truly find what’s “best.”

Now that you know how to select the exercises for your workout routine, it’s time to learn how to properly organize them. Let’s start here…

Exercise Order – How To Arrange The Exercises In Your Workout

Once you select the weight training exercises you will perform during each of your workouts, the next decision you need to make is what order to perform them in.

As is the case with most aspects of creating an effective weight training routine, exercise order can vary significantly based on factors specific to you and your goal.

Having said that, there are some general rules that tend to apply in the majority of cases. Here now are those rules…

The General Rules Of Exercise Order

For most of the people, most of the time, proper exercise order can be summed up in one simple sentence:

More demanding exercises should be performed before less demanding exercises.

Here are the most common examples of what that means…

  1. Exercises for bigger muscles should come before exercises for smaller muscles.
    Examples: Chest or back before shoulders, biceps or triceps. Shoulders before biceps or triceps. Quads or hamstrings before calves or abs.
  2. Compound exercises should come before isolation exercises.
    Examples: Bench press before dumbbell flyes. Overhead press before lateral raises. Squats before leg extensions. Romanian deadlifts before leg curls.
  3. Free weight/body weight exercises should come before machines.
    Squats or deadlifts before leg presses. Barbell bench press before incline machine press. Pull-ups before chest supported machine rows.

As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of times when it might make sense to deviate slightly from these rules based on various individual factors, but in general… these rules should apply in most workout routines.

When More Than 1 Muscle Group Is Trained In The Same Workout

Now, you may be wondering what should happen when you are training more than one muscle group in a workout… as most people will be. In fact, the many people using a full body split or upper/lower split will be training quite a few muscle groups per workout.

As you already learned in rule #1 above, exercises for bigger muscle groups should come before exercises for smaller muscle groups.

This is easy when it comes down to obvious stuff like training chest before triceps or quads before calves, but what about when there’s more than one big muscle group being trained in the same workout?

Simple… all of the above rules still apply, even if it means you end up having to train each muscle group out of order.

Meaning, instead of doing all of the exercises for the same muscle group back-to-back and then doing all of the exercises for the next muscle group back-to-back, you might do an exercise for Muscle A, then Muscle B, then Muscle A again.

This is perfectly fine and perfectly normal and SHOULD happen to ensure you are performing your exercises in their optimal order.

Once again, here’s a reminder that there are certain instances where it might make sense to stray from these guidelines. However, since I can’t predict every possible scenario for every person’s specific situation, the best I can do is tell you what guidelines should be followed in most cases.

And, in most cases, these are the rules of exercise order that should be followed the majority of the time.

Now that you know what order you will perform your exercises in during each workout, it’s time to figure out how long you should rest between each set of each exercise. Let’s do that…

How Long To Rest Between Sets & Exercises – Workout Rest Times

After you’ve selected the exercises you will perform in each of your workouts and put them in their ideal order, the next important step is to answer the following questions:

  • How long should you rest between sets of an exercise?
  • How long should you rest between different exercises?

Simply put, if your rest periods are too long or too short, you’ll end up sacrificing the results you want to some degree.

The goal is to find that sweet spot right in between resting too much or too little. When you find that, you’ll have found your optimal rest time.

As it turns out, there’s primarily 3 major factors that influence what your ideal rest times should be:

  1. What intensity/rep range you are using for a given exercise.
  2. How demanding that exercise is on your body as a whole.
  3. Your primary goal (building muscle, increasing strength, losing fat, etc.).

Based on these three factors, it’s pretty common to see rest time recommendations of anywhere from 0 seconds to 5 minutes between sets and exercises.

Yeah, that’s a pretty broad range.

Luckily, this range can be narrowed down greatly by applying each factor to your exact situation. Here’s how.

How Your Intensity/Rep Range Influences Rest Times

In my post about weight training intensity, I explained that the fewer reps you can do per set of an exercise, the higher your training intensity is. And, the more reps you can do per set of an exercise, the lower the intensity.

You know, like how only being able to lift a weight for 5 reps means you are training at a fairly high intensity, while being able to lift a weight for 15 reps is a fairly low intensity. Ring a bell? Good.

This all has a direct effect on the amount of rest you need between sets. Here’s what I mean…

  • The higher the rep range/lower the intensity, the less rest you need between sets of that exercise.
  • The lower the rep range/higher the intensity, the more rest you need between sets of that exercise.

So, for example, if you are doing 6 reps per set of an exercise, you would need more rest between sets than if you were doing 12 reps per set of the same exercise.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

How An Exercise’s “Demand” Influences Rest Times

Along with how many reps you’re doing per set of an exercise, the exercise itself and how demanding it is on your body also plays a big role in how long you should rest.

Quite simply:

  • The more demanding an exercise is on your body, the more rest you need.
  • The less demanding an exercise is on your body, the less rest you need.

Meaning, exercises for bigger muscle groups like legs, chest and back typically need more rest between sets than exercises for smaller muscle groups like biceps, triceps and calves.

At the same time, more demanding compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and various presses and rows typically require more rest between sets than less demanding isolation exercises like lateral raises, dumbbell flyes, biceps curls, triceps press-downs, leg extensions or anything similar.

Even if the isolation exercise is for a bigger muscle group, it still needs less rest between sets than a compound exercise for that same muscle group.

Again, it makes perfect sense.

How Your Primary Goal Influences Rest Times

The final major factor influencing rest times is your specific fitness goal.

You see, rest time between sets can be classified 2 different ways, complete and incomplete, and both have their own pros and cons depending on your goal.

Complete (or near complete) rest times.

This type of rest is longer in duration and allows for more recovery of your central nervous system. This means you’ll be able to maintain your work capacity better, maximize strength performance and basically be at your strongest from set-to-set and able to lift the most amounts of weight for the most amounts of reps.

However, the amount of fatigue and metabolite accumulation (all of which play a role in fat loss, building muscle, and improving muscular endurance) is typically lower.

Incomplete rest times.

This type of rest is shorter in duration and allows for more accumulated fatigued (which is associated with higher increases in growth hormone) along with various metabolic benefits as well.

However, the amount of neural recovery will be lower, and this means your strength and work capacity from set-to-set will be a lot lower as well.

Which type of rest is best for me?

As you can see, there is something good and bad about each, and this is when your primary goal comes into play.

Depending on exactly what your goal is, certain rest times (complete, incomplete, or a combination of both) would be better suited for you than others. Let me show you what I mean…

  • Rest Time Between Sets: 20-60 seconds
  • Type Of Rest: Incomplete
  • Most Ideal For: Muscular endurance, metabolic training/circuit training, burning some additional calories.
  • Rest Time Between Sets: 1-2 minutes
  • Type Of Rest: Incomplete/Complete
  • Most Ideal For: Building muscle, getting “toned,” looking good.
  • Rest Time Between Sets: 2-3 minutes
  • Type Of Rest: Complete/Incomplete
  • Most Ideal For: Building muscle, getting “toned,” looking good, increasing strength.
  • Rest Time Between Sets: 3-5 minutes
  • Type Of Rest: Complete
  • Most Ideal For: Strength and muscular power.

As you can see, it doesn’t have to be JUST incomplete or JUST complete rest times. Rest times don’t have to be JUST real short or JUST real long. You can rest somewhere in the middle and get the benefits of both types of rest.

And this of course leads to the almighty question…

So, How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

Putting all 3 of the factors influencing rest times together, here are my recommendations for exactly how long you should rest between sets based on your goal…

  • For Muscular Endurance And/Or Getting The Benefits Of Metabolic/Circuit Type Training…
    Resting 20-60 seconds between sets is probably ideal for you. If the exercise being done is more demanding on the body, rest more towards the higher end of that range. If it’s less demanding, rest more towards the lower end.
  • For Increasing Strength And Maximizing Muscular Power…
    Resting 2-5 minutes between sets is probably ideal for you. The higher your training intensity is for a given exercise and/or the more demanding it is on your body, the more you should stay towards the higher end of that range. The lower the intensity and/or less demanding it is, the more you should stay towards the lower end of that range.
  • For Building Muscle, Getting “Toned,” And Improving How Your Body Looks
    Resting 1-3 minutes between sets is probably ideal for you. The higher your training intensity is for a given exercise and/or the more demanding it is on your body, the more you should stay nearer to the 2-3 minute range. The lower the intensity and/or the less demanding the exercise is, the more you should stay in the 1-2 minute range.

How Long Should I Rest Between Exercises?

Regarding how long to rest between different exercises, it should usually be about as long as you rested between sets of the previous exercise. Meaning, if you rested 3 minutes between sets of Exercise #1, you should rest about 3 minutes before doing your first set of Exercise #2.

I actually tend to be a little less strict when it comes to rest times between exercises, because sometimes you just need a little more time to recover from that last set of the previous exercise as well as time to actually get to and set up at your next exercise.

So, if you end up taking an extra minute or 2 when switching from one exercise to the next, that’s usually alright with me unless otherwise instructed.

However, your rest times between sets of each exercise should stay much more strict and consistent.

Well, at this point we’ve covered the majority of what goes into creating the ideal workout routine. Now it’s time to go over the final requirements that can literally make your break the effectiveness of your program. First up…

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7.The Final Requirements

Progressive Overload – The Key Workout Requirement

Do I have your attention? I mean seriously… do I really have your attention?

I ask because I’m about to explain the single most important factor in getting positive results from any type of workout or any form of exercise.

Are you listening now? Good.

When trying to create the most effective workout routine possible, your goal is to use the frequency, schedule, intensity, volume, and exercise selection that is as optimal as possible for you and your goal.

If you do that correctly, you are pretty much guaranteed to get the best results you can get.

Unless of course you happen to leave out the one component that matters more than everything else.

It’s the component that can turn the most perfect workout program into a useless waste of time and literally make or break your success.

