How to Develop Personal Weight Training Routines
Achieve Your Goals Faster
Weight training routines are personal things, different for every person, depending upon their body and their individual needs. Maybe you want to be the next Mr. Olympia, you might want to win power lifting competitions, or you just want to lose weight, build some muscle, or look better. Many people lift weights primarily to improve their athletic performance. No matter what your reason for hoisting the iron, the important thing is that your routine is specifically tailored to get you to your goals safely, and as fast as possible.
When you’re developing your weight training routine there are 7 questions you must answer. When you’ve answered them, you will have the kind of training regimen that will get you to your goals, no matter what they may be.
No matter the kind of routine you end up developing, you are trying to achieve one thing from your muscle’s standpoint; progressive overload. Any increase in muscle size or strength is a physiological response to progressive overload.
The response is your body’s answer to what is views as basically an attack. It increases muscle size and / or strength in order to be better prepared to face such an attack in the future. The way your muscles respond can be manipulated by your training methods to achieve the results you want.
Questions to help develop your own, personal weight training routine:
1 – What do I want to achieve?
Is your goal to get stronger, develop your physique / figure, improve your athletic performance, lose weight, improve endurance, or some combination of all of those goals? The different goals for your program will determine the answers to the following questions. In addition, different sports and different specialties within those sports will also help determine your training routine.
For example, not all football players train the same way. A d-lineman will have a different training program than will a defensive back or a wide receiver, because the demands of their respective positions are completely different. Similarly, you’ll want to develop a different routine if you are a cross country skier than if you compete in freestyle moguls.
If weight loss, general fitness, or bodybuilding is your ultimate goal, you will also have a specific set of parameters for each one of them. Making sure you tailor your routine as closely as possible for your body type and goals will help ensure that you get where you’re going as quickly and easily as possible.
You’ll also want to take into account your medical and injury history. Some exercises may prove to be painful, counter productive, or even dangerous if you have certain medical conditions or past injuries. For example, if you have a history of rotator cuff tears, certain chest and shoulder exercises may be inadvisable or impossible until the rotator cuff is strengthened or repaired. If you faced that situation, you would want to incorporate cuff strengthening exercises into your routine, and find other exercises for chest and shoulders that do not adversely affect the rotator cuff or cause undue pain (I know you’re tough, but come on, there’s no need for unnecessary pain)
Another variable to consider is what kind of shape you’re in now. Are you an elite level college or professional athlete? Were you an athlete at one time, but haven’t trained in some time? Have you not even thought about lifting weights since the Johnson administration? Those things will also come into play when developing your weight routine.
2 – What exercises do I have to do to get there?
You need to look at what muscles need to be developed for your particular sport. If you are looking to lose weight or improve your appearance, you’ll be after more symmetrical development and should choose your exercises accordingly. Keep your injury history in mind when planning which exercises to include in your routine. As I discussed above, some injuries can make certain exercises ones to avoid.
As a general rule, almost every sport, general physical conditioning program, or bodybuilding program will incorporate some of the major, compound exercises, such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift or power clean. These recruit a tremendous amount of muscle with each repetition, and contribute substantially to overall muscular development. They help you to build a platform for all your other muscles to work from.
You will supplement these kinds of exercises with sports specific exercises. For example, tennis or baseball players might add rotator cuff extensions, calf raises, and wrist curls, both of which can help to prevent injuries and improve overall performance for those sports. Football and rugby players would probably want to throw in 3 – 5 sets of dumbbell shoulder presses, tricep extensions, dumbbell curls, and seated rows to their routines. Skiers should add in some leg extensions, leg curls, and forward lunges (watch the knees) to theirs. Both forward and lateral lunges are also very beneficial exercises for tennis players, who must start, stop and change direction very rapidly.
For all sports, a solid abdominal routine is essential, as all the power flows through this region. See my post on the best ab routine for exactly how to develop a strong midsection, but in a nutshell, captain’s chair and lying bicycles should be used over any other exercises.
3 – How often should I do my routine?
Well, in most cases you won’t do your entire routine in a single session. You’ll break it up into two or three sessions, training different body parts each on different days. This is to allow you to train with sufficient intensity so that you get the gains you’re after as quickly as possible. This scheduling of your training sessions is also known as your training interval.
