The D.I.Y. Workout
How to design programs yourself to hit any goal.
Writing training programs isn’t that hard. In fact, you’re probably making it harder than it should be. While we suggest you trust the training routines we provide for you, we know you might still go your own way, so we’re giving you the road map to get there solo. We’ll show you how to craft a plan that gets you bigger, stronger, and leaner.
STEP 1: PICK THE RIGHT EXERCISES
As a regular guy (not a genetic wunderkind) with limited time to train, you’ll do fine dedicating yourself to lifting just three days per week. Though you’re probably used to doing arm days, chest days, and so on, there are several advantages to performing full-body workouts. You can burn more calories per session and train the same muscle groups more frequently, and that means faster gains. You just have to make sure you recover between workouts, and performing a low volume of sets for each muscle group should do it. Keep your exercise selection short and sweet. You want a collection of moves that allow you to load up heavy weights and apply the greatest growth stimulus. Since you’re training your whole body each session, pick exercises that work every major muscle group as efficiently as possible. This can be accomplished with three moves per session. Just satisfy these categories of movement: push and pull.
For example, you could do an overhead press (a pushing exercise), a front squat (a lower-body pushing move), and then a pull-up (a pull in exercise). The next session could have two pull moves and one push to balance things out. Not all the exercises need the same emphasis. Whichever one you place first in the workout is your main lift—the one that if you had time for nothing else would get the job done. It must be a compound movement that requires maximum effort (this will always be a variation of a squat, deadlift, or press). Your main goal is to get stronger on that lift, and that, in turn, will make all your other goals more achievable.
Your second exercise in the routine is called your secondary lift. Like the main lift, it works a lot of muscle mass across multiple joints, but it doesn’t need to be done as heavy or hard. You can do more sets and reps here with less intensity. Any other exercises you do are assistance moves. These simply work the muscles you’ve already hit in a different way, or work muscles that act in opposition to them to promote muscular balance. They’re typically done with high volume and low intensity. In the previous example, the overhead press would be your primary lift of the day, the front squat would be secondary, and the pull- is the assistance move.
STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR GOAL
To get bigger and stronger, you need a blend of heavy training and a fair volume of work. To fit our three-lift example, go heavy on the fi rst lift and raise your reps with the secondary one. Finally, go for a lot of reps on the assistance lift over the course of multiple sets. A rep scheme like five sets of five is a foolproof strength plan for main lifts. You can do four sets of 10 for the secondary lift, and finish off with an assistance lift done for 50 total reps. That may seem like an arbitrary amount, but it works. Take as many sets as you need to reach that number and work to decrease your sets over time. It’s a fun way to compete with yourself, and it allows you to better customize your reps according to how you feel on a particular day. As for rest periods, here’s a trick to keep your sessions fast paced but also ensure that you lift your heaviest. On main lifts, start a timer and do your set of five. Now look at the clock. When it hits three minutes, do your next set. Hit set three at six minutes in, and so on.
For the secondary exercise, rest only as long as you need to complete the reps. If you want to get leaner, look at your diet. What you’re eating determines how defined you are to a far greater degree than how you train. However, you can make some modifications in the gym. The simplest thing is to just reduce your loads a little and make your rest periods active recovery. So, instead of resting outright, do something like jumping rope or jogging around the gym. This will help you burn more calories in your downtime. Augment your lifting with cardio. First thing in the morning before you eat, walk briskly uphill (you can put a treadmill on an incline) for 45 minutes, keeping your heart rate between 130 and 150 beats per minute. Do this at least twice a week. On another three days per week, do higher-intensity cardio that keeps your heart rate between 150 and 165 beats per minute for 25 minutes.
STEP 3: PUT IT TOGETHER
The following sample program shows how your training might look. The workouts are for building bulk, but you can tweak them to get lean by adding cardio and active recovery. You can also change the lifts to avoid plateaus and keep your training interesting. The Workouts: