• Gabriel Davila

How to Properly Structure a Fitness Routine

Every time you walk into the gym, you see this: people performing exercises in no specific order, and doing whatever they 'feel' like doing at that moment. You'll see guys doing nothing but bench presses and curls, and girls doing nothing but kickbacks and squats.

You might even be guilty of this yourself. Structuring a workout routine properly requires proper knowledge of movement patterns, knowing your goals, devising a plan to reach your goals, and taking steps towards them.

Now, I could go on forever about how to build a program, how to use periodization, etc. But that would take forever and I don't have the time for that, and neither do you. You came here for something simple, no? In this post I'm going show you how to build a proper routine with simple steps that anyone can follow. After reading this, you should be able to build a basic routine for yourself.

Start with the warm-up.

Of course, we begin any proper workout with a proper warm-up. When most people think of warm-ups, they might think about hopping on the treadmill for 5 minutes, and doing a few arm circles. This, of course, is the worst thing you can do besides doing nothing.

The main goal of a warm-up is to prepare the body for the workout ahead. We want the muscles and joints to be properly lubricated and ready for action. When warming up, think about performing movements that are similar to the exercises that you will perform in your training session. For example, if you are doing a full body training session, then you want to prepare the entire body for movement. If you're about to hit up a lower body training session, you would still do a full body warm-up, but with the focus on dynamic movements for the lower body.

The types of movements you want to do in a warm-up should be movements that mobilize the joints, and work them through a full range of motion. You don't want to do any static stretching, as that's something you want to save for after a workout.

Here's an example of a super basic dynamic warm-up performed with only bodyweight movements, for a full body training session:

  • arm circles x 10 each direction

  • prone thoracic rotations x 10 each side

  • world's greatest stretch x 8 each side

  • squats x 15

  • push-ups x 10

  • walking lunges with torso rotation x 8 each side

  • band pull aparts x 15

The above is a super basic example, you might perform different movements depending on the workout you're about to do. But this example is still a pretty decent warmup for a general full body strength training session. It warms up and lubricates the joints, raises body temperature, makes you break a small sweat, and should only last 5-10 minutes.

Perform a power movement.

You can either count this as the end of your warm-up or the very first exercise of your workout; it doesn't matter. What does matter is getting in an explosive movement.

The purpose of this movement is to wake up the CNS (central nervous system) to prepare the body for heavy lifting. You want this movement to be focused, with clear intention on being as explosive as possible. You don't want to do this to fatigue, so it should be done for lower reps - think 3 to 5 rep range.

You could do slams, jumps, or explosive lifts; generally though, you want these to be as simple as possible, so it's easy to perform and doesn't require a lot of technical know-how. For this, I like doing slams with a slam ball. It's easy enough to perform, and really hard to mess up. It's also low impact, so it doesn't damage your joints. Try doing just 2-3 sets of 5 reps for this movement.

Use big compound movements for your main exercises.

Now to the meat and potatoes. For the big bulk of your workout, you'll want to use big compound movements. How many compound exercises you have depends on the type of workout your doing, and the frequency of your sessions. For this example, we are sticking with a full body training session. In that session, you want to get a knee and posterior dominant movement for the lower body, as well as a push and pull for the upper body. Take a look below.

  • knee dominant: goblet squat

  • posterior dominant: single leg deadlift with dumbbells

  • push: weighted push-up

  • pull: inverted bodyweight row

When training, you want to look at exercise in terms of movement patterns. For these big compound movements, we want to stay balanced in order to prevent injury and perform optimally. No matter your goal, you should always strive for balance.

There are other large movement patterns that you should practice, like a lunge or a carry, but for the sake of simplicity, use the example patterns above.

When performing these movements, I like to combine opposing muscle groups into a superset, which is like a mini circuit. That means I would pair a goblet squat (knee dominant lower body) with a inverted row (upper body pull). Doing this saves me time, makes me work harder, and still allows for ample rest between muscle groups.

How many reps?

