First things first. You have to figure out what your goal is. And just in case you forgot why you started training in the first place, it’s probably to accomplish one of three things—getting stronger, getting bigger or getting leaner. Are all these goals independent of each other? No. But it’s a good idea to put the majority of your efforts into one at a time.
Once you’ve decided what training effect you are after, it’s time to lay out a rep and set scheme. If getting as strong as possible is your thing, you want to keep the reps lower and add more sets. Think 6 sets of 3-5 reps. If getting bigger is your goal, the classic three sets of 8-12 reps will work very well. If you want your training to be more metabolic for the purpose of fat loss, think higher reps like 15-20.
Exercise order and selection is also critical. As a general rule you always want to put the bigger, more complex movements in the beginning of the routine. These exercise are more difficult to perform and can take a lot out of you so you want to do them when you’re fresh. Smaller, isolation type movements should be saved for later in the routine with core and ab-specific movements coming at the end. Big, multi-joint movements such as the Olympic lifts, deadlifts, squats, push presses, bench press, leg press, chin ups, dips and bent-over rows should come early in the program. Next you can work on your hamstring curls, leg extensions, biceps curls, skull crushers, calf raises and any other single-muscle moves. Finish off the routine with hanging knee raises, planks or anything else that focuses on the good ol’ six pack.
Following rest intervals may be the most overlooked aspect of any training program, yet it is really important in helping you reach your goals. In other words, pay attention to the clock when you rest, not the girl in the tight spandex doing Romanian Deadlifts. Again, rest intervals depend on the training phase you are in. For maximal strength and power, rest should be longer—around 2 minutes between sets as you really want to feel recovered in between sets. For size, 45 to 75 seconds between sets is a good rule of thumb. Metabolic training relies on your heart rate being elevated so you don’t want rest to be too long, 30 seconds or less.
There’s a time to break every rule and as you get more experience with writing programs you’ll know when to change things up. But whether you want to gain power, strength, size or leanness, following these general guidelines will help you design a plan that will get you where you want to go. And now that your training is over for the day, feel free to ask the girl in the spandex for her number.
Finally, always remember that when the number of reps decrease the load should increase. So if you are doing sets of three reps the weight on the bar should certainly be higher than what you would be using for 10 reps. And if your program has more than 24 total sets in any given day, take another shot at it because you are focusing on variety more than quality.
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