I’m talking about a little something called progressive overload, and it is the absolute key to getting the results you want from your workout routine.

What Is Progressive Overload?

The best way I can explain it is by telling you a very important secret.

You see, the human body doesn’t care that you have some type of workout/exercise goal in mind. It doesn’t care that you want to build muscle, or lose fat, or get toned, or become stronger, or improve performance, or just look great naked.

Your body only knows and cares about 1 thing: keeping you alive and functioning as efficiently as possible. That’s your body’s only real goal.

And, to ensure it meets this goal, your body is both smart enough and capable enough to do whatever is needed of it in order to adapt to its environment.

And it’s this fact that is the basis for all workout/exercise goals to be reached.

What I mean is, the only way your body will ever change or improve the way you want it to is by creating an environment that proves to your body that these changes and improvements MUST be made.

Or, to put it another way, your body will not change or improve unless you force it to.

No matter how perfect your workout is, muscle will not be built, strength will not be gained, and performance will not improve unless you show your body that these are things that absolutely NEED to happen in order for it to survive.

And that right there brings us to something called the progressive overload principle.

The Progressive Overload Principle

The progressive overload principle basically states:

In order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced.

Go back and read that again. It’s pretty important.

And what it means is, if you lift the same weights, for the same number of reps, the same way for the next 20 years… nothing will ever happen. Your body will never change or improve in any way.

You will only maintain your current state.

However, if you increase the demands you are placing on your body by increasing the weight being lifted, lifting the same weight for more reps, or just doing something that increases the demands that your body needs to meet, then your body will have no other choice but to make the necessary changes and improvements that will allow it to adapt to this environment and remain capable of performing these tasks.

And these “changes” and “improvements” and “adaptations” come in the form of more musclemore strengthless fatmore tonebetter performance and just the overall results you are looking to get.

That’s what all of these goals are, really… just our body’s adaptive response to the demands being placed on it through exercise.

You’re basically showing your body that in order for it to survive, in order for it to do what you are forcing it to do, it’s going to NEED to make these changes and improvements.

Let me show you exactly what I mean in the specific context of weight training.

An Example of Progressive Overload

Let’s pretend that right now you can lift 50lbs on some exercise for 3 sets of 8 reps.

Now, if you continue to lift that same 50lbs for those same 3 sets of 8 reps for the next 20 years… you will not gain ANY new muscle or strength at all. Why? Because there was no progressive overload.

Your body has already adapted to this tension (50lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps) and has already provided you with exactly as much muscle and strength as you need to be able to perform this task on a regular basis.

Because you aren’t increasing the demands being placed on your body, you aren’t giving your body ANY reason to improve any further.

And, because of that… it won’t.

You can do everything else perfectly, but if you fail to provide some form of progressive overload over time, your body will never see any reason to change.

However, if you were to lift 50lbs for 3 sets of 9 reps (instead of 3 sets of 8 reps) on that same exercise, then a reason would finally exist.

Why? Simple. You increased the tension. You increased the demands. You increased the work your body had to do. Instead of doing the same 3 sets of 8 reps with 50lbs, you worked to do 1 additional rep on each of those sets.

And, while it may only seem like a tiny improvement, it’s EXACTLY what you need to do in order to prove to your body that it needs to improve.

Similarly, if you were to now try to lift 55lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps (an increase of 5lbs)… the exact same type of reason would exist.

You’re basically telling your body: “Hey, look at this. The work you have to do has increased, so you better build some more muscle and add some more strength to compensate.”

This is progressive overload.

Whether you get just 1 more rep on just 1 set, or add 5lbs to all of your sets… it doesn’t matter. Your goal is to somehow beat what you did the previous time.

And as long as you do this as often as you can and cause some form of gradual progression to take place over time, then you are giving your body a reason to continue to change and improve.

As long as that reason is present, results are guaranteed to follow.

At the same time, as soon as that reason stops (or if it never exists in the first place), then your body stops having a reason to continue to improve. No matter how perfectly you are doing everything else, no new positive changes will be made without progressive overload happening.

This Is Why Most People Fail

It’s this lack of progressive overload that is easily the #1 reason most of the people who workout look pretty much the same way today as they did when they first started working out.

It’s a sad sight to see, and you can see it in every gym in the world.

Men, women, young, old, fat, skinny… they are doing nothing to increase the demands being placed on their body. So, their body has no choice but to remain exactly the same.

This is fine if that’s your goal. If you’ve already reached the point where your body is perfect and it looks and performs exactly how you want it to. No more progressive overload is needed then since you just want to maintain your current condition.

But, until the day you reach that point, your primary focus must be on progressive overload.

Does That Mean I Need To Progress Every Single Workout?

Nope. In fact, doing so would be pretty much impossible, at least for a significant period of time. If we could, everyone would be lifting a million pounds for a million reps on every exercise. That’s just not realistic.

However, we should definitely have that mindset and strive to increase the demands being placed on our bodies as often as we possibly can (within the realm of safety and proper form, of course).

Whether that happens every workout, or every other workout, or just once per month or less depends on a ton of individual factors specific to you and your goal.

However, your #1 job is to just make sure it happens.

As long as you’re forcing progressive overload to take place in some form over time, then your body will continue to build muscle, increase strength, appear more toned, or improve in whatever way you are trying to get it to improve.

The Moral Of This Story

So, in case you skipped right to this part because you’re really lazy, here’s the take home message…

If you want to get any degree of positive results from your workout routine, progressive overload is the absolute key.

I don’t care who you are, what your goal is, or what type of workout/exercise you’re doing. If you want it to work, you must focus on making progressive overload happen.

If you don’t, you are guaranteed to fail. If you do, you are guaranteed to succeed. Simple as that.

How Should I Make Progressive Overload Happen?

Now there’s a good question. Let’s take a look at the most common and effective ways…

Workout Progression: When & How To Progress At Weight Training

As I’ve previously explained, the #1 key to getting positive results from your workout routine is progressive overload.

Meaning, you must strive to increase the demands being placed on your body in some way over time.

When you fully understand how big of a requirement this is, the next logical question is pretty obvious…

Exactly how and when should this progression take place?

Well, in the specific context of weight training, there’s a bunch of ways it can be done, and some are more ideal for certain goals and experience levels than others.

The most common methods of weight training progression that come to mind are:

  • You can increase the weight being lifted.
    For example, if you are currently lifting 100lbs on some exercise, you can lift 105lbs the next time you perform that exercise.
  • You can increase the number of reps a weight is being lifted for.
    For example, if you are lifting 100lbs on some exercises for 3 sets of 8 reps, you can do 3 sets of 9 reps with that same weight the next time you perform that exercise.
  • You can increase the number of sets you are lifting a weight for.
    For example, if you are lifting 100lbs on some exercises for 3 sets of 8 reps, you can do 4 sets of 8 reps with that same weight the next time you perform that exercise.
  • You can increase the amount of work being done in a given time period.
    For example, if you currently rest 3 minutes between sets of an exercise, you can try lifting the same weight for the same amount of sets and reps, but with only 2 minutes and 30 seconds of rest between sets.
  • You can increase the difficulty of the exercise being performed.
    For example, if you are currently doing split squats/static lunges, you can move up to a similar but more challenging version of the same exercise such as walking lunges or Bulgarian split squats.

Once again, depending on your exact goal and experience level, some of these methods are more or less ideal for you than others.

However, for most of the people, most of the time, here’s the method of weight training progress that I (and many others) most often use and recommend…

The Typical Weight Training Progression Protocol

In any intelligently designed weight training routine, you will have specific exercises that you are supposed to perform during each workout.

For each exercise, you will have a certain number of sets that you are supposed to do. For each set, you will have a certain number of reps that you are supposed to do.

And obviously, you will also have a certain amount of weight that you will be lifting during each exercise.

Now, the most basic, generic, and common form of weight training progression works like this:

  1. Meet the prescribed set and rep goal for the exercise.
  2. Increase the weight being lifted for that exercise by the smallest increment possible.
  3. Meet the set/rep goal again with this new, slightly heavier weight.
  4. Increase the weight being lifted again by the smallest increment possible.
  5. Repeat this process over and over again as often as you are capable of making it happen.

Confused? Here’s an example…

An Example Of How & When To Progress

Let’s say that for one of the exercises in your workout routine (let’s call it Exercise XYZ) you are currently lifting 50lbs. Let’s also say that your program calls for you to do 3 sets of 8 reps for Exercise XYZ.

Now let’s say today you did Exercise XYZ and it went like this:

  • Set #1: 50lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2: 50lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #3: 50lbs – 8 reps

As you can see, you lifted 50lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps in this example. Since your program calls for you to do 3 sets of 8 reps, this workout was a success.

Since you’ve reached the prescribed set/rep goal for this exercise, it’s now time to increase the weight by the smallest increment possible. So, the next time you perform Exercise XYZ, you should do something like this:

  • Set #1: 55lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2: 55lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #3: 55lbs – 8 reps

See what happened? Progressive overload took place. You increased the weight you were lifting by 5lbs (which is usually the smallest possible increment) and performed that same prescribed 3 sets of 8 reps with this new slightly heavier weight.

That means this workout was once again a complete success. The next time you perform Exercise XYZ, you’d go up to 60lbs and again attempt 3 sets of 8 reps. You would then continue increasing like this as often as possible over and over again.

The only thing is, most people will NOT be able to increase this much and/or this consistently from workout to workout (beginners might, but few others will).

