If you enjoy your exercise, when you begin a new workout routine or exercise program you will have great hopes of getting the results’ you want. You’ll feel excited and positive about getting in to your new regimen to see what it’s like and discovering if it really works. This I think is especially true if it is a routine you created yourself. You’ll want to know if it produces the goods!
Critical to your success in any workout routine are a number of factors that I for one, despite years of consistent dedication to my own personal fitness have often overlooked. I have always sought to make improvements to my workout routines to achieve the results’ I’ve desired but have too often felt those results’ have not matched the effort I have put in. Maybe you have experienced the same?
In this article I will be discussing these factors and the improvement strategy I use by walking you through it in four sections. The first is the time spent working out. The second is the number and balance of exercises per routine. Third is set and rep amounts, form and intensity. The fourth is sleep and nutrition.
The great thing about this strategy is that so long as it is implemented you should have plenty of energy for each session and not feel overly tired or too sore between workouts, but the best part is that it will keep you in a continual calorie burn and muscle building zone!
I personally focus on strength and muscle building but I do feel the strategy can be applied to any fitness program to obtain great results’ whether you are male or female. I should also say that this will not necessarily turn you in to Hulk or She-Hulk for that matter but you should achieve some great results’ you will be very proud of.
Time Spent Working Out
The time you spend on a workout routine is very important for your long term consistency and achievements. From what I have learned and certainly through trial and error on my part, the optimal time to workout for is between 45 minutes to 1 hour. You do not really need to be working out for any longer.
This amount of time spent exercising at an intense level is what you should be aiming for each time you step in the gym or begin a workout wherever it may be. It’s an ideal time frame to obtain good general fitness, strength and muscle gain. If you start to go above this amount of time spent it can be detrimental to your body’s recovery.
Your body will need as much recovery time as it can get. Also, no one wants to be feeling tired every time they go in to their next workout so as a general rule of thumb this time frame of 45 minute to 1 hour should help that not to be the case.
Importantly, in that 45 minutes to 1 hour you should be trying to work out as intensely as you can. You need to maximize this time for the best results’ possible. Keeping the time frame low and intensity high is key! This is the time you have put aside specifically for this, so use it wisely.
Be sure to include a decent full body warm-up as a beginning to any workout routine. I will often row for ten minutes, or run treadmill intervals (OK, not full body but you will definitely be warmed up). You could also use HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). After this, on the main workout!
The Number and Balance of Exercises
The exercises. We need to pick and place an optimal number of exercise types strategically within all workout routines. The actual exercises you perform should be of your choosing in my opinion but they need to be balanced within each workout and across your complete routine of workouts.
Within each workout Include 6 to 7 different exercises that will target 1 or 2 major muscle groups and 2 to 3 additional smaller muscle groups. This will fill the time frame we have established but also allow you to spend the right amount of time on each individual exercise with you having to keep the intensity high not wasting any precious minutes.
In terms of balance you should separate the muscle groups throughout your routine of workouts as best you can. This may sound complicated and does take a little planning but it is very much worth doing.
The aim here is not to exercise the same muscle groups on consecutive days. In doing this you are really structuring your workouts and including what I like to call ‘built in rest’. Each group will get days of rest after being exercised whilst you are exercising others.
Also important is to make sure you are balancing your push and pull exercises. So for example your press and push type exercises (bench press, shoulder press etc) are balanced or equal to the amount of pull type exercises (rows, pull ups, pull downs) and on the lower body your quadriceps are getting equal attention to your hamstrings and glutes.
You simply cannot gain good overall strength, fitness and physique by repeatedly exercising the same muscle groups whilst ignoring others. There are enough muscle groups and more than enough different exercises to easily put this part of the strategy in to practice and create a great workout routine.
Here is an example of a weeks worth of workouts (in muscle groups) in my current routine. I tend to either train and rest on alternate days or train 2 day in a row, rest 1 day, train 2 days etc.
- Shoulders and Glutes with One Triceps and Two Calf Exercises
- Back with One Bicep and 4 Abs Circuits
- Chest with One Triceps and Two Calf Exercises
- Legs and Deltoids with One Bicep Exercise and 4 Abs Circuits
Remember the idea is that you can apply the strategy to your own workout routine. Your exercises may already be nicely balanced, or you may need to shuffle them about to get that right but you will hopefully already have the muscle groups already covered.You could even choose a routine that only includes 2 or 3 workouts if you like. Just try to balance the exercises between them.
The way I have planned these workouts ensures all the muscle groups get the attention needed and very importantly the vital rest they will require. The idea being that by the time you come around to hitting each muscle group again it will be well rested and primed for another bout. This should allow you to progress very well if you want to make gains in fitness, strength or size.
Most importantly you will be able to maintain consistency in the long term by not giving up because of tiredness or lack of structure and direction when you step in the gym. You will be able to give each workout your all.
Sets, Reps, Form and Intensity
Sets and Reps Explained
A ‘set’ is an amount of ‘reps’ of any particular exercise.
A ‘rep’ is a particular exercise performed once; A repetition/1 rep.
For example; Push-ups (exercise) – 3 sets of 5 reps. This is 3 amounts of 5 push-ups, so you would perform 5 push-ups, rest. Perform 5 push-ups, rest. Perform 5 push-ups, rest. And then you would have completed the exercise and be ready to move on to the next.
