You may find it difficult to determine exactly what you need for your training plan. That is good! There are some specific exercises that you know you should probably include in your training in one form or another, and your goals (and time and energy constraints) will dictate much of the rest.
Still, there are a few factors that any workout plan should include if you want to build muscle, improve strength, and move better. Men’s health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS is here to help explain.
“This is a good way to make sure you fill in the gaps in your program,” he says of these guidelines. “It will help you stay nice and strong and help you build the muscle you want.”
The 3 things your training program needs
1 to 3 times a week
Samuel wants you to move fast at least once a week as part of your training plan. That doesn’t just mean doing a long jogging session every weekend, though; he wants this quick movement to have a purpose.
“What I want you to do is think about moving weight with urgency,” he says. “One of the first things you’re going to lose is the ability to be explosive, so we have to work extra hard to keep that.”
Crucially, you can’t go as hard as Samuel wants for every rep. You will be much more limited in your explosive movements than other exercises. For this, he suggests starting your training session with an explosive movement one to three times a week, such as a kettlebell swing, wide jump, or even sprints.
For strength-based programs, you can introduce explosion by working with lower steps and focusing on increasing the weight.
1 to 4 times a week
Samuel cautions you not to adopt a program that only challenges you to work with light weights and lots of reps. You won’t be able to build strength and muscle without gaining weight, so breaking plateaus and achieving your goals is essential. “We have to challenge ourselves with new loads that we can’t always lift — that’s one of the most important things about strength training,” he says. “And that’s missing if you’re only picking up a 25-pound dumbbell, if you’re only working with body weight, and if you never go beyond what you think you can.”
There are limits to this rule; you won’t be able to load up on any type of movement, especially isolation exercises like biceps curls. But you can (and should) go heavy with some of the core exercises, such as deadlifts, squats, rows, and more (usually compound exercises). Just make sure you’re smart when you’re going heavy, and reduce the reps (to 4 to 6, and sometimes even lower).
This may seem counterintuitive to the tip that came just before, but the key here is balance, not doing exactly the same thing for every training session. Working with only your body weight, according to Samuel, you focus on the way you move. “We need to understand how things change if you just move your body weight.”
Samuel lists several examples of bodyweight-only moves, including pushups, pullups, and chinups. All of these exercises rely on multiple muscle groups working together to create total-body tension, especially the core. Once you transfer those principles to alternatives that use equipment, such as the lat pulldown before the pullup, there’s less need for full-body coordination.
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