What Sorts of Workouts Should I do?
If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of. – Bruce Lee
Progression. Consistency. Efficiency. These shall be your watchwords.
To know the best workout routine for you, you must first have a goal. I will outline the three most common goals below: to look good naked, to be healthy, and to be jacked.
I want to look good naked!
I wish more people would follow through with this goal. To look good naked you only need to perform three to five interval cardio circuits lasting 15 to 25 minutes each week.
Throw out the old notion that “more is better.”
High intensity interval circuits(HIIT) like Crossfit are exercises where you bring your heart rate above 85% of your maximal rate for 30-90 seconds and then rest for 30-60 seconds before performing another set. These circuits have several benefits for those wanting to look good naked:
- HIIT promotes optimal hormone signaling – causing your body to release more testosterone and growth hormone.
- HIIT increases insulin sensitivity.
- HIIT burns calories at a much higher rate than traditional “steady-state” cardio. The study linked above shows that performing four sprint workouts for 15 minutes each burns as much visceral fat in men as those who ran for six to seven hours at a steady pace.
- HIIT promotes much greater muscular hypertrophy than steady-state cardio- you’ll gain more muscle, everywhere.
There is really no reason for you to do steady-state cardio unless you’re training for a specific endurance event. Even if you are an endurance athlete HIIT workouts combined with long-distance endurance workouts create the optimal endurance athlete.
Steady-state cardio also has drawbacks that you won’t see with HIIT:
- Long periods of steady-state training promotes high levels of cortisol in the body- this leads to muscle catabolism, suppressed immune function, and adrenal fatigue and burnout.
- Steady-state training depletes glucose stores – leaving you hungry and craving sugar, which will then spike your insulin and cause all of the problems we talked about earlier.
- TIME. Why spend seven hours working out each week when you can get BETTER results in only one hour?
My recommended workout regime for someone who wants to look good naked:
- Two full-body strength training workouts in the gym each week- focusing on heavy compound lifts: squat, deadlift, bench-press, pullups, rows, dips, military press. These workouts should be short and intense. Work in the 4-6 rep range for 3-6 working sets(warmups don’t count as a working set) per exercise and finish your workout in 45 minutes or less.
- Two to four HIIT training sessions per week. A simple HIIT workout is to sprint for 30 seconds, walk for 15 to 45 seconds depending on your level of fitness, and repeat for ten minutes. I have a list of great high intensity interval circuits here.
- Perform two HIIT sessions per week on days that you aren’t lifting. Keep it short and simple. 25 minutes max.
- Don’t perform a HIIT session the day before a lifting session.
- Each HIIT session should all be less than 15 minutes long if you perform more than two HIIT sessions per week.
The key is progression in the gym. You can add progression by decreasing your rest times, increasing your weight/reps performed, and working opposing muscle groups back to back- for example doing five reps of deadlifts and then immediately performing five reps of bench press and repeating that process until you puke, cry, or die.
I just want to be healthy
You don’t need a sixpack. You don’t need 18″ biceps. You just want to feel good and have life-long health.
Many of the same concepts that apply to those who want to look good naked still apply to you. You will still benefit greatly from HIIT workouts. You won’t need any gym-based strength training workouts(unless you want to hit the gym). And you can get away with 1-2 hours of total exercise per week and still reach your goals.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. Health is 90% nutrition and 10% exercise. All the exercise in the world won’t save you from a diet of trans fats, processed carbohydrates, and toxic chemicals. There are people living today whose only form of exercise is a leisurely walk in the morning- yet they are more healthy and more vital than many “gym rats” who kill themselves with hours of intense exercise. Because the former eat a nourishing and revitalizing diet while the latter punish their bodies with processed poison.
I’m going to assume that you have no desire to perform intense exercise. If you don’t mind doing some sprints and hitting the gym you’ll be better served by following the “I want to look good naked” advice. As someone who has a relatively lower level of physical activity you will need to limit your carbohydrate intake. Remember that any excess glucose that can’t be stored in the liver or muscles is stored as fat. Since you have a low activity level your liver and muscle glycogen levels will remain full throughout the week- thus your dietary carbohydrate intake must be consciously reduced. The reason more than one third of Americans are obese is because they live a sedentary lifestyle yet consume more carbohydrates than even a triathlete can use. What a crazy world.
- Walk for at least half an hour four times a week. If you can walk for half an hour every-day, that’s great! If you have the time to go even longer, fantastic. There really isn’t a point where you can walk “too much.”
- Incorporating bodyweight exercises is still recommended. You won’t need to ramp up the intensity but three sets of pushups, situps, pullups, and squats two times a week will build a base of strength that will keep you strong and limber as you age. These also promote beneficial hormone releases in the form of testosterone and growth hormone, both of which help slow the aging process and keep you vital.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with strength training or HIIT circuits for your healthy life goals. I recommend them to everyone. But you don’t need to do them if your goal is to simply lose weight and be healthy.
I want to be JACKED
Strength training in the gym is the most efficient way to “get jacked.” Bodyweight exercises are great and can give you a fantastic base of muscle, but from a pure efficiency standpoint nothing beats barbell strength-training.
Imagine that your max pushups is 50 without stopping. To increase the stress load on your muscles in future workouts you must either- do more than 50 pushups without stopping, do pushups faster, or do more sets of pushups. Once you reach a certain level of fitness it becomes very time-consuming and mentally demanding to increase your progression. Who has the time to do 500+ pushups in a workout?
This problem is very easily solved with barbell weights. Once you’ve progressed with a certain weight just throw on five more pounds and you have progressed.
Cardio should not be avoided on your quest to get huge. Cardio is too often demonized by the lifting community as being harmful to your gains. Uninformed individuals throw around the idea that cardio will burn your precious muscle. False. With proper nutrition cardio(and especially high intensity interval cardio) works synergistically with your strength-training workouts to promote the most muscle growth while keeping your fat gain to a minimum.
Your workout routine:
- I recommend beginners and intermediate lifters follow 5×5. If you’re an advanced lifter you don’t need me to tell you what to do, but I like switching between 5×5 and 5x3x1 every few months for advanced lifters.
- Supplement your lifts with two to three high intensity circuit cardio workouts each week. The circuits should focus on hypertrophy of muscle groups as well as pure cardio. I really like incorporating sets of pullups, pushups, and bodyweight squats into my circuit training to get that extra hypertrophy for my back, biceps, chest, triceps, shoulders, glutes, hams, and quads. Keep the interval training under 20 minutes per session.
- Remember, more is not always better. You should strive to work your muscles as hard as you can- as recovered as you can. I follow a very simple rule when I go to the gym. If after three warmup sets I feel tired/lethargic/unmotivated I will cut my workout short. If my program calls for me to squat 350×5 that day maybe I’ll only squat 275 for a few sets and call it good- skipping cardio and auxiliary work completely. Pushing past plateaus should be a sporadic endeavor attempted only when you feel refreshed and energized. Here’s a video of me doing 102 reps of squats with 225lbs. I felt fresh and motivated that day. For the next two weeks I did ZERO leg work because I was drained by the squats. Trying to push past that exhaustion would have lead to injuries and burnout.
- Pace yourself. Rest. Relax. The gym will still be there tomorrow. You really will make more gains if you take a moderate approach to the gym. Please take this advice if you take nothing else from this post.