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How to Build a Good Workout

Posted May 10 2011 7:00am
I had two clients last night, but they were an hour and a half apart from each other (and one of them ended up not showing), so I found myself with some time to plan ahead. I'm a Type A, love-to-be-in-control-of-things person so any window in my day that allows me to get things done is like a giant dollop of almond butter on top of my oatmeal. 100% welcomed. And as I sat in our office last night doing my planning thing, I got to thinking about your ability to plan as well. More specifically, your ability to plan your own workouts.

Do you know the right way to structure your strength training sessions? Which muscles to work first? How many breaks to take? There's a science behind it, and it's this science that often prevents people from truly diving into strength training. I hear this a lot: "I just don't know what to do." And I completely understand.

So I'll let you in on the secrets to building a successful strength training routine.

1) Grab a pen and paper. Do this first and foremost. While it sounds silly, it's actually a very important step. Working things out ahead of time, and then keeping track of things while you go ultimately keeps you on the path toward success. And on time. I typically used lined notebook paper, but for certain clients, I will rely on a form much like this
Ask around at your gym, there should be copies similar to this somewhere. And you can, of course, always make your own.

2) Decide what muscles you'd like to work that day. Upper body, lower body, push muscles, pull muscles or everything in between. There are many ways to go about it, and it all depends on the rest of your schedule. If you're in the gym every day, you are absolutely going to want to divide your workouts according to muscle group as you'll need to give each muscle group a rest day in between sessions. But if you're only in the gym once or twice a week, you would benefit from a total body workout in each session. Provided, of course, that you're giving yourself a rest day in between sessions. Rest days are clutch.

3) Once you know what you'd like to focus on, start with the biggest muscle in that group. For example, if you're declaring it a lower body day, you'd probably want to start with your quads, then move toward hamstrings and glutes, followed closely by your hip add/abductors and then finally, your calf muscles. If you're doing a total body workout, you'd start with quads and hamstrings, then move onto your chest and back muscles, etc...etc. Why work in this way? Little muscles will fatigue quicker than bigger muscles, and you'll need those little muscles when you're using the bigger muscles.

4) Determine how many sets and repetitions you can handle. Start with two sets of 12 if you are unsure. Decide if you'd like to focus on one muscle at a time or move between two. For example, by doing all of your quad exercises and then all of your hamstring exercises, or alternating between quads and hamstrings with each set before moving on to glutes and hips. How you determine what to do in this case depends largely on two things: A) How busy the gym is, or B) How quickly you want to train. If you focus on one muscle a a time, you'll need to give that muscle a 30-second break in between exercises. If you focus on two muscles at a time, that break could be filled with another exercises which would eliminate the need for you to truly stop and rest. And it goes without saying that eliminated that rest gets you through your workout at a quicker pace. So, once you determine your approach, you can write out your exercises in groups so that you know what to do when.

5) Take notes. If you change the weight mid-exercise, jot it down. If you skip an exercise for whatever reason, jot that down, too. You want to make note of any stray from the plan because when you go back to create your next workout, you'll want to be sure you are progressing yourself. Either with the weights or with the intensity of the exercise.

And that's it! Well, sort of. You have to actually know what exercises to do, and many people do not. My best advice? Head on over to your local bookstore and invest in a great resource from which you can choose a variety of different exercises. I reference books all the time.

Really, it's just like putting a puzzle together. You start with the frame (tips #1 through #5 above) and fill in the picture (workout) as you find the right pieces (exercises). Here's an example of a total body workout I put together for one of my clients


Remember, if you ever have any questions about what you're doing, you shouldn't ever hesitate to corner one of the trainers at your gym. If they are anything like our trainers, they'd be more than willing to lend some basic advice. And you can always as me for advice, too. I'll give you my best response from across the Internet. Just email dailydose (dot) notes (at) gmail (dot) com.  

Question: What's your strategy for building a workout?

REMINDER! Don't forget to enter my giveaway! You just might win two packets of Cocomama Quinoa Cereal! (Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, May 13, 2011).
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