In my last two-part article series, I described my 11 principles for bodybuilding training. Now, I want to make things even simpler for you.
I'm now going to provide you with a couple of plug-n-play – make that plug-n-train – templates that you can use to quickly and easily design a slew of great, no-nonsense training programs.
Since I generally recommend training four or five days per week, I'll include both a four-way training split and a five-way split. That way you'll be covered either way.
As with my 11 bodybuilding training principles, I encourage you to use these templates either as-is, or as a base upon which you can build your own training program.
"I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times." — Everett Dirksen
Nothing in these templates or the following exercise options is set in stone. For example, you may already have huge calves. If you happen to be so lucky, then you may want to opt to do no calf exercises at all.
Or you may be a recreational Mixed Martial Artist who needs to work on grip strength. Thus you'll want to add grip/forearm exercises to the templates below.
Whatever the case, just remember that while bodybuilding training is definitely a science, it's just as much an art – and even though you and I use the same science, your art may very well look different from my art.
"Life is indeed terribly complicated–to a man who has lost his principles." — G.K. Chesterton
Although creative flexibility is welcomed, don't get carried away. Whether you use my 11 bodybuilding training principles (which are built into the following templates) or your own, you should definitely have some parameters to guide your decision-making, otherwise it's easy to venture too far from the tried and true.
For example, if you've ever seen a leg workout that consisted of 3 sets each of leg extensions, leg press, and leg curls, you've seen a lack of training principles in action.
The topic of rest intervals is a perfect illustration of the need to be flexible and rigid at the same time.
While walking around in the touristy part of San Francisco the other day, I saw a shirt that said, "Some say I have ADD, but they just don't underst....Hey, LOOK, a Squirrel!"
If your friends would say that shirt applies to you (or you already own said shirt), then you may very well get bored between sets, especially when you're focusing on strength and need to get copious rest between sets. In that case, you need to be more rigid, getting at least the minimum amount of rest prescribed between sets.
On the other hand, it's important to be flexible regarding your rest intervals between sets – at least flexible enough to allow common sense to prevail.
For example, if a workout calls for you to only rest 30 seconds between sets, yet your breaths per minute and the beats per minute of your heart haven't even begun to slow, then it's time to be flexible and use some common sense – take more rest.
With that said, here are the rest intervals that you should adhere to, unless you have a good reason not to – and getting bored isn't a reason!
- Short rest: 20-60 seconds (45 seconds on average)
- Moderate rest: 1-2 minutes (90 seconds on average)
- Long rest: 2-5 minutes (3 minutes on average)
Besides implementing a rest period that aligns with your goal of doing a given exercise (which I've done for you with the following template), the other thing to remember is to be consistent with your rest intervals. Otherwise, your performance will be inconsistent and impossible to monitor.
Sets & Reps
As a rule, we could say there are three general rep/weight ranges:
- Low Rep / Heavy Weight: 1-6 reps (5 reps on average)
- Moderate Rep / Moderate Weight: 7-12 reps (10 reps on average)
- High Rep / Light Weight: 12 reps (15 reps on average)
But I point out the above ranges more for illustration, as we're not going to stick precisely to those.
In the templates I'll lay out the exact sets and reps I'd typically recommend for that particular exercise, but don't get too hung up on being 100% consistent with what I've laid out. Instead, use them as a guideline to know what 'ballpark' to stay in.
For example, I may say do 5 x 5 (five sets of five reps), but instead you'd like to do 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That's totally fine – you're still in the same heavy weight/low-rep 'ballpark' so-to-speak.
On the other hand, if I prescribe 3 x 6-10 and you instead do 3 x 12-15, then you're changing things a bit too much and essentially creating your own training template. Again, that's fine, but just make sure you have a legitimate reason to tweak things that much.
When In Doubt
When in doubt as to whether to stick to the plug-n-train template I've laid out or to tweak it, I'd highly encourage you to stick with the template as is.
After all, I'm putting in (literally) over 20 years of trial-and-error experience and the same amount of book learning into these templates – so, to say I'm confident the following templates work would be a serious understatement.
So my rule regarding tweaking the following templates is the same as Mrs. Mathews' (my eighth-grade English teacher) rule regarding comma use – when in doubt, don't.
It would be impossible for me to list every possible exercise for each body part. Instead, I'm going to list what I'd call the "No-Nonsense" exercises for each body part.
(FYI, when designing workouts for myself or clients, I rarely feel the need to venture outside of these.)
Although you've probably got some good, unique exercises up your sleeve, resist the temptation to use too many 'fancy' new exercises or machines. Otherwise you'll stray too far away from the meat and potatoes exercises, which happen to be the ones that we know work!
Primary and Secondary Exercises
To systemize everything, I'm dividing exercises into primary (1°) and secondary (2°) exercises.
Generally, primary exercises will be compound, multi-joint exercises, while secondary exercises tend to be more isolation movements. However, I've based this division on more than compound versus isolation.
Take dips for example. They're undoubtedly a compound exercise, yet I'd still consider dips secondary in terms of chest exercises.
Make no mistake, there will be times when you'll want to implement a secondary exercise in place of a primary one. Maybe you want to pre-exhaust your lats with pullovers, for example.
A more likely exchange would be doing another primary exercise where I've listed a secondary exercise.
For example, you may opt to do skull crushers – a primary exercise for triceps – last in your triceps routine. Nothing wrong with that.
Although this primary versus secondary thing is flexible, be more hesitant to swap a primary exercise for a secondary exercise than vice versa – otherwise your routine might not contain enough tough exercises that are easy to loathe yet highly effective, like barbell squats.