- Have a system for progressive overload
- A good workout routine for men is one you’ll do consistently
- Align your nutrition to your goal or risk wasting a shit ton of time
Is this a good workout routine?
When I was first getting into the lifting scene I NEVER asked this question. I just looked for the most jacked person that I wanted to look like and tried their workout.
Literally, any random dude with a six pack
They had the body I wanted so their workouts MUST have the secret I’ve been looking for.
In the end I wasted a LOT of time doing a LOT of work for minimal return.
Sure I had fun and got a lotta good pumps but my body never changed the way I wanted it to.
I always thought the next workout would be the right one…until it wasn’t.
So rather than wasting an obscene amount of time like I did, I’ll give you the first principles of a good workout routine for men.
So find a program online, in a magazine, or con-cocked on on your own. Whatever the hell you decide, just make sure it has these 6 must haves for an optimal workout routine for men.
Your Optimal Split
Anything you want to achieve in the gym comes down to one word…
If you aren’t consistent you simply aren’t going to get the results you want.
To find your optimal split you need to ask yourself how often you can get to the gym regularly.
Based on members of the Aesthetic Physiques Online Coaching program, 3-4 days is usual. It allows for you to move workouts if things get busy and you can still hit all your goals.
Once you define how many days you can show up, THEN we can get into what your split looks like.
But before we get there, let’s look at what makes an optimal workout for men if the goal is building muscle.
Brad Schoenfeld, muscle building guru, did a study to find out how many times you need to work a muscle group to see growth. Turns out, 2-3x per week was the sweet spot for trained individuals.
With that little tidbit of knowledge, we know you need to hit a muscle group 2-3x per week for growth we can limit our limitless workout splits to a few:
3 Workouts Per Week
Full Body/Push/Pull (Here we’d throw legs into Push/Pull days too)
4 Workouts Per Week
Push/Pull (Again, throwing legs into your Push/Pull days)
Sure there are other options, but they’d be missing the all important piece of hitting the same muscle group 2-3x per week and therefore, not optimal.
Each of the splits above check all the boxes for muscle building which only leaves what motivates you. If there is one split that makes you pee pee move more than the others, go with that.
If you have a tendency to skip legs conveniently every week or just hate training legs, then full body days would be a good choice this way you get to do the stuff you need (legs) with the stuff you enjoy (upper body).
The Right Workout Structure
Starting a workout with arms kills all your progress later in the workout.
It would be like running wind sprints to exhaustion before playing in the Super Bowl.
Exercise selection should follow a cascading effect in terms of weight used and nervous system demand.
Meaning, you want to have your heaviest exercises or exercises that require the most coordination at the beginning.
This takes fatigue out of the equation.
If you’re tired the chances of injury are higher. Form starts to slip and you simply don’t have the juice to perform your best which leaves a ton of gainz on the table.
Here’s how you should structure workouts:
Warmup – Warm muscles perform better and have less injuries. Warm up the muscles you plan on using for the workout.
Bro Tip: rear delts and glutes are always good muscles to have in a warmup. Warming these up helps reduce injuries in the shoulders and lower back.
Explosive Movements – Jumps or plyometrics type exercises. Technique and nervous system response is key here.
Heavy Strength Exercises – Heavy deadlifts, bench, and squats. To get the most out of these your muscles need to be warmed up (not trashed) and your nervous systems needs to be primed.
Multi Joint Hypertrophy Exercises – Barbell bent over rows, pullups, dumbbell bench press, etc. Basically, non-isolation exercises.
Isolation Hypertrophy Exercises – Exercises like biceps curls, cable flyes, and lat raises.
Each section builds for the next. This is why the heavy exercises go first, when you are most fresh, rather than putting them at the end when you’re sore from cable flyes.
The strength needed to do cable flyes and bench press are opposite ends of the spectrum. More weight lifted = more muscle.
This structure is also set up by importance so it can be used to streamline workouts if time is an issue.
If you are getting short on time, skip the cardio/finishers first. Isolation second and multi joint hypertrophy third.
Having your workout just the Heavy Strength Exercises allows you to stimulate the most amount of muscle in the least amount of time.
Efficiency at it’s finest.
If you find a workout program online that doesn’t follow this structure, it’s a piece of shit. Don’t waste your time.
The Right Reps
Like the workout structure that has a cascading effect as you progress through your workout, your reps should do the same.
The further down your workout your reps should increase.
This is because the less weight you use, the more reps you can do and need to stimulate muscle growth.
The only exception here is your warmup. These are light weight or bodyweight exercises so there isn’t a lot of stress or fatigue put on your body.
Warmup – 10-20 reps here.
Explosive Movements – Keeps sets and reps low. A 3×3 would work.
Heavy Strength Exercises – Keep reps heavy and in the 3-4 sets of 3-8 range.
Multi Joint Hypertrophy Exercises – Keep these in the 3-4 sets of 8-12 rep range.
Isolation Hypertrophy Exercises – These go a little higher in the 3-4 sets of 12-25 rep range.
