• DanEiden

10 tips for designing an effective strength training workout

Every time I go into one of the big, commercial gyms I see many people exercising incorrectly. I see people using poor or incorrect form, doing ineffective exercises and training without any real plan or program. There are a lot of people too who want to start working out and are unsure of where to start. They decide to go into the gym and they are overwhelmed with where to start. There are so many machines and pieces of exercise equipment and information that is out there that they struggle to put together a good, effective workout plan. This can lead to many people quitting shortly after they start or just going to the gym and doing what is comfortable to them. The problem is doing what is comfortable is not always what is the correct and most effective way to train. So I decided to write this blog article on 10 different tips on how to design an effective strength training program. This is not a complete list and there are many more tips I could add but this 10 tip list should at least provide some good tips on how to design an effective strength training program.

So here are 10 tips (in no particular order) to help you design an effective strength training program and get the most out of the time you are spending exercising.

1.) Start with the biggest and most physically demanding exercises first

There are a few exceptions but usually you always want to start your training program with the biggest and most physically demanding exercises first. Compound, multi-joint, free weight exercises should be the foundation of your training program and they should be prioritized by doing them first in your workout. They are some of the most effective exercises and get you the most bang for your buck when exercising. These include exercises such as presses (dumbbell and barbell bench press, push-ups, etc), rows (dumbbell and barbell rows, inverted rows, etc), vertical pulling exercises (chin-ups), ground based knee dominant leg exercises (squats, lunges, step-ups, etc), ground based hip hinge exercises (dumbbell and barbell deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, etc). These exercises are also the most taxing on the body, and on the central nervous system in particular, so they should be done early on in the workout when you are fresh. It is harder for the body to recruit and utilize the muscles necessary to perform these movements effectively later on in the workout when you are more fatigued. Also it is difficult to recruit and utilize the bigger, prime mover muscles (muscles most responsible for working in a certain exercise) in an exercise if you already trained and fatigued the smaller muscles involved in that exercise first. For example, it is harder to do a chin-up if you already trained your biceps first. The biceps are a secondary muscle in chin-ups, not one of the major, prime movers like the lats and other big back muscles. Doing isolation exercises for the biceps like curls first would make the chin-ups less effective as your strength would go down and your biceps would fatigue out first before the prime movers.

2.) Choose a rep range that fits your particular goal

It is important the majority of the time you train to train in a rep range that fits your particular goal. Different reps work different types of muscle fibers and get a different training effect. If your goal is strength then training in a lower rep range (1-5) is gonna be your best bet. If your goal is building muscle and strength, what they call functional hypertrophy, then training in a rep range from 5-7 is what you would want to do. If you are just looking to build muscle then training in a more moderate rep range (8-12) is probably the best way to go. If your goal is muscle endurance then training in a higher rep range (15 and up) is the way you would want to train the majority of the time. If your goal is just general fitness and fat loss a more moderate rep range is the range you want to stick in the majority of the time.

If you noticed I used the word, the majority of the time, a few different times. That is because you don’t want to use a certain rep range all of the time you train for a number of reasons. One reason is because you want to be sure to train all the different muscle fibers in the body when you train. That doesn’t mean you train all of them every workout. It means over the course of your training program you sometimes want to change it and vary it to work all the muscle fibers of the body. If your goal is building muscle you want to stick in a moderate rep range most of the time but also at times train with lower reps to hit the muscle fibers mainly responsible for strength and also train with higher reps to hit the muscle fibers mainly responsible for muscle endurance. Another good reason to vary the rep range up from time to time is the body will get used to training in a certain rep range. If month after month you are always training in a certain rep range the body will start to adapt and the results will start to come to a standstill or plateau.

3.) Cover all the different movement patterns

I posted a blog article a few weeks ago on the best exercises for each movement pattern and explained what each of the different movement patterns were. For more information on movement patterns go back and read my blog post on it. When you are training you want to think of training movement patterns instead of body parts. It is not that body part training is wrong. It may be the appropriate way to train if you are a bodybuilder or if you are trying to target a certain area of the body to correct a muscle imbalance or train and isolate a specific muscle.

The major movement patterns the body works in train all the muscles of the body, especially the major muscle groups. Training all the major movement patterns of the body ensures you thoroughly work all the muscles of the body and train the body in the way that it moves in everyday life as well as in the majority of sports. These movement patterns are hip hinge (ex. deadlift), knee dominant or lower body push (ex. squat, lunge), upper body horizontal push (ex. push-up, bench press), upper body vertical push (ex. military press), upper body horizontal pull (ex. rows), upper body vertical pull (ex. chin-up) and core stabilization. The body stabilizes the core in 3 ways. They are anti-extension (ex. front plank, ab rollouts), anti-lateral flexion (ex. side plank, unbalanced carries) and anti-rotation (ex. lateral bear crawls, shoulder taps). The core, specifically the abdominal muscles, can perform trunk flexion (ex. sit-ups, crunches) but it is not the way the body functions the majority of the time and it's not the main role of the abdominals.

By training all the major movement patterns you are training using the best exercises, exercises that work the most muscles, burn the most calories and stimulate the most muscle building and fat burning hormones in your body. You will also get the most out of the time you spend exercising.

