Friday, 9 December 2016

How to Structure your Workout

Let’s be honest, how often do you get to the gym without a plan? More importantly, do you even know where to start when it comes to making a plan? Possibly not. Well, if that’s the case and you’re fed up of blagging a half acceptable workout every time you walk through the door of the gym, read on.  Today I’m going to set out for you all of the considerations you need to make when it comes to structuring and effective session for yourself.


1) Identify goals and intentions

The single most important consideration when it comes to exercise is identifying your goals. If you’re unclear on exactly what you’re looking to achieve, how on Earth are you ever going to get there. It’s the equivalent of going shopping without a list. You end up buying a whole load of stuff you don’t need and forgetting the milk!

Once you know what direction you want to move in, you can then decide what’s appropriate for the session. A good example would be someone who is aiming to lose a significant amount of body fat. Should they spend their session stretching and doing abs exercises? I would suggest not.

2) Warm Up

Warming up is probably not the sexiest or most exciting component of your workout but should, nevertheless, not be overlooked. I typically prescribe two generalised phases to every warm up.

  • Elevate your heart rate through repetitive movement such as running, walking, use of an elliptical machine or rowing. This stage of the warm up literally does just that: it promotes the production of heat. At some stage during the main part of your session you’re likely to experience an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This 2-5 minutes of initial priming essentially gives your body a chance to experience those physiological changes and become prepared for the forthcoming cardiovascular demands.
  • Now that your heart and lungs have woken up it’s time to limber up those joints and muscles with some dynamic movement. Thinking ahead to what your session will entail is important at this stage. For example, if you’re planning on working solely on your upper body for the next hour, doing lots of hip, knee and ankle movements won’t be necessary. In the fitness industry the term ‘specificity’ is used in this instance. Choose dynamic joint mobilisation patterns that will be specific to your workout. So, for an upper body session arm circles, bodyweight overhead presses and shoulder shrugs would be prioritised over leg swings, hip circles and bodyweight lunges.

3) Prioritise what you want care most about

At this stage you know what kind of session you’re going to do and what kind of exercises might be included in order to move in the direction of your selected fitness goals. It’s now just a matter of deciding what to do first. Maybe I want to build my general strength but also have a 10km fun run that I’m training for. Based on the circumstances and time constraints around the upcoming running event, performing your cardio at the start of the session when I have most energy would be advisable. Any resistance-focussed exercises would follow.

4) Start heavy, end light

Assuming you’re fully warmed up and executing each exercise with correct technique, when it comes to lifting weights, whether it be dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells or machines, I often recommend the ‘start heavy, end light’ rule to inform session structure. To do this you need to consider the weight that you’re using for each exercise. Exercises that I’d class as ‘compound movements’ are those that involve the movement of multiple major joints. Here are some examples of compound movements:

Lower Body
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Kettlebell Swing
  • Leg Press Machine
  • Lunge

Upper Body
  • Bent Over Row
  • Chest Press
  • Lat Pulldown Machine
  • Upright Row
  • Shoulder Press

These are your ‘heavy’ exercises because you should be able to lift the most weight with these. This is because lots of muscles will be working across the multiple joints that are in movement. The rest of your exercises can broadly be lumped into the ‘isolation’ exercises group. Here are some examples of isolation movements:

Lower Body

Leg Extension Machine
Hamstring Curl Machine
Calf Raises

Upper Body

Front Shoulder Raise
Lateral Shoulder Raise
Biceps Curl
Triceps Extension
Chest Flyes
Reverse Flyes

Generally, performing these lighter exercises later in your workout when your heavier movements have been completed, is a sensible move.

5) Stretch

In the past we were led to believe that static stretching could be performed both before and after exercise. However, the current general consensus in the sporting community is that this should be reserved pretty much exclusively for the post-workout period. Studies have shown that static stretching before exercise could actually increase the chance of injury and this study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports suggests that it may well also inhibit muscular performance. So, leave your toe touching and static side bending until after your run, swim weights etc.

I hope that clears things up a little. Now get out there and train hard!

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