How to Structure Your
Weight Training Programs
For Best Results!

Here's how to structure your weight training programs so you get maximum results in a fraction of the time you currently spend working out!

Weight training routines are an important part of helping you achieve your physical goals no matter whether you want to burn fat, tone up or build muscle. By knowing how to structure your weight training workouts correctly you can ensure you get the results you deserve for the time you've invested in going to the gym in the first place.

Weight Training Programs

Let's face it, no one wants to spend hours in the gym working out so if you you are able to get the same results in less time, then most people want to know how to do it. In this article we will cover exactly how to structure all of your weight training programs so you can get maximum benefit from them.

Keep in mind, these weight training principles are only for advanced people, people who have been consistently performing weight training programs for at least one year. If you are just starting out then I suggest reading the article titled, The Best Full Body Workout.

Plan your weight training programs
before going to the gym

Before you head off to the gym for a workout it is essential that you know exactly what you're going to do before you get there. You must have a very clear plan in place. This means you must know what muscle groups you're going to train, the exercises you're going to perform, the order of those exercises, the number of sets of the exercises you'll do, the rep range you will adhere to, the Advanced Techniques of Overload (ATOs) you will use, the rest period you will have in between sets, etc.

Ideally, you should document your workout. If you are serious about getting the best possible results in the shortest period of time then you must write everything down, before, during and after the workout. By doing so, you can have a record of your progress and can make adjustments to your weight training program or lifestyle if need be in order to keep progressing in the right direction towards your goal.

Use the correct workout format

If your goal is to change your body composition to one with more muscle and less fat, then you must follow the correct workout format if you want to get the best results and prevent injuries. The correct format for your weight training routines is as follows:

  • Warm up
  • Stretch
  • Weight training
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Warm down
  • Stretch
  • The purpose of the warm up is to simply increase the blood flow around your body, particularly to your muscles, and to increase your core temperature by about 1 degree celcius. This may reduce your risk of injury. Stretching of the targeted muscles may also reduce your risk of injury and help to lubricate the joints involved in the exercise. It is also worthwhile performing some intense stretching in between your weight training sets.

    The weight training component is performed next and is the primary conditioning component of the workout. We will cover the structure of the weight training programs in more detail in the next section.

    After the weight training is complete, some aerobic exercise is definitely beneficial, especially from a weight-loss and fat-burning perspective.

    The warm down can be a component of the aerobic exercise whereby towards the end of the aerobic exercise component, the intensity level is decreased substantially in order to bring your heart rate and breathing rate back down to a normal level again. This may or may not be followed by some more stretching at the very end. The end of your weight training workouts is definitely a good time to perform some stretchng if one of your goals is to increase your flexibility.

    This workout format is discussed in more detail in, How to Structure Your Gym Workouts For Best Results.

    Guidelines for structuring
    your weight training programs

    For these guidelines we will assume that you are performing a 'split routine' (training different body parts on different days) and are training 3-5 times a week.

    Train 2-3 muscle groups
    In each of your weight training workouts you should ensure that you only train 2-3 muscle groups. Training less than this means that not many muscle fibres in your body have been stimulated from the workout. It also means that you may have over-trained that one muscle group, which may inhibit the stimulating effect you're trying to achieve.

    Training more than 3 muscle groups simply means the workout is going to last for too long (if you are using the other principles mentioned here). There is no need to spend more than 40 minutes to 1 hour (if you have a training partner) on the weight training component of your workout. In fact, most people can get all of their exercises done in around 30 minutes.

    Perform 3-5 exercises per muscle group
    There is no need to perform an excessive number of exercises for each muscle group in your weight training programs. However, it is important to select the exercises based on the movement being performed. You need to do this so that you incorporate all the functions/ actions of the muscle group(s) being targeted. By doing so, you can maximise the number of muscle fibres being stimulated.

    Perform 2 work sets per exercise (not including warm up sets)
    If you are training with a high level of intensity (as you should) during your weight training programs then there is no need to perform more than a couple of sets for an exercise. This doesn't include your warm up sets of course, just the work sets. However, once the muscles are warmed up and you've done one exercise, if the following movement isn't very different then you may be able to go straight to your two work sets without doing more warm up sets.