In fact, instead of that second successful workout shown above (the 55lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps), many people would have ended up only able to do something like this:

  • Set #1: 55lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2: 55lbs – 7 reps
  • Set #3: 55lbs – 6 reps

This is completely normal and should still be considered a successful workout (it is still definitely progressive overload). Now, in this case, your goal the next time you perform Exercise XYZ is something like this:

  • Set #1: 55lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2: 55lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #3: 55lbs – 7 reps

And then the time after that…

  • Set #1: 55lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2: 55lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #3: 55lbs – 8 reps

And the time after that…

  • Set #1: 60lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2: 60lbs – 7 reps
  • Set #3: 60lbs – 6 reps

And you would repeat this similar pattern of increasing reps/weight over and over again so that your body continues having a reason to adapt and improve over and over again.

Oh, and in case it isn’t obvious enough, if your weight training routine called for 3 sets of 10, 4 sets of 6, 5 sets of 5, 2 sets of 12, or any other combination of sets and reps, you’d still progress virtually the same way as shown in the above example, just with a different number of reps and sets.

Will progression always be this consistent?

Nope, not always. There will definitely be times when you end up repeating the same exact number of sets/reps/weight that you did the previous workout.

Sometimes this might even continue for quite a while with certain exercises (this is especially true the more advanced you get).

There will also be times where, in the above example for instance, you might only get reps of 7, 7, 7, or 7, 6, 6, or 7, 6, 5 in the three sets after going up in weight. Don’t worry, it’s all perfectly normal.

Just work your ass off to progress in some way as often as you can and beat what you were able to do the previous time. Add 1 rep to every set, add 1 rep to just one set, add 2 reps to one set and 1 rep to another… whatever.

Just work hard to gradually reach your workout routine’s prescribed set/rep goal for each exercise. And then, once you do reach it, increase the weight you are lifting for that exercise by the smallest possible increment and repeat this protocol all over again.

This is all part of the process of progressive overload, and it’s the only true requirement for getting positive results from your workout routine.

Well, at this point we’ve covered every major aspect of creating and implementing an effective workout routine. The funny thing is, your workout routine is only half of what’s needed to reach your goal. The other half is your diet. Here’s what I mean…

 

How To Create The Perfect Diet Plan For Your Workout Goal

 

If your diet plan isn’t what it needs to be, your workout routine will fail completely no matter how perfect it is.

That is not an exaggeration. You could be using the single greatest workout program ever created and it will get you absolutely nowhere if you aren’t eating in a way that supports your goals.

What I’m trying to say is, your diet plan is equally as important as your workout routine (if not more so) in terms of getting the results you want to get.

So, what you need to do now is create the diet plan that will work best for you.

As you can imagine, fully explaining how to do that would require its own insanely comprehensive guide.

Until I get around to doing that, here’s the ultimate mini-guide to how to create your perfect diet plan.

Step 1: Calorie Intake

The most common recommendations for your daily calorie intake are:

  • If your primary goal is losing fat, you need to create a daily caloric deficit of  around 20% below your maintenance level.
  • If your primary goal is building muscle (or increasing strength), you need to create a daily caloric surplus of about 250 calories above your maintenance level (about half that for women).

Now let me explain what the hell that actually means.

Calorie Maintenance Level

Every person has a certain number of calories that they need to eat each day in order to maintain their current weight. This is what’s known as your calorie maintenance level.

There are a bunch of complicated ways to estimate what your maintenance level is, but the quickest and simplest way is to just multiply your current body weight (in pounds) by 14 and 18.

Somewhere in between those 2 amounts will usually be your daily calorie maintenance level.

If you’re more active and/or think you have a fast metabolism, then you should probably use the higher end of that range. If you’re less active and/or think you have a slow metabolism, then you should probably use the lower end of that range.

If you’re unsure, just pick a number in the middle. We’ll make sure it’s perfectly accurate later on. Don’t worry.

Next, pick your goal…

If Your Primary Goal Is Losing Fat…

In order to lose fat, you must consume LESS calories per day than your maintenance level amount. Doing so creates a caloric deficit, and this forces your body to start burning your stored body fat for energy.

Meaning, a caloric deficit is a fat loss requirement.

As I mentioned before, the most often recommended caloric deficit is about 20% below your maintenance level. So, let’s do some basic first grade level math.

For example, if your estimated calorie maintenance level is 2500 calories per day, you’d figure out that 20% of 2500 is 500 (2500 x .20 = 500). Then you’d just subtract that 500 from 2500 and get 2000.

In this example, this person would need to eat 2000 calories per day to lose fat.

If Your Primary Goal Is Building Muscle…

In order to build muscle, you must consume MORE calories per day than your maintenance level. Doing so creates a caloric surplus, and this provides your body with the calories it needs to actually create new muscle tissue.

Meaning, a caloric surplus is a muscle building requirement.

As I mentioned before, the ideal caloric surplus for most guys is about 250 calories above your maintenance level, and around half that for girls. So, let’s do some basic first grade level math.

For example, a man with an estimated calorie maintenance level of 2500 calories per day would add 250 or so calories to it and get about 2750.

In this example, this person would need to eat about 2750 calories per day to build muscle at an ideal rate.

Ensuring That Your Calorie Intake Is Correct

Since our calorie intake is based on an estimate, it’s possible it can be a little off. Luckily, there’s a very simple way to double check it.

Weigh yourself once per week first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything (or weigh in daily and take the weekly average). Then, just monitor what your weight does from week to week.

  • If your goal is losing fat, you should end uplosing between 0.5-2lbs per week (closer to 2lbs if you have a lot of fat to lose, closer to 0.5lbs if you only have a little fat to lose, or somewhere in the middle if you have an average amount to lose). If you are losing weight slower than that or not at all, then reduce your calorie intake by an additional 250 calories. If you are losing weight faster than that, then increase your calorie intake by about 250 calories.
  • If your goal is building muscle (or increasing strength), you should end upgaining about 0.5lb per week (or about 2lbs per month). And again for women, it should be about half that. If you are consistently gaining weight faster than that, reduce your calorie intake by about 250 calories. If you are gaining weight slower than that or not at all, then increase your calorie intake by about 250 calories.

Basically, just consistently weigh yourself each week and make sure your weight is moving in the right direction at the optimal rate that I just described.

If is it, perfect! Keep eating that amount of calories each day.

If it isn’t, then just adjust your calorie intake in 250 calorie increments until it is. Simple as that.

Step 2: Protein Intake

The most common recommendation for the daily protein intake of healthy adults who are weight training regularly is:

Between 0.8 – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. An even 1 gram of protein per pound is probably the most common recommendation of all.

So, for example, if you weigh 175lbs, you’d shoot for about 175 grams of protein per day (or a little more if you prefer it).

High protein foods include chicken, fish, turkey, lean meats, eggs/egg whites, milk, protein supplements and to a lesser extent nuts and beans as well.

Step 3: Fat Intake

The most common recommendation for your daily fat intake is:

Fat should account for between 20-30% of your total calorie intake, with an even 25% probably being most common.

For that to make sense, you need to know that 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.

So, for example, if your ideal calorie intake is 2000 calories per day, you’d first figure out that 25% of 2000 is 500. Then, you’d divide 500 by 9 and figure out that you’d need to eat about 55 grams of fat per day in this example.

Foods high in the “healthy fats” that should account for the majority of your fat intake include fish, fish oil supplements, nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, etc.), seeds, and olive oil.

Step 4: Carb Intake

The most common recommendation for your daily carb intake is:

However many calories are left after a sufficient protein and fat intake have been factored in… those calories should come from carbs.

Don’t worry, it’s not as confusing as it sounds.

Basically, figure out how many calories your protein and fat intake will account for, and then subtract them from your ideal total calorie intake. However many calories you’re left with to reach that ideal total… those calories will all come from carbs.

Confused? It’s alright, I’ll show you an example in a second.

The majority of your carb intake should come from foods like fruits and vegetables, rice (brown, white, whatever), sweet potatoes, white potatoes (they are not evil), and various beans and whole wheat/whole grain products (unless of course you have issues digesting grains).

An Example Diet Plan

Now let me show you a step by step example of how to put it all together.

Let’s pretend we have a guy who weighs 175lbs and has the primary goal of building muscle. Let’s also pretend his calorie maintenance level is 2250 calories (just a completely made up example number).

Here’s how he’d create his diet plan…

  1. Since he wants to build muscle, he’d need to create a caloric surplus. With a maintenance level of 2250 calories, he’d now eat about 2500 calories per day.
  2. Next, he decided to go with an even 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Since he weighs 175lbs, that means he’ll need to eat about175 grams of protein per day. Since 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, that means his protein intake will account for 700 calories each day (175 x 4 = 700).
  3. From there he learned that about 25% of his total calorie intake should come from fat. Since this example person will be eating 2500 calories per day, he first figured out that 25% of 2500 is 625 calories (2500 x 0.25 = 625). Then, since 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, he figured out that he’d need to eat about 69 grams of fat per day (625 ÷ 9 = 69).
  4. At this point he sees that he has 700 calories worth of protein and 625 calories worth of fat, which means a total of 1325 of his daily calorie intake is accounted for (700 + 625 = 1325). But, since he needs to be eating 2500 calories per day, he’d see he has 1175 calories that are not yet accounted for (2500 – 1325 = 1175). So…
  5. That means those leftover 1175 calories will come from carbs. Since 1 gram of carbs contains 4 calories, this person would need to eat about 294 grams of carbs per day (1175 ÷ 4 = 294).

And that’s it. The most important parts of this example diet plan are done.

This example person figured out they will eat:

  • 2500 calories per day
  • 175 grams of protein per day
  • 69 grams of fat per day
  • 294 grams of carbs per day

Once again, these are all just completely made up amounts to show an example of how to set up your diet plan. That’s how you’d do it.

And yes, even though the person in the example above had the primary goal of building muscle, the diet would have been set up the exact same way if they had the primary goal of losing fat instead. The only difference is that they would have created a caloric deficit instead of a surplus in step 1.

The process of putting it all together would remain exactly the same.

But What About Everything Else?

