- The best gym routine split for you is the one you can do consistently
- Structure your workout based on fatigue and neural demand
- Gain strength in the beginning of the workout and build muscle in the end
When I first started hitting the gym, the very first thing I’d do is hit arms.
What a better way to start a workout than with an arm pump, right?
From there it was whatever workout I found in a muscle magazine or online that day. There wasn’t a rhyme or reason to it and it didn’t matter…I was working out and it was only a matter of time before I would be jacked.
Until I wasn’t.
I wasn’t getting stronger.
I wasn’t gaining tons of muscle.
I wasn’t becoming the jacked dude I wanted to be.
I spun my wheels like this for years before figuring out how to program a proper gym routine. Thankfully, I’ve refined my approach which is based on actual science and not just shit I slap together at free random. Once I figured that out, everything went up.
So rather than you spinning your wheels like I did, here’s how to program a proper gym routine.
PICK YOUR SPLIT
The first thing you need to do is ask yourself how many days you can consistently hit the gym every week.
This is not time for pie in the sky if everything goes right type consistency. This is every week, regardless of what is going on, how many days can you hit the gym?
The most optimal workout means shit if you can’t do it consistently. Don’t overreach and think more is better. Better is better. Consistency is what is going to drive results so aim for that.
Once you figure out how many days you can consistently train here’s the most effective splits you can do:
2 days: Full Body
3 Days: Full Body or Full Body/ Upper/ Lower
4 Days: Upper/Lower
5 Days: Upper/Lower/Push/Pull/Legs or Upper/Lower/Vanity <- Basically a bro workout where you focus on the pump. Good for adherence.
6-7 Days: Go with the 4 day split and get a hobby outside of the gym
HOW TO SETUP EXERCISES IN YOUR GYM ROUTINE
Back when I used to start with arms, everything I did after that suffered because my arms were toast. If there was a dumbber way to start a workout I can’t think of one while I write this.
You should structure your workouts based on neural demand. Basically you want the heavy compound exercises or highly coordinated (think Olympic Lifts) in the beginning and the more muscle demanding isolation exercises at the end.
Here’s what that looks like:
Warmup – Warm, limber muscles perform better. Light weight circuits of 2-4 exercises for 10-20 reps here.
Explosive Movements – Jumps, sprints, plyometrics, Olympic Lifts. Technique and nervous system response is key here. You don’t want to be fatigued while doing these. Jumps and plyometric exercises can be combined into the warmup too. Keeps sets and reps low. A 3×3 would work.
Heavy Strength Exercises – Heavy deadlifts, bench, overhead press, and squats. To get the most out of these your muscles and nervous systems needs to be warmed up and primed which we did in the previous two. Similar to above I like to keep reps heavy and in the 3-4 sets of 3-8 range. 1 exercise here.
After the big movements, you’ll have 2-4 exercises that focus on what you’re trying to grow. This way you can progress where you want to without spreading yourself too thin by doing everything.
Multi Joint Hypertrophy Exercises – Barbell bent over rows, pullups and other multi joint exercises. I like to keep these in the 3-4 sets of 8-12 rep range. 1-3 exercises here.
Isolation Hypertrophy Exercises – Biceps curls, core exercises, cable flyes, and lat raises. These go a little higher in the 3-4 sets of 12-25 rep range. 1-3 exercises.
**Optional** Cardio/finishers – Pick your poison as far as HIIT or steady state. HIIT I top out at 5-10 mins and steady state about 20 mins. This is where I would add loaded carries or Farmer’s walks. If time becomes an issue I would rather my online coaching clients miss this part than anything else. This is more about adherence and leaving the gym with a sick pump.
Once you have this structure, it comes down to using your split to figure out what exercises go where.
If you were looking to make an upper body workout using this template it might look something like this:
Band Pull Aparts 3×15
Clapping Push Ups 3×3 (Explosive Movement)
Heavy Strength Exercises
Barbell Bench Press 3×4-6
Multi Joint Hypertrophy Exercises
Barbell Bent Over Row 3×8-10 (this could be superset with the barbell bench)
Dumbbell Incline Bench 3×8-10
Lat Pulldown 3×10-12
Isolation Hypertrophy Exercises
Cable Fly 3×15-20
Spider Curl 3×12-15
Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension 3×12-15
On the stationary bike, burn 50 calories as fast as possible.
WHY STRUCTURE YOUR GYM ROUTINE LIKE THIS
Like I mentioned earlier, this structure is based on fatigue and neural demand.
This way your body warms up then you’re able to be your strongest (or most technical) for the big movements and once the muscles start to fatigue you hit’em with some higher rep work and bring it home with some cardio.
From a muscle building perspective this primes your nervous system to recruit more muscle in the beginning of the workout (increase muscle tension) so you are better able to recruit muscle (increase muscle stress and damage) in the back end of the workout.
The three headed monster of muscle growth.
For instance, if your goal is to build up your chest, start with a barbell bench press for 4-6 reps (muscular tension) then later in the workout do dumbbell incline press or flyes for 8-20 reps (Muscular stress and damage).
HOW TO MAKE PROGRESS
Once you have the workout hammered out, the next is making sure you have a way to progress. Nothing is more frustrating than looking back at the previous 6 months of training only to see you’re not any stronger or jacked.
In order to build muscle you’ll have to increase volume and weight. Personally, I like using a triple progression method.
In this method you first increase the sets (from 3->4) while working on increasing reps with a weight, then finally weight once you hit the top of the rep range.
Here’s what that would look like if the rep range was 8-10:
Week 1: 225 for 3 sets of 8 reps
Week 2: 225 for 3 sets of 9 reps
Week 3: 225 for 4 sets of 8-9 reps
Week 4: 225 for 4 sets of 10 reps
Week 5: 235 for 3 sets of 8 reps
Week 6: 235 for 3 sets of 9 reps
Each week reps, sets (volume) or weight goes up. This way you’re always doing more and forcing your muscles to grow.
DOES THIS WORK FOR FAT LOSS
Yes. Fat loss and strength/muscle building workouts don’t differ all that much from each other.
The main component of a workout is to get or maintain strength regardless of your goal. Strength is the genesis of everything you want to do.
Fat Loss? Strength allows you to lift progressively heavier weights which burns more calories than lighter weight. Plus, you prob want to keep the muscle you have. This will be the difference between you looking jacked or a coked out lead singer from the 80’s.
Muscle gain? Strength allows you to lift progressively heavier weights which puts more stress on the muscle and forces it to grow.
Fat loss happens through your diet. No workout can take the place of a calorie deficit.
So there’s no need to make every workout a light weight cardio session. You aren’t doing yourself any favors.
Focus on strength in the gym and leave fat loss for the other 23 hrs of the day.
The workout structure I outlined would work for both because it focuses on strength.
If you’re tired of working out and not getting results apply for online coaching and get a customized nutrition and gym routine designed to get you results.