Sunday, March 25, 2012

Step By Step Guide to Your Own Workout Routine - Part II: Choosing the Right Training Style(s) for Your Goals

Image 1: Maybe it is because I don't have the beard, but for me HIT a la Mike Metzner never worked out ;-)
In the last installment you should have learned "How to Fit Your Training, Rest Days, Strength and Conditioning Workouts into Your Personal Schedule". By now, you should thusly have a general idea of what your future workout week is going to look like. You should, for example, know that you will have to bring your gymbag to the office on Monday, to be able to go right to the gym after work. While you will have programmed your shiny new iPhone to wake you up on Wednesday early, so that you can do a fasted HIIT workout before you shower, have breakfast and head to work... what you still need to know, though, is what exactly you are about to do at the gym, on your treadmill or simply in the park next door. The second part of the "Step By Step Guide to Your Own Workout Routine" thusly starts with a chapter on training types and splits.

A fundamental decision: The "right" training type(s) / style(s) for you

When you are planning your workout days the first decision you will have to make relates to the "training type" or "training style". Based on this decision and the number and schedule of your workouts your will then decide on the optimal training split. It goes without saying that we are dealing with a two-tier menu, here. In other words, there is a range of strength and a range of conditioning workouts you can chose from, when planning your workout regimen.
Strength workoutsConditioning workouts
Classic full body strength training
Circuit training

High(er) volume bodybuilding split
German volume training
Escalating density training
Pyramid training

5x5 high intensity training
HIT a la Mike Metzner
Olympic / powerlifting
Low intensity steady state

High intensity steady state
High intensity interval

Metabolic circuit training

Cross-fit conditioning workouts

Other sports
Table 1: Examples of "training styles" you could chose from (not intended to be complete!)
This brief overview is obviously not intended to be complete. The main intention is to give you an idea of what a "workout style" actually is. In most cases the latter is closely linked to certain volume, intensity and even set and rep prescriptions. This is something you should be aware of, since the type of workout you chose will limit your choices as far as set and rep schemes are concerned. On a full body strength training regimen, for example, it is impossible to do five exercises per body part. And while you could certainly do olympic lifts in the 20+ rep range, it is still questionable, if that makes sense, after all you will probably have chosen an o-lifting or powerlifting type of training, because your main goal is to increase your strength and though it may be debatable if that is not just as well possible if you train in what is usually considered the hypertophy range of 6-10 reps (cf. Marshall. 2011), I can assure you that you are not going to see significant strength increases if you perform your deadlifts with 20lbs plates on each side for reps.

"Right"? What's that supposed to mean and how do I know?

That said, we are already approaching the question of "which type of training is right for me and my goals" - a tricky question in which you will have to consider a whole host of parameters, of which I believe that the most important ones are:
Image 2: I know that most magazines and website make it appear as if you just go to the gym, pick up a dumbbell and train... unfortunately, your results depend not only on what you do (the correct plan you are learning to set up, here), but also how you do it. Especially complex movements, like the squat and the deadlift require training (not just "doing") and someone who checks your form and helps you correct it. So, if you can't afford a personal trainer, please don't be rude to the strength training veteran who is telling you that you are using way too much weight, but ask him to help you improve on your skills!
  • your training schedule: If the training schedule you have outlined based on what you have learned in the last installment allows for just one strength workout per week, this must be a full-body workout. If you have four or five workout days, you will have to use a body part split.
  • your training experience, conditioning and age: Just like the number of workouts must be matched to your experience, your athleticism and your age (or potential health issues), you will have to chose your workout style accordingly, as well. Other than in the case of the training schedule, which has little to no restrictive influence on the range of conditioning workouts you can chose from, your training experience, your conditioning and your overall health could make it hard or not advisable to perform certain conditioning workouts. As I have hinted at before, I don't believe in HIIT training for morbidly obese trainees, simply because walking on an incline at a constant (moderate) tempo for 15 minutes is already very high intensity training for someone who carries an additional 100-200lbs of body fat around. Similarly, someone who has never lifted weights before would be ill-advised to do any sort of high intensity lifting (only), simply because chances are that he or she will just move the weight from point A to point B without stimulating the muscle, but putting lots of stress on cartilage and joints.
  • your personal preference and previous choices: Many trainees who want to see optimal results make the fundamental mistake of following a plan to the T, although they hate doing what they do. In other words, a commonly overlooked, but fundamentally important question you should ask yourself is: "What type of training do I want to do?" If you want to get stronger, but hate O-lifting, you better ignore all expert advice that this would be the best way to get stronger, and rather pick a more bodybuilding oriented HIT regimen a la Mike Metzner - assuming you like BB-style workouts better than olympic lifts. In this regards, you will yet have to be cautious not to stick to your favorite routine forever. The HST (hypertrophy-specific training) regimen with its carefully planned macro- and micro-cycles of heavy lifting in the lower and lighter lifting in the higher rep ranges has not been around for so long for nothing. From a physiological perspective it simply makes sense that maximal muscle gain requires adequate strength gains in as much as maximal strength gains won't occur if you don't make sure that your muscles also grow (I will address the issue of "periodization" in an individual post)
  • your goals: Based on the previous considerations, the number of workout styles you can / want to chose from should have narrowed down considerably. It is thusly time to make a decision on which of these suits your current goals best (remember: whenever your goals change, e.g. when you have lost enough fat and want to start building muscle, you will have to revisit this choice!). 
Your goal - your workout: There is no single "best" combination