Now, you may be wondering about certain other aspects of your diet besides your calorie, protein, fat and carb intake.

The thing is… you shouldn’t.

In all honesty, nothing else is that important. Everything described above is what will account for 99% of your diet’s effectiveness. Everything else is just a minor detail.

All that truly matters diet-wise is ensuring that you eat the right amount of calories each day along with an optimal amount of protein, fat and carbs that ideally come from mostly higher quality sources.

After that, it’s all a matter of doing whatever will best allow you to make that happen. What I mean is…

  • Eat at whatever times of the day you want.
  • Eat as many meals per day as you want.
  • Eat whatever combinations of foods and nutrients you want.
  • Organize you diet in whatever way is most convenient, enjoyable and sustainable for you.

That’s all that matters. Everything else is either extremely insignificant or just a stupid myth that is scientifically proven to not matter at all (like how you must eat 6 smaller meals per day… it’s bullshit).

Whatever is best for you, your life, your schedule and your preferences… that’s what you should do.

But Seriously, What About Everything Else?

Well, in addition to what I just explained, there’s really only a couple of additional tips worth caring about:

  • Drink plenty of water each day.
  • Surround your workouts with meals (aka yourPRE and POST workout meals) that contain a nice amount of protein and carbs.
  • Get the majority of your calories from higher quality, nutrient-dense sources. Some junky stuff is fine, but keep it to just a small part of your overall diet.
  • Feel free to take a fish oil supplement and a basic multivitamin, use protein powder for convenience purposes, and possibly consider creatine as well.

And… that’s it.

That’s the ultimate mini-guide to creating the diet plan that will best support your workout routine and overall goal.

(UPDATE: I’ve now written the diet mega-guide. It’s here: The Best Diet Plan)

Well, at this point we’ve already covered every major aspect of how to create the workout routine and diet plan that will work best for you. All that’s left to do now is put it all together properly and put it into action correctly. To ensure that you do that, let’s start here…

8.Sample Workout Routines

Sample Workout Routines – Example Weight Training Workouts

If you’ve been following the guide to creating The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine from the very beginning, then congrats… you just learned a ton!

At this point you’ve figured out what your exact goal and training experience level is, found out how much frequency, intensity and volume is best for you, chose a workout schedule that is optimal for what you need, selected the exercises that are most ideal for you, learned the importance of progressive overload, and created a diet plan that will perfectly support it all.

So, good luck putting your workout routine together and have a nice life.

Wait… what? What’s that you say?

You want sample workout routines and example weight training workouts?

Oh, ok. You got it!

However, before we get the those sample workouts, there’s a few things that need to be said first about the pros and cons of sample workout routines.

Why Sample Workout Routines Are Great

Even though I’ve done my best to explain exactly how to create the weight training program that will work best for you, it’s always possible that you can still screw something up.

As someone who has spent a ton of time on various fitness/training related forums over the last 10+ years, I’ve seen it happen constantly.

No matter how much high quality information a person is exposed to, it’s up to them to actually execute it properly. And needless to say, that execution doesn’t always turn out so well.

This seems to be extra true when it comes to designing weight training workouts.

However, that’s where pre-made sample workout routines come in.

Assuming the person designing the sample workouts actually knows what they’re doing, you end up getting what should be an already proven and extremely effective weight training program 100% of the time.

And that’s what makes intelligently designed sample workout routines so great. They eliminate the risks that come with leaving program design in the hands of someone who may not be truly ready to design themselves a program.

The potential for you to accidentally screw something up (big or small) along the way is gone and you’re basically guaranteed that your weight training program is set up exactly as it should be.

That’s why some of the most widely used and highly successful workout routines in existence are pre-designed programs. They are just what works best for most people, and this is the #1 reason why I released an entire guide of proven workouts (The Best Workout Routines).

On the other hand…

Why Sample Workout Routines Suck

As I’ve said over and over again on this site, the key to creating the most effective weight training workout routine possible is doing all of the things that are optimal for you, your goal, your body, your schedule, and your preferences.

And that fact brings us to the only real downside of sample workout routines: they can’t possibly take ALL of that into account and be absolutely 100% perfect for EVERY SINGLE PERSON in EVERY SINGLE SITUATION.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very possible to write up an example weight training routine that would work amazingly well for the majority of the population with a certain goal… but everyone? That’s just not possible.

That’s a big part of the reason why a lot of very smart people avoid creating example workout routines. They prefer to only work with each person individually and create a program that is tailored to them based on their exact situation and goals.

While that need for individualization tends to be more warranted as you get more advanced and/or your goals become more advanced, it’s sometimes needed most in the earliest stages based solely on what you’re capable of.

This Is Especially True With Beginners

Even though beginners are the people who are by far the most in need of having someone create a workout routine for them, they are sometimes the group that needs the most individualization.

With intermediate or advanced trainees, everyone is within some sane range and level of fitness and will be capable of doing similar workouts.

But with beginners, you get ALL kinds of people in ALL kinds of different situations and conditions who are NOT all capable of the same exercises, workouts and routines.

For example, should an overweight 50 year old woman who sometimes has trouble getting up a flight of stairs do the exact same sample beginner workout as a fit and athletic 20 year old guy or girl?

They could both be complete weight training beginners and benefit equally from the same routine, but the differences in what they can (and maybe should) be doing can vary big time.

So, while the guidelines, principles and fundamentals of the workouts will always be perfect, sometimes it’s the minor details (which usually don’t matter) that end up causing problems based on the specific person using the program.

This of course is something I have no control over when designing sample workout routines.

The Solution

And that brings me to my point (I knew I was going to make a point sometime).

The best I (or anyone else) can ever do is lay out sample weight training programs that tend to be most ideal and effective in MOST cases and for MOST people.

It’s then up to you to determine what you are and are not capable of and then adjust as needed using the information I’ve explained throughout the rest of this site.

Got it? Good.

Now, with that big point out of the way, let’s get to what you’re probably most interested in seeing…

The Sample Workout Routines That I Recommend

I guess all that’s left to do now is show you what I consider to be the best workout routines for most people in most situations.

So, here are the weight training routines that I most often recommend…

Beginner Workouts – The Best Workout Routines For Beginners

If you’re reading this, then you are probably fairly new to weight training and looking for the best workouts and routines for beginners like yourself.

Good, that’s exactly what you should be doing, and I’m going to provide you with a few proven sample beginner workouts at the end of this post.

However, before we get into the actual specifics of those routines, there are a few important things that you need to know about beginner workouts and beginners in general in order for your results to be as positive as possible.

How To Tell If You’re A BeginnerFirst, before you start looking for the best beginner workouts and routines, you need to make sure that you actually are a beginner.

If you are, then a weight training plan that is geared towards beginners is definitely what will work best for you and it’s definitely what you should be using (as opposed to something more advanced, which would be terrible for you at this early training stage).

But if it turns out that you’re not a beginner, then you’d be way better off using a program that is geared toward intermediate or advanced trainees.

So, I guess the first question we need to answer is: What the hell is a beginner?

As I’ve previously mentioned (Beginners vs Intermediates vs Advanced), I and most others consider a beginner to be anyone who has been weight training for LESS than 6 months consistently and intelligently.

And obviously, anyone about to start a weight training routine for the very first time is a beginner as well.

Once again, that’s 6 months of consistent and intelligent training. I don’t care if you’ve been training inconsistently for the last decade (or just in an incorrect way where your results were nonexistent).

If you haven’t been following some sort of intelligently designed weight training routine for the last 6 months, then you are most likely a beginner, at least for a short amount of time.

This also includes people who DID train consistently/intelligently at some point in their life, but stopped for a significant period of time. In most cases, you are considered a beginner all over again.

Now that we know what qualifies a person as a beginner, it’s time to go over the proven guidelines that should be met by all workouts and routines designed for beginners.

The General Guidelines Of A Beginner Workout Routine

One thing you’ll notice about most beginner workout routines is that they will almost always have a lot in common.

Why? Because there is a very specific list of weight training guidelines that have been proven to work best for beginners. And, any intelligent beginner program aims to meet them all.

These guidelines are:

  • Higher frequency (usually 3 times per week).
  • Full body split.
  • Low volume.
  • Primarily comprised of basic compound exercises and very little (or nothing) else.
  • Very little exercise variety.
  • No advanced methods or techniques.
  • A huge focus on consistent progression.

And the reason for these very specific guidelines is because all beginner workouts are typically aimed at reaching the same equally specific goals. Here’s what I mean…

The General Goals Of A Beginner Workout Routine

Whether you realize it or not, all beginners essentially have the exact same goals.

Sure, someone might be more interested in losing a significant amount of fat, and someone else might be more interested in gaining a significant amount of muscle. Someone else might just want to get stronger, and someone else might just want to be more fit and healthy.

Those goals are all fine and good, and any intelligently designed beginner program WILL make each of them happen. But, they are NOT the true goals of a beginner.

See, the true goals of a beginner generally involve becoming better at weight training so you can then become better at reaching your other weight training related goals (muscle, tone, strength, fat loss, etc.).

What I mean is, all intelligently designed beginner workout routines are created with these specific goals in mind:

  • Fastest improvement of motor learning, coordination, and proper form.
  • Fastest improvement of work capacity, volume tolerance and recovery.
  • Fastest improvement in building up a base level of strength, muscle and endurance.

At the beginner stage, these are the goals that are truly important. In fact, it’s reaching these goals as a beginner that makes those other goals (increased muscle, strength, tone, fat loss, improved health/fitness level) begin to happen rapidly pretty much as a side effect.

Remember that list of guidelines I mentioned before? Well, they are guidelines because they allow these goals to be reached at their fastest and most consistent rate.

The Best Beginner Workout Routines

Now that you know how to tell if you are indeed a beginner, what guidelines a beginner workout routine should typically meet and what the purpose of those guidelines are, it’s time to recommend some routines that take all of the above into account.