1 Rep Max (1RM) Explained
Your 1 rep max is the most amount of weight you can lift once in an exercise. It is used to determine the correct weight for each exercise. A good online calculator I use is Calculate Your One-Rep Max (1RM)
For the number of sets per exercise I recommend 4 to 5 with set one being a warm up of 15 to 20 repetitions at 50-60% 1 rep max and the remaining 3 to 4 sets consisting of 5 to 8 repetitions at 75% 1 rep max. If 5 sets takes too long then do 4.
The aim is to keep the reps relatively low, so ideally within the 5-6 rep range and initially not quite being able to complete the final 1-2 reps per exercise.
As you progress and get stronger over time you will be increasing the rep amount naturally and hitting the 7-8 rep range in each set. When you can comfortably do 8 reps per set in any given exercise, you should increase the weight used to the point that you can only complete the initial 5-6 rep range and begin the process again. It is not necessary to increase the reps above 8 per set.
Make sure you are using enough weight to just be able to complete your sets whilst maintaining correct form. As you reach the end of the 4 to 5 sets you should feel like you are giving your all, whilst all the time being able to maintain correct form.
Important to note is that if you cannot keep correct form, reduce the weight. By the end of the 4 to 5 sets of any exercise you should feel like you have done enough and by this point want to move on to the next.
Correct exercise form is essential for progress. When performing each rep, focus on correct form with steady, slow repetitions that incorporate the full range of motion of each particular exercise. ‘2 seconds up, 2 seconds down’ is a good count to use. Concentrate on the muscles you are using to perform the exercise and try to squeeze them through the entire range of motion to promote maximum growth.
Do not worry about the amount of weight you are using or what other people might say or think. In time, the weight will naturally increase. Once you have mastered these aspects of the strategy you will really feel as if you really know what you are doing and understand your body’s strengths, weaknesses and limitations.
Sleep and Nutrition
Of all the factors these are the two I personally think are the most difficult to maintain. They form as much of an important part of all workout routines and this strategy as any other and have been the ones I am most likely to neglect.
Sleep in terms of the amount you need is simple. You should be aiming for consistency with this too and be trying to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. You may feel that you need more when you are exercising consistently. I know I do but I often struggle to stick to seven hours on a consistent basis, sometimes getting less and other times more.
A healthy amount of sleep makes a huge difference not only for your workout routine but in daily life.
Your nutrition needs to be good. Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘a six-pack is made in the kitchen’? Well we may not all be aiming for this but it carries a lot of weight (excuse the pun!).
Your diet and nutrition are important at all times and will allow you the edge to achieve the gains or losses and the results’ you want. It will also give you the edge on your peers if you are competitively minded.
I will keep things simple because it is a vast and complicated subject but here is what is needed;
Healthy Carbs to provide energy and regulation of blood glucose. They also spare the use of protein for energy use and assist in the breakdown of fatty acids to help prevent ketosis.
Healthy Fats to aid nutrient absorption and cell structure, nerve, brain and heart function. They will also reduce your cravings.
Protein to build and repair muscle and tissue. Protein is required by the body to create enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, and blood. A healthy muscle mass will in itself contribute to higher calorie burn and fat loss.
There are basic daily nutrition guidelines you can follow which are set out below. They are approximate percentage values of the macronutrients (macros) we all eat on a daily basis; Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat.
These aren’t too complicated to stick to with a bit of dedication and when you have mastered consistently keeping to the amounts in tandem with your exercise routine, you should see impressive results.
There are 3 variations for 3 different goals with differing percentage combinations of the major food groups you should be aiming to match on a daily basis. Simply choose one according to your goals. A superb aid to help you with this is MyFitnessPal. I found that once I had learned enough about the nutrition I required I didn’t need to use it continually.
- Build Muscle – High Carb – 40-60% Carbs, 25-35% Protein, 15-25% fat
- Maintain Muscle – Moderate Carb – 30-50% Carbs, 30-50% Protein, 15-25% fat
- Fat Loss – Low Carb – 10-30% Carbs, 40-50% Protein, 30-40% Fat
The build muscle format has worked very well for me. I wasn’t sure how well it would at first but I was surprised. Try to get as close to the percentages as you can. Once you have established which foods and organised any meal plans you are going to use to achieve this it will become easier to manage on a daily basis.
Important to note; To build muscle you need to consume between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.
So if you are serious about making changes to your workout routines or getting fit and healthy I encourage you to take action in any form that takes but if you think it may help, follow the strategy I have explained.
I certainly have no regrets having done it myself. Far from it, I have achieved the best fitness and physical results’ of my life by putting it in to practice and it really isn’t that complicated with a little understanding.
Imagine yourself having achieved the results’ you have been striving for and implement this strategy to see them realised! And remember;
- Time Spent Working Out – 45 minutes to 1 hour
- The Number and Balance of Exercises – 6-7 exercises per workout, separate muscle groups across routines
- Sets, Reps, Form and Intensity – 4-5 sets, 5-6 reps (rising to 8), correct form/full range of motion, enough weight
- Sleep and Nutrition – Minimum 7-8 hours sleep, the right percentages of healthy carbs, healthy fats and protein