Generally, the more frequently you train a muscle group the less reps and sets you perform, and vice versa. So if you're following a full body training routine with the main goal of training for general fitness, try keeping it to 24-36 reps per exercise; this means that when broken up in sets, it'll look like your basic 3 sets of 8-12 reps. You can also do 4 sets of 6, or 5 sets of 5. You can break it in different amounts, depending on your goal:

  • strength rep range: 1-5

  • muscle building rep range: 6-10

  • endurance rep range: more than 10

None of these are exclusive, and training for strength will still build muscle, training for endurance will still build strength, etc. But certain rep ranges allow for focus on certain areas.

After your main exercises, add some smaller exercises to finish the workout.

Once you get the compound movements out of the way, you can spend time putting some focus on smaller exercises. The main focus of these are dependent on your goals, but we are going to focus on general fitness here. For this purpose, we want to add in some core work and conditioning (you can even add in some of those other movement patterns I mentioned above, like a lunge or carry variation).

I recommend compiling these smaller movements into a circuit as well, that way you get some conditioning/cardio in - you end up killing two birds with one stone! For an example, check out the one below:

  • suitcase carry x 50 ft. (or whatever distance you use for measurement) each arm

  • walking lunges x 10 each side

  • bodysaws x 12

  • face pulls x 15

  • perform all movements for 2-3 sets.

For these smaller assistance exercises, keep them a bit lighter; they should still be a challenge, but not with the same intensity as the main exercises. Speaking of intensity...

How hard should the workout be?

Many people get this part wrong. Intensity is the difficulty of the workout, or how much effort you put into the workout. Imagine a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the easiest intensity level and 10 being the hardest. Where you want your intensity level on this scale is dependent on your goals (I use this excuse a lot, don't I?) and the frequency of your workouts. You don't want to be working out at a 10 every single day, and you also don't want to workout only once a week at a 1.

If you're training 2 to 3 times a week - which is the most optimal frequency according to science - then try to keep your intensity number around a 7 or 8. Sometimes you might dip down to a 6.9, or bump it up to a 8.9. When doing this correctly, the whole set should be a challenge, but the last few reps should be a real push.

You know you're doing this wrong if form breaks, which usually means the exercise is too hard at your current level or you are performing it with too much weight.

Wrap it up with a cooldown.

After your session, it doesn't hurt to stretch. Most people do this before their workout, but that's what the dynamic warm-up is for. Static stretching is best done after your workout, as the body is nice and warm, and the risk of pulling a muscle at this point is low.

Pro tip: if you've performed your session correctly, with full range of motion on every movement, you don't have to spend too much time stretching after. When you are using a full range of motion, you are technically getting a stretch in, with added resistance. For example, imagine doing a full range of motion squat while holding a weight; you get the benefit of a stretch and the weight even increases the stretch slightly.

Now, there are certain movements that you don't want to do weighted, as that might cause more harm than good. That is where static stretching comes in, which is done with a much easier intensity. When stretching, spend time on areas of your body that you know you need to work on (for most humans, this usually means the hips, back, and shoulders).

An example routine.

You might still be wondering how this all looks in a workout; fear not, dear reader, for I shall show you how it looks. Below is an example of a training day.

Monday: Workout 1

Dynamic warm-up

  1. arm circles x 10 each direction

  2. prone thoracic rotations x 10 each side

  3. world's greatest stretch x 8 each side

  4. squats x 15

  5. push-ups x 10

  6. walking lunges with torso rotation x 8 each side

  7. band pull aparts x 15

Power movement: slams with slam ball 3 x 5

Main workout (I'm going to go for a moderately heavy intensity, so my reps will reflect that)

A1) Goblet Squat 4 x 6

A2) Inverted row 4 x 8

B1) Single leg deadlift with dumbbell 4 x 6

B2) Weighted push-up 4 x 6

Assistance exercises / small circuit

C1) suitcase carry x 50 ft. (or whatever distance you use for measurement) each arm

C2) walking lunges x 10 each side

C3) bodysaws x 12

C4) face pulls x 15

perform all movements for 2-3 sets.

Post workout stretching for 5-10 minutes after your workout.

Now make your own!

With this knowledge, you should have the necessary building blocks to build a basic full body workout. You can use the sample workout that I made above, or make your own. I recommend making 2 training sessions that you can alternate between, and do that for at least 6 weeks before creating or switching to another one.

I tried to be as thorough as possible, but if you have any questions, leave a comment. Now go out and kill those workouts with this knowledge!

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