A Basic 5 Step Guide to Optimizing your Lifting Program

So How About The Lifting Program? Where Do We Start…

Maybe you are just getting comfortable in the weight section of the gym and know barely anything about structuring your resistance training program. Maybe you know your way around the gym but have just been lifting what you want and how you want. Maybe you have a lifting program but have been plateauing. No matter what your situation is, this guide will help you create a program that will have you reaching your goals as efficiently as possible!

Step 1: Decide on a goal

Are you in the gym with the goal of building muscle, getting stronger, or increasing your ability to use a muscle without getting fatigued? This matters as you are going to need to structure your workout in a way that aligns with your goals. How so?

Well the numbers of reps you are doing per exercise will change depending on what your goal is

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Second off, your exercise selection is going to be different. If the main goal of yours is to improve your squat, you should include squats, squat variations, and squat accessory movements with high frequency. If your goal is to grow massive shoulders, you should be doing shoulder exercises more often and make sure to be hitting all parts of your deltoid (front, side, and rear). If you are a runner and want to improve the endurance of your quads, you can do leg extensions at a high volume. We will get further into this later, but clearly, having a goal in mind is important when choosing what exercise, you are going to put in your program.

Step 2: Making a “Split”

A split is pretty much just deciding what days you are going to work for certain muscle groups. A very common split is Push, Pull, Legs. This means on day 1 you do your pushing movements (these are exercises that work your chest, shoulders, and triceps). On day 2 you do your pull movements (these work your back and biceps). On day 3 you do your leg movements (these include exercises that work your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves). You can then repeat that and throw in rest days when needed.

Another common split is just alternating between upper body and lower body days. If you have a weak point (say your bench is your weak point in your strength or your arms are your weak point in your physique progress) you can add a day into your split where you solely focus on that. Here is a much more in-depth guide on choosing a split that works for you. Another main variable in your split is when you want a rest day. Some people autoregulate their rest days, meaning they add them in whenever they feel necessary. Some rest before the hardest days in their split so that they are properly recovered to go in and crush their workout.

Others rest after the hardest day in their split to properly recover from that tough lifting session. This all depends on your schedule and your recoverability but remember those rest days are most definitely needed!

Step 3: Exercise Selection

When creating your workouts, generally you should start the workout by working the largest muscle of that day through compound exercises. For example, if you are doing a “push day” you should first complete your chest movements, then shoulders, and lastly triceps. The larger the muscle group, the more weight that can be pushed so you want to go into the movements for these groups fresh.

A compound movement is one that involves multiple joints and with these movements you can utilize a heavy load. This means on your push day you should start out with a heavy chest compound movement (after warming up of course) such as a bench press. Or for a leg day, you shouldn’t start out with training your calves, perform a compound movement such as a squat since it utilizes the largest muscle groups and will be one of the heaviest exercises you complete that day.

When it comes to actually selecting the exercises you will do, choose them based on your goal. If you want a stronger deadlift, include deadlifts in your program as well as exercises that strengthen the prime movers of the deadlift: glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. If your goal is to grow glutes, but not your quads, you shouldn’t spend much time doing leg extensions as these isolate your quads, spend time doing movements that isolate your glutes such as hip thrusts.

Also, choose exercises that you can overload on. In order to improve, you need to force your body to adapt to the stress that is being put on it. This is done by completing the same movements for the duration of your program and improving in one way or another, this can be by increasing the weight, reps, sets, or by even performing the movement with better form

Step 4: Reps and Sets

As mentioned earlier, depending on your goal, your reps and sets will vary. In general, for increases in strength a rep range of 1-5 is optimal, hypertrophy (muscle building) you will want to perform exercises in an 8-12 rep range, for muscular endurance 15 reps and up will be beneficial. However, this isn’t set in stone and there is some overlap when it comes to these rep ranges. In terms of sets, this matters less and is more so controlled by what you can recover from. The inverted u theory addresses this and shows that there is only so much volume you can perform before the performance begins to suffer due to not recovering properly.

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Step 5: Warm-up and cool down

A warm-up is necessary to promote blood flow to the muscles and to prime them for exercise. Think of your muscles as a rubber band: If you stretch a rubber band when it’s cold, it’s much more likely to snap than if you were to stretch a warm rubber band. A short 5-10 minute brisk walk on the treadmill or ride on the stationary bike will get the blood flowing to your muscles. Next, you should do body part specific work to prime the muscles you plan on working today. Here are great examples of the lower body and upper body warm-up routines.

For your cool down, you should perform static stretches of the muscle groups that have been worked. There is evidence that this prevents soreness when coupled with a massage. We can use self-myofascial release (SMR) release via using a foam roller in place of massage to promote recovery and decrease possible soreness.

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As you can see, creating an exercise program is rather simple and can create all the difference in your progress! It is all very dependent on what your goals are so once you decide on a goal make a plan! Going into the gym with a written plan sets you up for success, all you need to do is stick to it and watch the results come!

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