So, in no specific order, here are the workout routines that I most often recommend to beginners:

My Beginner Workout Routine

Here are 2 slightly different versions of my own ideal weight training program for beginners with ANY goal (especially people with “looks” related goals). Above all else, this has become my preferred beginner program:

  • The Beginner Weight Training Workout Routine Check below

The Starting Strength Program

Quite possibly the most often recommended beginner routine of them all (especially for people looking to get as strong as possible as fast as possible), you really can’t go wrong with Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program or any of its variations.

While I highly recommend picking up a copy of the book (Starting Strength (3rd edition)), you can find everything you need to know about the Starting Strength program online for free. Start here:

Practical Programming Novice Program

Here’s another of Mark Rippetoe’s proven beginner workout routines. This version is slightly different than the original Starting Strength program mentioned above, and I personally think the exercise selection is a bit more ideal for more beginners than Starting Strength is.

It’s once again part of a book that I highly recommend getting (Practical Programming for Strength Training), but you can once again find virtually everything you need to know about the program online for free. Start here:

The Beginner Weight Training Workout Routine

Below you will find 2 versions of my own beginner workout routine that I most often recommend to beginners with any weight training goal (building muscle, losing fat, increasing strength, etc.).

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read my intro into beginner workouts and routines to confirm that you ARE indeed a beginner and to learn what the main guidelines and goals of a beginner workout routine truly are.

With that out of the way, let’s get to what you came here for. Here are the full details of the program I simply refer to as The Beginner Weight Training Workout Routine.

The Schedule

The first thing you need to know about this program is what weight training split and weekly schedule it will use.

If you’ve ever read any article I’ve ever written about weight training frequency, splits/schedules or just beginners in general, then you definitely know what split we’re going to be using.

I’m of course talking about the 3 day full body split, which is by far the most highly proven and often recommended workout schedule for beginners with any goal.

The specific type of full body split that this workout routine will use is commonly referred to as an alternating “ABA BAB” format.

You probably have no idea what that means, but you will when you see it written out…

Week 1

  1. Monday:Workout A
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Workout B
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Workout A
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Week 2

  1. Monday:Workout B
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Workout A
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Workout B
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

See, even though there are 3 workout days per week, there’s just 2 actual workouts.

The first is the “A” workout and the second is the “B” workout. Then you just alternate between them each workout. Meaning, you end up doing ABA one week, and then BAB the next, and so on.

Makes sense now, right? Good.

I will also mention that the exact days of the week you choose really doesn’t matter at all as long as the same every-other-day format is kept intact with 2 consecutive days off at the end.

That’s pretty much all there is to say about the split and schedule itself. Now let’s get to the workouts…

The Workouts: Version 1

Before you see the workouts, let me prepare you in advance by saying that they are probably going to seem a little strange looking to many people. You’ll probably think it’s WAY too little, or WAY too simple and basic.

Well, if you think any of those things, then it’s pretty obvious that any beginner workout routine you’ve seen before this was likely pretty damn horrible.

How do I know? Because some variation of the workouts you are about to see is what’s proven to be most ideal (and most often recommended) for beginners with virtually any goal.

Even if you might not think it is, and even if what you’ve seen before is very different. Trust me. This is what works best for beginners. All research, real world experience and expert recommendations support some form of what you’re about to see.

Having said that, here are the workouts…

Workout A

  1. Squats
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Bench Press
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Rows
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.

Workout B

  1. Deadlifts
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Pull-Ups (or Lat Pull-Downs)
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Overhead Shoulder Press
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.

As you can see, it’s the most basic and important compound exercises put together in a way that ensures perfect balance, sufficient frequency and recovery, and low volume.

This is all PERFECTLY ideal for beginners, and this is what will allow for the fastest progression and the best overall weight training results.

Now to answer any questions you may have about this workout routine…

Details and clarifications for Workout A:

  • The “A” workout is a quad dominant leg exercise (squats), a horizontal push (bench press), and a horizontal pull (rows).
  • Squats are definitely recommended, but leg presses could be used in their place if necessary.
  • For the bench press, a flat barbell bench press is recommended, but a flat dumbbell bench press can work too. Use a spotter whenever possible/necessary.
  • For the row, pick any one you want. Bent over barbell or dumbbell rows, seated cable rows, chest supported machine rows. It’s all fine.

Details and clarifications for Workout B:

  • The “B” workout is a hip/ham dominant leg exercise (deadlifts), a vertical pull (pull-ups/pull-downs), and a vertical push (overhead press).
  • For the deadlift, a conventional deadlift would probably be most often recommended for beginners, but a Romanian deadlift (or straight legged deadlift) could be used instead if necessary.
  • Pull-ups are recommended for the vertical pull, but if you can’t do them yet, lat pull-downs or some form of assisted pull-up would be a suitable replacement.
  • For the overhead press, any type of seated overhead shoulder press is fine (seated barbell press, seated dumbbell press, whatever).

Now here’s how to make it all work.

Focus on proper form first.

It is typically recommended that all beginners spend their first few weeks on a weight training workout routine focusing primarily on learning proper form. I recommend you do the same with this program.

Don’t worry about anything else during those first couple of weeks. Just pick a weight for each exercise that is definitely a little too light and easy for you (more here: How Much Weight Should You Lift?), and focus on learning and using perfect form.

Getting exercise technique right at this beginner stage is extremely important, so make sure you do.

Once those few weeks are up and you feel like your form is what it needs to be on every exercise, it’s then time to focus on consistent progression while keeping that perfect form intact. Let me explain…

Sets, reps, weight and progression.

For each exercise, you should now use the same weight each set.

So, for example, let’s say you’ve been learning proper form on the bench press those last few weeks and found 50lbs to be pretty close to the right weight for you at this point (that’s just a completely made up example amount, by the way). You should now be doing 3 sets of bench presses using that same 50lbs on all 3 of your sets.

Then, when you are capable of doing 3 sets with 50lbs (again, just an example) for the prescribed 8-10 reps each set with perfect form, you’d then increase the weight by the smallest possible increment (usually 5lbs) the next time you bench press.

You’d then aim to do 3 sets of 8-10 reps again with this new slightly heavier weight (55lbs in this example). And when you are capable of doing that, you’d increase the weight again by about 5lbs (60lbs in this example) the next time you bench press and then keep repeating this process over and over.

All of the above applies to each exercise just the same. You use the same weight for all 3 sets of each exercise, meet the prescribed set/rep goal with perfect form, and then increase the weight in the smallest possible increment the next time you do that exercise.

As a beginner, you should be able to progress like this consistently for quite a while, partly because you are starting a little lighter to master proper form, and partly because beginners are just more capable of progressing at a more consistent rate than anyone else.

So, make sure you do. The more advanced you get, the slower the progression will be. Take advantage of it while you can.

Once again I’d like to remind you to make sure the weight you start off using leans a lot more towards being a little too light/easy for you rather than a little too heavy/hard.

To ensure the fastest and most consistent rate of progression, the weight you start off using for each exercise needs to be a bit lighter than you are truly capable of lifting.

Don’t screw with it!

When looking at this beginner workout routine, the thing you need to remember is that the goal of a beginner is NOT to try to blast every muscle with all kinds of exercises and do various advanced things with a bunch of isolation movements and a high amount of volume and other things a beginner has no business doing.

Like I was saying before, the primary goal of a beginner (besides learning perfect form on all of their exercises) is to take advantage of a borderline super power that all beginners have for a short period of time that allows them to progress and improve FASTER at all things weight training related than any intermediate or advanced trainee ever could.

That’s right beginners, you can build muscle faster, get stronger faster, get “toned” faster, lose fat faster, and generally get better in every way FASTER than anyone else.

However, the key to using this beginner “super power” of yours is using a workout routine that follows the guidelines that best allow it to be taken advantage of. That typically means higher frequency, lower volume, small and basic exercise selection, nothing fancy.

Hey, what a coincidence… this sample beginner program fits that description perfectly. And any other intelligently designed beginner program will too.

So please, beginners, I beg of you. Don’t try to do something more advanced, and don’t try to add additional advanced stuff to the program laid out above. If you want the best results possible, do it exactly as is and focus on perfect form and consistent progression.

The Workouts: Version 2

The sample weight training program laid out above is a pretty damn perfect beginner workout routine.

But, you see, I know that no matter how many times I explain that this routine is totally ideal for beginners as is, many people are just going to ignore me and add more to it as they please.

You were already thinking about doing it, weren’t you? Don’t lie. Admit it.

Well, if you are one of these people (shame on you, silly beginner!), this second version of the program is my attempt at helping you not listen to me in a way that doesn’t completely screw things up.

So, using the same 3 day full body split from before (in the same “ABA BAB” format), here is another extremely similar version of the original workout routine with a few very small additions made to it.

Workout A

  1. Squats
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Bench Press
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Rows
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  4. Triceps Press Downs
    1 set of 10-12 reps.
  5. Calf Raises
    1-2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.

Workout B

  1. Deadlifts
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Pull-Ups (or Lat Pull-Downs)
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Overhead Shoulder Press
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    2 minutes rest between sets.
  4. Biceps Curls
    1 set of 10-12 reps.
  5. Abs
    1-2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.

Everything else remains just like before (see the notes from earlier if you need additional details/clarifications), except now we’ve added some direct biceps and triceps work along with a little bit of calves and abs as well. (For abs, do 1 or 2 sets of whatever ab exercise you want.)

So, the program is still ideal for beginners, AND you got some extra stuff added to it. Are you happy now?

I hope so, because the more you try to add on top of Version 1, the more it starts to become an intermediate program. And the more that happens, the less and less effective it’s going to be for beginners.

Now Put It To Use

So, there’s 2 versions of what I’ve simply named The Beginner Weight Training Workout Routine.

