It’s time to learn how to design an effective workout program! The last time you began a new size and strength routine, did you follow a well-planned workout? Or did you just go to the gym and pound out countless sets? Often, if a bodybuilder or athlete changes things up, or starts an entirely different routine, they do so with no real plan in place. Or, perhaps they follow someone else’s routine set for set and rep for rep.
Worse yet, these lifters often train for hours a day, 7 days a week. Many times they are just repeating the same chest and arms workout over and over, with no thought to other muscle groups. What about rest days and recovery? That’s for wussies! I don’t need to rest! You expect this from beginners, but not more advanced lifters.
This article will explain how to design an effective workout program. In this article, I’m mainly talking about building more size, but the principles can be applied to any goal.
You Have To Have A Plan
There are several elements to creating an effective workout program. It’s much more than just showing up at the gym and doing yet another day of bench presses and biceps curls.
You need a plan if you want to build more size. The routine you use needs to be set up for maximum gains. One of the keys to doing this correctly is to understand the need for recovery. Let me be blunt, recovery is critical. You only grow if you are recovered. You do not grow by living in the gym.
The Basics Of An Effective Workout Program – Understanding Progressive Overload
A major key to an effective workout program is the principle of progressive overload. To see the best results, you have to add weight to the bar consistently. One great way is to add weight to the bar every week. The key is to add it in small increments. For example, add 5lbs to your working sets of the bench press every week. If you find you can’t hit your reps, drop back and try again next week. If you can hit your reps on some of your sets, stay at that weight until you hit your reps on all your working sets.
Yes, there are other ways to use progressive overload, but this is an effective way to build strength. (1, 2)
Choosing Your Exercises
Since consistent strength increases are a major part of this routine, exercise choice is crucial. You will choose compound or basic exercises. These are the best for building muscle and increasing strength. (1,2) Basic exercises are multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and bench presses. Compound exercises are better than isolation exercises for growth. That’s because you can handle more weight and you use more muscles. Any free weight exercise uses the stabilizer muscles as well as the main muscles being worked. A machine only works the target muscle, with some help from similar muscles, but that’s it.
For example, the squat is a quad movement yet works the entire body. Part of this is because you have to balance and control the bar. On the other hand, a machine squat takes everything but the quads and lower back out of the movement. That means less weight and fewer muscles being worked.
Another benefit of compound exercises is you’re working the body functionally. Think about it. As an example, let’s say you’re buying a 35lb bag of pet food. When you lift the bag, several muscles come into play. Compound exercises work all these muscles to promote functional strength and growth.
What Are The Most Effective Compound Exercises For An Effective Workout Program?
Here’s a list of the best compound, or basic, exercises.
- Squats – These are often called the King of Exercises. Squats are usually considered the most beneficial exercise you can do. One reason is that squats work approximately 200 muscles.
- Deadlifts – This exercise rival squats as the King of Exercises. It’s actually a similar movement but works the back muscles more. Deadlifts are close to squats in terms of effectiveness. Like squats, deadlifts work the entire body.
- Bench Press – Often called the “King of Upper Body Exercises”, the bench press is an excellent chest, deltoid, and triceps exercise. We’ve all been asked the classic “how much can you bench?” question, right?
- Incline Press – When working your chest, you should not overlook your upper chest. That means you should add incline presses to your routine. Working the upper chest ensures complete chest development.
- Overhead Press – This is mainly a delt movement yet it’s also a great upper body muscle builder.
- Shrugs – This is the key exercise for huge traps. If you want to be able to hit a killer most-muscular, this is the exercise that’ll get it done.
- Bent Row – This is a classic exercise for a great back. This, and all rowing movements, build thickness. It also hits the biceps and rear deltoids.
- Pull-Up – This is the key pulling movement for back width. If you want wide lats, this is how you get them.
- Barbell Curl and Dumbbell Curl– Easily the standard biceps movement. Many lifters use an EZ bar because it’s easier on your wrists. It should be mentioned that there are several great dumbbell curl exercises, such as alternate dumbbell curls and incline dumbbell curls.
- Triceps Extension and Close Grip Bench Press – Triceps have 3 heads and make up 2/3 of the upper arm. That means you want to hit all 3 heads and you want as much mass as possible. These 2 movements are the best exercises for triceps size.
These exercises should be your foundation movements. This list is not all-inclusive but includes the best exercises for mass.
4-Day Split Routine – An Example Of An Effective Workout Program
Here’s a classic 4-day split routine that uses the compound exercises talked about in this article. Use this routine as a template for future routines. When you design your own routine, always put pushing muscles together, and pulling muscles together. Legs should be done on their own day. Perform your heaviest exercises first. These will be the ones that work your largest muscle groups. Work the smaller muscles next.
For example, work chest first, then deltoids, then triceps. Since the delts and triceps are involved in chest work, you want to work chest first when you are fresh. By the time you hit your delts and tris, you will be completely warmed up and can go right into your working sets.
Here’s how I set it up this routine:
Day 1: Chest, Triceps
Warm up over 3 sets:
- Bar x 15 reps
- 20% RM x 10 reps
- 40% RM x 8 reps
3 working sets x 6-8 reps. I’ve seen people butcher this movement with extreme arching of their back. I have also seen people bouncing the bar off the chest to cheat on their reps. Don’t do that. Instead, work the whole movement – explode the bar up and lower slowly, under complete control.
