6 Components of a Well Written Workout

I’ve been writing programs for the last seven years. From semi-pro athletes to youth sports teams and Navy SEALs to soccer moms, I’ve been forced to ignite my creative side and construct top-of-the-line workouts to fit the needs of the individual or group. Though creating a challenging workout is always at the forefront of what I do, it is just as important for these workouts to be measurable and progressive.

There are a handful of coaching styles, some molding to specific demographics better than others. However, outside of traditional bodybuilding, the format in which a workout is to be constructed is pretty much the same. My ideas are regurgitations of professors and master strength coaches far greater than I. With that said, every one of my workouts is made of six components. Here is a breakdown of what they are and why I include them:

1. Warm Up

Facilitation, Activation, Stimulation. In short, a good warm up should increase your body temperature, mobilize the working joints/increase range of motion specific to the day’s movements, stimulate the central nervous system, and activate the stabilizing/weak muscle groups. This should last no longer than 10 minutes. This is how I break it down:

  • General– Anything steady state for 3-5 minutes that gets you breathing and body warm.
  • Mobility– The exercises chosen should be specific to the workout. Save static stretching and lacking areas for the end of the work out.
  • Stimulation/Activation– I usually pair an explosive/dynamic exercise for low to medium reps (3-10) with an exercise that gets the stabilizing muscle groups firing (usually rear delts and scapula on upper body days and glutes/posterior chain on lower body days).

2. Primary

Pick 1-2 exercises that define the focus for the day. These are usually heavier and more complex/technical movements that don’t really move around in your program rotation until the training focus or goal changes. This is key as your primary exercises should be progressive and measurable. (Think heavy barbell movements.)

3. Secondary/Assistance

These movements compliment the primary exercise of the day. Usually they are smaller and less heavier exercises that bring up a weak area. For example, if your primary exercises for the day were bench press and bent over row, you may use an incline dumbbell bench press and single arm dumbbell row for your secondary exercises.

4. Auxiliary

These movements are still specific to the focus of the day but will entail exercises with a smaller range of motion or a particular muscle group. Think beach muscles or injury prevention.

5. Conditioning 

Though it may not be of the highest importance in everyone’s goal, conditioning always plays a role in one way or another. For some it could be something as simple as an easy 10 minute bike ride or row. For others it could be a METCON, track work, HIIT, or a 5k post lift. It really just depends on what the person’s goal is and whether or not it is aesthetically based, performance based, or both.

6. Active Recovery

Simply bring the heart rate back down and normalize blood flow. I usually end sessions with some type of stretch series specific to the muscles trained.


Example 1- Hip Dominant Focus Day

1. Warm up

-Run x400m at an easy pace

-x0:30 each: scorpion stretch, yoga push up, world’s greatest stretch, cossack squat

-3 sets of: jumping lunge x5/side + feet elevated hip bridge x20

2. Primary

A) Sumo deadlift

Warm up: x10 light, x8 medium

Work sets: 5×6 @ 70%

3. Secondary

B1) Romanian deadlift

Warm up: x10 light, x10 medium

Work sets: 3×10 working up to a heavy set

B2) Walking lunge (holding dbs)

Warm up: x25 yards at bodyweight, x25 yards light

Work sets: 3×25 yards heavy

4. Auxiliary

C1) Weighted sit up 3×10

C2) Toes to bar 3×10

5. Conditioning

D) METCON- 4 rounds of:

x200m run

x15 kb swings

x10 thrusters

x5 burpees

6. Active Recovery

Stretch calves, hamstrings, groin, hip flexors and glutes 


Example 2- Upper Body Horizontal Push/Pull Focus 

1. Warm up

-Row x500m at an easy pace

-x0:30 each: open the can, cat cow, quadruped thoracic rotation

-3 sets of: kneeling chest pass x5 + band pull apart x20

2. Primary

A1) Incline bench press

Warm up: x10 @ 40%, x10 @ 50%

Work sets: 3xAMAP @ 60%

A2) Single arm db row

5×12/side

3. Secondary

B1) Feet elevated push up

4xAMAP

B2) Ring row (neutral grip)

4×15

4. Auxiliary

C1) Db skullcrusher 3×20-10

C2) Db hammer curl 3×20-10

5. Conditioning

D) 4 rounds for time:

x200m row

x10/side rotational ball slams

6. Active Recovery

Stretch lats, triceps, biceps, and pecs 


Final Thoughts

Those who are current of former athletes and clients of mine should be very familiar with this pattern as this is how I construct all of my workouts. No fillers, no junk work, no BS… just tough as nails workouts that get our people to where they want to be. Include these six components to your workout routine, and I guarantee you will find this structure will give you the direction you’ve been looking for. 