Start light, focus on proper form first, focus on gradual progression second, make sure your diet plan supports your goals, and do it all consistently.

Enjoy your results.

When Should A Beginner Move To An Intermediate Workout Routine?

You gotta love beginners. Their combination of enthusiasm and lack of knowledge/experience often leads to some of the dumbest diet and training related questions you’ll ever see.

It’s cool though, we were all there once asking the same silly noob things.

But one of the least dumb questions I get from beginners all the time has to do with their beginner status itself. More specifically, at what point can a beginner consider themselves an intermediate and move on to a more advanced workout routine?

In my experience, there’s usually 3 answers to this question… but only 1 truly makes sense.

1. The “Time Frame” Approach (And Why It’s Dumb)

The most common answer you’ll hear to this question is likely time frame related. As in, you should use a beginner workout routine for X number of weeks or months. When that amount of time is up, move on to an intermediate routine.

The Flaw

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? I’d agree completely, except there’s one major flaw to this approach: who’s to say you wouldn’t have kept progressing just fine well past this specified time frame?

For example, let’s pretend you heard you should use a beginner routine for 6 months. Now let’s say you’ve been progressing amazingly well (like most beginners using an intelligently designed routine do) and today officially makes it 6 months exactly.

Are you just going to stop this awesome run of progression because it’s been 6 months? Are you going to abandon a workout routine that’s already working perfectly for you right now just because the time is supposedly up on it and a more advanced routine is waiting for you? If so, I think you’re a dumbass.

No offense, but if your routine is working and producing the results you want right now, the last thing you should do is stop using it in favor of something more advanced solely because it’s been X amount of time. This beginner routine may have continued working for you for the next X weeks or months just the same, and likely better than any intermediate routine would have at this point.

But with this approach, you’d never know that. You’d just move on to something more advanced and unknowingly sacrifice your results in the process.

2. The “Strength Level” Approach (And Why It’s Dumb)

The next most common answer a beginner will get to this question is based on their strength levels. As in, you should use a beginner routine until you can bench press X, squat Y, and deadlift Z.

The Flaw

Again, it doesn’t sound too bad, right? But again, there’s a flaw that’s pretty much identical to the one we just covered: who’s to say you wouldn’t continue to progress and use this routine to exceed all of these specified strength levels?

For example, let’s pretend that a 185lb bench press is whatever magical percentage of your body weight that you’re supposed to be aiming for before moving on to a more advanced routine. Do you really think that’s the EXACT maximum point you’d reach with this routine? I sure as hell don’t.

I’d say there’s a really good chance that you can just keep doing what you’re doing and progress to 190lbs and beyond without a problem. Of course, you’d never know that. You’d be too busy making less progress on some intermediate routine you had no reason to switch to yet.

3. The “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Approach (And Why It’s Best)

Now, while I don’t completely disagree with the two approaches we just covered… I definitely don’t agree with them either. They’re both flawed, so when I get asked this question, I base my answer on something else altogether: common sense.

Simply put, you should use a beginner routine until it stops working for you like it should.

Assuming everything is being done correctly, a significant and sustained drop off in progress is the best sign that you’re ready to move from your beginner routine to a more advanced intermediate routine.

I don’t care if that’s after 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, or 2 years. I don’t care if you bench, squat and deadlift some magical percentage of your body weight that some guru pulled out of their ass, or 100lbs more than that. As long as the beginner routine is still working well for you… just keep on using it.

Ride that program out for as long as it works and as far as it takes you. No time limit to set. No strength levels to meet. Just keep on going for as long as progress is still being made and use your results (or lack thereof) as your guide.

Basically, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s an idiom that can (and often should) be applied to most aspects of diet and training, especially those pertaining to you silly beginners.

Intermediate and Advanced Workouts & Routines

If you’re reading this, then you should be past the beginner stage of weight training and in search of the best intermediate or advanced workouts and routines.

If so, then you’re in luck. I’m going to provide you with a handful of the most proven and effective intermediate and advanced workout routines for various goals and situations.

However, before we get into the actual specifics of those routines, there are a few important things that you need to know about intermediate/advanced workouts and intermediate/advanced trainees in general to ensure your results are as positive as can be.

How To Tell If You’re An intermediate or Advanced Trainee

Before you start looking for intermediate and advanced workouts, the first thing you need to do is make sure that you actually are an intermediate or advanced trainee.

If you are, then these are the types of workout routines that will produce the best possible results for you.

However, if you’re not truly at the intermediate or advanced level, then you’d be WAY better off using a program that is geared towards beginners.

In the weight training world, everyone likes to think they are more advanced than they actually are, so they always go looking for the more advanced workouts. Unfortunately, all you end up doing is screwing yourself in the end by using a weight training program that just doesn’t work optimally for your specific experience level.

So, the question is: What the hell is an intermediate or advanced trainee?

Well, as I’ve previously mentioned (Beginners vs Intermediates vs Advanced), I consider intermediates to be the majority of people who have been weight training both consistently and intelligently for at least the last 6-12 months.

By this point you would have, at the very least, already been on some type of proper beginner program that allowed you to build up a base level of strength and muscle. You should have also improved your work capacity to some degree and learned proper form on every exercise you’ve done thus far.

As for advanced trainees, I consider them to be anyone who has already gotten the majority of the results they’ve wanted to get and are fairly close to reaching their natural genetic potential.

So basically, if you are reading this and you are legitimately past the beginner’s stage, I’d say there is a 95% chance you are an intermediate, and a 5% chance you are advanced.

Whichever it is (trust me, it’s intermediate), you’re ready for the next level of weight training workouts and routines. Here’s what that “next level” typically entails…

The General Guidelines of an Intermediate/Advanced Workout Routine

Unlike beginners who all typically tend to benefit most from the same type of basic beginner workoutregardless of their specific goals, workouts for intermediate and advanced trainees can vary GREATLY depending on exactly what the person is looking to get out of weight training.

For example, a program geared strictly towards strength or performance can look completely different than a program geared strictly towards building muscle and looking good.

For this reason, there really are no true guidelines that should ALWAYS stand for all intermediate/advanced workout routines because there are so many individual variables that come into play.

However, there are a few guidelines that usually stand in most cases most of the time, because they are what usually works best at the intermediate and advanced level:

  • Moderate frequency. Each muscle group/movement pattern should typically be trained to some degree between once every 3rd and 5th day.
  • Moderate volume. Most larger muscle groups should usually get between 60-120 reps per week total, and most smaller muscle groups should usually get about half that.
  • Apotential mix of free weight, body weight and machine exercises as well as a potential mix of compound and isolation exercises.
  • Apotential use of more advanced methods and techniques.
  • Apotential higher variety of rep ranges.
  • A focus on progression.

The Best Intermediate and Advanced Workouts & Routines

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of what typically goes into creating an intermediate or advanced workout routine and you’ve confirmed that you truly are (or are not) an intermediate or advanced trainee, it’s time to recommend some workouts for different weight training goals and situations.

So, in no specific order, here are the routines that I most often recommend to intermediate/advanced trainees based on their goal…

Workout Routines For Building Muscle

If your primary goal is building muscle, getting “toned,” or improving the way your body looks, these are the programs I recommend:

The Muscle Building Workout Routine

 

This is the weight training program that I have personally used and recommended most often to intermediate or advanced trainees looking to build muscle or really just improve the way their body looks in any capacity.

The full details are here:

  • The Muscle Building Workout Routine check below

Workout Routines For Improving Strength & Performance

If your primary goal is increasing strength or improving performance, these are the programs I recommend:

Bill Starr’s 5×5 (aka Madcow 5×5)

As one of the most proven and highly recommended strength-oriented workout routines out there, Bill Starr’s 5×5 (also referred to as Madcow 5×5) is pretty much as effective as it gets for getting as strong as possible as fast as possible.

The original website that contained the full details of this program disappeared a while ago, but luckily other people saved full versions of it and hosted it themselves. Here now is one such example of where you can find everything you need to know about Bill Starr’s/Madcow’s 5×5 program:

Westside For Skinny Bastards (aka WSFSB)

Joe Defranco’s variation of the classic Westside Barbell template is aimed specifically at athletes, especially skinny ones looking to get both stronger and bigger.

You can check out all 3 versions of his program here:

The Texas Method

Mark Rippetoe is probably most famous for his often recommended and highly proven beginner workouts. However, his Texas Method program is the next perfect step up for people looking to move on to a strength-oriented intermediate program.

While I highly recommend getting a copy of his book (Practical Programming for Strength Training), you can find the full details of this program here:

Well, first you learned how to create the most effective workout routine possible, and then you learned how to create the ideal diet plan to support it.

You’ve now just been given some recommendations for what I consider to be the most highly proven/effective routines for intermediate or advanced trainees which you can either learn from or, better yet, just use as is.

The Muscle Building Workout Routine For Advance & Intermediate

Are you an intermediate or advanced trainee looking to build muscle mass fast? If so, welcome to the program I simply call The Muscle Building Workout Routine.

The Muscle Building Workout Routine is the completely FREE weight training program that I recommend most often to people looking to build any amount of muscle mass as fast as possible.

This workout routine is designed to work for both men and women, young and old, people looking to build a significant amount of muscle and get “big” or build a small amount of muscle and just get “toned.”

Basically, if you’re past the beginner’s stage and your primary goal is building muscle or improving the way your body looks in virtually any capacity, this program is for you.

Now let’s get down to the details…

The Schedule

The Muscle Building Workout Routine uses an upper/lower split, which is the split most often used and recommended by literally every single expert whose opinions I value (as opposed to the drugged up genetic freaks whose opinions are meaningless).

The big reason the upper/lower split gets so much love is because it allows for each muscle group/body part to be trained to some degree between once every 3rd and 5th day depending on the specific split variation you choose (more on those in a second).

