A lot of you have asked me about how I train when I’m in the gym, so I wanted to give you a look at a training programme that has been working really well for me since January.
I also wanted to give you a breakdown of why I do what I do, so that you understand the choices that I have made in my training, and the principles that I have applied. Basically, I didn’t want to share my training programme without making it as useful to you as possible.
I designed this training programme based on my personal strengths and weaknesses, my personal goals, and the way that my body responds best to training. If you were to try this programme, you may not enjoy it as much as I do, or see the same results that I have done.
However, you will hopefully come away with some ideas of things you might like to consider when putting together a training programme that would work for you, if that’s something that you’re interested in doing.
My Training Split
A training split refers to the way that your workouts are divided to focus on training different areas of your body within different workouts on different days.
Beginners might opt for a full-body split, training their whole body with every work out in order to train each muscle group more frequently, which will also help to train the body’s nervous system to respond to the type of training that they are doing.
At the other end of the spectrum, established bodybuilders tend to opt for a body part split, where they might focus and entire session on arms, another on chest, and so on.
I like to do an upper/lower body split. My total training programme is a 4 day split with two upper body sessions and two lower body sessions.
One of my upper body sessions focuses mainly on training my front (chest and shoulders), and the other my back. This could also be described as a push/pull split, because training chest and shoulders requires mainly pushing motions (chest press, shoulder press) whereas training the back requires mainly pulling motions (lat pull down, rows).
I apply a similar principle to my lower body sessions. One of my sessions is predominantly (but not strictly!) focused on the fronts of my legs (my quads), and the other has more emphasis on my posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings).
I like to split my workouts like this at the moment as it enables me to put a greater focus on activating and properly contracting the muscles that I’m training in each session.
Warm Ups + Cool Downs
My warm ups include activation work so they vary from session to session, depending on what muscles I will be working.
I always do some kind of core activation, such as a plank variation, ‘dead bug’ (like a ‘table top’ in pilates), or a crawling variation.
I will also warm up the muscle groups that I will be using during the session in a way that will also get my heart rate up.
The exercises that I have been using recently can be seen in my programme.
I always aim to cool down properly after a session too, often spending a few minutes walking on a treadmill, followed my some stretches or self-myofascial release with either a foam roller or a ball.
A superset is where you follow one exercise with another exercise with no rest in between.
This training principle can be applied in lots of different ways. You might superset two exercises that work the same muscle group (e.g. biceps), you might work opposing muscle groups together in a superset (e.g. biceps and triceps) or you might work completely different muscle groups (biceps and quads). Each type of superset serves a slightly different function.
I choose to superset because:
1. It increases the intensity of my workout. By increasing the volume of training that I fit into a given timeframe, I achieve and maintain a higher heart rate, meaning that I also get some cardio work in!
2. It saves time. Time is my scarcest resource, so I want to get the most out of my time in the gym. Therefore, I bundle together exercises that are convenient to perform one after the other (perhaps the equipment is the same, or near each other within my gym’s layout). I generally am off the gym floor after 45-50 minutes.
Supersets in my training programme are indicated by a series that has more than one exercise in it. For example, in Lower Body 1, my superset is series A. The first exercise in that superset is A1 - back squats, and the second exercise in the superset is A2 - squat jumps.
I like to start my sessions with compound lifts. Compound movements require movement from more than one joint. This means that they recruit more muscle groups.
A squat is a compound movement, as this involves movement both at the knee joint and the hip joint. A leg extension exercise, however, is an isolation movement as it only required movement at one joint; the knee.
You might notice that some of my compound lifts don’t fit in exactly with my ‘split’. For example, I deadlift within the same session that train my chest and shoulders, despite the deadlift recruiting muscles from the posterior chain. I chose to insert this exercise into my programme here for a few reasons:
1. That session requires relatively light weights (because your shoulders, for example, are pretty small muscles). Therefore, adding deadlifts into this session allows me to increase my total training volume by lifting some heavier stuff!
2. None of the other exercises within that session require much ‘set up’, where as deadlifting does (loading and unloading the bar can be time consuming). Balancing them in the same workout makes my session last for a the most reasonable length of time.
3. The setup of my gym means that moving between deadlifts and my other exercises for that session doesn’t require time-consuming or difficult transitions.
Selecting the right weight
You will see that I haven’t filled out the weights that I use for each exercise in my programme. This is for two reasons:
1. They change between sessions. They may increase as I make progress, or I may decide to drop the weight sometimes to enable me to focus on getting a good muscular contraction and to work on my technique.
2. They won’t be the same for you! I would love you to take inspiration from the way that I adapt exercises suit my own body without being distracted by the feeling that you should be able to perform a certain number of reps at a given weight. Everyone is so different with regards to what weights they can lift, for factors that extend beyond just what you do in the gym, and unless you are competitively powerlifting, there’s no need to make comparisons.
Generally, I recommend that you select a weight that is heavy enough that once you have done the number of reps in the set, you would only be able to grind out another 1 or 2 reps before absolute failure.
I want to challenge my body and know that I’m getting the most from the number of reps that I’m doing, so I don’t want it to be easy!
To give you a rough indication, for me this means around 8 squats at 70kg.
I train in the gym 3 or 4 times a week.
I will aim to repeat this training programme up to 6 times before I switch it up to a new programme, to shock and surprise my muscles to prevent any plateaus in my progress.
There are so many aspects to creating a training programme that I couldn’t possibly cover them all within one article. Instead, I just really wanted to illustrate that there is no ‘one’ correct way to train - you have to take into account your own abilities, restrictions and the things that you enjoy!
Below are just a few of my own personal quirks that you can hopefully now see reflected in my training programme. You will have your own individual characteristics that your training plan will have to accommodate too, and that’s okay! Hopefully now you will understand a little better how to work with them, rather than battling against them.
Quirk 1: My body responds to best to high reps training. I’m still pretty strong and want to see my strength increase, but for a number of reasons (including genetics, if my fitness DNA test results are anything to go by!) my body doesn’t respond as well to traditional strength training with low reps.
How I tailor my training programme: I train mostly within the 8-12 rep range, but still challenge myself with heavy weights.
Quirk 2: I have a medical condition (Cystic Fibrosis) that means I need to get in plenty of cardiovascular training in order to maintain healthy lung function.
How I tailor my training programme: I superset exercises and take short rest periods to keep my heart rate high and my breathing heavy.
Quirk 3: I’m time poor and need to get the most out of each of my sessions.
How I tailor my training programme: I use supersets, and programme exercises that use similar equipment to follow each other.
I’d love to know if you found this article interesting. Let me know what you learnt, or what principles you use in your own training programme, by leaving me a comment or tweeting me!