Whether you are looking to customize your workouts, address your own particular weaknesses or you accidentally forgot your latest workout from the pages of Men’s Fitness at home, having the knowledge to design your own training program can really be empowering and make you feel like you know your way around the gym. All it takes is a little bit of thought and a willingness to follow some guidelines.
Set a Goal
First thing’s first. You have to figure out what your goal is. And just in case you forgot why you started training in the first place, it’s probably to accomplish one of three things—getting stronger, getting bigger or getting leaner. Are all these goals independent of each other? No. But it’s a good idea to put the majority of your efforts into one at a time.
Sets and Reps
Once you’ve decided what training effect you are after, it’s time to lay out a rep and set scheme. If getting as strong as possible is your thing, you want to keep the reps lower and add more sets. Think 6 sets of 3-5 reps. If getting bigger is your goal, the classic three sets of 8-12 reps will work very well. If you want your training to be more metabolic for the purpose of fat loss, think higher reps like 15-20.
Choose the Right Movements
Exercise order and selection is also critical. As a general rule you always want to put the bigger, more complex movements in the beginning of the routine. These exercise are more difficult to perform and can take a lot out of you so you want to do them when you’re fresh. Smaller, isolation type movements should be saved for later in the routine with core and ab-specific movements coming at the end. Big, multi-joint movements such as the Olympic lifts, deadlifts, squats, push presses, bench press, leg press, chin ups, dips and bent-over rows should come early in the program. Next you can work on your hamstring curls, leg extensions, biceps curls, skull crushers, calf raises and any other single-muscle moves. Finish off the routine with hanging knee raises, planks or anything else that focuses on the good ol’ six pack.