Back in 2015, due to a number of factors, I started dabbling in the commercial gym world. I knew there would be a culture shock of sorts but I did not know to what extent. Call me a snob, but I had worked at (and lived close by) a 5,500 square foot private facility with more equipment than any meathead could ever ask for since I finished university.
So, how come every time I go to a commercial gym, I always see someone doing something that makes me shake my head in shame? Even worse, at least once a week I see paid trainers making their clients do ridiculous exercises, useless workouts or not giving two shits about what they’re doing – more interested in their instagram likes.
Look, I get it. I’ve been a committed lifter and trainer for almost 10 years now, and trained for a sport for several years prior. I understand that things can get a little stagnant and boring after you’ve been doing it for a while.
I also understand that a lot of people literally DO NOT KNOW what the hell to do when they get in the gym.
As is my goal with this entire blog, I’d like to give you some information on what you should be doing when you get to the gym.
Magazines, television shows and infomercials selling useless products have been trying to dupe you for a long time. In fact, I think these “educational tools” have gotten worse in recent years (but maybe that’s because I know enough to have opinions on this stuff now).
I’m not gonna to make you subscribe to and read scientific journal articles, per se. But I will give you the extent of my knowledge as well as recommend some excellent products and information that some of the industry’s big guns have put out that helped thousands of clients (literally) get the results they want.
After training hundreds of clients and reading countless hours of writing (mostly from the big guns mentioned above), I would recommend sticking to the basics that I outline below for at least the first year of your training journey. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Won’t I get bored if I do the same thing every day or every week?”
I argue that question with two points:
1. You will not get bored of seeing the results you want. I repeat – you will not get bored of RESULTS. It has been proven over a massive sample size that basic compound exercises work for several popular outcome measures and goals such as strength, fat loss and overall bad-ass-ness. PERIOD.
2. If you really want to dig in and stick to the program, I am always available in the comment section below or via email and have several progressions, regressions and other ways to “change” exercises in my holster at all times. Whether that’s changing the actual exercise, the rep scheme, time under tension, or the entire presentation of the training session. There are tons of ways to keep things from becoming dull.
What I’m going to outline for you are the fundamentals as I see them. They’re simple and should be easy to follow.
I started my training career at a private gym while I was still in university and essentially clueless about how to create a training program or workout (thanks a lot undergraduate degree). I still got some good results for myself and my clients and I could name the origins and insertions of the muscles I was training, but never really had a method to the madness until our manager at the time (and one of my first mentors) AJ told us that we’d be doing all of our programming based on Dan John’s 5 essential movements. These include:
1. Lower Body Squat
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2. Lower Body Hinge
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3. Upper Body Push
4. Upper Body Pull
5. Carry/Plank Variation
BONUS: 6*. Single Leg Variations
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There may be some of you who disagree, but this is my blog, so I don’t give a shit. JK… but what I have learned is that anyone who can perform these variations flawlessly can do almost any movement variation without pain or concern for injury.
Now that you know what movement patterns you should be including, let’s look at how you should be laying out a program. Keep in mind; this is a very simplified version of what I do in the gym. Also remember that not every training program I write looks like this, but you should find most of these components in all of them.
1. Warm-Up and Movement Preparation
I cannot stress the importance of a proper warm-up. A good warm-up will allow you to perform better in the gym by increasing body temperature and neural activation, warming up and getting blood flowing to the joints AND exponentially decrease your risk of injury.
– “A great warm-up readies your body and nervous system for a hard workout, eliminates your weak links, and improves your movement quality. The result? More muscle; less injuries.” (1)
I have moved to an adapted version of John Rusin’s 6-Phase Warm-Up Sequence and found that I can get the most accompished in the shortest amount of time using that template (cuz no one likes warming up anyway). Here’s the jist:
- Self-Myofascial Release
- Bi-Phasic Stretching
- Corrective Movement
- Stability Based Activation
- Foundational Pattern Development
- Central Nervous System Stimulation
2. Strength Training
This is the meat and potatoes of your session and should last approximately 30-40 minutes, including all of the movement patterns outlined above (unless you’ve been a dedicated lifter for over a year, in which case you may want to look at split routines and the like).
With strength training, I use the 80/20 rule. 80% of your results will most likely come from 20% of your work. To that end, I would place the movement pattern of most importance to you early in the training session. Most of my training programs (especially for those hoping to lose fat) start with a lower body movement due to their high neural requirements and relative risk. Although the risk can be higher, the reward is a high potential for muscle gain and more muscle equals more calories burned. BOOM.
This is always a great way to finish a training session. It’s usually best to choose what I call a “self-limiting exercise”. In other words, this is a movement or exercise that is almost impossible to screw up. Think bike sprints, sled pushes, skipping rope, etc.
In short, get the heart rate going and keep it there for a decent period of time. I usually set aside 5-10 minutes for the finisher.
As an added bonus, this will get the endorphins flowing and make you feel great about yourself and your workout afterward. This is not only great for your mental well-being, but it will get your ass back in the gym the next day.
4. Cool Down and Recovery
An active recovery has been shown to increase the rate of lactate removal in the body (I won’t get too sciency, but we want that). Increased blood flow to the liver increases oxidation in the working muscles, allowing for the removal of toxins and starting the recovery process immediately. (2)
I’m not saying that a light cool-down walk will make you feel like you never even worked out (if it does, then you may not have stressed your muscles enough), I’m just saying it will make it much easier for you to drag your butt out of bed the next morning without crying.
The most useful (and quickest) way to cool down is to use some restorative breathing. I like to 90/90 position and focus on taking twice as long to exhale as I do to inhale.
I hope I’ve given you some guidance on how you can structure your gym time on a daily basis without moving too far from the fundamentals. I am a huge believer in hammering home the basics for a very long time before progressing into things such as split routines and specialized training.
If you have further questions or are interested in training with me, please drop me a line in the comments sections below or visit the links on the site.
To your continued health,
1. Yeung, A. J. (2014, January 27). Bulletproof Your Body – The Ultimate Warm-Up. Retrieved from http://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/bulletproof-your-body-ultimate-warm
2. McDonald, G. (2013, October 8). Lecture: University of Winnipeg, CSEP-CEP Preparation Course.
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