And, as I’ve previously explained, this workout frequency of about-twice-per-week is what is scientifically proven to work best for building muscle for anyone past the beginner’s stage.

So, let’s take a look at the 2 most common versions of the upper/lower split…

Upper/Lower Split: 4 Day Version

  1. Monday:Upper Body A Workout
  2. Tuesday:Lower Body A Workout
  3. Wednesday:off
  4. Thursday:Upper Body B Workout
  5. Friday:Lower Body B Workout
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

In this 4 day version, each muscle group gets trained once every 3rd or 4th day, which is right within the ideal frequency range for building muscle mass at the optimal rate.

While this specific template is probably the most common (people like having weekends off), the exact days you choose really doesn’t matter as long as the same 2 on/1 off/2 on/2 off format is kept intact.

Upper/Lower Split: 3 Day Version

Week 1

  1. Monday:Upper Body A Workout
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Lower Body A Workout
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Upper Body B Workout
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

Week 2

  1. Monday:Lower Body B Workout
  2. Tuesday:off
  3. Wednesday:Upper Body A Workout
  4. Thursday:off
  5. Friday:Lower Body A Workout
  6. Saturday:off
  7. Sunday:off

In this 3 day version, each muscle group gets trained once every 4th or 5th day. While it is just slightly less frequent than the 4 day version, it’s still perfectly within the ideal frequency range for building muscle mass at the optimal rate.

And once again, while this template is usually the most common, the exact days you choose doesn’t matter at all as long as the same 1 on/1 off/1 on/1 off/1 on/2 off format is kept in tact.

Now Select Your Version Of The Upper/Lower Split

So, those are the two scheduling options for The Muscle Building Workout Routine. All you need to do is pick one.

They will both work perfectly, so you honestly can’t go wrong with either version. Just pick the one the seems best for you, your preferences and your schedule.

If you need help deciding, check out my more detailed breakdown of both versions here: upper/lower split.

(NEW: Two additional versions of the upper/lower split are now included in the expanded version of this routine, which is only available in Superior Muscle Growth. One of those new splits is my favorite of all.)

The Workouts

Just like most weight training programs built around the upper/lower split, The Muscle Building Workout Routine divides everything up into 2 different types of workouts.

One will train your entire upper body to some degree (chest, back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps), and one will train your entire lower body to some degree (quads, hamstrings, calves, and abs as well).

You will then do 2 (or about 2) of each workout per week depending on exactly which variation of the split you decide to use (again, either will be perfect).

So, let’s take a look at the workouts…

The Muscle Building Workout Routine: Upper Body A

  1. Bench Press
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2-3 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Rows
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2-3 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Incline Dumbbell Press
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  4. Lat Pull-Downs
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  5. Lateral Raises
    2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.
  6. Triceps Press-Downs
    2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.
  7. Dumbbell Curls
    2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.

The Muscle Building Workout Routine: Lower Body A

  1. Romanian Deadlifts
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2-3 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Leg Press
    3 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Seated Leg Curls
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  4. Standing Calf Raises
    4 sets of 6-8 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  5. Abs
    x sets of 8-15 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.

The Muscle Building Workout Routine: Upper Body B

 

  1. Pull-Ups
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2-3 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Barbell Shoulder Press
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2-3 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Seated Cable Row
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  4. Dumbbell Bench Press
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  5. Dumbbell Flyes
    2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.
  6. Barbell Curls
    2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.
  7. Skull Crushers
    2 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.

The Muscle Building Workout Routine: Lower Body B

 

  1. Squats
    3 sets of 6-8 reps.
    2-3 minutes rest between sets.
  2. Split Squats
    3 sets of 8-10 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  3. Laying Leg Curls
    3 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  4. Seated Calf Raises
    4 sets of 10-12 reps.
    1-2 minutes rest between sets.
  5. Abs
    x sets of 8-15 reps.
    1 minute rest between sets.

As you can see from the workouts, each one is focused primarily on the most effective compound exercises with just the right amount of secondary focus on isolation exercises as well.

There is also damn near perfect balance among the opposing movement patterns, and the exercises in each workout are ordered in terms of most demanding to least demanding (the exact way it should be).

As you can also see, the intensity/rep ranges and rest intervals between sets for each exercise is exactly what it should be for building muscle, and the volume for each muscle group both per workout and per week total is all perfectly within the optimal volume range for intermediate/advanced trainees looking to build muscle mass.

So, what I’m trying to say is, all of the factors and components that work best for building muscle have been brought together perfectly in one ideal workout routine.

Workout Order & Scheduling

As shown, The Muscle Building Workout Routine contains 4 different workouts. There’s 2 upper body workouts (A and B) and 2 lower body workouts (A and B).

In case it isn’t obvious enough, they are meant to be done in this order whether you use the 3 or 4 day upper/lower split:

  1. Upper Body A
  2. Lower Body A
  3. Upper Body B
  4. Lower Body B

(If this is still confusing, just go back to the upper/lower split options I showed you earlier. I’ve laid out how you’d schedule the 4 workouts over the course of the week using either version of the split.)

Details, Guidelines and Clarifications

Now to answer any questions you may have, clear up any confusion that may be present, and explain how to make it all work as effectively as possible.

General guidelines of The Muscle Building Workout Routine:

  • For each exercise, you should use the same weight each set. Meaning, if it says to do 3 sets of an exercise, you’d use the same weight on all 3 sets. For example…
    Right Way:100lbs, 100lbs, 100lbs.
    Wrong Way: 95lbs, 100lbs, 105lbs.
    When you are able to lift a given weight for the amount of sets and reps that are prescribed for that exercise, you’d then increase the weight by the smallest possible increment the next time you do that exercise. You’d then repeat this process of progression as often as you can. (I’ll explain this in much more detail in a minute.)
  • The number of sets listed doesNOT include warm up sets. Those are the actual work sets only. Warm up as needed.
  • The order the exercises are listed in is the order they are supposed to be done in. Don’t change it.
  • You are meant to be doing all of the exercises listed for each workout. However, if you come across something your gym doesn’t have or something you honestly cannot do due to some preexisting injury (or some other REALLY good reason), do the next closest match instead. (I’ll give some suggestions below.)
  • The split, frequency, exercise selection, prescribed amount of sets, reps and rest intervals for each exercise, the total amount of volume… it’s all for a reason and it is all meant to remain and be done EXACTLY as I have written it.DO NOT SCREW WITH IT LIKE AN IDIOT.

Details and clarifications for Upper Body A:

  • The Upper Body A workout starts with the bench press. This is meant be a flat barbell bench press. I recommend having a spotter if possible. Besides being important for obvious safety reasons, not having one may make you afraid of trying for an additional rep, and this could hinder your progress.
  • Up next is a row, which basically means some type of horizontal pull (meaning back row exercise). Pretty much any type of back row would be fine here, so pick your favorite. If I had to make a suggestion, I might go with a chest supported row of some sort because chest supported rowing doesn’t require any real lower back stabilization like a bent over barbell row would. And, since you will be deadlifting the next day, this may be a beneficial choice for some  Otherwise, feel free pick any type of horizontal back row you want (chest supported row, any Hammer Strength machine row if your gym has them, a bent over barbell or dumbbell row, t-bar rows, whatever). As long as it’s a back row of some sort, it’s fine. If you think you’d benefit from not using any lower back the day before doing deadlifts, then stick with something chest supported to give your lower back a break. If not, pick anything.
  • For incline pressing, I recommend incline dumbbell presses. Technically any type of incline press will do here. Barbell, dumbbell, machine (Hammer Strength makes an incline chest press that I love). But, my first choice recommendation would definitely be for the incline dumbbell press (in which case be sure to set the bench to a 30 degree incline or slightly less, not more).
  • For lat pull downs, I recommend using an underhand grip (meaning your palms will face you) or a neutral grip (palms face each other… this grip is much less stressful on your elbows/wrists). This is because I’m going to recommend an overhand grip (palms face away from you) during the Upper Body B workout. You’ll see. Also, these are to be done in front of your head… never behind the neck.
  • For laterals raises, you can really do whatever lateral raise you want. With dumbbells (seated or standing, one arm at a time or both together), with cables, with a lateral raise machine if your gym has a decent one. Just pick your favorite.
  • For the triceps exercise, I recommend cable press downs using pretty much whatever type of handle you like best. I personally prefer the v-bar or rope.
  • For thebiceps exercise on this day, I recommend any type of dumbbell curl (standing, seated, on a preacher bench, whatever). Pick your favorite.

Details and clarifications for Lower Body A:

  • The Lower Body A workout begins with the Romanian deadlift. I recommend using a double overhand grip as opposed to a mixed grip (which would be one hand over, one hand under).
  • For the leg presses, you can do these the traditional way (both legs at the same time) or single leg if possible. Also, this is meant to be done in a 45 degree leg press. If your gym doesn’t have one, then use whatever leg press they do have.
  • For the leg curls, some gyms have a few different types of leg curl machines… seated, standing, and laying. You can really pick any one you want.
  • Next up is standing calf raises. If your gym doesn’t have a standing calf raise machine, feel free to do calf presses in the 45 degree leg press.
  • For abs, do a few sets of whatever you want. Just don’t go too crazy… no more than 10 minutes or so. I’m a fan of basic stuff like weighted crunches, hanging leg raises, planks, etc.. Keep it simple.

