The Basics of Designing Your Own Training

There are a billion and one different exercises out there*.  Just search through Instagram and you’ll see movements and exercises beyond your wildest dreams.  Some of it of quality and some of epic ridiculousness.  Some requiring various equipment and apparatus, and some none at all.  And finally, some of it is for beginners and some for the more skilled and advanced.  Aside from just doing what they’ve always done, most people and wondering where to even begin?  Or, how does one start filtering all of this potential mumbo jumbo?

It is my belief that to train the whole body effectively you first need to consider 4 main movement patterns and I don’t mean bench, incline bench, curls and abs.  Don’t think about the muscles and just think about the movements.  Only 4 may not seem like a lot but we are trying to filter through the potential mess.  The 4 are as follows:

– Lower Body Push: knee dominant like a squatting and lunging variations.

– Lower Body Pull: hip dominant like deadlift variations, swings and sliding leg curls.

– Upper Body Push: anything pushing with the arms like push up, overhead press and yes, bench press.

– Upper Body Pull: all pull/chin up and rowing variations.

Pick one exercise from each of these categories and you’ve got a reasonable training session that hits a lot of different muscles.  But, let’s go one better. The second thing to consider is are you training on one leg?  For example I recommend doing some reverse lunges(1-leg) if you are deadlifting(2-legged). Or, if you are squatting(2-legged), do some single leg deadlifts that day.

Finally, when it comes to the upper body things are slightly different.  Do consider pushing and pulling with one arm at a time as discussed above with the legs.  However, realize that there are fewer options and the more important consideration is whether you are working vertically, horizontally or somewhere in between. For example, chin ups(vertical) are awesome but they might best be paired with push ups or bench press which are both horizontal.  If you are overhead pressing in today’s workout I recommend that you choose a rowing variation(horizontal).

Generally speaking, keep the ratio of upper pull and push exercises and reps pretty close. The same goes for the lower body.  A common mistake is to focus more on the front side muscles that are more noticeable, especially in mirror. Train the backside (upper and lower pull) at least equal to all of the pushing.

Is this the only way to do it?  No, this is just the basics remember.  It’s important to have an understanding of what you are doing and why, versus literally making shit up.  If I were to create a more complete training session it would involve some power work prior to the 4 main movements and some core work, as well as mobility to fill in some of the gaps throughout the session.

– Mike Baltren

* I haven’t actually counted them all.