Cardio/finishers – HIIT I top out at 5-10 mins and steady state about 20 mins.
Using a rep scheme like this allows you to build/keep strength regardless if you are in a fat loss or muscle building phase and build muscle if you are in a bulking phase.
If you see a workout where everything is in the 12+ rep range you are going to lose a TON of strength. I’ve done it and have seen people do it in the past. No grown man wants the strength of an 8yr old girl coming out of a fat loss phase.
The Right Rest Periods For Your Goal
Rest periods and weight are tied together like an old school three legged race.
Rest periods define how much weight to use.
If rest periods are longer, weight used can go up.
If rest periods are shorter, weight needs to go down.
For example, if you needed to do 3 sets of 8 for an exercise and used 30 sec rest periods you’d need to use a lighter weight than if you had 5 minutes between sets.
Simply, with 30 secs you don’t have enough time to recover and replenish the ATP in your muscles. This leads to less and less reps as the sets progress, less weight used and a less than optimal workout session.
Now that you know how rest factors into the gym, let’s break it down based on goals.
If your goal is pure strength (Think powerlifters), you want to elongate the rest period to 3-5 mins. This way you can regenerate more ATP and nervous system recovery which leads to you lifting heavier weights.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your goal is to add more volume to build muscle or increase endurance, then shorter rest periods <45 sec are the way to go. This would be doing Down Sets, EDT, or anything in the advanced training bucket.
If your goal is to purely build muscle, then 90 sec to 2 mins is where you want to be. It’s the perfect blend of getting enough rest to perform well on subsequent sets and not so much where you’re at the gym for 2 hours.
If you fall into the middle category of looking better naked, you want to incorporate all three rest periods into one workout.
For your bigger lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench) and explosive movements use 2-3 minutes.
Once you get into the multi joint hypertrophy exercises, drop the rest periods to 90 sec to 2 minutes. Less weight used in these exercises compared to your bigger lifts, so we can drop the rest periods slightly.
Then in your finishers or advanced technique is where you’d have shorter rest periods of 15-45 sec to squeeze the last bit of muscle building potential out of your workout with lighter weights. These exercises are your isolation and finishers.
Always Progressive Overload
When I would download workout after workout there was always one key component missing… progressive overload.
I was under the impression at the time that the workout, through some black magic that previous workouts I had tried didn’t have, would magically make me stronger.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It turns out, the black magic is progressive overload.
The TL:DR of progressive overload is progressively adding more (i.e. reps, sets, weight) to your workout which stimulates muscle growth and strength over time.
And whatever workout you do, you HAVE to ensure there is progressive overload baked into it or you have your own system if you want to make progress.
If you want, you can steal my system which I’ll give you below (check out this article for long term progressive overload):
- Work in rep ranges rather than a set rep.
- Pick a weight where you’re 1RIR is the bottom of the rep range.
- As the weeks progress you push for one more rep.
- As you hit or surpass the top of the rep range on your first set, increase the weight by 5lbs on isolation exercises and 10 lbs on multi joint or compound lifts the following week.
This increase in weight will automatically drop the amount of reps you can do so you have to work your way up to the top of the rep range again.
If the number of reps you can do with the heavier weight meets or exceeds the amount you did with the lighter weight, you didn’t push yourself hard enough with the lighter weight. In this case, increase weight by 5lbs.
This way as you get stronger, you constantly have a cue on when to increase the weight and keep pushing your body for more muscle and strength.
Let’s run through an example to illustrate this strategy.
Using 3 sets of 6-8 reps on the bench press, you figure 200lbs is the weight needed for you to be at 1RIR at 6 reps.
So week 1: 6 reps on set 1, 5 on set 2 and 4 on set 3. (Read the RIR article to see why)
Week 2: 7,5,4 (+1 rep on set 1)
Week 3: 7,6,4 (+1 rep on set 2)
Week 4: 8,6,4 (+1 rep on set 1 which is the top of the rep range)
Week 5: You increase the weight to 210 and hit 6,4,4
In Week 4 you hit 8 reps on set one, which is the top of the rep range and with the bench press being a multi joint exercise you increase the weight by 10lb and repeat the same process.
Nutrition Matches Goal
If you’ve ever tried to hit the brake and gas in your car at the same time, I’d be willing to bet my son that you didn’t get far.
…And this is how I see a lot of people trying to change their bodies.
They eat in a calorie deficit when trying to build muscle because they are afraid of getting fluffy or they pay no attention to calories when trying to lose weight.
In both examples you’re hitting the gas and brake at the same time and killing your results.
Your nutrition and goal MUST align to see progress.
If you are trying to gain muscle, eat in a slight calorie surplus.
If you are trying to burn fat, eat in a calorie deficit.
There is no way around this principle.
The Optimal Workout Routine For Men
For you to get the body you want, incorporate all these principles above. This article is your framework to determine if what you are doing will get you what you want or be a colossal waste of time.
Within this framework is where you can get creative with exercise selection and your mode of lifting (free weights, machines, dumbbells etc.).