My Full BROdy Training Split

If you’ve been lifting for a while, you’ve probably at some point been on a traditional bodybuilding split. If you were training four times a week, it may have looked something like this:

M- Chest & shoulders

T- Legs & abs

Th- Back

F- Arms

There are various splits that work well for some and not so well for others. What I’ve come to realize overtime after working with hundreds of people is that this is highly dependent on their lifestyle, schedule, and ability to recover. After all, getting past that intermediate level as a lifter is more about being in tune with how much you can push your body to adapt rather than recycling the same old program you’ve been doing since Nam’. With that said, there will be a time and season where making a shift in your training split can be beneficial. If long term progression is the goal, you must:

  1. Actually follow through with your training
  2. Analyze and assess what worked for you, what didn’t work, why it did or didn’t, and what you can do to improve

Changing it up for the sake of changing it up isn’t a progressive approach. Rather, find a way to make the most out of your training with the time you have in the gym and the amount of time you are able to recover in between. Which leads me to why I started considering a full body training split for myself and a handful of my clients…

In between balancing my work schedule, hobbies, and family time, I have found that training four times a week is about all that I can handle. That is unless I want another area to suffer. If my legs were too sore from a brutal leg day, I wouldn’t be able to coach on the floor and demonstrate proper lower body exercise form eight hours a day. For me, my work is far more important than my leg muscles. If I were too fatigued from not giving myself enough rest days, I would make for a lousy spouse at home. For me, my relationship and quality time is far more important than my body fat percentage. Though I agree that training and exercise are a bi-product to improving one’s quality of life, I think many people go overboard and empty their tank to the point at which work ethic, relationships, and self development begin to suffer. Nothing is more ironic than the meathead who can’t help his friends move because his back is too sore from a heavy deadlift workout or the dad who can’t teach his kid to throw a ball because his shoulders are wrecked from overdoing his pressing volume. But I digress…


The Split

I wrote up this training split when I said enough was enough. I’d rather train a body part with more frequency and be moderately sore throughout the week than need 2-3 days to recover and get my range of motion back. My goal never changed: continue to gain muscle while maintaining a reasonable body composition. Though the process of growth may be a little slower, I knew that this was something that I could continue doing overtime…

The concept of this training split is nothing new, especially for those who come from a strength & conditioning background like myself. For some reason, these programs never make their rounds and get into the hands of the everyday lifter, hence why many marry to the idea that training each body part once per week is the holy grail of training split when considering muscular development. Do some research on training during the golden era and you will find that many of the old school lifters and bodybuilders trained full body just 3-4x per week. I think we can all agree that these guys built impressive physiques that most people these days can realistically strive for. Take Steve Reeves for example:
steve-reeves-workout-old-school-aesthetics

Most of these full body training splits from the golden era looked simple on paper, but were very challenging and extremely effective in nature. The only problems I could find in most of these programs is:

  1. Lack of movement equality (an even or close ratio of push/pull movements for the upper and lower body)
  2. Lack of room for variety (compound movements only doesn’t leave much room for isolation work and training in different planes)

So in order to revamp these old school programs while trying to fit an appropriate amount of weekly training volume for all body parts in four days of training, I came up with this split:

M: Medium volume/medium intensity push focus

T: Medium volume/medium intensity pull focus

Th: High volume/low intensity push focus

F: High volume/low intensity pull focus

Here is an example of what this might look like:

full-brody


Movement Breakdown

For those who care, here is a breakdown of how I selected the exercise variations and movements. This approach allows for a ton of variety.

Medium Intensity/Medium Volume Push day

A. Calves

B. Bilateral knee dominant

C. Horizontal push

D. Vertical push

E. Triceps

F. Trunk stability

Medium Intensity/Medium Volume Pull day

A. Glutes

B. Stiff-leg hip hinge

C. Horizontal pull

D. Vertical pull

E. Biceps

F. Abs

Low Intensity/High Volume Push day

A. Calves

B. Unilateral knee dominant

C. Upwards horizontal push + downwards horizontal push

D. Middle delt isolation + rear delt isolation

E. Triceps

F. Trunk stability

Low Intensity/High Volume Pull day

A. Glutes
B. Knee flexion isolation
C. Upwards horizontal pull + mid-back/trap movement
D. Downwards horizontal pull + straight arm lat movement

E. Biceps
F. Abs


Final Thoughts

If you’ve hit a slump in your training or feel that you aren’t able to recover in between sessions, it may be beneficial to take the principles mentioned above into consideration. Training a muscle group with more frequency may not work for your lifestyle or goals and that is totally fine. There are a handful of training splits that work very well and this is one of the many that I have implemented for myself and a my personal training and online clients. Nonetheless, find a training split that will not only improve the quality of your workouts, but improve the quality of your life outside the gym.

Looking for direction with your training? Stuck in a rut and looking for some personal coaching? You can learn more about my program design service HERE to inquire about hiring me.

Things I’ve Changed My Mind About (Part 1)

Back when I first started as a personal trainer, I changed my mind quite a bit. Though it was with good intention, I was hungry for the holy grail of training information. Whether that be through reading multiple books a month or taking on the guidance of various mentors (each one good in their own way), I still lacked the real world experience in applying these methods to people other than myself. I was struck by paralysis through analysis.

Hundreds of clients in person and online later, I’ve been able to put my methods to the test. I can admit that any confidence or authority I had felt in previous years was arrogance. It wasn’t until I reached that point of experience through trial that I finally feel grounded and truly confident in the way that I do things. Does this mean that in the near future I won’t change my mind about the things I’m about to cover? Absolutely not! I am and have always been open to question. But I do feel these things I have changed my mind on are worth noting:


Exercise Selection Through Movement Patterns

I’m stoked about the way things are going for the fitness industry. The internet has allowed quality information to be shared and digested amongst the general population. People are now understanding the importance of not only muscular balance, but pattern balance as well. Push and pull is now a concept understood and incorporated by many trainers and gym goers.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, just know that you can approach movement patterns for the upper body through: vertical pull, vertical push, horizontal pull, and horizontal push. The movement patterns for the lower body are: bi-lateral knee dominant, bi-lateral hip dominant (straight leg), bi-lateral hip dominant (bent leg), and arguably all single leg knee and hip dominant variations. You can even throw lateral movements into the mix.

Though this is a good concept to work with, I have ran into limitations with exercise selection by being bound to the vertical and horizontal planes. This is mainly because I come from a collegiate style strength & conditioning background. The way I approach exercise selection now is by angles. This is nothing new as bodybuilders have been doing this for decades. The best visual for this approach is a compass. You don’t just have north, south, east, and west. You also have north east, north west, south east, and south west. This approach has enabled me to select exercises in such a manner that I ensure all clients hit each angle/movement pattern weekly. This means that a client will perform at the least five exercises for upper body pressing and five exercises for upper body pulling. Add in various grips and uses of equipment, the options for exercise selection are endless. So if muscular balance is the goal, as it should be for anybody who touches a weight, this approach may be something you will want to consider incorporating.

Here is an example of the compass approach for upper body pushing movements:
North (Vertical Press): Behind the neck barbell press
North East (Upwards Press): Incline db bench press
East (Horizontal Press): Feet elevated push up
South East (Downwards Press): High to low cable press
South (Vertical Press): Upright dips


Cardio

This isn’t really a recent change, but definitely something worth mentioning…

I’ve found that across the board, high intensity interval training is overrated and not as beneficial as the fitness industry had made it out to be. This isn’t to say that I don’t include HIIT in client programs alongside various methods of metabolic conditioning. It’s just not on the list of most important in regards to burning additional calories or improving general health.

Excluding the handful of seasoned lifters and athletes I have worked with online, most of my clients are either beginner to intermediate level trainees. With that said, they aren’t able to maintain a high level of output for very long. Truly training the anaerobic glycolytic system is a no go after a full 45-60 minutes of strength training. Additionally, most of the strength work I do with clients is organized with designated working and rest periods, practically making this a low to medium intensity interval session with weights anyway. So what I have them do instead is usually finish with a medium to high intensity METCON for 10-15 minutes and dismiss them after the training session to complete a 10-15 minute low intensity aerobic cool down. This way, I am disguising the steady state cardio through various exercises and intensities.

Aside from the benefits of heart health, being low impact, and improving recovery through frequent low intensity steady state cardio training, it is key that I also note that this is not used to create a major calorie deficit. For years HIIT was praised for its ability to increase EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). Simply put, the high intensity intervals were said to significantly increase your resting metabolism in comparison to a bout of low to medium intensity aerobic training. In truth, it’s really not a marginal difference. Because of this, I would much rather my clients see an increase in calorie deficit (calories burned throughout the day/week in comparison to required maintenance calories) through simply slashing the amount of calories they eat. In other words, I ensure their calories are straight before bumping their conditioning volume and duration.


Final Thoughts

Like mentioned above, I am still susceptible to changing my mind on these principles in the future. But it is with good reason that I implement a “better way” to serve the clients I work with in helping them achieve their goals and lead a healthier lifestyle. Hopefully some of you just getting into the field can take this is as a grain of salt as you find what is best for your clients. With that said, there are still a few more things I want to cover, so keep your eyes peeled for Part II!