One arm dumbbell rows are an upper body horizontal pulling movement

4.) Complete your workouts in an hour or less

Your strength training workouts should not last over an hour. As the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin used to say, “if you are in the gym for over an hour you are making friends not gains”. I have always used the analogy of exercise and compared it to a mountain. You have under-training on one side of the mountain and over-training on the other side. You want to get as close to the top or peak of the mountain as you can. It is like the law of diminishing returns. The longer you spend in the gym the less returns you will get back. When you train you are releasing anabolic hormones (muscle building). The longer you train those hormones will start to go down and catabolic hormones (hormones that break down muscle) like cortisol will start to go up. Workouts longer than an hour will also result in less focus and less energy. You want to get the most out of the time you are spending exercising an workouts longer then an hour won’t accomplish that.

5.) Follow a training program that is progressive in nature

When I see people in the gym training they are usually just exercising and working out for the sake of working out. They don’t come in with a set plan of what they want to do. They decide on the fly “I’ll do a few sets of these and then a few sets of

these” or they will just do whatever they are comfortable with doing which tends to be the same thing over and over again.

If they do make a change in their workouts it is just change for the sake of change. That may work for a short while if you are sedentary and just starting out but after a while the results will come to a standstill and then you are just spinning the wheels in place. There is difference between working out and training. Working out is exercising for the sake of exercising. Training is exercising with a specific goal in mind. A progressive training program works to accomplish a specific goal and works to constantly try to progress and move you forward in your training program. This can be accomplished a number of ways including doing more challenging progressions of an exercise and by adding more weight to an exercise, more sets or more reps. A progressive training program works to ensure constant progress so that you don’t plateau. It will also help to avoid boredom and complacency in a training program.

6.) Focus on proper movement and strict form

Anyone who has trained with me knows I am a stickler for strict form. It is something I have always emphasized. If you went into any gym in America you will see 8 or 9 out of 10 people training using poor or incorrect form. Strict form and proper movement ensures you are working the correct muscles, getting the most out of time you spend exercising and minimizes the chance of injury while training. Training in strict form and doing proper movement takes practice. Some exercises are harder to learn than others but taking the time to learn proper movement and to train in strict form is well worth the time. You can also argue that just getting better at an exercise and performing it in better form and with better movement is a progression in itself. I didn’t put an order on any of these tips but if I did this may be at the top of the list. It is that important.

7.) Don’t confuse strength training with cardio

Many people who are looking to lose weight or body fat do their strength training workouts in a way that resembles cardiovascular exercise. They race from exercise to exercise trying to get their heart rate up and burn as many calories as possible. You tend to see this in many boot camp style group workouts. Strength training and

cardiovascular exercise are two different things and should never be confused with each other. That is not to say that you can’t tailor a strength training workout towards fat loss. You can do this by choosing a certain rep range, shortening

your rest intervals and choosing the best exercises but it is still a strength training workout, not cardio. Cardiovascular exercise is for training the heart and lungs and cardiovasular and cardiorespiratory systems. Strength training is for training the

muscles, improving movement, increasing bone health and strengthening connective tissue (there are many more benefits and reasons for strength training but the list is too long to include for the scope of this blog article). The point though,

cardiovascular is for cardiovascular exercise, strength training is for strength training. Don’t confuse the two.

8.) Do at least 2 ground based leg exercises

When people train many of them usually will choose exercises they are comfortable with and easy to perform. The problem is they usually aren’t the most effective exercises. This tends to be the case when training legs and the lower body.

I tend to see this more in men than women. Everyone has seen the guy with the big upper body and chicken legs. Even when these guys do train their legs it is with the simplest easiest to perform leg exercises (leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls, etc.).

The problem with this is you are not training the entire body completely and not using the best exercises not just for your legs but your entire body. Lower body exercises training the legs are some of the best overall exercises for your body. To go even further the best lower body exercises are what are called ground based leg exercises. These are exercises performed while you are standing. These include squats, lunges, deadlifts and step-ups. These exercises work the most muscles, burn the most calories and stimulate the most fat burning, muscle building hormones. You should include at least 2 of these in your workouts.

9.) Don’t waste time on too many isolation exercises

You often see people exercising trying to target and spot reduce (reduce body fat in a certain area of the body) using isolation exercises. Isolation exercises are exercises that are performed primarily using only one joint of the body and work only one muscle group. Examples of these are crunches, sit-ups, the hip abduction machine, etc. The problem with this is you can’t spot reduce body fat and you are wasting time and energy on exercises that don’t offer a lot of value and benefit. This is not to say you can’t perform isolation exercises. You can, but you want to build your program around the biggest, most physically demanding exercises utilizing all the major movement patterns of the body and supplement your workout with smaller, isolation exercises. This will allow you to get the most value and benefit from your workout and ensure you are prioritizing and utilizing the best exercises in your workout.

10.) Strength train 2 to 4 times a week

There is no perfect workout or the perfect amount of times someone should train a week. Someone’s goals, age, training program they are using at the time and fitness level will all dictate the frequency of training. Strength training 2 to 4 times a week usually is the right amount of training for most people’s goals. Training only once a week probably isn’t going to be enough to get a sufficient training effect and the benefits from training while training more than 4 times a week may be beneficial at times for some people it may result in over-training for others. I normally work with my clients and

design training programs training anywhere from 2 to 4 times a week. This amount of training frequency is usually sufficient for most people’s goals.

Before going on any specific diet or exercise program it is important to consult your doctor before starting.

Thank you for reading my blog article. I hope you found it helpful and informative. If anyone is interested in personal fitness training or sports performance training reach out to me via my email Dan@eidensfitness.com or you can contact me directly at 702-521-6012.

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