Despite the fact that most popular fitness publications offer "the best" gym programmes for anyone who wishes to buy their publication, following generic programmes won't work for everyone.
It can be tricky telling everyone to "Do exactly this". Ultimately, if there was a perfect program we'd all just do that.
I think it's essential to know exactly what you're going to do in a session, before you enter the gym and how this fits into a larger, periodised and specific program. Knowing this will allow you to be confident in the knowledge that each session is steering you towards becoming the person you want to be. Basically, you're not just "doing some bits."
So, if you're going to design your own programmes, you should take some of the guess work out of it and NOT do a few things. Follow these hints below and avoid some common mistakes:
DON'T do too much
Sometimes less is more. A long gym session is not necessarily a good one, nor "better" than a 30 minute session. If you want results, often intensity is one of the main thing that lacks in most peoples programmes. Try to restrict yourself to (roughly) an hour in the gym. If you're ACTUALLY working hard that is MORE than enough!
DON'T abuse your grip
Grip strength is one of the thing that lets people down in key larger exercises such as deadlifts, pull ups etc. Try to do those exercises requiring a lot of grip strength ("pull" exercises) early on in your session. Try not to involve a large number of grip-centric exercises in one session. If your grip is a weak link, read here on how to improve it in your training: click me, read me!
DON'T leave "technical" stuff until the end of a session
By "technical" I mean exercises that require the most coordination, concentration and muscular recruitment. Squats, cleans, deadlifts and the like all require a lot of coordination and for you to engage various areas of your body. Do this at the end when fatigued and watch your technique suffer. Best get them done first ay?.. For that matter, probably best to not put a LOAD of these exercises in one session. Personally I'd say 3 maximum. You can do more if you want, that's just my opinion.
DON'T do loads of isolation
Loads of people say “functional exercises” or “compound movements” are best, so this won’t be the first time you read this. Compund exercises are multi-joint movements that rmuscle groups in a single exercise. Isolation work can be boring, warrants slow results and often isn't addressing bigger issues. Sure, it needs doing, but it shouldn't be your main focus or use of time. Basically, it’s like painting the front door of a house that’s falling down.
DON'T plan sessions that need the entire gym to be empty
Unless you have your own private gym (you lucky sausage you!) then it’s likely there will be other folk in the gym when you train; especially if you’re training during peak hours. If you want to do a circuit style workout and increase the intensity of your workout as discussed above, make sure you plan properly. Use equipment that’s next to each other, move equipment closer to one another or better still, use the same equipment for more than one exercise. For example pair bench press and bent over row and use the same bar for both.
DON'T add variety for the sake of variety
There aren’t many things in life that are worth doing that you can master first time round. The gym is no different. Personally, I’ll squat, overhead squat, deadlift, pull up, bench press and overhead press in some form every week. I do it because they’re good exercises, I like them and I want to be better at them. Stop chopping and changing your gym work from week to week. I’m not saying “never change it” but try tweaking exercises or adding variations before you completely re-write your workouts.
DON'T neglect mobility
This is a lesson that I learned the hard way (one of many!) Don’t neglect mobility! It might feel “boring” at times and is often the thing that gets neglected when time is tight but it’s essential if you don’t want your results to eventually plateaux and suffer. Try to incorporate some form of mobility work in every session... SOMETHING!
DON'T forget to de-load
You can’t just keep going and doing more and more – eventually your body will pack in. If you do lots of strength work, make sure that you schedule a de-loading week at some stage every 4 -6 weeks. Use it to recover, repair and come back stronger. Focus heavily on mobility and work on technique and practice areas you’re unhappy with; focus less on weight.
DON'T do the stuff above and you should have a good basis for a pretty trusty workout program.
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