Everything You Need to Know to Workout Like a Boss
Updated: Feb 13
There sure is a lot more to know about workouts than you might think! Some questions you might have asked yourself include: How should I warmup? How many days per week should I workout and what should I focus on each day? How many times am I supposed to lift these weights? How long do I rest? What should I eat before or after training? This article will go over each variable so you no longer have to guess your way through your workout.
Warmups are an essential part of each workout. Properly preparing the body to train will lower the risk of injury and result in a better performance throughout the session. Your warmup should take around five to 15 minutes and prepare the muscles and joints you are going to use in your workout.
It is generally a good idea to first spend about two to five minutes performing a fast-paced walk, jogging, pedaling on a bike, or rowing, etc. to get blood flowing and get your heart rate up. From there, you want to do dynamic stretching. Static stretching—holding stretches for time—are better to do at the end of workouts or on off days. Dynamic stretching is designed to loosen up the muscles but doesn’t interfere with force production like static stretching might. Finally, warmups should include activation exercises to directly prepare the muscles that will be strength trained next.
Following is a short sample warmup for the full body:
Start with 2-5 minutes walking, on the bike, or rowing. Then: -1½ kneeling rotation x5 each direction, on each side (how to) -spider lunge x5 each leg (how to) -down dog toe touch x10 each leg (how to) -floor t's and darts x10 each -wall hinge x10 (how to) -pause bodyweight squats x10 (how to)
Quantity and Quality
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends healthy adults perform at least 2.5 – 5 hours per week of “moderate-intensity” or 1.25 – 2.5 hours per week of “vigorous-intensity” aerobic physical activity, along with “muscle-strengthening activities” involving all major muscle groups for 2+ days per week. They note that more activity beyond these recommendations carry additional health benefits (“Executive Summary”, n.d.).
In sum, at the gym you should aim for at least two days per week of strength training. A healthy amount of aerobic (cardio-based) activity is either 2.5 hours+ per week of moderate activity (biking, swimming, sports, etc.) or 75 minutes+ per week of vigorous activity (running, HIIT, etc.).
These recommendations could be split many different ways but for a general personal training client, I would most likely recommend 2-3 days per week of strength training for 45min – 1 hour with either 2 – 3 shorter sessions (15 – 20 minutes) per week of intense interval or circuit based conditioning or 2 – 3 sessions (30 – 45 minutes) per week of longer, less intense steady state cardio like biking, jogging, or playing sports. You might also consider walks around the neighborhood, household cleaning, or yard work as alternatives to help meet the aerobic activity guidelines.
As the DHHS suggested, strength training should hit all major muscle groups. To accomplish this in only 2 or 3 sessions per week, either a full-body split routine or a push/pull/legs split are best. A full-body split would incorporate exercises to train each part of the body during every workout. A push/pull/legs split would divide the days into one for pushing (chest/shoulder/triceps), one for pulling (back, biceps), and one for legs. For more detailed information on training splits and what types of movements to incorporate in each workout, see my article “How to Structure Workouts”.
Training Variables (Reps, Sets, Weights, Rest)
Training variables depend on overall training goals. However, for most people who are aiming to meet general physical activity guidelines, typical recommendations do exist. If your goal is to build muscle, you want to perform 3 – 4 sets of 6 – 12 reps of each exercise. Rest periods will typically be between 30 seconds and a minute. If you are aiming for maximal strength, you want to perform sets of 3 – 5 reps, number of sets will vary. Rest periods will typically be 2 – 3 minutes. People who are brand new to strength training should focus on the 6 – 12 rep ranges first and will want to start with less work overall. For example, for your first workout you might only want to do 2 sets of 6 – 8 reps of each exercise.
As far as weight choice, you should always choose a weight that allows you to complete the exercise with good form. The last 1 – 2 reps of each set should be challenging to complete, but not so hard that you cannot still maintain quality form. Weights should slowly progress week to week if you are consistently going to the gym. If you complete a set and are not challenged through the last 1 – 2 reps, it’s time to add more weight!
For a full-body split routine, I would recommend 1 – 2 exercises per body part per day, depending on time. For a push/pull/legs split, I would recommend 2 – 3 exercises per body part per day. If you perform more than 2 days of strength training per week, you will see more strength gains and build muscle more quickly.
Outside of the gym, other factors have a huge influence on seeing any results from training. Food intake, hydration, sleep quality and quantity, and stress levels will all affect your health. Read “Five Reasons You Aren’t Gaining Muscle” for more detail regarding diet and sleep recommendations. It is important to also drink plenty of water every day. Generally, carbs and/or protein are important nutrients to take in both before and following a workout. You want to stay away from eating foods with much fat after a workout, as this slows digestion and the recovery of the muscles.
If you have questions or need more personalized help with your training, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more fitness and nutrition tips, visit my home page to subscribe for a FREE week of exercise programming + weekly tips. Choose to focus on building muscle size, building strength, or losing fat. Good luck with your gains!
Executive Summary: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Ed. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/PAG_ExecutiveSummary.pdf