Since it is virtually impossible to come up with definite pairs of workout-style < > goal, and in view of the fact that I have bombarded you with more than enough theoretical information I will try to come up with a handful of common examples:
  • health focus, three days a week: 2x full body classic bodybuilding inspired routine (use different exercises, i.e. routine A and B), 1x HIIT
  • health focus, four days a week: 1x full body circuit training (3 rounds), 1x light intensity steady state (35 min), 1x 5x5 high(er) intensity lifting, 1x HIIT (15 min)
  • weight loss focus, three days a week: 1x HIIT (20min), 1x full body circuit training (3 rounds), 1x steady state cardio (45 min on rowing machine; largely underrated "cardio" equipment, by the way)
  • weight loss focus, four days a week: 2x escalating density training (chest + back, shoulders + legs, arms as supersets), 1x HIIT (20 min), 1x light steady state (35min on incline treadmill)
  • hypertrophy focus, three days a week: 2x classic bodybuilding split (day 1: upper body or push; day 2: lower body or pull), 1x HIIT (15 min) + optional ab and flexibility work
  • hypertrophy focus, four days a week: 2x escalating density training, 1x powerlifting, 1x steady state cardio (35min rowing ;-)
  • hypertrophy focus, five days a week (hardcore ;-): 3x classic bodybuilding split, 2x powerlifting, 2x additional HIIT training either in the morning or 1x steady state (30min) and 1x HIIT (10min) after two workouts of your choice
  • strength focus, three days a week: 2x 5x5 training, 1x HIIT (20min) or 1x olymypic lifting + 1x HIIT in the morning or after one of the strength workouts
  • strength focus, four days a week: 3x HIT a la Mike Metzner (push, pull, legs), 1x light intensity steady state cardio (45min walking on treadmill)
  • strength focus, five days a week: 2x powerlifting, 2x olympic lifting, 1x steady state cardio (35min rowing)
I could obviously continue this list for ever, but rather than doing that I will conclude this installment of the  Step By Step Guide to Your Own Workout Routine, by identifying two common patterns, which may also help you your decision about which combinations could work for you:
  1. Variety means freedom and keeps you from getting bored: You will probably have noticed that many of the templates combine different training styles. This is particularly true for the regimen with more than three workout days and with respect to the "cardiovascular" or conditioning work you are performing. The reasons for that are two-fold: For one, performed correctly, i.e. at maximum intensity, a 15-20min HIIT will require about as much recovery time as a 50min strength workout. A light intensity steady state "aerobic" workout, on the other hand can actually accelerate your recovery (assuming that you have a decent baseline conditioning). It does thusly, at least in my humble opinion, make sense to include one "classic cardio" session into your regimen, especially if you are sitting at a desk for the rest of the day. Secondly, you will notice that having the option of doing one or the other will allow you to chose your cardio workout according to what you feel like. Just got that new magazine in the mail? Well, then discard the 20min HIIT and read your magazine while you are fidgeting around on the cross trainer ;-)
  2. Auxilliary work not directly related to your goal can make all the difference: If you look at the "hardcore bodybuilding split" (hypertrophy, 5-day routine) you will see that this is not one of those stupid 5-day splits you see in the magazines. You rather follow a classic 3-day bodybuilding split from Mo-Wed, rest, and perform a push-pull powerlifting type of training on Friday and Saturday. This is similar to one of Layne Norton's plans, who, I am sure, is just as aware as you should be that by improving your major lifts and your overall strength on the "powerlifting days", you are able to get much more out of the "hypertrophy days" earlier in the week. Similarly, a power- or olympic lifter would be ill-advised to neglect his overall conditioning. With the "low" training volume, auxilliary long(er) duration light(er) intensity cardio sessions are thusly an ideal complement to make sure that he does not have to drop the bar, simply he gets wind.
"How many reps? I want to know how many reps I am supposed to do!"