Details and clarifications for Upper Body B:

  • The Upper Body B workout starts with pull-ups. Use an overhand grip. If you are unable to do pull-ups, you can do lat pull-downs or some form of assisted pull-up in its place (still using an overhand grip). It’s fine. However, you should make it your eventual goal to be able to do pull-ups and actually work towards eventually doing them here. These are still to be done in front of your head… never behind the neck. Also, if you are someone who can already do 3 sets of 6-8 pull ups, then you need to add weight. Search around online for what’s called a “pull-up belt” (also called a “dip belt”) and buy one. It will allow you to add additional weight to body weight exercises like pull-ups and dips. It’s one of the only training products I fully recommend, and when your own body weight becomes too easy for you, it’s a requirement for progressive overload to take place.
  • For the shoulder press, I recommended doing either seated barbell presses (in front of you, not behind the neck) or seated dumbbell presses, although any sort of overhead press will probably be fine.
  • Up next are seated cable rows, which would ideally be done with a parallel/neutral grip (palms facing each other). If your gym doesn’t have a handle like that, any other grip is fine. If your gym doesn’t have a seated cable row altogether for some reason, feel free to do any other similar horizontal back row in its place.
  • Up next is the flat dumbbell bench press. Nothing more to add here really.
  • After that we havedumbbell flyes. These are meant to be done on a flat or low incline bench, but if you’d rather do some type of cable fly or use a pec deck machine instead, that’s perfectly fine too.
  • For thebiceps exercise, I recommend standing barbell curls with an EZ curl bar (it’s much less stressful on your wrists/elbows). You could technically do any other type of curl instead if wanted to, though.
  • For thetriceps exercise, I recommend skull crushers. I recommend doing these with an EZ curl bar (same reason, it’s much more comfortable on the wrists/elbows than a straight bar) or with dumbbells (palms facing each other). These can be done on a flat or decline bench. Either is just fine. And again, if preferred, any similar triceps isolation exercise would be perfectly suitable in its place.

Details and clarifications for Lower Body B:

  • The Lower Body B workout starts withsquats. That means barbell back squats, by the way.
  • For thesplit squats, feel free to use a barbell or dumbbells. If you’ve never done any kind of split squat or lunge variation before, I’d recommend starting with dumbbells instead of a barbell. It will be easier (and safer) to learn how to balance yourself properly.
  • For theleg curls, I’d recommend using a different type of leg curl machine than you used in the Lower Body A workout, assuming your gym actually has more than 1 type of leg curl machine. If your gym only has one kind, do it one leg at a time in the A workout, and both legs together in this workout. Or, if preferred, hyperextensions would be fine here as well.
  • Up next isseated calf raises. Not much more to add here.
  • Forabs, do a few sets of whatever you want. Just don’t go too crazy… no more than 10 minutes or so. I’m a fan of basic stuff like weighted crunches, hanging leg raises, planks, etc.. Keep it simple.

The Method of Progression

As with any intelligent weight training program, the most important aspect of all is progression. The Muscle Building Workout Routine is no different.

So, here’s how I recommend you progress.

For each exercise, I have prescribed a number of sets to do. You may have noticed that I also prescribed a range of reps for each exercise (6-8, 8-10 or 10-12) rather than one exact number.

What this means is, when you are capable of doing all of your prescribed sets for somewhere within that prescribed rep range, that’s when you increase the weight by the smallest possible increment the next time you do that exercise.

If you are unable to reach the set and rep range with a given weight, then your goal is to simply get additional reps in each of your sets until you reach that prescribed set and rep goal.

Still confused? Here’s a full example of exactly what I mean…

An Example Of How To Progress

For the bench press in the Upper Body A workout, I prescribed 3 sets of 6-8 reps. Now, let’s pretend you currently bench press 100lbs. Your workout may look like this:

  • Set #1:100lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2:100lbs – 7 reps
  • Set #3:100lbs – 6 reps

In this example, you have successfully reached the prescribed 3 sets of 6-8 reps with whatever weight you were using (100lbs in this example). Congrats. You were able to do between 6 and 8 reps in all of the 3 sets.

This means that the next time you do this Upper Body A workout, you should increase the weight you lift on the bench press by the smallest increment possible (usually 5lbs). This means next time your workout may look like this:

  • Set #1:105lbs – 7 reps
  • Set #2:105lbs – 6 reps
  • Set #3:105lbs – 5 reps

In this example, you increased your bench press by 5lbs. This is good and means progressive overload has occurred. However, in this example you failed to get all 3 sets in the 6-8 rep range.

Don’t feel bad, it’s perfectly normal and expected to happen. It just means that during your next Upper Body A workout, your goal is to increase in reps instead of weight. So, the next time you bench press it may go like this:

  • Set #1:105lbs – 8 reps
  • Set #2:105lbs – 7 reps
  • Set #3:105lbs – 6 reps

In this example, you were able to successfully add an additional rep to all of your sets. Congrats, progressive overload has occurred once again.

This also means that all of your sets are now in the 6-8 rep range, and this means you can go up to 110lbs the next Upper Body A workout. It may go something like this:

  • Set #1:110lbs – 7 reps
  • Set #2:110lbs – 5 reps
  • Set #3:110lbs – 4 reps

In this example, more progressive overload has occurred as you have gone up 5lbs on your bench press. However, you’ll notice that the second and third sets are below your prescribed 6-8 rep range. As you just learned, this is perfectly normal. It just means your goal next time is to try to get additional reps.

So, let’s say next time comes around and you get reps of 7, 6, 5. Good job, more progressive overload has been made.

Then, the next workout comes along and you get 8, 6, 5. Congrats again.

And then the next workout comes along and you get 8, 7, 6 or 8, 7, 7 or 8, 6, 6, or 8, 8, 7 or 8, 8, 8 or anything similar.

Perfect… all 3 sets are now within the prescribed 6-8 rep range. You’d then go to 115lbs the next time and repeat this whole process all over again.

Basically, as long as your first set reaches the top end of the prescribed rep range (8 in this example) and the other sets are anywhere within the range, you should increase the weight being lifted by the smallest possible increment the next time you do that exercise.

And, just in case it needs to be said, this is EXACTLY how you should progress with every exercise and every prescribed set and rep goal. Whether it’s 3 sets of 6-8, 3 sets of 8-10, 2 sets of 10-12 or whatever else.

The process of progression should happen just like the above example, with the only difference being that you’d be going for a different set and rep range goal for different exercises.

I will also mention that you will have workouts where you are unable to progress on certain exercises, but are able to progress on others. You’ll also have workouts where you may not be able to progress on anything in any way. In some cases this may go on for a while with certain exercises (especially isolation).

Don’t worry about it. Don’t get pissed off. Don’t feel bad. Don’t think you had a useless workout. Don’t think you need to change anything. You don’t. This is normal.

While The Muscle Building Workout Routine is designed to build muscle mass as fast as possible, it’s still a slow, gradual process. If we could all add 10lbs to every exercise every workout, we’d all be lifting thousands of pounds by now. It just doesn’t work like that.

All you need to do is make it your goal to make some form of progression take place on every exercise as often as you can (while still using perfect form, of course). Whether it’s as little as 1 extra rep in 1 set or as much as 5 more pounds on every set, it’s all progression just the same.

As long as you are doing this and are gradually progressing in some way over time, the progressive overload principle will be in effect and the results you want will follow.

A Muscle Building Diet Plan Is REQUIRED

No matter how perfectly designed your weight training workout routine is (and The Muscle Building Workout Routine is pretty damn perfectly designed), and no matter how perfectly you execute it, this still only accounts for just half of the muscle building equation.

The other half is your diet.

You MUST eat right to support your goal of building muscle. If you don’t, this program (and every other program) will fail to work every single time.

The full details of how to properly set up your diet are here: How To Create The Perfect Diet Plan check the Quick navigation

Just in case you still have any additional questions about The Muscle Building Workout Routine, here are some additional answers.

What if it all just seems like it’s too much for me? Like I need to do a little less or something? What’s the best way to do that?

You have 3 choices here.

  1. You can reduce frequency. This woulddefinitely be my first choice. If you’re using the 4 day upper/lower split, just switch to the 3 day version. The slightly lowered frequency/extra day of rest between each workout should GREATLY improve any recovery related issues you may have. If you’re already using the 3 day version and it still seems like it’s too much for you, see below.
  2. You can reduce volume. Change all of the exercises that call for 3 sets of 8-10 to 2 sets of 10 instead. If it STILL feels like it’s too much for you, see below.
  3. You can remove accessory isolation exercises. For example, remove lateral raises and dumbbell flyes from the upper body workouts.
  4. You can do a combination of the 3 choices above.

 

The End Of The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine

If you’re reading this, then it appears that you’ve made it all the way to the end of my free (and awesome) guide to creating The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine. Sweet!

At this point, I have just 5 things left to say.

1. Congrats!

First of all… congratulations are in order.

You’ve now learned more about weight training, program design, and how to get the results you want than the majority of the population will ever learn in their lifetime. Congrats!

2. Put It To Use!

I hope you liked the guide and actually use what you’ve learned to create the workout routine that will work best for you and your specific goal (or use one of my recommended sample routines).

Because honestly, reading and learning and understanding are great and all, but the only way it’s truly going to work is if you actually put it into action. So… do that.

The End

Well, that’s about it.

Once again I hope you liked the guide (and if you did, be sure to tell your friends about it) and I hope you actually use what you’ve learned from it.

I also hope you subscribe using the subscription box below, because I plan on writing similarly awesome and useful guides in the future.

And again, if you have any questions, comments, feedback or just want to tell me how well it’s working for you, just leave a comment below.

Enjoy your results.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is this guide for?

Uh, pretty much everyone. Basically, if you want to create the weight training workout routine that will work best for you and the results you want, then this guide is for you.

Men, women, young, old, fat, skinny, beginners, advanced… whatever.

Looking to build muscle, lose fat, increase strength, improve performance, get in better overall shape, be healthier, look great naked or any combination thereof.

Whoever you are and whatever your goal is… this guide is for you.

What if I have questions, comments or feedback?

If you have any questions or comments about anything in this guide or you just want to let me know what you thought of it, you can leave a comment right here.

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