For example, one of the most classic weight training groupings is to train chest and triceps together on one day, hit shoulders and legs on the next day, then back and biceps on the last day of your training cycle. This allows you to devote maximum effort and achieve peak training intensity for each set of body parts.
Several factors come into play when choosing your training interval, such as age, experience, sleep, nutrition, and overall volume of training. In general, younger people can simply do it more often. Sorry older folks, but you need more time to recover from intense training sessions to prevent over training.
Notice how hard they push themselves on the TV show The Biggest Loser, day in and day out. That’s great for losing weight in the short term, but not the optimum way to develop increased strength and muscular development, or to keep your metabolic rate high for the long term (which requires increased muscular development). Too short of a training interval leads to the phenomenon known as over training. The better your nutrition and sleep patterns, the more frequently and intensely you can train without succumbing to over training.
That is one of the most common problems facing beginning weight trainers, they simply do it too often, and expect their bodies to grow faster as a result. In fact the opposite is true. Your body will not have enough time to recover from the previous training session. It will still be rebuilding past the point were you left off. If you go back and train that body part too soon, you muscles will have not recovered past the point where you were before. You want them to actually recover to the point where you were before and add a tiny bit more each time you train.
Generally, high school and college age weight trainers should train each body part every 3 – 4 days, provided they are getting optimum nutrition and sleep. People in their 30’s and early 40’s should add a day or two to that, and people in their mid 40’s and beyond should add another day still, so they are training each body part only every 6- 7 days. The key is to train hard, with maximum intensity, otherwise you can train more often, but you’ll get less out of it, even though you’re training more often.
4 – Which order should I do each exercises in?
Generally you’ll want to do the larger, compound exercises first, since they recruit the largest number of muscle fibers, and require the most concentration in order to perform at maximum intensity. In addition, pre-fatiguing the smaller muscles will make it more difficult to get maximum effectiveness from the larger muscle groups, and could make you more prone to injury.
5 – How much weight and how many reps should I use on each exercise?
As with the other questions you’ll need to answer, the answer is “It depends.” What it depends on is the answer to the needs analysis you performed in question number one.
If your primary goal is develop explosive power, do lower reps and concentrating on exploding during the concentric phase of the movement. Typically, developing power would require you to lift about 70 – 90% of your 1 rep max for sets of 3 – 5. Pause at the midpoint of the movement for about 1 second, then concentrating on feeling your muscles contract as you explode out for the concentric phase. You’d do about 3 to 5 sets of each exercise per body part.
Muscular size development:
If your primary training goal is to increase muscle size, you’ll want to increase the number of repetitions slightly, and lower the training weight to about 60 – 80% of your 1 rep maximum. The goal here is hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is the high tech name for your muscle’s increase in size as a response to stress placed upon them. If you are chiefly lifting to increase muscular size, you’ll want to do a routine that is primarily sets of 6 – 8 reps to muscular failure. That typically works out to a weight of about 60% – 80% of your 1 rep max.
If you’re training to increase your muscular endurance, you’ll want to use lighter weight still; closer to 50% of your 1 rep max, but perform sets of 14 – 20 reps.
No matter which goals you are shooting for, you’ll achieve some bleed over. For example, you will see some size gains, even if you are training primarily for power, and you’ll see some endurance gains even if you’re training mostly for increased size
6 – How long should I wait between sets of each exercise?
To increase muscle size and overall strength, waiting 60 – 90 seconds between sets is good. If you are training more to increase absolute strength and power, you can wait longer; on the order of 2 – 3 minutes. Some hard core power lifters wait as long as 5 minutes between their heavy sets.
7 – How many days should I wait between training each body part?
Some of this was answered in question #3, but that generally depends on what you are training for. You can sometimes train smaller muscles more often than your large, core muscle groups. For example, you may train biceps and triceps every 3 days, but train legs only every 6 days. It depends on how quickly you recover. It is something you’ll want to experiment with. If you do end up training smaller body parts more frequently than larger ones, you’ll obviously have to change the way you group your body parts for workouts. You won’t be able to train chest and triceps on the same day. In any case, some trainers advise grouping biceps and triceps together and training your arms on the same day. This has been shown with some people to increase muscle hypertrophy so you’ll get larger arms. Who wouldn’t want that?
Answering these 7 questions will help you to design your own personal weight training routine. Weather you want to get bigger, stronger, faster, or leaner (maybe all of the above) you will be able to have a lifting program that will get you to your goals.