You might have a hard time determining exactly what you need for your workout plan. That’s okay! There are some specific exercises that you know you should probably include in your training in some form, and your goals (and time and energy constraints) will dictate much of the rest.
Still, there are a few factors that every training plan should include if you want to build muscle, improve your strength, and move better. Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. is here to help explain.
“This is a good way to make sure that you’re filling in gaps in your program,” he says of these guidelines. “It’s gonna help you stay nice and strong and help you build the muscle you want.”
The 3 Things Your Workout Program Needs
- Workout Must 1: Move Fast
1 to 3 times per week
Samuel wants you to move fast at least once a week as part of your training plan. That doesn’t just mean that you should pencil in a long jogging session every weekend, however; he wants this fast movement to be with a definite purpose.
“What I want you to do is think about moving weight with urgency,” he says. “One of the first things you’re gonna lose is the ability to be explosive, so we’ve got to work extra hard to maintain that.”
Crucially, you won’t be able to go as hard as Samuel wants for every single rep. You’ll be much more limited in your explosive movements than other exercises. For this, he suggests that you start your workout session one to three times per week with an explosive movement, like a kettlebell swing, broad jump, or even sprints.
For strength based programs, you can introduce explosion by working with lower increments and focusing on powering the weight up.
1 to 4 times per week
Samuel cautions you from taking on any program that only challenges you to work with light weights and lots of reps. You won’t be able to build strength and muscle as well without going heavy, so it’s essential to breaking through plateaus and accomplishing your goals. “We have to challenge ourselves with new loads that we are not always prepared to lift—that’s one of the key things in strength training,” he says. “And that’s missing if you’re only picking up a 25-pound dumbbell, if you’re only working with bodyweight, and if you never load past what you think you’re capable of.”
There are limits to this rule; you won’t be able to load up on every type of movement, particularly isolation exercises like biceps curls. But you can (and should) go heavy with some of the core exercises, like deadlifts, squats, rows, and more (mostly compound exercises). Just make sure that you’re smart when you go heavy, and cut the reps (down to 4 to 6, and sometimes even lower).
- Workout Must 3: Control Your Bodyweight
This might seem counterintuitive to the tip that came just before—but the key here is balance, not doing the exact same thing for every training session. Working with only your bodyweight focuses you to home in on the way you’re moving, according to Samuel. “We need to understand how things change when you’re moving only your bodyweight.”
Samuel lists several examples of bodyweight-only moves, including pushups, pullups, and chinups. All of these exercises depend on multiple muscle groups working together to create total-body tension, particularly the core. Once you take those principles to alternatives that use gear, like the lat pulldown for the pullup, there’s less need for full body coordination.
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