When you walk into the gym, what runs through your mind?
- "I might hit some chest today"
- "It's probably about time I trained my legs a bit"
- "I hope that chick with the yoga pants is here..."
But, is this really setting you up to succeed?
Nope. (Side note: in the case of motivational yoga pants - yes)
Having a plan, and then executing that plan, is the best way to make progress.
Gym attendance without progress is just like riding a bike with no wheels. Sure you're pedalling, possibly sweating a bit, but you're not going anywhere.
Here is a session breakdown of exactly what a session SHOULD look like. Being in and out in 40-60 minutes, hitting all of the aspects of fitness and training properly, as in,
'Training with a Purpose'
This type of training has 5 main parts
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I know you can’t be bothered, but if you want to find yourself in a hospital bed with a pulled muscle, you had better.
Foam roll if you are particularly tight in certain areas. This has the benefits of releasing tight muscles (and minimising aches) and promoting fluid flow through tissues for improved mobility and recovery.
Try not to spend too much time here. Just pick a few troubled areas and give them 2-3 minutes of love, we are here to train not roll around on the floor.
Main culprits to keep an eye on: calves, quadriceps, hip flexors, TFLs (side hip), glutes and upper back.
Then, move into a dynamic warm up which is slowly increasing in intensity. We don’t necessarily want static stretching here, think movement. Lube up those joints! Leg swings, arm circles, glute bridges, body weight squats, lunges, planks. Increase your heart rate and legitimately feel warm afterwards.
See below for my go-to dynamic warm up. In 5 minutes flat everything is pumping and I'm ready to rock.
Time alotted: 5-7 mins
The first and most important exercise of your session, which means give it your undivided attention with a side of max effort.
This exercise must be a compound movement using as many muscles as possible. The best 'bang-for-your-buck' options are:
Squat (back squat, front squat)
Deadlift (trap bar deadlift, barbell deadlift, rack pulls) - deadlift guide here
Bench press (barbell or dumbbell)
Overhead press (barbell or dumbbell) - only if you have healthy shoulders and good thoracic mobility.
Use one of these sets x reps schemes to squeeze out every ounce of gains, with each set being heavier than the last.
This means you are going to be lifting pretty dam heavy to challenge your neuromuscular system (being able to contract your muscles really hard). The last set will be pretty close to the maximal weights you can move, therefore you must do at least 2 warmup sets before even hitting the first working set.
Take rest as needed between sets (no less than 90 seconds). If you go too soon the weight won't move!
Remember that form is extremely important. Leave your ego at the door and train for yourself.
Between sets, as rest time are longer, complete mobility 'fillers'. If you are squatting/deadlifting, mobilise your upper body. If you are pressing, do lower. See here for some examples of fillers.
Frog rock with rotation
Time allotted: 12-18 mins
Now choose two additional exercises based on what you chose as your primary exercise.
These two exercises must still be compound and preferably use different muscle groups to each other as well as different muscle groups to the primary exercise. You want to train your whole body and make sure each muscle is being strengthened. Leave no man behind!
Secondary exercise options:
Was the squat or deadlift the primary exercise today?
Was the bench press or overhead press your primary exercise today?
Chin-ups and walking lunges
Inverted rows and romanian deadlifts
Prone dumbbell rows and bulgarian split squats
Alternate the chosen ones with 60 seconds of rest between each exercise continuously swapping back and forth for 4 sets. I would recommend a further 1-2 warm up sets on these exercises to make sure you're firing on all cylinders.
The reps for your secondary exercise will be slightly higher at 6-10 per set. This is to target the hypertrophy mechanisms of muscular damage and metabolic stress (AKA muscle gainz) while still training strength.
Time allotted: 10-15 mins
Next, you want to pick one core exercise and one extra exercise and again, for time efficiency, super set them.
You do these types of exercises last as they are more isolated and the form is easier to control, which is ideal as by this time your muscles are pretty fatigued.
Core options (to name a few):
Extra exercise options: whatever your heart desires.
single arm rows
upside down curls
Just 3 sets of each exercise for 8-12 reps each set (10-30 seconds for planks). No rest between exercises and 60 seconds after both are completed.
Time allotted: 8-10mins
Finally the finisher: 5-10 mins of hard freaking work!
Here, you are trying to create a massive oxygen debt in the body so over the next 24+ hours your body is trying to recover from it - increasing your metabolism and burning fat.
It doesn't need to be long but it needs to be hard. (interesting word choice Mike...)
Two options here:
Pick your choice of ‘metabolic’ exercises and throw them into a no rest circuit. KB swings, thrusters, burpees, slam ball, KB snatches, wall balls etc.
Alternatively, hop on the bike, rower or treadmill and alternate sprints and rests. Choose either 20 seconds work/40 seconds rest, 30 work/30 rest or 30 work/15 rest, depending on your levels of fitness and masochism. Use 2 mins either side for a warm up and cool down.
Challenge your heart and lungs near their top capacity and derive massive aerobic benefits without having to run a marathon.
Time allotted: 5-10 mins
Cool down by sweating, lying on the floor and cursing me. After you are done with that, move around a bit, dynamic stretch, static stretch and talk to yoga pants (I'm sure she saw how much you squatted).
The idea here is to flush out any waste products from exercises and to lower your body temperature and heart rate (maybe talking to yoga pants isn't the best idea...)
Time allotted: as much as needed.
Estimated session length: 40-60 mins.
Estimated gains: 110%
Each time you want to train you should have a plan. Have a reason for being there, know what you want to accomplish, and do the work.
This type of session should be recorded in your phone or gym journal so that next time you do it you know exactly what you have to beat. For a more in depth guide to tracking your progress, read this in-depth article.
Each week you must do 1 of 3 things
Use a heavier weight.
Complete more reps.
Use better form.
It's all about consistent marginal gains, the only person you're trying to better is yourself.
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P.S This would be a well-rounded strength based session. If your goal is muscle growth, change your primary exercise to 8-10 reps, secondary exercises to 10-12 reps and auxiliary to 12-15 reps.