Hey Angels and Alphas,
Not all general strength-training programs in male and female fitness are created equal. If you’re on the lookout for a great program or you’re wondering how your current program stacks up against the competition, you’ll want to be sure you have a few of the fundamental components covered.
Here are three components that are an absolute must when creating your strength-training program:
#1 THE RIGHT FREQUENCY
If you want to be making consistent progress, you have to lift often enough for you to continue challenging your muscles progressively, but not so often that your muscles never get the chance to recover and create muscle adaptations to grow back stronger.
For those following an overall strength-training program, 3–4 days of strength training per week should be the ideal frequency for a general resistance program. If you’re a beginner — or you only have a limited amount of time to train — you may even want to start with three days per week and then add a fourth day once you’ve built a good foundation.
If you’re following the usual three-day model, you may choose to structure your workouts in a variety of different ways — either three full-body workouts per week or one full-body, one upper-body, and one workout for your lower body every week.
The benefit of the first approach is it’s often more enjoyable for a lot of people because many people prefer training one muscle group over the other. When you stick to full-body workouts, you’re basically guaranteed every session will have at least one exercise you can look forward to.
Meanwhile, there are also benefits to splitting up your workouts according to your focus (upper-body, lower-body, full-body) and this will give your muscles more time to rest, restore, and recover before you actually hit them again. The upper- and lower-body split ends up being easier to build your volume on. In other words, this means you can typically add more sets and reps within a single workout than you otherwise would be able to during a full-body session. This may lead to faster strength and fitness gains over the short and long term.
#2 EXERCISES THAT HIT EVERY MUSCLE GROUP
The ideal strength training routine will include a balanced mix of exercises that work every major muscle group from your shoulders to your calves. After all, if you just focus on only a couple of muscle groups you will end up neglecting others, meaning you’ll end up with strength imbalances and potentially even injury.
There are a few basic models for categorizing strength training exercises according to muscle group, but one of the easiest ways to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered may be to just follow the push-pull-legs model.
It all comes down to basically pulling a weight or form of resistance toward you, then pushing something away from you, and finally either standing up or coming down.
Squat exercises primarily use your quadriceps for strength, while hinge exercises mainly work your hamstrings and include moves such as Romanian deadlifts.
Upper-body push exercises (Think: chest presses, triceps dips) will activate your chest muscles, the fronts of your shoulders and then your triceps, while your upper-body pull exercises like biceps curls or lat pulldowns will recruit your lats, biceps, and back.
Pick at least one movement from the three primary categories (push-pull-legs) that you will focus on during each of your workouts with heavy weights and a low amount of repetitions. Then, select three more movements you’ll perform with lighter loads for higher numbers of reps (3 sets of 8–12 reps).
Even if you all the other components of your workout are perfected, you’re not going to see any real results unless you switch one or more workout variables (e.g., weight, exercise variations, volume, training intensity).
This concept is basically known as progressive overload, and the big idea is that to continue making progress toward your fitness goal, you have to regularly challenge your body in new ways.
For example, if you notice you’ve been squatting 80 pounds for 8 reps for the past few weeks and then suddenly one day you realize your sets feel a little light, you can either add a bit more weight on to challenge yourself, or you can stick with 80 pounds and then bump up your sets to 10–12 reps.
Keep in mind that your best approach would be to make small increases that are manageable, and make consistent changes in your training workload. In other words, you have to resist the urge to pile on more and more weight, reps, or even training days, unless you know you’re ready for them.