I guess, by now you probably understand, why I have hitherto shied away from this type of blogposts. I have spent the whole sunny Sunday afternoon "blogging" and covered no more than ~15% of what I had in mind, when I sat down. I hope you have still gotten some inspiration, and promise that I am going to do my very best to tackle all of the following issues
Image 3: What is the most underrated conditioning workout? Easy: Rowing! A decent rowing machine will activate your whole body, train your coordination and can even help you build muscle. What more can you ask for of an "auxilliary" and allegedly "uselsess" aerobic exercise?
  • pairing body parts - antagonistic, synergistic, arms on their own day... ?  
  • set and rep ranges - 1-5 for strength, 6-12 for size and 12-20 ...? 
  • exercise selection - do's & don'ts (for a sneak peak check out the EMG series)?
  • periodization - HST, intra-workout "periodization" a la Hatfield... ?
on the coming weekend. In the meantime, you will have the chance to see a 100% concrete example of how an allegedly beginner (and probably also intermediate) incompatible workoutplan can look like, when Adelfo is going to present the results of the "workout-plan-storming" session we had yesterday.

And don't forget: The comment section (below) is open for suggestions, wishes and questions on this and for the future installments of this series - don't be shy folks ;-)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this series, and I love your blog. I have been running for many years, and doing bodyweight exercises for a few years now. I want to start lifting heavier weights, but I also still want to run 5k races occasionally. I run sprints, a tempo run, and a longer run for a total of around 15 miles per week. How do I add weight training into my schedule? 2 days per week, total body workouts = 5 days of work? Can I sprint then lift heavy on consecutive days? I'm just not sure how to handle rest days with 3 or 4 high intensity workouts a week. I definitely don't want to overtrain myself.

Prof. Dr. Andro said...

that is not exactly easy: Do you want to become "stronger" or do you want to become more muscular?

a good compromise (yet with strength focus) would be

Mo: more powerlifting oriented full body workout / upper body focus (Decline Bench press, deadlifts, pull ups, Military press, squats some auxilliary arm work, if you want; reps 5-8; working sets <20 total)

Tue: Sprinting

Wed: Off

Thur: Powerlifting oriented full body workout (Flat bench press, bend over rows, farmers walk, clean & press, optional arm work; reps 5-8; working sets < 18 total)

Fri: Tempo run

Sat or Sunday: Long run

I am not sure if the long run is like light jogging (which I would hope) in that case I would do it on saturday. Otherwise on Sunday, but overall this would / could be a little too much. You may also want to consider if it is feasible to do the sprints in the morning and on the same day the "long run" (jogging style) in the evening. That would be ideal, because you would have the weekend off.

Taryl said...

Well I'm sorry it ate your Sunday, but I found the two posts in this series extremely helpful! Formulating workout plans has always been something of a mystery to me and this shed much light on the whole thing. I'm looking forward to more on this topic.

Prof. Dr. Andro said...

that comment alone made the "sacrifice" worth ;)

Lerner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lerner said...

