Weekly Workout Structure

Ways to structure your workout routine, variables to consider, and how to plan for those pesky, yet inevitable, life barriers.

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While there may be more than one way to skin a cat, there are more than 1,000 ways to get in shape. No matter what your fitness goal is, there are loads of variables to take into account when we talk about exercise. So today I wanted to talk about ways to structure your workout routine, variables to consider, and how to plan for those pesky, yet inevitable, life barriers. For me, the crux of today’s topic really stems from a trip that I will be taking this week which will interrupt my regular exercise routine. I was briefly panicked by the thought of how much clothing I will need, the quality of the hotel gym, and planning around what I normally do. Then a sudden calm came over me as I realized that… it really doesn’t matter! Here’s why.
The Basics
For me, I want to train to be lean and have some muscular definition. Think Brad Pitt in fight club. So my exercise routine is intense, but not the best for maximizing muscle gain. Here’s my regular exercise routine; Monday – full body strength training barbell based exercises Tuesday– LISS training = running about 1 hour Wednesday – full body strength training dumbbell based exercises Thursday – HIIT I practice for the Grit class I teach as well as row/other high intensity stuff  Friday – full body strength training machine based exercises Saturday – Run club = 3 mile-ish run.
Does that mean your weeks worth of exercise should look like mine? NOPE! There are lots of reasons why not, but in short, I have worked up to this level of fitness and intensity. However, while you’re free to skin your fitness cat the way you like, all routines will in some way revolve around the FITT principle. FITT is an acronym standing for Frequency Intensity Time and Type. Each one of these components can be broken down into sub categories that would keep me at my computer for days. But instead of majoring in the minutia I will make sure go lay out the big rocks of each component.
Frequency is how often you perform the targeted health-related physical activity, and is by far the most crucial aspect of any workout routine. Consistency is king for all components of health. However, it is possible to over train so you need to find your own personal sweet spot. I will go over recommendations in detail in the “type” section, but what you need to know is that you should be doing some form of physical activity at least 5 days per week. 
Intensity is how hard you exercise during a physical activity period (measured in different ways, depending on the related health-related component). This component can not only make or break your chances of hitting your goals, but it can also make or break your body and mind. You need to record how intense your workouts are on some level. Whether it’s through writing down sets/reps/weight, heart rate, perceived excretion, mileage, or other forms of documentation. Because you can’t make adjustments without having some form of data on your own workouts.
 
Time is not only the length of the physical activity, but also the rest breaks. The former can be best described as time-under-tension (TUT)which refers to how long the muscle is under strain/resisting weight during each set (30s – 60s), duration of a stretch (30s > twice a week), or time spent doing aerobic activity (30m > per day). The latter is the amount of time recovering between set, between workouts, or between specific muscle groups. All of these factors can be manipulated for different goals but essentially if you want to get big and strong rest for 2-3m between sets. If you want to get lean, rest for only a few seconds.
 
Type or specificity, refers to the specific physical activity chosen to improve a component of health-related fitness. No matter what your goals are you should be training for strength (all muscle groups at least 2 x a week), aerobic fitness (2 hours and 30 minutes each week), and a form of balance and stability (daily). Throwing HIIT is a great idea because it will get you lean quickly and with shorter workout duration, but be careful. It’s easy to go overboard with HIIT and end up being “burned out” though over training or even hurting yourself.
Making Your Customized Exercise Program
To make your very own customized exercise program, you will need to start with a few basic self recognition tasks. Take a good look at your goals and ask yourself if what you need to work on. You may need to start with learning proper technique, asking your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for strenuous exercise, or maybe recognizing that you’re not working intensely enough. This step is best done with a fitness professional to guide you. However, if you feel you’re ready for some strength training (which most people don’t do even though they need it), here is a simple template to follow.
Because there are thousands of exercises to choose from, differentiating set and rep ranges, tempo selection, and dozens of other variable to choose from, I will just keep it simple. You want to focus on general body movements and place them in a sensible order to avoid injury and ensure progress. So here are the motions you want to consider and a few examples:
Upper Body Push – Barbell Press (Decline, Flat, Incline, Overhead) • Dumbbell Press (Decline, Flat, Incline, Overhead) • Single Arm/Alternating Press • Floor Press (Barbell or Dumbbells) • Pushup 
Upper Body Pull – Pullups/Chinups (weighted, bodyweight or assisted) • Lat Pulldown • Bent Over/Pendlay Row • Single-Arm Row (dumbbell or cable) • Chest-supported Row Note – I would advise choosing one vertical and one horizontal pull for the sake of evenly hitting all of your back muscles
Lower Body Push (Knees Bend) – Back/Front Squat • Safety/Cambered/Speciality Bar Squat (if your gym has these) • Box Squat • Paused Squat • Split Squat (Front or Rear Foot Elevated) • Walking Lunges • Leg Press/Hack Squat 
Lower Body Pull (Hips Extend) – Conventional and Sumo Deadlifts • Hip Thrust/Glute Bridge Variations • Single-Leg Deadlift/Romanian Deadlift • Two-Legged Romanian Deadlift • Reverse Lunge • Kettlebell Swing • Back Extension • Glute Ham Raise/Nordic Curls 
Beach Muscles – Upper Back Isolation (face pulls, pull-aparts, rear delt flys, YTWs) • Bicep/Tricep Isolation • Calf Isolation • Core/Abdominal Work
There are a few ways to structure your workout program based on how many times you plan on going to the gym. The most important part here is planning enough rest between each gym session. So if you plan to exercise on Monday Wednesday Friday like me, you can be confident there there is adequate recovery time in there. But if you’re going to strength train 4 days per week, well it will take some wise exercise choices. For the examples below, scattering in beach muscle exercises at your discretion is recommend to be done at the end of each workout. Leaving the gym with a good pump always feels awesome.
2-Day/Week
Upper Body Day  Push/Pull
Lower Body Day  Bend/Extend
or
Upper/Lower Day 1  Push/Extend
Upper/Lower Day 2  Pull/Bend
4-Day/Week
Lower Body Day 1  Extend
Upper Body Day 1  Push
Lower Body Day 2  Bend
Upper Body Day 2  Pull
Using a simple template to track your workouts is a great way to go. Simply write up your plan for the month, take it to the gym, and you’re on the way to muscle city. See below for an easy to use program design. You can use the exercise example seen above, but I encourage you to explore the gym and learn new exercises to love!

Day 1

Exercise

Sets

reps

weight

Lower Body Push Variation 1

4

4-6

Pull Variation 1

4

4-6

Lower Body Pull Variation 2

3

8-12

Press Variation 2

3

8-12

Beach Movment

3

8-12

Day 2

Exercise

Sets

reps

weight

Lower Body Pull Variation 1

4

4-6

Press Variation 1

4

4-6

Lower Body Push Variation 2

3

8-12

Pull Variation 2

3

8-12

Beach Movement

3

8-12

Summary
While there are a million different ways to go about exercise, there are also a million different excuses. Even if you’re busy, there will always time to exercise and improve your health. When you’re stressed it’s hard to breathe and your joints can feel stiff as a board, but there are ways to feel better and loosen up. If you feel the effects of jet lag and don’t feel like working out, there are ways around it. And even if you know you will struggle to find ways to complete your regular routine while on the road… well the occasional rest can do you right while you figure new ways to skin a cat 🙂

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