6 min read
After 8 years of experimentation, I’ve finally landed on a workout that works with my lifestyle and goals. Here it is:
3-4 sets of 6-12 reps per movement.
5 Day Version
3 Day Version
I work out at lunchtime on work days, so workouts must be capped at 45 mins per session. Volume is spread out throughout the week instead of all on one day in order to enable this. I think spreading volume throughout the week may actually be more effective for muscle growth as well which would be a bonus, but not the primary reason for the spread.
I prioritize a naturally proportionate physique, so I choose basic exercises so that muscles grow in their natural proportions.
I love playing sports, so strength is important. By choosing basic movements, I can lift heavy so that I can get strong enough that it makes me better at sports. Being strong also significantly decreases my chance of injury. Movements that allow for heavy lifting are the most important for overall health and longevity — they increase bone density and strengthen joints and ligaments.
The 5 day plan is a superset of the 3 day plan. If I realize that I can only make 3 days in a specific week, I can revert to the 3 day plan and still be productive. If I can only make 4 days, I can do the 3 day plan and pick an extra day based on what I’m feeling I should do.
In the 3 day plan, if I can’t make a Mon, Wed, or Fri, it’s easy to just move one of those workouts to a Tues or Thurs.
Should I do the 5 day or 3 day?
The 5 day will produce more results, but I recommend whichever gets you in the gym consistently.
If you’re not sure, start with the 3 day and upgrade to the 5 day if/when you feel ready. The priority is building the discipline of going to the gym, not maximizing effectiveness. You can maximize effectiveness once the discipline is built.
How many sets should I do?
More hard sets equals more muscle growth. If you can do 4 per workout, great. 3 will also make progress. 2 can be used if you’re coming off of a break or if you need a quick workout, but you won’t make progress if you’re consistently only doing 2 sets for a movement in a week.
How many reps should I do?
The key is to coordinate weight and reps so that you’re at least an 8 out of 10 of perceived exertion. For example, if I bench 135 lbs for 10 reps, I might be able to do 185 lbs for 5 and get the same perceived amount of exertion.
If you’re not grimacing towards the end of your set, you need to do more weight or reps. Work hard every set. Muscle growth is driven by the number of hard sets you do per week.
More reps lets you use less weight, which I prefer these days. It’s fun to go for heavy sets of 5 here and there too though. Switch it up for fun!
How do I progress?
I suggest picking a rep goal to stick to for 6 weeks or so and if you crank out more reps than your goal, increase the weight by as little as you can for the next time you do that exercise.
For example, if I’m doing 10 reps of 135 lbs on my bench press and I manage to do 11 one day, I’m going to increase my weight by the smallest possible amount and do 140 lbs (or 137.5 lbs if you have micro plates!) the next time I do bench.
You can also try Reverse Pyramid Training, which is what I do and highly recommend.
What do you mean by natural movements?
There are 6 natural movements that your body can do:
- Horizontal push (bench press), horizontal pull (row)
- Vertical push (overhead press), vertical pull (chin up)
- Lower body push (squat), lower body pull (deadlift)
My thinking is that if you do natural movements, your muscles will grow naturally proportional, which will be the most aesthetic looking.
Natural movements also recruit the most muscles for a lift (since your body is adapted for them), so they allow you to lift the most weight and build strength.
Why this layout of exercises?
I did it this way so that you always have a day between doing the same exercise. It’s heavily inspired by Martin Berkhan’s Reverse Pyramid Training Guide.
Why more upper body than lower?
Partially due to the fact that I’m a male and upper body growth is more ideal for males. Partially due to the fact that I get a lot of leg volume from sports and bike commuting. Partially due to the fact that if I did deadlifts and squats more than once a week I’d die.
What should I do for accessory work?
Completely up to you, but make sure they’re isolation exercises so they don’t get in the way of your main lifts. Start with bicep curls and tricep pushdowns if you’re not sure what to do. Standing calf raises are also a good idea (I haven’t made much progress with sitting calf raises for some reason). You could also just skip the accessory work and get in those 4 sets each of your main lifts!
How about for women?
Men and women should train the same. That said, If I were a woman I’d trade some of the upper body work for some lower body work since lower body muscles are more aesthetic on women.