I ran across this very short Mentzer audio a couple of weeks ago - about logic and thinking and exercise. I thought it was very well worth listening to:

regardless of how they ended up.

Prof. Dr. Andro said...

the one thing that is highly questionable about the metzner approach to building muscle is that these guys were the first to take crazy amounts of "supplements" - I am not sure, whether this (+genetic disposition) is not the prerequisite to see gains on an exclusively HIT regimen

Anonymous said...

Very much appreciated Dr Andro! Thank you :-)

Erik Istre said...

This is wonderful. I'm looking to start training myself again (invested in a personal trainer for the time being) in about 4-5 weeks and have been using the time to steadily tweak and craft my next workout plan.

Thanks for this series, it'll be incredibly helpful.

Anonymous said...

Prof, I am very glad I've been able to find your website and thank you for your great articles. Your merging on bro science and focus on reality is vastly important in any real scientific pursuit and I feel that many scientists today are doing a lot of isolated academic work in ivory towers and forget to come down to earth to see what is really going on.

I've been lifting for about 3-4 years and quite heavily concentrating on compound movements. I am 23 years old, 75kg @ 10% bf currently attempting to focus on a weight loss regime whilst hopefully getting stronger.

I employ a ketogenic diet (dave palumbo nut/meat) with a weekly cheat meal.

I've recently noticed that in order for me to be adding weight on the bar weekly I need a 1 day on, 2 days off approach so that I get overall 3 training days a week. I've also been slowly increasing my LISS cardio (under 120bpm) duration and frequency from 30m post workout 3 times a week to now 60m post workout/morning daily.

I would really appreciate to get your opinion on the following:

1. Considering weight loss/strength is my focus and that I am able to train daily, would increasing my training days be conducive to my goal considering that I don't seem to be able to neurally recover if I don't rest 2 days between my workouts.

2. Does the cardio regime make sense to you? I stay away from HIIT due to being in ketosis essentially throughout the week.

3. Any tips/recommendations/ideas?

I value your opinion greatly and really appreciate you taking the time. Please continue doing what you are doing, you are definitely a breath of fresh air in the field and your type of approach is very much needed today perhaps more than ever before.


Prof. Dr. Andro said...

thank you for the kind words, Jason. I am happy for everyone who can take away one or another idea from the blog.

1. Actually you did answer the question for yourself already. I often point that out, but I guess many of us just don't trust our own judgment - if there is an expert for your own belongings / needs it is you and if you say you need the recovery to progress (which is very well possible if your main goal is strength), the answer to question 1 is "no, do not increase the training frequency"

2. The cardio training seems reasonable, though I personally would reduce it to 45min and do it on those days you were just about to fill up with yet another workout. From what I gather about your fitness level, you should be well able to handle the 45 min and still recover on your "off days". If that does not work out for you, just cut back or try the AM/PM strategy doing overall shorter, yet more intense workouts, like 2x10 min at 80% HR + 5 min warm up and 5min cool down, each. This is particularly feasible, if you have a treadmill, spinning bike or cycle ergometer at home or simply can go out for a jog.

3. Otherwise, I suggest you stay tuned and read the "strength workout" that is to be released sometime later today. If that brings up new questions feel free to use the comment area to post them.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, I really appreciate the reply and am looking forward to your new material!

Thank you Prof. Andro!


tasdave said...

gday prof.whats your opinion on upper lower workouts. 2 days on .one day off. 2 on 2 site ive found thanks..

Prof. Dr. Andro said...

most people don't really stick to "lower body workouts", because there is no chest and no biceps training in it ;-) But in general it is one of the best ways to grow - make it a U1 / L1 and U2 / L2 workout with different auxilliary exercises and you are set up to build some serious muscle (and strength)

Aileen said...

I have two questions, though the first is maybe more of a comment - Oh to have a job where I have routine! I have early starts/late finishes and occasional bouts of heavy physical exercise. So getting consistency is my biggest problem and barrier to progress.

