We show you how to craft a workout plan that gets you bigger, stronger, and leaner in 2018.
STEP 1: PICK THE RIGHT EXERCISES
As a regular guy 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 fullbody 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. Keep your exercise selection short and sweet. 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 pulling 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-up 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 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 session 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. 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 sample programme on the following pages 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 as described to avoid plateaus and keep your training interesting.
1 SQUAT Sets: 5 Reps: 5 l Grasp the bar outside shoulder width and squeeze tightly. Pull your shoulder blades together and arch your back to take the bar off the rack – it should rest on your traps or rear delts. Step back with your feet shoulderwidth apart. Lower into the squat, hips first, until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
2 DIP Sets: As many as needed Reps: 50 total l Hold the parallel bars of a dip station and lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
3 ROMANIAN DEADLIFT Sets: 4 Reps: 10 l Hold a barbell in front of your thighs with a shoulder-width grip. Push your hips back and lower the bar, keeping your weight on your heels while maintaining the natural arch in your lower back. Allow your knees to bend slightly and lower until your back is about to lose its arch.
1OVERHEAD PRESS Sets: 5 Reps: 5 l Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. Take it off the rack, holding it at shoulder level with your elbows forward slightly and upper arms almost parallel to the floor. Squeeze your shoulders together and push your chest out, then press the bar over and slightly behind your head.
2 FRONT SQUAT Sets: 4 Reps: 10 l Step under a barbell resting on a squat rack and let it rest on the front part of your shoulders. Cross your arms so your hands reach across to the opposite shoulder to hold the bar in place. Unrack the bar and squat as low as you can while keeping your lower back flat.
3 PULL-UP Sets: As many as needed Reps: 50 total l Hold a pull-up bar with a grip wider than shoulder width. Pull yourself up.
1 DEADLIFT Sets: 5 Reps: 5 l Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend down and grasp the bar just outside your knees. Take a deep breath, then sit back on your heels. Keep your lower back in its natural arch and pull the bar as you rise until your hips are locked out.
2 INCLINE BENCH PRESS Sets: 4 Reps: 10 l Lie back on a bench set to a 40-degree incline. Grasp the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width and lower it to your upper chest. Squeeze your glutes and push your heels into the floor as you press it back up.
3 BACK EXTENSION (Not shown) Sets: As many as needed Reps: 50 total l Set yourself up on a back extension apparatus, with your upper thighs in contact with the pads. Bend your hips and lower your body until your lower back begins to lose its arch. Squeeze your glutes and pull yourself back up.