    However, if the exercise is quite different, then you may want to perform additional warm up sets. For example, in your back workout you may perform lat pulldowns first with two warm up sets followed by two work sets. Then, your next exercise might be seated rows. Since this is quite a different exercise you may like to perform at least one warm up set before performing your two work sets on that exercise.

    I recommend performing two work sets per exercise because I believe that one set (as is recommended by high intensity advocates) does not deplete the muscle glycogen stores as much as it should in order to stimulate glycogen replenishment (cell volumisation). Also, three or more sets per exercise may over-train the muscles, especially if you're doing several different exercises, and may not necessarily stimulate any more growth than may be achieved by two sets.

    Perform between 12 and 20 total work sets in your weight training programs
    As was previously mentioned, you should not spend more than 40-60 minutes performing the weight training component of your workout. This will give you more than enough time to complete all of the required number of sets for each of the muscle groups you're targeting in your weight training program.

    Progress from largest to smallest muscle group in all of your weight training routines
    It is important to always work from largest muscle group to smallest muscle group in your weight training workouts simply because the smaller muscles tend to act as synergists (supporter muscles) in your weight training routines. For example, if you train chest, triceps and abs in one of your weight training routines and you train triceps first, when you train chest shortly after you are not likely to stimulate the chest muscle fibres very well. This occurs simply because your triceps will fail first on many of the chest exercises before you've had a chance to really work your chest.

    The exception to this rule is when training abs. Your ab workouts should always be done after you've done all the other weight training exercises simply because they help to keep your torso stable when you perform any exercise.

    Work within a range of 6 to 20 reps per set
    You may like to work within a specific rep range for a month at a time and then vary it the following month. For example, work within the rep range of 8-12 for one month and then the following month work within the rep range of 15-20. During another month you may use a 4-8 rep range and go quite heavy with the weights. The variety in rep ranges will stress the muscles a bit differently every time and will help to keep you progressing with your results too.

    Use Advanced Techniques of Overload (ATOs)
    ATOs are simply a way to increase the intensity of your weight training programs. There are many techniques of overload you can performing including: super setting, pre-exhaust (a form of super setting), pyramiding, reverse pyramiding, partial reps, super slow, rest-pause, negatives, forced reps, forced negatives, maxtrix sets, 1 1/4 reps, breakdown/ drop sets, etc.

    The ATOs provide an easy way to not only increase the intensity of your weight training programs but to also provide a lot of variety in your workouts especially if you have limited equipment.

    Have 1 minute rest between sets
    One minute will give you plenty of time to catch your breath and prepare yourself for your next set. Any longer and your body may start to cool down too much. Plus, it may cause your workout to last much longer than it needs to. Any less that a minute and you may find that your muscles are still a bit fatigued from the previous set and this will compromise your performance during the subsequent set.

    Emphasise more free weights in your weight training programs
    Free weights are superior to machines in that the exercises require a greater amount of stabilisation and therefore, more muscle fibres (from both the prime mover and supporting muscles) will come into play in order to keep your joints stable when you perform the movements. Of course, you don't want to use free weights exclusively in your weight training routines simply because some exercises, like leg extensions, can't be performed with free weights. As a general rule, use free weights for 80% of your exercises and machines for 20% of your exercises.

    Use a combination of compound and isolation movements
    Compound movements involve movement around more than one joint and isolation movements involve movement around a single joint. In your weight training workouts it is a good idea to use a combination of both types of exercises. This will ensure you get the best possible results in your weight training workouts because you will be targeting the maximum number of muscle fibres in each muscle group and will be incorporating all the different functions/ actions of those muscles too.

    Work to a point of momentary muscular failure (or past failure if possible)
    It is hypothesised that working to a point of momentary muscular failure induces a chemical change in the muscles and stimulates muscle growth. Whether this is actually true or not doesn't really matter. The fact is that the anecdotal results speak for themselves; the harder (more intense) your train, the better results you achieve.

    By incorporating the ATOs mentioned earier, and especially if you're training with a partner, you will be able to train to failure or even past failure and this means even greater muscle stimulation.

    There is no doubt that weight training programs are beneficial in helping you achieve your physical goals. Unfortunately though, if people want to lose weight they will often overlook performing regular weight training routines simply because they have the mistaken belief that it will make the put on weight! Nothing could be further from the truth.

    If you're serious about losing weight and keeping it off long term, then it is absolutely imperative that you make weight training programs a permanent and regular part of your lifestyle. Go for it!

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