I am 54, female. I also have back (facet joint, I am short, short- waisted, sway backed and yes I have done clinical pilates) and knee (cap) issues. I have all but given up squats and deadlifts because I cannot do them often enough to be useful. And I can't do a lot of the powerlifting moves for similar reasons. I do leg presses (single or both legs, I also try to incorporate one legged stuff to try and increase the intensity. Would you have any other suggestions? I do also run, I enjoy running and most times my back is OK with it but I need to increase the muscle mass in my legs.

Of course the erratic nature of my job doesn't help my back either. Lots of sitting at a computer interspersed with occasional bouts of extreme physical activity (eg planting strawberry plants for two days straight!) Lots of complex movement which kills my back! Retirement would be nice!

Primalkid said...

IMHO, there is no such thing as doing squats and deadlifts to infrequently. If you can squeeze them in even once per week you will benefit. That said, having lower back problems makes compression exercises problematic. This includes squats and even leg presses, so I am wondering how you manage those?

If your goal is to increase muscle mass in your legs, then ditch the one-legged stuff (it has its place, but is not optimal for mass). If leg press strain your back, then I would say stick with it and maybe alternate with squats if possible. Keep the routine simple and balanced. For instance, you could try
Leg press 3x6-8
Leg Curl 3x6-8
Calf Raise 3x6-8
Leg Press 3x10-12
Leg Curl 3x10-12
Seated Calf Raise 2x10-12
Exercise variation is over-rated. So long as you progressively overload and eat sufficient calories you will grow. Also, this would be performed twice per week on days 1 & 4.

As far as running goes, you may wish to keep that to a minimum, since the constant eccentric motion will tell you body to increase the oxidative capacity in your legs as opposed to adding slabs of muscle. Light rowing may be a better option, with light being the key word. It may help your back, but if you push it to hard it will definitely not help.

Prof. Dr. Andro said...

There is actually little to add to the excellent reply by primal kid - maybe an anecdote from my side. I made the greatest progress in leg development, when I had some minor back issues and stopped squatting for what was intended to be 2 weeks. The strength and (weeks later) size gains I had on the 45% leg press (where you lie down and press the weight up 45% with an almost 90° angle leg - to - torso) were so amazing that I did not even squat for weeks. To be honest: If it's really about leg development the squat is (imho) overrated. Too much other muscles involved and it's pretty rare for folks to have their legs as the weakest link.

That said, you do not necessarily have to deadlift for weights. Better focus on picture perferct form and try to go for 12 reps with a weight you could EASILY perform 15. That's enough to strengthen the back for everyday purposes and hopefully little enough not to make things worse.

The latter is yet a back thing and as long as leg development really is your main interest, I would start ou doing the plan Primalkid suggested and make sure to use an appropriate leg press (as the one desribed above) - there are actually some models that strain my back more than regular squads. If you find none that works for you, try lunges (picture perfect form, start out with lighter weight than you feel you could be using and use DB in your hands not the BB on your back) that's the most versatile leg (and glute) builder anyways.

Aileen said...

Thanks, both of you! The 45 degree leg press works well for me, I use it leaning right back rather than being quite upright. Lunges generally are OK also – if my right knee is graunching then it’s a sign my back isn’t moving well and its best to bail out. Leg curls I have trouble with as I can’t lay face down for very long, I have to chuck a towel under my stomach so my back doesn’t sag and facet joints start to jam up. I either have to do them super light and careful or I do seated leg curls.

Primalkid said...

I would say to do seated leg curls then. If not, the romanian deadlift, straight-leg deadlift, or hip-bridges also work the hamstrings and butt. Find what works for you.

GTkhas said...

I have been lifting for 2 years on and off + have free mornings on a weekly basis so I can potentially workout daily. As I understand, bi-weekly whole body workouts release far more GH and Testosterone than 5-6 day/week splits. But which type is the best if the only goal is muscle gain?

Alex aka Primalkid said...

Any hormone responses to exercise are transient and so far have shown no correlation to long-term muscular development. More likely they are just the response of the body to the exercise session in order to help the body overcome the stress.

As for routine type, you may be an early intermediate lifter, and thus aiming to hit each major muscle group twice weekly with 30-60 reps within the 6-12 RM range is ideal. Split it up however you see fit.