2 sets x 6-8 reps
Incline Dumbbell Flyes
2 sets x 6-8 reps
Close Grip Bench Press
2 sets x 6-8 reps
EZ Bar Extensions
2 sets x 6-8 reps. You can do these standing, lying, or seated.
2 sets x 15 reps
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Back, Biceps
Deadlifts – Same as the bench press. These are full off-the-floor deadlifts. Make sure you work the whole movement. Do not just drop the bar when you hit the top. Do not bounce it off the floor either.
2 sets x 6-8 reps. For me, there’s nothing like a great back. When I train, I think about the various twisting back shots Arnold used to do – they really stood out and made him look exceptional.
2 sets x as many as possible
2 sets x 6-8 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curls
1 set x 6-8 reps. Twist the wrist Arnold-style to get more out of the movement. Think like you’re opening a jar.
1 set x 6-8 reps
2 sets x 8-10 reps
Hanging Leg Raise
1 set x 10 reps
2 sets x 15 reps
Day 4: Shoulders, Traps
Overhead Press – Same as bench presses
Side Laterals/Bent Over Laterals
2 sets x 8 reps. Do this as a superset. You are performing 8 reps of each movement.
3 sets x -6-8 reps. Pull up, hold and squeeze, then lower the bar slowly.
3 sets x 10 rollouts
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Legs
Heavy squats and heavy back work both hit the lower back. Therefore, I do legs on Day 6 and back on Day 2. This allows for more lower back recovery.
Squats – Same as bench presses, except do 5 working sets. These are all the way to the floor squats. Your first working set will be 8 reps and it should be your heaviest set. Work down in weight through your 5 sets going no lower than 6 reps. When 8 reps become easy, increase the weight. This approach is called reverse pyramiding. Rather than going through endless sets and, finally, hitting your heaviest weight on your last set, you hit it on your first set after warm-ups. You will be fresher and stronger if you do it this way.
Lying Leg Curls
3 sets x 8 reps
Standing Calf Raises
2 sets x 10-12 reps. On all calf work, go up, hold and squeeze, lower slowly.
Seated Calf Raises
2 set x 10-12 reps
2 sets x 15 reps
Day 7: Off
Focus on proper exercise form. Make sure you lift the weight under control. As noted, don’t rush your reps. There are many ways to perform a rep and, yes, each method has merit. Unless otherwise indicated I advocate an explosive up and a slow, controlled down rep style.
Work the entire rep, from start to finish! Don’t let momentum do the work for you. Emphasize the negative part of the rep. As far as tempo, take 2-3 seconds to lift the weight. Then take 4-6 seconds to return to the start position. I also advocate training to failure.
Rest 60 seconds between sets. However, you can increase the intensity by using shorter rest periods.
What About Nutrition And Supplements
Any article of mine is never complete without a look at nutrition and supplements. If size is your goal, you have to look at your eating and supplement plan as much as your workout. This is really an article unto itself, but typically, start with 18 calories per lb. of body weight. If you find you are not gaining, or gaining fat, this number can be adjusted up or down accordingly. Take in 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per lb. of bodyweight, and yes, timing is important. Therefore, take in your protein every 3 hours, or as close to that as you can. (3).
It’s true you should watch carbs if your goal is fat loss. However, you need enough carbs if you want to grow. Still, even in a growing stage, it’s sugar you need to control. Limit sugar to the morning just after waking and post-workout. Concentrate on complex carb sources at all other times of the day. Start with 2 grams per pound of bodyweight. This is an adjustable number that should be based on how you look.
Use the Glycemic Index as well as the Glycemic Load. These are recognized carb digestion rating systems. They will help you make the best choice when it comes to carbs that digest more slowly. (4,5).
The remaining calories will come from healthy fats. Think in terms of 20% fat to total calories. If you end up with a surplus of calories, add more protein.
Protein powder is a foundational supplement that can help you meet your daily protein goal. I suggest NutraBio 100% Whey Protein Isolate. See it here: Nutrabio 100% Whey Protein Isolate – I’ll Pump You Up (illpumpyouup.com)
Of course, you will need a solid pre-workout. Here’s a great choice: 5% Nutrition Kill It Reloaded – I’ll Pump You Up (illpumpyouup.com)
During your workout, you can use an EAA/BCAA, like 5% All Day You May. Get it here: 5% Nutrition ALLDAYYOUMAY – I’ll Pump You Up (illpumpyouup.com)
If you’re having a hard time getting in your calories, don’t use a gainer. I suggest a real-food carb powder such as 5% Real Carbs. They also have a version with real food protein, or you can mix in NutraBio protein suggested above. Check it out Real Carbs here: 5% Nutrition Real Carbs – I’ll Pump You Up (illpumpyouup.com)
Finally, creatine is another foundational supplement. I suggest APS Nutrition Creatine Monohydrate. See it here: APS Creatine Monohydrate – I’ll Pump You Up (illpumpyouup.com)
Of course, you may also use additional supplements. Do all your supplement shopping here: Bodybuilding Supplements Store | I’ll Pump You Up (illpumpyouup.com)
So now you have a great 4-day split routine to start with. Plus, you have the basics of the right nutrition and a good supplement plan. Everything you need to create an effective workout program is in this article. Let’s get started!
- Gentil P, Soares S and Bottaro M (2015) Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(1).
- Gentil P, Soares S and Pereira M et al. (2013) Effect of adding single-joint exercises to a multi-joint exercise resistance-training program on strength and hypertrophy in untrained subjects. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 38(3), 341-344.
- Stark, M., Lukaszuk, J., Prawitz, A., & Salacinski, A. (2012). Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529694/